The District Herbalist

Words by:
Mike Webster
Featured in:
August 2016

Bringing the world’s oldest medical remedies into the present.
The District Herbalist started life in 2014. The business is run by Hannah Sylvester, who is certainly ultra-qualified in her field, having graduated with a First Class BSc (Hons) degree in Herbal Medicine from the University of Lincoln in 2010.

Hannah is now a registered Member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (founded in 1864 and the oldest professional organisation in the UK representing medical herbalists) and since graduating she has also taken on the role of lecturing on the Clinical Diagnostic Skills module for the BSc Herbal Medicine degree course, in addition to mentoring new members to the NIMH.

Hannah’s dedication to the profession has also seen her leading workshops on the subject as well as regularly featuring on local radio and in the press. Firmly committed in her aim to provide outstanding herbal medicine healthcare support to both her local community and all the surrounding villages of Lincoln, Hannah without doubt is now a very valuable addition to the healthcare community. Her work affords a remarkable addition to existing healthcare by way of complementary medicine.

I met Hannah at her lovely city centre clinic in Lincoln and was at once aware of the most comprehensive collections of potions, tinctures and preparations that I have ever seen.
She is a charming, welcoming lady and at once she invited me to take a chair and enjoy a cup of her own style of herbal tea, which happened to be peppermint in my case. She went on to explain how she loved to work with people from all sections of the community and who are so often looking to improve their quality of life also. This invariably involved a personal consultation at the clinic or even a home visit on occasion. Either way, Hannah draws on her expert knowledge of the traditional use of herbs together with an excellent knowledge of current scientific research. Daytime, early evening and weekend appointments can be offered to suit individual requirements.

Everyone’s needs are different of course and Hannah told me that part of the satisfaction of her work is to first find out what the problem is and then to ‘tailor’ a personal treatment for the individual concerned. Preparations are discussed and frequently the possibility arises as to the patient’s being able to treat the ailment for themselves. Herbal medicine is known as phytotherapy and it is the oldest form of medicine in the world. From within her mainly organic herbal dispensary, Hannah uses whole plant preparations – that is leaves, roots, flowers seeds and fruits rather than isolated extracts. I learned that such preparations form very effective treatments for a multitude of conditions including osteoarthritis, back pain, PMS, IBS, indigestion, functional dyspepsia, mild to moderate depression, influenza, acute infections including rhino-sinusitis and even the common cold along with many, many more.

I was interested in finding out what it was that propelled Hannah into her chosen career and she told me that it all stemmed from her very early years. Natural history always held an attraction for her and flora in particular. She recalled how she used to make perfumed water from rose petals as a young child in her parents’ garden. Bird watching and sponsored walks for nature-based charities fulfilled much of her time and she enjoyed keeping accounts of wildlife and writing about it all.

On one occasion in her life, when she was suffering a particular ailment, she was steered into giving herbal medicine a try in preference to the routine antibiotics. She was subsequently delighted to find out that it worked. Perhaps this was the spark that led to the big decisions that life demanded. It certainly created a greater interest in herbs and their culture as, after this episode, Hannah launched into a far deeper study of herbal medicine and she then started her own herb garden. This study deepened still further as she read avidly as much as she could find about the subject, until she discovered the full-time, three-year degree course at the University of Lincoln. This was the moment that set her direction for life and the rest is history.

Hannah’s training requirements for her qualifications were indeed a revelation to my ears. Beside a deep understanding of the traditional and therapeutic (but still up-to-date and research based) uses of many hundreds of plants, trees, herbs and wild flowers used by medical herbalists there are many other disciplines to be mastered. She held me in awe as she went on to list the many other facets of this amazing three-year course. She had to study anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, health psychology, clinical diagnostics, differential diagnosis and a study of herb-drug interactions, not to mention the study of nutrition; the importance of the latter being the fact that this plays such a large part of our overall health issues. Being then told about the completion of 500 hours of supervised clinic practice in both observation and consultation had me thinking that herbal medicine dispensing is very deep stuff indeed!

The bottom line concerning herbal medicine is of course that it has its roots buried in the mists of time. The oldest known medicine to mankind, it also has its accumulated wisdom stemming back thousands of years too. Some of this has been recorded but nowhere near as much as the requirement for today’s herbal resurgence. It was invariably knowledge that was passed from one generation to the next by way of mouth and eventually, as we progressed from the ‘old ways’ to modern healthcare with surgeries and GPs, the old knowledge has often been lost.

Growing one’s own herbs and medicinal plants does have many advantages, Hannah told me. Her own interest in herbal medicine caused her to grow her own plants in her own garden at home and this interest continued whilst she was studying. In 2008, the Royal Horticultural Society’s award-winning ‘living medicine’ garden at Tatton Park was transplanted to the University of Lincoln. This creation, based on the monastic garden systems from medieval times provided a new fount of inspiration for Hannah. The monastic way of horticulture is inspirational in itself for any potential herb gardener. Many local communities once had access to these areas of what can only now be described as oases of concentrated healthcare. Prior to the introduction of modern drugs and medicinal compounds, local communities were dependent upon the medicine produced from herb gardens – frequently known as apothecary gardens, medicine gardens or physic gardens. Many are still in use today and of those that are monastic based, none can be more celebrated than the one at Buckfast Abbey in South Devon.

Herbs, when chosen properly and planted correctly bring a new dimension to gardens, providing a multitude of benefits. Whilst often primarily intended to produce health giving properties for many different ailments, the flowers are of great importance in other spheres too. Any chef or culinary specialist will readily subscribe to the idea that a herb garden is indispensable for good cooking. They will also be quick to point out that homegrown, freshly cut herbs from the garden are infinitely superior to their counterparts purchased in small bottles from the supermarket. Culinary and medical issues aside, a well planted herb garden will most definitely provide a haven for wildlife. Bees and many different species of butterflies are attracted to these flowers and this in itself makes for a very worthy cause for creating a herb garden.

A lady of outstanding expertise within the herbal world, Hannah went on to inform me about the service that she offers to those wishing to start their own herb garden. Her knowledge of medicinal plants and her horticultural experience now mean that she is able to design bespoke garden systems tailored to individual needs. Her suggested options include gardens based on personalised medicinal for individual health needs, traditional medieval and aromatic and bee friendly – specially designed to attract those all-important pollinators. For those with just a back yard, she has her own creation known as ‘yarden’! Remarkably, she has a ‘tea garden’ for those who merely wish to make their own homegrown and home brewed teas. Costs for garden designs and installations do vary but Hannah is always ready to have a preliminary chat and discuss individual requirements – completely free of charge.

Since the art of ‘foraging’ all but disappeared, having plants all around us with such important uses both for medicinal and culinary applications now seems such a waste if they are not being exploited. Hannah has recognised this fact and she has a novel way of reintroducing the knowledge that died with our forbears. Reference to her website and in particular the events page will hopefully inspire those with even the most basic knowledge of herbs. Her ‘Urban Herb Walks’ are a most enlightening introduction to the awareness of what really does grow all around us. Each walk amounts to a stroll around the Cathedral Quarter of Lincoln and with expert guidance, the participants are introduced to the wild flowers, herbs and even weeds that can make such a rich difference to our daily lives. Tuition is given on their history and usage as well as how they can be used both medicinally and as beneficial aids to cooking.

Her series of herb walks this year will end on Sunday 21st August. Each walk costs £5 per person, runs from 2pm–4pm and booking is essential. The website events page is full of interesting features for would-be herb enthusiasts. Indeed, since 2010 Hannah has been offering a very wide selection of herb related activities. Courses, workshops, events, walks and talks have all figured in locations from Lincoln to the wider East Midlands and even further afield. Clubs, institutes and community organisations, local interest groups and societies have all been enthralled by Hannah’s herbal experience. She offers talks on the history of herbal medicine, traditional western herbal medicine creating herbal medicine gardens and many more associated herbal matters. Quite simply, she is passionate about sharing her knowledge of our native flora and how it can enrich our healthcare experience by way of herbal medicine. Much of it is fun to make, she tells me, and I certainly wouldn’t argue with that. Her website is a mine of information and well worth a visit.

Meet Hannah Sylvester at

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