Medical herbalist Nicola Parker has a confession.
After years of awkward, rude and sometimes hilarious social encounters, when meeting people for the first time Nicola doesn’t tell them what she does for living
I’m proud to be a herbalist and used to open up about it a lot, but after years of awkward, rude and sometimes hilarious social encounters, now I occasionally choose to keep it quiet.
I love talking about herbal medicine and the philosophy surrounding integrated healthcare. It’s a fascinating subject and I believe it is an important one that should be discussed. The problem is, when meeting people for the first time, they can ask some rather odd questions, which can lead to some very interesting, embarrassing and rather awkward conversations.
So as a light-hearted tribute to some of these uncomfortable social encounters, I thought I’d address some of these questions publicly, with open and honest answers. Here are the most common questions I get asked by strangers when asked what I do for a living.
“What have you got for IBS?” I love this one because it involves me asking very in-depth questions about a person’s poo, which is a very awkward conversation to have on a first meeting. Especially if it’s around a dinner table.
Answer: If you have IBS, consult a herbalist privately because IBS presents differently in different people. We need to know if it’s wind, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea and we will go on to ask about each symptom in much more detail. As a generic IBS remedy, try a probiotic, which can help with all symptoms above, but for more specific advice, a full conversation needs to be had.
“My sister has been diagnosed with, MS/fibromyalgia/Celiac disease/etc. What can you recommend for that?” Serious and complicated health problems don’t have one fixed remedy. No professional herbalist would offer generic advice for someone to pass on to a relative or friend. For complicated or serious health conditions, we need medical details that the questioner may not have answers to and there are privacy issues to keep in mind.
Answer: Good nutrition, quality sleep and a healthy lifestyle come first and foremost. Problems with any of the above will aggravate any existing health condition. For more specific advice, the patient in question should speak directly with a herbalist.
“I take it you’re vegan then? You must eat very healthily.” I do like to eat healthily. I also have half a bag of Haribo’s in the cupboard and I’m going out for pizza later.
Answer: Being a herbalist doesn’t make me a health freak. I avoid all extreme diets in my clinic. Good food should be tasty, simple to create and inexpensive. Nobody walks out of my clinic with a diet of kale, quinoa and pine nuts, unless that is what they walked in with. Instead, we work with small, manageable changes that can make big impacts.
“What can you recommend for energy?” This is the wrong question but probably the most common. For energy, a strong coffee or sugary drink with give you a boost. It’s not a solution but it will give you temporary energy.
Answer: The correct question is “why am I tired?” Is it related to vitamin deficiency, poor sleep, long shifts, emotional stress or an underlying health condition? Unfortunately, there is no quick answer, unless a coffee is what you are after. There is no quick fix in healthcare, but addressing the cause with a longer conversation could help you resolve the issue for good.
“Does that mean you don’t believe in antibiotics?” This is probably the most ridiculous question I have been asked. Not taking medication because you’re seeing a herbalist is like not hiring a plumber because you already have an electrician.
Answer: Yes, we believe in and support the miracles of modern medicine. Please use them.
I don’t mind answering the questions of the genuinely curious, but sometimes, questions can lead to personal topics that are not always appropriate to bring up with a stranger. So the sake of all involved, until I know someone better, I might just decide to keep quiet about my herbal roots. Instead I go undercover as a normal, pizza-loving person, who takes their prescribed medications and does not, I repeat does not, talk about poo at the table.