by Anne Stobart

A medicinal forest garden in the UK

Growing Virginian Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Anne Stobart is a clinical herbal practitioner and grower based in the UK. She was an intern at the Ohio Botanical Sanctuary in autumn 2010. She says, “In Ohio, I gained a deep respect for the plants and the people struggling to protect them and gathered many ideas for more sustainable cultivation and harvest back in the UK.” Since then the project Holt Wood Herbs, founded by Anne and her partner in the South West of England, has continued to grow, transforming an old conifer plantation into a vibrant medicinal forest garden. The aim has been to develop experience in cultivating and harvesting a range of medicinal trees and shrubs suitable for a temperate climate. At Holt Wood, Anne is growing both native and introduced plants. Using alternative herbs to endangered species and reducing air miles in imported herbal supplies have been key factors in deciding what to grow and harvest. For example, antispasmodic bark is harvested from native coppiced shrubs such as cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), while the young leafy twigs of introduced Virginian witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) are gathered for distillation into an antiinflammatory water.

Support for organic herb growers

Anne harvesting Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus)

In January 2018, Anne joined with a herbal practitioner colleague in organising a session on developing UK herb cultivation at the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC). The ORFC is a stunning and eclectic yearly get-together of people from all kinds of growing contexts — agroforestry, organic farming, forest gardens, permaculture, and more. Subsequently, in 2019, a new Organic Herb Growers Co-operative is being launched in the UK, aimed at supporting herb growers using organic methods. Many herbs are imported for cosmetic, culinary, and medicinal use from Europe and the USA but could be grown or harvested in the UK. Despite FairWild and other initiatives, these imported herbs are often wild-harvested with little attention to sustainability or regeneration of plant populations. There are growing opportunities for UK organic farmers since the herb market continues to expand and, due to customer demand, manufacturers and producers are looking to ensure the sustainable provenance of supplies. It is planned that the Organic Herb Growers Co-op will help to link growers and producers while promoting networking and training to ensure the quality of herbal supplies.

Courses in medicinal trees and shrubs

The medicinal forest garden at Holt Wood, Devon, UK

Meanwhile, short courses are run at Holt Wood about designing a medicinal forest garden and harvesting medicinal trees and shrubs. A new course planned for 2019 is “Medicinal Herbs in Historical Practice”, in which participants
will learn about native wild plants harvested in the seventeenth century and explore traditional preparations. Anne is currently writing a book on cultivating and using medicinal trees and shrubs in a temperate climate, The Medicinal Forest Garden Handbook. It will be published in early 2020 by Permanent Publications. You can see more about the Holt Wood Herbs project here and see the website blog at