by Gabriel Mojay, Chair of the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA)
Part of Hilary‘s extraordinarily abundant journey through the world of medicinal plants was her training as a clinical aromatherapist through my school, the Institute of Traditional Herbal Medicine and Aromatherapy, in London from 1997-98. Hilary excelled in the course and shared her knowledge of and passion for plants freely among her group.
Hilary‘s gracious enthusiasm made it easy for her to make connections and forge friendships with all kinds of healers, teachers, distillers and purveyors. This, together with her inquiring intellect and the experience she has accrued as a grower-distiller at her home and garden in the Swiss Alps, has given her a special insight into the healing potency of herbs and essential oils.
Hilary’s insights and plant experiences are beautifully rendered in her book ‘The Green Fuse’, designed in one of my favourite typefaces, Adobe Jenson, and with beautiful photographs and hand-drawn illustrations of Chevenoz and its medicinal plants.
As the back cover reads, “this is Hilary‘s story about seeking a felt understanding of the nature of human healing. It shows that regaining the connections we have lost can enhance our health in body and mind and enrich our creativity and spirituality. In the words of Dylan Thomas, ‘the force that through the green fuse drives the flower Drives my green age’.“
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s one to treasure.
by Mairin Colleary, Managing Director, Florence House Seaford Limited
The Green Fuse is a wonderful portrayal of one woman’s love affair with nature and its magical healing plants. Its also charts Hilary’s exciting journeys through family life, her wonderful property in Chevenoz, her encounter with cancer and her search for alternative, herbal treatments. It was in Chevenoz that Hilary developed her passion for healing plants and became a distiller creating beautiful pure oils harvested from her French garden. Time spend in the Physic Garden in Kew deepened a conviction of our essential link with nature and its healing power.
But Hilary is also a scientist and all her discoveries are based in solid research and critical thinking.
The book is also a scientific description of each healing plant and their properties, much of which have been lost to modern society but would have been fully understood in Shakespeare’s time. This book hopefully will light a fuse in society and inspire us all to fight for the health of our planet.
Beautifully presented the book is a visual treat with photographs and illustrations, all hand drawn by the author.
by David Lorimer, Programme Director of the Scientific and Medical Network, Editor, Paradigm Explorer
As reviewed in Paradigm Explorer, Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network Autumn 2021
Subtitled ‘our deep connection with the power of plants’, this inspiring book describes Hilary’s fascinating journey after experiencing ‘feelings of supreme well-being’ while following the Breuss Diet – a 40-day herbal cancer cure that initiated a profound inner process through reading Jung’s autobiography with its emphasis on dreams – she includes a number throughout the book. Its deeper message is that the decline in the medicinal use of plants from the British Pharmacopoeia between 1864 and 1993 – an incredible 522 entries – is symptomatic of the loss of traditional knowledge held by indigenous tribes and the corresponding alienation from nature as we have developed a mechanistic and pharmaceutical approach to medicine and health. Central to the narrative is the story of her house and garden at Chevenoz in the French Alps of Haute Savoie, where she not only created a herb garden but also developed a range of products including tinctures, dried herbs, infused oils and incenses – a deeply satisfying process. Hilary explores the use of herbs in major world healing systems and their central concepts of connection and balance, as well as the continuing role of herbal medicine within a holistic context with an energetic basis.
She devotes a chapter to important ideas and influences, including Edward Bach’s flower remedies, Goethean science and Steiner, Alexander von Humboldt and Maria Thun’s biodynamic calendar – also courses at Schumacher College. She delves more deeply into shamanic traditions with their embodied modes of perception transcending the boundaries between inner and outer. The garden comes vividly to life for the reader, especially in appreciating the rhythm of the annual cycle, all this beautifully illustrated. These rhythms are also shamanic in connecting with seasons, sun, moon and planets, and the principles of ‘expansion and contraction, birth, growth and death.’ (p. 195) Traditional festivals are aligned to this cycle. The energy of life corresponds to the spirit of creativity, strongly present in this book and in the author’s drawings of the Green Man as well as her beautiful quilts and wood carvings. This energy is also vitalism, derided by mechanistic orthodoxy that sticks within its self-limiting boundaries.
Hilary devotes a chapter to plant profiles that include shamanic journeys to the spirit of different plants, but also details for cultivation and of therapeutic uses. These include Lavender, Juniper and Rose and lead to a deeper energetic insight and sense of connection, joining head and heart, science and spirituality, objective and subjective. Hilary remembers what we have forgotten as a culture and opens up different levels of existence and meaning that are also integrating healing avenues reconnecting us to soul, spirit and the beautiful planet on which we live. Her embodies an ecological spirituality with expanded human capacities that also unfold resonantly in the reader.
by Robin Shell, Reiki Master and Emotional Freedom Technique and Shamanic Practitioner
There are so many things I love about The Green Fuse that I’m not sure where to start. Having read all the chapters that jumped out at me, I’m now looking forward to having it by my bed to dip into so I can learn more about the uses and history of familiar plants, how the author created her herb garden, the power of aromatherapy and so much more.
I enjoyed learning the history of energy medicine with its central premise of connection, and a ‘force’ or power that can be evoked for healing, and then the decline of herbal remedies which came with the industrialization of medicine. I was introduced to the work of people like Goethe and Humboldt about whom I knew nothing and saw how their work influenced Steiner and others. I can’t wait to dive back into the sections on biodynamic principles, planetary influences and Le Calendrier Lunaire.
Some parts of the book are very familiar to me; Bach Flower Remedies, Chinese medicine and notions of Qi, prana and auras, and yet through this book I have come to appreciate that these energy systems exist in the plant world just as much as they do in our own bodies and that of other animals.
Lastly, and above all, it is the sections on Shamanism which inspire me the most. Following the author’s self discovery and healing through journeying and dreams was a delight. To hear how she uses her dreams and journeys to deepen her connection the spirits of plants has changed my relationship to my garden and to the vegetables and fruit I eat.
I love her clear and unambiguous description of the ancient practice of Shamanic journeying and it’s uses to break down barriers and deepen our connection with the spirits of plants and the Spirit World. When she talks about plants being sentient and yet, like so many other aspects of our world, increasingly commodified, it all made so much sense to me and left me with an inner ‘Of course, I knew that!’. I am grateful to the author for sharing her life’s work and inspiring me to delve deeper into the vibrant world of Nature.
by Dr Alan Cane, Former Senior Technology Correspondent, Financial Times.
Botany, like zoology and chemistry, has become, in universities at any rate, an endangered species. Taxonomy and morphology are yielding to genetic analysis and physiology to quantum theory. Queen Mary University of London, then Queen Mary College, where the author studied for her first degree, had an excellent botany department with the emphasis first, on photosynthesis under C.P. Whittingham and then fungal genetics under Alan Bevan. Today, that department has given way to integrated studies in the life sciences.
In this intriguing and undeniably controversial book, Hilary Miflin expresses her disappointment over the trend away from botany as understood by pioneers such as Charles Darwin and Alexander von Humboldt towards the physical sciences; the trend towards synthetic pharmaceuticals and away from natural and naturally extracted plant products and the loss of understanding of the spiritual connection between the plant and animal – that is, human – worlds.
It is clear that even as a student she was becoming uncomfortable with the content of conventional botany courses. As she expands her knowledge of plant products and traditional medicine that discontent becomes overt. She writes: ” How could I have previously learned so much about plants and about humans and not realised this deep healing connection between them? How could this knowledge have been reduced in an Honours Botany B.Sc. Degree to a brief course on pharmacognosy in the third year of study?”
The Green Fuse contains many strands entangled more tightly than Virginia Creeper around privet. It is a memoire of her years in the small village of Chevenoz in the French Alps, where, over more than two decades she and her husband, Ben, turned a “strange, squat, modern house” into a comfortable home with much use of Liberty print fabrics and the employment of local artisans. But Hilary’s principal preoccupation became the establishment of a substantial garden where she grew a selection of flowers and herbs chosen for their adaptability to the local soil and environmental conditions and for the essential oils and fragrances which could be extracted from them and which formed the basis of her plant product business ‘Herbes de Chevenoz’. She details how local knowledge and a booklet explaining traditional methods of cultivation – ‘L’Almanach Savoyard’ enabled her to grow herbs of remarkable quality.
There is plenty here for the aspiring herbalist: how, for example, to build a still from a stainless steel food container and a pair of wallpaper steamers. “This worked wonderfully and over time I performed over 150 distillations with it” she notes, listing lavender, rosemary, rose geranium, clary sage, juniper, marjoram among the essential oils and hydrolats she successfully produced. There is a detailed account of how to prepare plant tinctures as complete as any recipe in a popular cookery book and there are lists of plants and their medicinal properties- Equisetum arvense to staunch bleeding, Polygonum aviculare to retard the growth of children(!) and so on. These listings are no accident. Like any traditional botanist, Hilary Miflin loves collections and categorisations. The book has no less than five appendices listing, for example, all plant species used as herbs in the British Pharmacopoeia over the years to illustrate the decline in their importance in modern medicine. She collects and lists the plants in her Chevenoz garden with loving care: but above all, Hilary Miflin collects and lists people with the enthusiasm of a stamp collector Her acknowledgements alone run to three pages and more than 30 individuals. This may be a book about plants but it is even more a book about people: Jeanne, her neighbour in Chevenoz, who taught her the traditional ways of Savoyard life, Gabriel Mojay, the aromatherapist, and John Caddy, the marine biologist, among them. Incidentally, in Miflin’s world there are no villains: family, friends, teachers and acquaintances are all admirable people.
It is also a book about spiritualism, shamanism and the significance of dreams and this is where conventional scientists and Miflin may come to a parting of the ways. Miflin believes deeply in a kind of natural continuum perhaps best represented by the Chinese idea of Qi which balances the governing principles of Yin and Yang, of excess and deficiency of hot and cold. Her belief is based on her own experiences. Diagnosed with breast cancer in early middle age, she cured herself of post-operative depression by following a diet of beetroot juice and herbal teas found in a book by an Austrian engineer, Rudolf Breuss. She followed this regime for 40 days, lost 11 kilogrammes but gained, she says, extraordinary energy. This led to a renewed interest in Jungian analysis and shamanism. She took a course with the anthropologist Jonathan Horowitz a teacher of shamanism, and during a 30 minute shamanic journey (darkness, incense burning, whistling, drumming) she “made contact with a creature – so common place and so beautiful- who has been my spirit guide for the last twenty years” . It is not possible to tell from the book if this is a metaphor for a sense of inner peace and guidance or whether she is writing about experiencing contact with an actual spirit.
Miflin accepts that much of what she believes cannot be tested using conventional science, but then conventional science still cannot explain much of what we accept as ordinary reality. The Green Fuse is a complex piece of work which would repay reading and rereading. Hilary Miflin may not be, as she says in her introduction “neither messiah nor preacher” but she tells a good tale well.
by Dinah Prior, Environmental Campaigner and Wildlife Gardener
Whether you are interested in creating a garden, growing herbs, herbal medicine, helping to cure yourself or your loved ones or simply staying healthy, Hilary has written a book that touches on all of these subjects and more. It’s a book for our time, when the health of planet and people is compromised by the way we have been exploiting our resources and polluting our world. Although The Green Fuse traces a personal journey back to health through growing, preparing and using herbs, it also describes a journey that we all need to make back to the soil that feeds us.
Hilary chose to explore a new path when she was diagnosed with cancer and she generously shares this with us in her book. As in the poem of its title, The Green Fuse leaves the reader with no doubt about the connection of the natural world and the human psyche.
I read the book as a keen gardener and environmentalist with a son who was diagnosed with cancer some years ago. I recently gave it to my herbalist friend who is setting out to grow and prepare her own herbal remedies. I have no doubt she will enjoy it as much as I did.
by Peter Warne, Journalist and Digital Consultant
Hilary Miflin has written an extraordinary book, part memoir and part handbook to plants. I came away after finishing this book (for the second time in quick succession) reeling at how little I knew and understood about plants in general, and their healing properties in particular, and renewed respect for those who know a lot, like Hilary.
Hilary also takes us on a journey to where plants intersect with esotericism, which also made me reel. This nexus, as Hilary points out, has been lost in the west. The number of plants used in modern medicine is constantly waning. This matters. We should not lose sight of and understanding for the way our forbears saw and understood nature and ourselves. If we lose that, we lose respect for our world of today. This is a worthwile and fascinating read, and one you will want to repeat often.
by Anne and Jacques Lauruol
At first sight, with its attractive presentation, lovely photos and illustrations, this book entices the reader to explore more about the Green Fuse. Reading the book reveals a remarkable depth of understanding by the impassioned author of the power of plants and the psyche to heal and enlighten. With a combination of intelligence and sensitivity, drawing on her botanist and teaching background and her enquiring mind, Hilary shows how she has managed to transform her life and her approach to life, successfully conveying the intricacies of her journey to others in this inspiring, explanatory and enjoyable read. It is inspiring because the reader understands that humans can delve more deeply into their consciousness for the better; explanatory because the uninitiated can begin to understand the potential guidance for one’s soul and psyche from a commitment to the healing power of plants and their spirits and an exploration of shamanism; enjoyable because of the positivity expressed, the range of interconnected topics and the ease in connecting to the human story. It is an exciting and fascinating account of how Hilary has managed to transform adversity into a myriad of positive experiences and discoveries in her life which she shares in a vivid and captivating way.
by Fenella Dormoy, Artist, Picture Restorer
When the author was diagnosed with breast cancer she found herself on a journey that took her to a new world and a new understanding of the power of plants that went way beyond her professional scientific training. Hilary Miflin’s determination to live life to the full, studying herbalism, developing her skills as a gardener, learning the art of making plant oils and tinctures and discovering the dimly lit corners of her inner world through Jungian analysis and shamanic practices make this book a truly inspiring read.
The illustrations and beautiful photographs make The Green Fuse not only a joy to read but to look at as well.
by Andrea Hargreaves, Journalist
All who want to work towards a continued future for our world should read this inspiring and explorative approach to gardening and an understanding of nature that transcends science as we know it to bring healing and happiness.