Join us as we chat with Clare Holohan, a passionate medical herbalist and forager who shares her journey of creating the book “Scotland’s Wild Medicine.” From her personal background and motivation to the process of writing, our chat sheds light on businesses, collaboration, and the profound connection between nature and wellness. Learn about her insight into herbal medicine, foraging, and the transformative power of reconnecting with nature for better health.
Hi Clare, thanks so much for chatting with us. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and introduce us to the book.
I’m a medical herbalist and forager. My first love will always be food. I became interested in food politics and ethical food production in my teens. When I left school, I trained as a chef but found the hospitality industry stressful, competitive, male dominated, hierarchical, and generally unfulfilling. After travelling and having some first-hand experience of herbal medicine in other cultures I decided to retrain as a medical herbalist in 2007. My mother had been a patient at the student clinic that I decided to train at, and I saw what a difference herbal medicine made to her health over the years. My background in cooking and interest in nutrition led me to the foraging side of plant work, and a desire to make many of my own medicines that I use in my clinics for my patients today. I’m passionate about bringing this knowledge to people, and this led me to want to teach and eventually to co-author Scotland’s Wild Medicine with Lilia Sinclair.
The book contains information about different ways we can connect with nature for wellness. It covers basic information on breathwork, sunlight, circadian rhythms, cold water immersion, food and nutrition and a comprehensive guide to common and familiar wild plants which can be used for food and medicine, with information on how to make them into remedies and some simple recipes. It is essentially a guide to preventative health care and all the ways you can use nature for wellbeing. Eilidh Cameron’s beautiful photographs bring the book to life and give a real taste of Scotland.
What was it that made you want to write Scotland’s Wild Medicine?
Lilia came on one of my foraging workshops back in 2017, I think she was blown away by the realisation that all this food and medicine was growing all around her and she had never known about it before. We kept in touch and Lilia asked me to come and teach for a weekend on a 12-week healing community she was running at Barmolloch in Summer 2019. Over the course of the weekend, we got to chatting about Scotland’s general picture of poor health and what we could do to try and change that. We talked about creating a handbook for keeping well, remedies, recipes and connecting with nature. Then we went back to our busy lives until COVID locked us down and Lilia rallied the team together to create the book.
Tell us a bit about what you do outside of writing the book.
I own a business called West Highland Herbal. Along with my partner we run a smallholding together where we raise livestock naturally, grow food and medicinal herbs for use in my clinic. I live on the Morvern peninsula which is a hidden gem on Scotland’s rugged West Coast. Our smallholding and house looks onto the Sound of Mull and beyond to the Isle of Mull. I love Scotland’s raw rugged beauty, the diversity of our country despite its small size and the friendly Scottish culture.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of writing the book, and your favourite part.
Most of my writing was done over lockdown, so it was great to have a focus and a project to be working on at that unprecedented time. I carved out slices of time early in the morning and at weekends to work on the book. I really enjoyed the creative process of writing as well as really connecting with the plants on a deep level again. I felt blessed to be working with a group of talented and inspirational women with a diverse range of skills. It meant that we could all bring our own passions and strengths to the project and create this beautiful book that we are all proud of.
What advice would you give someone who wants to reconnect with nature?
There are so many distractions in modern life to keep us disconnected, not to mention illness. I think the best thing to remember here is that we as humans are nature, we are not something separate from it. Even though we try to wrap our lives in plastic and artificial creations, we are essentially of the earth, and coming back to that realisation is fundamental. Just start with something simple like slowing down, focusing on your breath, being in a nearby natural space, maybe a local park, or connect with a plant growing out a crack in the pavement.
Nature is everywhere. It’s not something we are separated from, and if nurtured, it will flourish.
What are your favourite things to forage from each season and how do you use them?
This is a tough question! It’s like asking what your favourite food/song/movie is! I always maintain that diversity is key and use different plants for different situations, moods and illnesses. What I will say is that I always come back to my local friends, the common ‘weeds’ that are so useful and grow all around me like nettles and other fresh spring greens in the spring, which I use for food and medicine. In summer, the flowers are in abundance, and I love to forage rose petals which I dry for making tea or infusing in honey. Autumn probably has to be the wide array of fungi at our fingertips, which I use for food and immune system medicine. In winter pickings are slimmer however there is usually some seaweed to forage or in mild years, some greens around.
Check out our monthly sections in the book for more info.
Can you share any other independent Scottish makers that you’d recommend checking out?
All about Willow on the Isle of Eigg, Catherine and Pascal grow organic willow and weave sturdy baskets on their croft. Because you can never have too many foraging baskets…
Check out Heather Shields Woven Textiles, doing fab things with weaving.
Buck and Birch Foraged spirits and liquors are delicious and make great gifts.
INTERVIEW BY Eryn Inglis