My father, herbal medicine and me

Co-founder of Pickering - Polly Taylor

My first experience of plants as medicine began more than 50 years ago when, as a young baby, I developed whooping cough.

At the time my father was beginning to study herbal medicine and discovered a plant called Coltsfoot, specific against whooping cough. He made me a warm infusion from the leaves, delivered it to me in small doses with honey from my bottle and for a natural antibiotic he cut very fine slices of garlic and applied them to my feet, using Vaseline as an adhesive.

He put my socks on and within 20 minutes my breath smelt of garlic and shortly afterwards I started coughing and expelling mucus. I live to tell the tale!


“…every living person has his own peculiarities and always has his own peculiar, personal, novel, complicated disease…” – Tolstoy


At the age of one my parents moved north, to the windswept isolation of the raw and beautiful Scottish Highlands. Our home overlooked the North Sea, with the Orkney Islands beyond. It was here that my father, at the age of 4,5 began his degree in Herbal Medicine training under the famous herbalist Hein Zeylstra who as it turned out set up The Tunbridge Wells School of Herbal Medicine in the 1970s.

The inaugural meeting took place in The Spa Hotel, a few minutes’ walk from my shop Botanica Health, where I carry on the herbal tradition. Growing up in the Highlands with my parents and three sisters we spent our time immersed in nature. The air is clean and the sky seems endless, the sound of the skylarks so comforting in the evening air.

We lived near windswept dunes, heather topped hills and stark landscapes bereft of trees. Many of the plants my father uses in his practice grow locally and I remember us picking Bogbean, Coltsfoot, Meadowsweet and the tiny star-like Eyebright, as the name implies for the eyes, especially irritated through hay fever. It would take forever to fill a bin bag as they are so small!

Our home was warm and welcoming, the big red AGA a source of comfort and a place to gather. Herbs would often be laid out on special trays to dry over the top, emanating the fragrance of the plant as they slowly dried. The bookshelves were laden with the most interesting books on anatomy, biology, plants and disease and differential diagnosis. Patients would travel from all over the country to visit my father, some from oversees.


Herbalist lineage – Naomi’s great, great grandfather Dr Samuel Lamb


In between seeing patients and running his practice, my father also lectured all over the US to doctors and health professionals.2 At the age of 85 he is now Scotland’s longest practicing medical herbalist, still working full-time in his herbal practice where his dispensary has over 200 herbal tinctures.

He still makes a few of his own plant tinctures now; Echinacea, Elderberry, Milk thistle, Cat’s claw, (a herb which comes from the Peruvian rainforest, so unique and amazing whole books are written about it). And of course his famous Thyme syrup which has preserved the health of many lungs and is a jewel in the crown for coughs. We come from a long line of doctors and in the 1800s my great, great, great grandfather Dr Samuel Lamb was known to stand outside his surgery at the end of the day waving his white handkerchief to signal the pony and trap.

I took up the baton along with my sister Sophie Lamb, the only second generation herbalist in the UK here in Tunbridge Wells. We know that healing comes about through a multi-factorial approach. A holistic approach where people are seen as whole and individual beings. It is so important that a person is seen and heard. The power of human touch, encouragement, nutrition and herbs can go a long way in bringing about healing. And now more than ever, this is not only necessary but vital. We are unique, complex, amazing beings.

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