Mrs Niki Lawrence

Niki Lawrence:   A University of Westminster herbal medicine BSc graduate, with an MSc in Ethnobotany from the University of Kent. Niki works as a senior lecturer on the Herbal Course and she is also a practitioner supervisor in the University of Westminster Polyclinic. Niki previously worked as a nurse in Cape Town and helped manage a farm in the Klein Karoo in the Cape district of South Africa. She has a particular interest in ethnobotanical studies, organic cultivation, plant conservation and taxonomy and prostate disease treatments.     

Research conducted in 2015

MSc Ethnobotany research entitled: Why some herbalists’ grow their own plants and make their own medicines: an ethnobotanical study


Some Western herbal practitioners in the United Kingdom grow their own medicinal plants and make their own plant based medicines, rather than purchase these products through a commercial supplier. This ethnobotanical study explores the rationale behind this choice, using extant literature and 14 working hypotheses.

 A purposive sample of eight herbalists who grow and make their own herbal medicines, and two herbalists who buy only from suppliers, were interviewed. From the eight herbalists a freelist of plants grown was collected, and a ranking exercise was conducted to investigate views on the proposed hypotheses. Interviews were analysed using thematic analysis, and freelist and ranking exercises were analysed to identify salience.

 Analysis of freelists showed that 155 cultivated medicinal species were being grown, with an average of 45 species per participant, with the most salient species listed being Valeriana officinalis. Whilst the ranking of hypothesis explanations showed limited consensus, the top four ranked choices were: it allows them to make superior medicines compared to commercial suppliers’ products; working with plants is life enhancing for themselves and their patients; it helps to preserve the heritage of their craft; and it links well with their spiritual beliefs. Analysis of interviews identified differing views regarding perceived challenges linked to finance, regulation and training.

 Despite the small sample size, and often disparate views of participants, the conclusion was that participants practiced using a combination of folk traditions and modern science, and that they had a strong emotional and spiritual connection to plants and nature in general. Also, all eight participants indicated they made their own herbal products from plants they grew themselves because they passionately wished to preserve their traditional herbal heritage as they feel this enhanced their herbal practice.

Poster (based on above abstract) was presented at the UCL SPICE seminar entitled Food and Medical Traditions from the Plant World: Exploring Herbal uses (September 2016)

Also the poster was presented at the National Institute of Medical Herbalists conference and AGM (September 2016)