Dee's Blog


Our 'Dragon's Breath' Cough Syrup Is Helping Refugees

Dee says: I am always in awe of anyone who stands up and takes action for positive change in the world and, recently, I had the honour of meeting such an individual. Catherine Johnson is a herbalist who lives in Wales and who has decided to do something extremely practical to help the many refugees across the Channel who are stranded, far from their homes and families and in desperate need. In short, Catherine gets in her car, with as many herbal and other medical supplies as she can carry and drives over to France. Once there she works out of her backpack, alongside a team of other medics and interpreters, providing medicine and giving practical and emotional support to those who need it. She is just one person but one person who has decided to do something and is doing it to great effect.

It’s wonderful to know that our traditional D. Atkinson Cough Syrup and our D. Atkinson Composition Essence are being used to help alleviate some of the refugees’ suffering and I’m delighted to be supplying Catherine with as many bottles as she needs. The Cough Syrup is an old traditional formula, containing thyme, marshmallow root and elderflower, that I have been using in my clinic in Edinburgh for many years. The Composition Essence is a wonderful combination of spices including ginger, cloves, cinnamon and cayenne which is a great warming immune boost and active against many bacteria and viruses.

Please consider making a donation to this amazing initiative by going to Catherine’s Go Fund Me page here and giving whatever you can. In a world full of talk and good intentions, Catherine’s practical response of going to France and providing herbal and other medicines to those who need it most is more than humbling – it’s inspiring.

Here is Catherine’s story.

In October last year I was volunteering in Calais during the shut down of the ‘Jungle’ camp. Since February 2016 I had been working backwards and forwards between Calais and my practice, Hilltop Herbs, in the lovely Welsh hills outside of Wrexham. Going back in October was an incredibly emotional time. We knew that the camp was about to be bulldozed and we all feared for the safety and welfare of the wonderful men, women and children we had grown to love. I had decided to go to the NIMH (National Institute of Medical Herbalists) conference before I left, really, just to recharge and be with my tribe before I left the next day for what I knew would be a difficult last visit to the infamous 'Jungle camp' before it's closure.  

Walking around the NIMH conference I noticed a crowd had gathered around Tony at the Planta Medica stall, who was busy giving out shots of a traditional cough syrup that people were describing as “dragons breath”! Being horribly prone to blushing, but spurred on by fellow herbalists, I made my way from stall to stall begging for samples. Red faced, I asked Tony and fellow herbalist, Dee Atkinson, if I could take what was left of their supplies of D. Atkinson cough mixture and composition essence with me to France. They generously agreed, and I left for Calais the next day clutching half a bottle of each.  

During those last few weeks in Calais one of our biggest tasks was figuring out what medication and equipment to keep with us, and what to remove from the caravans ahead of their impending destruction. With a sharp increase in the number of people presenting with respiratory infections, severely congested lungs and breathing difficulties (mostly due to the amount of CS gas and pepper spray being deployed by the CRS police), I figured that along with the usual first aid kit, Elderberry and Echinacea syrup, Liquorice and Thyme syrup and pre-made festival style mixes, I would carry the finagled bottles of D. Atkinson Composition Essence and Traditional Cough Syrup acquired from Planta Medica.    

As the week went on we became increasingly short of medical staff and antibiotics, as one by one the medical teams pulled out of camp. By the end of the first week we had very few packs of antibiotics, the police were preventing us from moving people off camp to the hospital or free clinic, and the constant presence of CS gas was making the situation intolerable. All of us were feeling the effects of the wood smoke from the makeshift fires, the gas, the stress, cold and exhaustion. I had run out of Thyme and Liquorice syrup and was rationing out the Traditional Cough syrup and Compound Essence only to those who absolutely needed it, and my goodness did it work! The medicine was amazing: loosening phlegm, opening up airways, and in the case of the compound essence, lowering fever and fighting infection. In fact, it was so amazing that we had inadvertently become victims of our own success. People told other sick people what medicine they had, the camp grapevine kicked into gear, and soon a line of people had formed, all requesting the 'strong medicine'. Much to the amusement of several doctors, people were refusing the usual over the counter cough syrups, bronchodilators and paracetamol, and requesting the herbal mixtures. Lizzie Linton, Jessica Edwards and myself were so overwhelmed with patients that we set up a cold and flu clinic out of the boot of our car, where we triaged and treated people outside for about 8 hours each day, with me listening to chests and diagnosing, Lizzie and Jess dispensing and doing crowd control. The French paramedics, who were bravely risking their liberty to come into camp and treat people, were asking for the herbal medicine. Doctors and nurses from the other caravans were asking for a shot to keep themselves from getting ill and were referring patients across to us and asking where their own patients in the UK could buy some.

I know we often hear talk about how difficult it is to get the respect of the medical profession and how hard it is to make them understand just what we can do, but it’s been my experience that simply working side by side with all types of medical professionals, letting them see your skills in practice and see for themselves how efficacious your herbs are, quickly converts them.

Yes, there have been times when people didn’t want to work with me. Times when someone has told me I could give out cough sweets and bandage wounds but not anything else because I might ‘miss something important’ as I’m not ‘properly trained’. I won’t lie, it is frustrating and makes you feel just awful.  But I’ve learnt that letting go of my ego, handing out cough sweets, treating people’s wounds, staying calm but firm in my own decisions and confident in my own ability as a clinician, opens a dialogue and builds respectful relationships. I love the fact that I have worked with dozens of medics from several countries who now go back to their own hospitals and tell people that those herbalists, they really know their stuff and their treatment works and their patients come back and send others because they have such confidence in their skills.  

Despite the dreadful conditions and terrible circumstances, it has been an incredible learning experience to practice within a multi disciplinary group, each person respected for their skills, each person knowing where their competency begins and ends, able to refer and ask for the opinion and help of the other professionals. Our medicine works and our training equips us. We fulfil a vital role. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, step up and help. There is a place for herbal medicine and there is a need for you.  

Post script: I received a Facebook message on Saturday from a paramedic and a nurse who are in Paris treating refugees living on the streets. It reads, ‘We need you. Come quick and bring the dragon breath stuff!’

Please give whatever you can to Catherine's Go Fund me page here. Even the smallest donation will help Catherine continue her amazing work.



Dee Atkinson MNIMH

Dee is one of the UK's top herbalists and owns and runs D. Atkinson Herbalist in Edinburgh - a herbal dispensary and shop which provide a wide range of herbal medicines, vitamins, supplements, herbal skincare as well as a herbal dispensary. Next door is Napiers Clinic.

Dee qualified as a Medical Herbalist in 1988 and took over Napiers the Herbalists in 1990, building it up into one of the UKs most respected and trusted Complementary Medicine Clinics.

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