Gaynor Lottering is the only phytotherapist in Namibia. New Era spoke to her to find out what phytotherapy is and how she operates.
By Catherine Sasman
Phytotherapy, or the study of herbal medicine, aims at enhancing the body’s inherent life force for healing.
“If, for example, you have a sore and you scratched yourself, what heals the sore is the inherent life force that does the healing,” explains Gaynor Lottering.
“And if you support your life force, then of course, it will heal the body from the inside.”
The soft-spoken Lottering is the only phytotherapist – or medical herbalist – in Namibia, and 10 others are practising it in South Africa.
Lottering sits in her neat but simply furnished consulting room that her practical husband has built next to their home. A fresh herbal whiff hangs in the cool morning air; there is not a hint of any chemically induced odours and the atmosphere in the room feels light and breezy, warm and friendly.
Next to the small consulting room is a colourful waiting room with charts of herbs pinned on the walls: ‘herbs for women’, ‘herbal remedies for children’.
Attached to that is her laboratory where Lottering and her assistant, Marco Ahrens, press, mix and bottle her various herbal concoctions.
Phytotherapy, says Lottering, is aimed at treating the causes of diseases and not merely the symptoms, and although it is classed as a complementary discipline to orthodox medicine, it is still considered to be the most widely practised form of medicine worldwide with over 80 percent of the global population relying on herbs for their health.
Herbal medicine as the oldest form of medicine uses plant remedies in the treatment of diseases.
“Our ancestors, by trial and error, found the most effective local plants to heal their illnesses. With the advance in science to identify the active constituents in plants, we can better understand their healing powers,” says Lottering.
She explains: “Through the ages people have always relied on plants for food to nourish and sustain the body. Herbal medicine can be seen in the same way. Plants with a particular affinity for certain organs or systems of the body are used to ‘feed’ and restore to health those parts that have become weakened. As the body strengthens, so is its power and ability to fight off disease and when balance and harmony are restored, health will be regained.”
Although pharmaceutical drugs use plant constituents, there are differences between that and herbal drugs. With pharmaceutical drugs, a single constituent is extracted and then synthesised in mass production. With herbal drugs, extracts are taken from the entire plant – like the leaves, roots, berries, and so on – and therefore contain hundreds, if not thousands, of plant constituents.
Herbalists believe that the active constituents are balanced within the plant and made more, or less, powerful by the numerous other substances present.
So for example, says Lottering, the herb ephedra sinica is the source of the alkaloid ephedrine that is used in orthodox medicine to treat asthma and nasal congestion. Its side effect, however, is high blood pressure. There are six other alkaloids in the plant, of which one prevents the rise of blood pressure. The herbal usage would thus balance out the negative effects.
In South Africa, medical herbalists, she says, undergo a rigorous study of medical sciences, the same diagnostic skills as orthodox doctors, pharmacy, material medica and dietetics, in addition to a minimum of 500 hours of supervised clinical training.
But medical herbalists take a more holistic approach to illness, says Lottering.
“Medical doctors have an immense amount of knowledge and they actually are very competent,” says Lottering, reluctant to lock horns with conventional medical practices.
“The only pity is that sometimes they are so busy and they see so many patients that they often do not hone in on the actual problem and that is because they are often only after the money rather than treating the person.
Some of the caring has gone away.”
Medical herbalists therefore make a study of the underlying causes of a disease to restore the balance of the body and enabling it to mobilise its own healing powers.
Phytotherapy, says Lottering, is therefore more than just merely dispensing herbs.
“When I see a patient for the first time, I do a full medical history of that person. I want to know about each individual condition the person has suffered from birth, what operations the patient has had, what the situation is and what its manifestation in the body it has,” she says.
Examining the patient’s medical history is fairly extensive. It involves a discussion around former complaints, past accidents, hospitalisations and blood transfusions, a family medical history such as strokes and mental diseases and hereditary illnesses, questions around the patient’s lifestyle, a look at the patient’s cardiovascular and respiratory systems, the nervous and muscular systems, the skin condition, and more. A urine sample is taken and a full physical examination is then conducted.
In the case of children, additional discussions will also be around the social development of the child, their diets, and the vaccinations they have had.
Lottering strongly feels that children get exposed to too many vaccinations too closely stacked together, and that these can cause serious disabilities in children.
Children get 23 vaccinations during their first 10 years, 18 of which are administered during the first 18 months of the child’s life.
“I understand that the Ministry of Health and Social Services is doing its best to create a healthy population, but too many vaccines so closely administered can cause among others autism, and immense learning disabilities.”
Other aspects that negatively impact on children’s health and development are aggressive environments, particularly at home, caused by excessive drinking, smoking, bickering and fighting.
“Children need to go out into a safe environment, for example, for the appropriate development of the nervous system,” she says.
The first consultation – usually of two hours long – allows the herbal practitioner to hone in on the different systems inside the body.
“And then we can clearly start to see a pattern of how an imbalance is manifesting in the body. Once you start treating the cause of an illness, everything else starts to fall into place,” says Lottering.
And, she adds, there are four slices to the health cake: one part is the herbal remedies; the other is a healthy diet geared at eliminating the “bad” foods that trigger ill-health and disease in the body; a positive outlook on life; and regular exercise.
These four components are not exclusive of each other and are all necessary to attain, and sustain, good health.
“This is a winning combination,” says Lottering.
“Most people that comply a hundred percent show magnificent improvements within a week-and-a-half.”
The diet, she says, works very well for most people. And a healthy diet boils down to eating fruits and vegetables, reducing the intake of animal fats, reducing processed meats, the elimination of smoked meats like biltong or boerewors. Instead, she suggests, people should rather eat lean meat, chicken and fish.
“Put more of that on your plate; that is where your health lies,” she urges.
She, for example, prescribes a simple preventative measure against different forms of cancer – “for prostrate cancer, breast cancer, uterine and ovarian cancers and colon cancer” – “Take an equal combination (100 grams each) of linseed, sunflower seeds, pumpkin and sesame seeds, grind these and put it in your porridge or cereal in the morning. How much simpler and how much more preventative than that can you go!”
For exercise, especially for those who are not great gym fans, she proposes a brisk walking, jogging or cycling regime, or 20 minutes on a mini trampoline (“Not to jump on, but merely bouncing while swinging your arms around, and turning your head to each side. The swaying gets rid of the tension in the upper body, the neck and shoulders.”) Exercising for 20 to 30 minutes three to four times a week, she says, does wonders.
“As long as you get your heart rate up and the blood and lymph flowing,” says the energetic Lottering.
The positive attitude component of good health is possibly the hardest part to obtain for most people.
“I always tell people to forget the past, which is often a negative power over your life. Live in the here and now! You cannot change anything about the past, but you can do something now,” she gestures emphatically.
Medical herbalists treat “just about anything”, but mostly concentrate on chronic conditions. Medical emergency conditions are usually directly referred to orthodox medical practitioners.
Medical herbalists most commonly treat digestive and gynaecological systems, provide supportive treatments in heart and circulation conditions, joints and muscles, the nervous system (for migraines, headaches, depression, anxiety, insomnia and stress), the respiratory system, skin diseases, and supportive treatment to the male reproductive system and high blood pressure.
Body massages are given to patients who have a lot of pain and inflammation to get the circulation going and clear the lymphatic system of toxic debris.
“The combination of massages, herbs, a change of lifestyle and exercise shows immense results within a very short time. You can actually see how the person becomes relaxed, sleeping improves, and patients start to look much younger, especially those older than 40,” she says.
In compliment to the herbal treatments, Lottering also does what she calls healing.
“I am a healer,” she says.
“I first asked God for the gift to test medicines,” says the deeply religious Lottering. This “gift” has spilled out into other areas of her work.
“Of course, the gift came with certain sacrifices,” she is quick to add. For her, these involved giving up on meat and other dietary sacrifices, humility and unconditional love, “so that God can use me as a vehicle” for “incredible rewarding” work.
Here, she says, she places her hands on a persons chest and abdominal areas, and “calls on Jesus Christ” to align the physical body. “This is very relaxing for the body. Patients walk out of here so much more positive and motivated; all negativity is gone.”
She prefers to see patients once a month for a three-month period. The first month is used to start the body fluids moving; the second month a stabilisation of the condition is sought; and in the third month the “body has started to work on its own” [the life force has kicked in].
She is also in the process of developing her own herbal range of medicines.
“I have an enormous amount of insight into the human body and I know which areas I work in a lot. I know what works with great success and what does not.”
But all in all, says Lottering, people have to take care of their own health and take charge of their own healing.
“The basics of good health are a healthy diet, positive thinking, laughing a lot and reducing stress levels.”