Who owns our health? Inside the medicinal garden

23 July 2010

Dr Vivienne Lo planting the herb spiral

Dr Vivienne Lo has created a medicinal herb spiral in central London to address issues around the use of food and herbs as medicine in everyday home remedies or as dangerous substances to be regulated.

Dr Lo specialises in the history of Chinese medical practice at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine. She translates and analyses excavated and recovered manuscripts from the early imperial and mediaeval period concerned with the development of self-care: therapeutic food and exercise and acupuncture and moxibustion (a traditional Chinese medicine therapy using moxa, or artemesia).

The herb spiral forms part of her current project researching the history of food as medicine in China. She said: ““I dreamed up the herb spiral to teach us what’s safe and what’s appropriate when we are suffering from a cold or virus so that we can deal with these kinds of complaints in an everyday way. My early work has been about self-care in ancient China and most recently the boundaries of food and medicine and it’s really in that context that I’m building the spiral.”

“Food is really the basis of medicine in many different respects, certainly the kind of potencies attributed to food then became attributed to medicines. But we think the boundaries between food and medicine are obvious when in fact they’re not at all. As this project develops what I hope to see is an outreach project that really focuses on children and the care of children.”

Dr Lo’s work forms part of a conference on Potent Substances: the Boundaries of Food and Medicine which will run from 13 –15 September 2010. The event aims to offer recommendations for both policy and practice in relation to the boundaries of food and pharmacy and will draw on the interdisciplinary knowledge of the participants. Sub-themes will be covered over the three days including Old Food and Drugs for New; Boundaries and Expertise and Medico-Culinary Arts, Media and the Environment.

Image above: Dr Vivienne Lo planting herbs


UCL context

The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL continues to build on its proud tradition of excellence in furthering the academic study of the history of medicine and an awareness of its importance. History counts, as anyone reading about current events recognises. The Centre remains committed to furthering the knowledge of medicine’s past in order to offer analyses of the complexities and ambiguities, as well as the hard-won knowledge, surrounding health, diseases, and their treatment.