Herbalists and naturopaths in Brisbane

Conferences aren’t all sitting and listening to lectures, though I must admit there can be too much of that. The conferences that bring together your tribe are a great way to network and also to catch up with your mates. You get to hear the social news, and also about their work – and you hear even more of what they are thinking about if they are presenting.

For decades, the NHAA’s (Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia) International Conference has been my favourite place to catch up with colleagues from across the country. Last weekend we were in Brisbane. This is not a conference summary, just a reflection on some of the things I enjoyed.

Teaching online (with the University of Tasmania), means colleagues as well as students are far-flung across Australia, so these conferences have a new importance. It was lovely to catch up with colleagues in person rather than on skype. And it was a special treat, that we were all presenting, so I got to hear what they are thinking about.

Dawn Whitten, Jason Hawrelak, Sue Evans and Cathy Avila at conference dinner

Dawn Whitten, Jason Hawrelak, Sue Evans, Cathy Avila

Dawn’s presentations reflected on her passion for the health of mums and bubs. Her skill is to use the research to provide very practical advice about this vulnerable time – to explain the development and behaviors of babies and what can and can’t be expected of them.

Jason presented on the microbiome in metabolic disease. Jason has been building on his PhD work on the gut flora for many years now but has no lost the enthusiasm for a field that seems to be forever providing new evidence of its importance. When the old naturopaths and herbalists used to tell us ‘when in doubt, treat the gut’ there was more than a little wisdom being expressed. This is another aspect of traditional knowledge which is now being underpinned by science.
Cathy shared some of the work she and Dawn and I have been chipping away at – the evidence behind the use of herbs in pregnancy and lactation. One of the issues we have uncovered concerns the limitations of using animal data as part of this evidence – we are about to submit for publication, so more on this later.

Clinician-researchers who are great presenters, talking about topics they love – what could be better?

Sue presenting storytelling workshop

storytelling workshop

My own workshop took a different tack, it was on storytelling – delegates shared their stories about herbs – and what a treasure-trove we uncovered there!

Jason and I were among those honoured at the Gala Dinner for contributions to herbal medicine and to the Association – Jason became a Fellow of the NHAA, and I was awarded Life Membership. My lovely, if extensive, citation, is here.


The next NHAA conference will mark the centenary of the organization – it’s the oldest natural medicine association in Australia. It will be a grand occasion.