Alternative medicine

Local focus: aspiring herbalist joins the alternative medicine market

The market apothecary gains a loyal clientele. Produced with funding from NZ On Air.

Foraging is part of Keely’s daily activities. As a herbalist, she and her faithful companion Sprocky roam the parks of Whanganui and Awa in search of medicinal plants and herbs.

“An herbalist is someone who works in relation to plants,” Keely said. “Someone who serves nature, someone who is like an instrument of the natural world, someone who can be the person who can be the ‘conversation’ between plants and people.”

Keely calls himself a budding herbalist. Having practiced herbalism informally, she is studying remotely with the Southern Institute of Medical Herbalism to become a certified medicinal herbalist.

His work is already all the rage. She sells her tinctures, topical balms and luxury products at the Whanganui Saturday Market and online under the Wild Tender banner.

His plan is to share his knowledge with others to help people become “kitchen herbalists”.

“I would like to expand Wild Tender so that it becomes a place where I can teach people how to build medicinal gardens, so that I can go to people’s homes and teach them how to build the gardens and also how to harvest and process their own medicine .”

Like herbalism, much of modern medicine is also plant-based. Pharmaceuticals receive more scientific testing, while herbalism falls under alternative medicine, but for some customers its effectiveness is undeniable.

“The other day I got the funniest review from someone, they use moon medicine that I make,” Keely said. “I didn’t want this to happen, but it helps a lot of women with endometriosis, and I got this review from this person who’s like ‘whoever it is, they’re witches because I don’t have not suffered or nauseous since using this tincture”.

Bridget Tyson is another happy customer who uses dye made by Keely.

“I have metastatic breast cancer, so I have three spinal fractures,” she said. “I use it daily for pain relief. I take stable pain relief, but I don’t need to take my supplements if I use this.

“Cancer patients can’t use a lot of chemicals, so it’s really good because it doesn’t contain all the bad stuff.”

According to The Global Wellness Institute, the complementary medicine industry has grown rapidly over the past decade and is currently valued at over US$4 trillion worldwide.

Another form of herbalism in New Zealand is rongoā, a Maori healing system, which is enjoying a revival across the country in an effort to improve the health of Maori communities. The Ministry of Health funds some local rongoā providers in the region and some aspects of rongoā were tested at Whanganui Hospital in 2012.

“Much of the world feeds on disease,” Keely said. “I feel like we’re starting to get to a point where our disease is unsustainable and it’s unsustainable for humanity, unsustainable for the earth, but also the crazy amount of money we have to spend for health care.

“We could do so much by going outside and incorporating nettle, dandelion and kale – eating the rainbow.”

But Keely warns pickers need to know exactly what they are looking for as some plants can be harmful if not used correctly.

To learn who’s what, budding herbalists can attend her workshops through the Community Education Center in the spring.

Produced with funding from