How herbs can plant the seed of wellbeing in Sheffield

Feature on Nether Edge Herbarium on Abbeydale Road. Pictured is medical herbalist Robyn James. Picture: Chris Etchells
Feature on Nether Edge Herbarium on Abbeydale Road. Pictured is medical herbalist Robyn James. Picture: Chris Etchells

“Plants are much more sophisticated chemists than animals are,” said Robyn James, explaining why, as she sees it, the science behind herbal medicine is irrefutable.

“Because plants are stationary they have to use chemicals to defend themselves and communicate - they create everything themselves. And these chemicals have a really diverse range of effects.”

Robyn owns the Nether Edge Herbarium, which recently moved to Abbeydale Road after spending nearly 17 years on Sharrow Vale Road in its previous guise, Alton & James Medical Herbalists.

The clinic, dispensary and shop offers consultations for all manner of health problems, from aches and pains to digestive conditions and skin complaints, aiming to treat them with exclusively plant-based medicines.

And Robyn said she had noticed an increased demand and acceptance of her specialism.

“When I think back to when I began working as a herbalist, I came across quite a lot of scepticism and had to explain to people that it isn’t homeopathy. That’s not to diss homeopathy, but it’s different - it works. Now I think there’s a much greater understanding of that.

“A lot of modern pharmaceutical medicines are still based on plants.”

The shop stocks around 200 different herbs in tincture form, with around 100 dried herbs.

“We make things up with powders,” said Robyn.

“Sometimes we might make a prescription for somebody with British weeds - dandelions or nettles - and for others we might give them herbs that come from Asia or South America, more exotic ones.”

Robyn, aged 46 and the mother of two grown-up children, was raised in Sheffield and trained in Suffolk. She moved the Herbarium from Sharrow Vale in January when her business partner Janet Alton retired.

She works with three other professional herbalists - Geoffrey Soma, Clare Lewis and Carol Burnett - and three complementary therapists run their practices from the Abbeydale Road premises.

Kirsty Anderson is trained in the Japanese art of amatsu, Mel Timm works as an acupuncturist, and Gill Hedley is a holistic massage therapist.

A fascination with plants and their medicinal use led Robyn to become a herbalist.

She said people visit the clinic for ‘pretty much anything you’d see a GP with’, from short-term problems such as coughs and headaches to chronic illnesses.

“We see a lot of digestive, menopause and skin problems. My particular thing is thyroid problems.

“When I first set up in practice I had a patient with an overactive thyroid who went away and wrote a blog about how they’d recovered.

“I started getting patients phoning from all over the world - I had to become an expert pretty quickly!”

Her oldest patient is a woman aged 106.

“She’s definitely fitter than she was at 99. She does say without the herbs she wouldn’t be alive today.”

Maybe surprisingly, conventional doctors are also among the Herbarium’s patients.

“I’ve seen several GPs and consultants, particularly gastro-intestinal consultants for some reason.”

Robyn said she was ‘loving Abbeydale Road’.

“It’s a fantastic location. When we first started on Sharrow Vale Road it was quite similar to how Abbeydale Road is now.

“There’s diversity and lots of really new, small businesses. Sharrow Vale Road has got a bit tidier.

“On the clinic side, all of those patients know where to find us, but we still have the odd person saying ‘Here you are!’”