Helping the Canaries


There is the gift of listening herbalists offer clients during consultations. Yet the question is: what does the herbalist hear?


The other day I was speaking with a group of budding herbalists. They have just begun student clinic and each client has brought them more questions than answers.


I remember those days, overcome with enthusiasm and overwhelmed with the momentous undertaking of being a herbalist and helping people. We used to secretly whisper, “Can herbal medicine really help this person? It seemed like they have so many things wrong with them.”





This was the question that was asked the other day. The students had seen someone who had multiple significant sensitivities.


What about the person with so many food and herb sensitivities, it seems like there is nothing you can give them? Behind the question I could hear another question: Is the person making it up?

But what about the people with multiple sensitivities - like sensitivities to everything?

Canaries, I answered. I think of these clients as canaries. Like the canaries in the coal mines. They are the first to drop when the air quality become borderline dangerous for the human coal miners. These people are warning for us all.


What do you do for them?

Find their health and treat them gently.

Find moments of connection

I remember when I was sick. I mean really sick. Life supports sick. There were many moments, stuck in a hospital bed, a tube in every orifice (well not my ears) that I experience from within a very ill body compassion, joy, humour, friendship, tenderness, and happiness. These moments, although it was years ago that I was in the hospital bed, shine like jewels in my memory. They were the jewels amongst the many moments of despair, loneliness, and resignation.

Although clearly the machines and medicine had a big part in keeping me alive, it was the human emotions that lead to connection with others that healed me. These emotions were my health at that time. They still are.


To truly heal we need to experience our health, no matter how faint it maybe. Understanding this is the difference between healing and curing. You may not be able to cure all your clients challenges but you may be able show them how to heal.

This is where I begin when I meet a canary in clinic. I listen carefully for their health and then begin there.

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