When I began writing about foraging and herbalism almost a year ago, it was impossible to explain my journey without talking about my battle with fibromyalgia. Since first mentioning it I have had so many messages and questions about my approach to coping with this terrible ‘syndrome’ I felt I had to write something about it. I have no idea how many people have the illness in the UK but everyone I meet seems to know either another sufferer or someone with chronic fatigue/ME which is very similar.


The common perception is that people with fibro and ME are somehow lazy, but in reality the opposite is usually true. They are often very driven over-achievers which makes the illness even crueller. These misconceptions stem from the fact sufferers rarely look ill, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because, if our illness was reflected in our appearance, it would look horrifying. It is also a curse appearing so ‘healthy’, as people struggle to understand or sometimes believe how poorly we are.

We confuse people further by having good days and bad days. The problem is those who witness us on a good day when we can shop or clean or walk a mile rarely see what follows, which is likely to be several days completely floored in agony. Another misconception is that we are malingerers, only after benefits and state support. Like many of the afflicted I am self-employed because that is all I can cope with, and for the record I don’t claim a thing.

White Willow CapsulesEach day brings a new struggle. For instance, we become human barometers; every weather change is felt and our symptoms alter dramatically with the seasons. Winter is the hardest time for most – I’ve been out of action for all of January. However, this is a vast improvement on previous years where I was typically very ill and practically housebound from October until March. Added to this, fibromyalgia sufferers walk the invisible tightrope of trying to keep our entire systems balanced. We can be knocked completely off kilter by the slightest thing. For example, sitting in a cold draft can cause me terrific pain and lack of mobility for days.

Fibromyalgia is described by the medical profession as a chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder, but this doesn’t even go half-way to describing it. Here’s a list of some of the other common symptoms:

Peeling Silver Birch Bark

  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Mental confusion known as fibro fog
  • Digestive disorders and food sensitivities
  • Dizziness, disorientation and impaired vision
  • Cognitive and memory impairment
  • IBS
  • Cramps and muscles spasms
  • Restless leg
  • Multiple chemical sensitivity
  • Light and sunlight sensitivity
  • Noise sensitivity
  • Chronic headaches
  • Extreme joint and muscle stiffness which inhibit movement and mobility

Lawn DaisiesI have suffered from all of the above and many more besides. There is never a pain-free day which makes it easy to understand why sufferers can become depressed and even suicidal. Doctors have no real idea what causes fibromyalgia and even less of an idea how to cure it. Many GPs still believe it is psychosomatic but research in the US has conclusively disproved this.

The standard medical approach is to prescribe very strong pain meds and steroids – I chose to say no to both when I was diagnosed. I felt instinctively that my system was very fragile and consequently needed a gentle, natural approach. Initially I decided to seek the advice of a homeopath who helped me to improve and was kind enough to support my herbal studies. After years of research there came a point, six months ago, where I felt confident enough to take over my own treatment.

Self Heal Salve

Firstly, like most fibro sufferers, I have very low vitamin D levels which I believe is often the cause of the associated confusion and depression. I take vitamin D supplements along with a range of natural pain relief, both health shop-bought and homemade. I try to alternate my pain medication so that I don’t become immune to anything or put stress on internal organs from overuse. So far I have tried white willow bark and meadowsweet capsules, and teas made from lawn daisies, dried silver birch bark, fresh ginger root and peppermint. Some are stronger than others but none of them, so far, irritate my stomach like pharmaceutical painkillers. However, I am still researching remedies to alleviate the symptoms of fatigue.

I apply homemade salves every day, using self-heal as an anti-inflammatory and horsetail to help my body absorb nutrients previously lost due to poor digestion.  As a coeliac I already avoid gluten but have read several fibro articles which suggest a gluten-free diet is beneficial for sufferers. I also avoid alcohol and eat as healthily as possible.

Lavender Bath OilI make an effort to do some exercise every day, even if it’s just a few yoga moves or a slow walk round the block. Hot baths with lavender oil and yoga at night have helped me to largely overcome insomnia. Most importantly I try to stay positive which is not always easy but as soon as I think negatively I feel worse. It is equally important to be kind to yourself and learn to listen to what your body needs. I can’t claim that any of this is a cure but it does make my condition more manageable and is gradually improving my health and slowly giving me some of my life back.

Happy healing.

By Claire Fleetneedle




White willow bark

  • Avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • It should be avoided by people suffering from bleeding disorders
  • Do not take if you have liver or kidney problems
  • Do not take if you suffer from asthma, stomach ulcers or diabetes
  • Not to be taken by people who suffer from aspirin allergies


  • Avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Do not take if you have an allergy to aspirin
  • Do not take if you are taking any anti-coagulants – such as warfarin
  • Not to be taken by people suffering from asthma

Lawn daisy

  • Avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Silver birch bark tea should only be taken under herbal supervision

Fresh ginger root

  • Do not take root tea if you are pregnant


  • Prolonged use (in very high doses) can lower vitamin B1 levels
  • Horsetail should be avoided by pregnant or breast feeding women
  • If you have a nicotine allergy do not use this herb


DISCLAIMER: These are some of my personal experiences or using the above herbs combined with information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate, in the treatment of specific conditions it is best to consult a herbalist or your GP. Always check if any pharmaceutical medication you are taking is compatible before trying herbs.  If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the herbs mentioned above please stop using them immediately. Always take care when identifying plants.