A CORK herbalist and lecturer believes we could all benefit from being more in tune with the natural world and with the ancient wisdom of our culture, and believes that curiosity about these topics has driven the popularity of her book and teachings.
Rosarie Kingston PhD practises as a medical herbalist in an integrative medical practice in West Cork and also lectures on the topic, ‘Herbs and Healing in Irish Folklore’, in the Department of Folklore and Ethnology, at University College, Cork.
In 2021, she published Ireland’s Hidden Medicine – An Exploration of Irish indigenous Medicine from Legend and Myth to the Present Day.
“In this book, I trace the path and fortunes of Irish indigenous medicine from the legendary god of medicine, Déin Chécht, to today,” she says.
“This journey explores the difference in world-view between biomedicine and indigenous medicine, before it sketches the changing fortunes of this indigenous tradition, from the coming of Christianity, through the law tracts and the medical manuscripts of the middle ages, to its demise with the fall of the old Gaelic order in the 17th century.”
Rosarie tells The Echo she also wrote her book as a tribute to the many people around the country who have kept the traditions of healing and herbal medicine alive, even when these topics were dismissed and denigrated in public opinion.
“I had met so many of them and they had impressed me so much, it was really written in honour of them, it was to honour their tradition, to honour the fact that they kept a lot of people in good health down through the years,” she says.
Rosarie said Ireland’s indiginous medicine traditions survives by word of mouth and thanks to the dedication of practitioners.
“It is hidden because people don’t talk about it,” she says. “So, if you are looking for a cure you actually have to go out of your way to find the person with the cure. It could be your next-door neighbour.
“They won’t speak about it, you can be guaranteed that if they advertise their wares, they’re phony. It is only if you say you have a problem and you say, ‘I wonder is there anybody with a cure for it’, that somebody might open up, or they’ll talk to somebody who knows somebody else who knows somebody else. A donation is accepted but generally, across the board, they don’t charge.
Rosarie gave an example of one healer she knows.
“This man is not a wealthy man, he would be an ordinary small farmer, and he sits inside at home every night from six until ten o’clock, and he’ll have two or threes cars in the yard, maybe four or five and they will come in for treatment,” she says.
“He takes no charge. Think of that commitment, that selflessness.
“You cannot but stand back and say, how can we be critical of them, why are they not honoured, like our poets?
“Under the World Health Organisation, the indigenous medicine of any country is supposed to be recognised.”
Rosarie’s greatest fear is that this store of knowledge could be lost.
“The saddest part for me is how much of it is dying, this is particularly in the area of plant medicine and manipulation,” she says.
““You don’t see the children [of healers] picking it up. There are two problems, one is that conventional medicine frowns on it, but the other area would be that they are afraid of litigation.
“I think that is a big issue. I know one particular healer and that is the reason the son gave why he doesn’t want it. And remember they don’t charge. A donation is accepted, but generally, across the board, they don’t charge.“
However, Rosarie has seen some change in recent years. She believes there is a new acceptance of the wisdom of living in harmony with the environment and this has led to greater interest in traditional medicine.
She points to the growing popularity of forest bathing, the practice of immersing yourself in nature in a mindful way, and social prescribing of activity and time in nature.
Rosarie believes that we could all benefit from bringing an awareness of the turning of the Celtic year and the lunar cycle into our lives.
“The minute you tune into the cycle, you automatically tune in with the environment. It is a very simple thing,” she says.
“If you don’t sleep at night, one simple thing is to check does it coincide with the full moon. I would have patients who say they can’t sleep around the full moon, and it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference whether they have blackout curtains or not.
“You are thinking more in terms of the natural cycle of life, rather than thinking of a calendar. Even thinking about planting vegetables, the whole biodynamic thing.
“We had a thing in Ireland where you didn’t butcher animals coming up to the full moon because of course they would bleed too much. During a full moon, everything is waxing and rising to the surface.
“It is like a spring tide, when you have a combination of a full moon and high tide you get a greater swell in the water. If you ever look at a river, at full moon, even if it is not in flood, it will look full.
“We are part of the environment. I think it is one of the biggest problems we have with cities, the lack of green spaces.
“We have emotions, we have a spiritual aspect to our lives, we have a physical aspect and we have a mental one.
“If you like, they are the four pillars of health and if they are not integrated it is very difficult for us to work properly. Life becomes difficult.”
Rosarie was heartened by the response when she held an online event recently to discuss the topics in her book.
“It was incredible, I just couldn’t believe it,” she says. “Maybe people were taken by the word ‘hidden’ even though it says it is a history, but more than 550 people signed up and 260 people turned up on the night. It was extraordinary.
One attendee told her they loved it because ‘it brought it all together’.
“It suddenly wasn’t just a piseog, it gave it a history.”
Rosarie passionately believes in the potential benefits of this knowledge being shared more widely.
“I conclude by showing this medicine is not dead and can be usefully incorporated into our lives today,” she says. “By following its worldview and practices, we can bring about health and healing in our lives.”
Ireland’s Hidden Medicine – An exploration of Irish indigenous Medicine from Legend and Myth to the Present Day, by Rosarie Kingston. Published by Aeon Books. Available now.