Freedom News

The herbal solidarity project resisting state oppression

Freedom introduces its new PROFILE category, where we will focus on people or organisations; we begin with anarchist organiser Nicole Rose.

Nicole Rose became politically active at the age of 10. She fondly remembers discovering the anarchist writings of Errico Malatesta while babysitting for her mum’s friend and concludes, “Everything made sense. I finally had a framework to describe how I felt about the world.” She learnt how forms of oppression were connected and how long traditions of revolutionary struggle and social movements existed throughout history. She soon became a full-time organiser after leaving home at 16. However, this risk of repression in this work came to a head following her involvement in the SHAC campaign, an international animal rights campaign to close Europe’s largest animal testing company, Huntingdon Life Sciences, now Inotiv. Her house was raided as part of Operation Achilles, a considerable policing operation to terminate the campaign, and she was arrested and later sent to prison for three and a half years. 

Following her sentence, she continued to be active and kept herself busy. “I’ve always found it impossible to be ‘single issue’ because of how interconnected all struggles are”, she says. Indeed, campaigns against hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, and the badger cull, as well as supporting prisoners, prison abolition collectives and community food projects, are amongst just some of her contributions. Not realising it at the time, the skills and knowledge she would learn while in prison would not only strengthen this work but would develop into a far reaching herbal solidarity project that supports revolutionary struggle and helps those experiencing state oppression.

Taking root

“I had an unconventional route into herbalism,” she explains. While serving her sentence, she worked in the prison gardens for 18 months and learned from other knowledgeable women. She recalls, “They all had this amazing knowledge of plants and would tell me little things about weeds we would encounter.” During this time, she undertook two distance learning courses in herbalism and horticulture, which she describes as “transformational” and gave her the opportunity to ground her knowledge in preparation for when she was released. 

Nicole then moved in with her mum, who had remarried. Her husband owned a house with a small holding of four and a half acres, which was the ideal environment for growing herbs to develop, experiment with, and practise medicine making together with what she could forage. Initially intended as temporary, she lived there for 12 years in what she joyfully recollects as “absolutely incredible”. For five years, she dedicated herself to Feed Avalon, a workers’ co-op which provides food and horticulture training courses and workshops using a community garden. Though this work could be placed into the context of food autonomy, Nicole felt the need to expand her work politically. “I knew that prison was playing a bigger role in my life”, she clarifies, “[and] That was when I realised that I wanted my work to focus on responding to state violence.”

Being regularly politically active, or even taking part in single actions and campaigns, can severely impact the mental health and wellbeing of those participating. This is often exacerbated through state repression, enforced by the police and the courts, and regularly leads to chronic stress and anxiety. Aware of this, Nicole began to provide medicine to those she supported through Anarchist Black Cross. This, in turn, took her down a route that helped her to process her own PTSD and trauma through her experiences in prison, as well as childhood, and how these affect the body. 

Later, in 2016, she suffered from costochondritis and was repeatedly admitted to hospital. While recovering, she began a series of emotive and personal blogs that reflected the sustainability of political movements and burnout, as well as blending her interests in radical politics and social movements, health and politics of care. For her, the reflective experience was reaffirming; “I just knew that I wanted to work with plant medicines. [They] gave me so much joy in life to support others in solidarity with them.” And so, Solidarity Apothecary (SA) was born. 


2018 was SA’s first year, and Nicole had already enrolled in a four-year course at The Plant Medicine School in Ireland. She was unable to study in the UK due to her criminal record, but this became an “amazing twist of fate”, she proclaims, as the school had “great politics, [was] very practical and had a different approach to many of the academic courses [in the UK]”. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the course combined in-person and remote learning, which meant that Nicole could continue her solidarity work by supporting 39 people with plant medicine on a one-to-one basis.

The following year was transformational for SA. Amongst working for Corporate Watch part time, Nicole began volunteering with Mobile Herbal Clinic, which has supported over 10,000 refugees and migrants around Calais since starting that year. She was formative in supporting fellow herbalist and founder of The Herbal Barge, Melissa Ronaldson, in building the infrastructure, fundraising, and finalising recipes. In turn, she received comprehensive training in herbal first aid and pre-hospital care by clinical supervisors. 

Overcoming Burnout, a collection of Nicole’s writings while in recovery, and The Prisoners Herbal, a practical guide to medicine making and wellbeing for prisoners, were also published that year. Online testimony shown on SA’s website shows how meaningful this resource is to those inside and outside prison. In addition to this, she continued to support anti-badger cull activists with wellbeing parcels and started the Frontline Herbalism podcast. 

2020 was SA’s biggest year. The COVID-19 pandemic had a severe impact on support work for refugees and migrants in Calais. Nicole described the situation as “hellish” and that conditions had quickly worsened. Many were without food, suffering serious cases of dehydration and subsequently had no choice but to be taken to hospital regularly. Despite the challenges, she was able to dedicate herself to the ground eight times throughout the year. Amongst this work, Nicole printed another run of The Prisoners Herbal, distributed in the USA. Fundraisers and other support campaigns were also organised for those resisting the coastal gas pipeline in Canada, HS2 and the badger cull in the UK, and those experiencing political repression in Belarus. 

The succeeding year, Nicole graduated from her clinical training. “It was a big deal for me”, she explains, and fondly recollects her dissertation on herbal support during medical abortion and learnt from herbalists and abortion support workers across the world. Then, she stood away from Corporate Watch to pursue SA full time. Her work in Calais continued but extended to refugees and migrants in Scotland and Wales who received medicines due to their vulnerability during the pandemic. Anti-oppression work also continued and included supporting arrestees during the #KillTheBill campaign, some later imprisoned, and through workshops about herbalism and PTSD for ex-prisoners. Though she was continuously fundraising and did secure a grant, balancing all this work financially remained difficult; “I lived on nothing, but it meant I could go full force energy with the project”, said Nicole. And that she did. 


Then there was the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Nicole knew it was important to respond to it through SA, amongst other support work. “I wholeheartedly threw myself into it”, she states proudly and initiated Ukraine Herbal Solidarity. During her initial visit to Poland, it quickly became clear that even though there was an abundance of medical infrastructure in place, there was still a lack of emotional and trauma support for those fleeing Ukraine. She responded by helping set up a site in the city of Lublin alongside locals who were distributing clothing, children’s toys, sanitary items, and sim cards, amongst other items, ready for arrival. “It was one the most moving moments of my life”, she says, “[as} people were telling me horrendous stories”. She continued to explain that some burst into tears with relief over her efforts to make medicines using plants common to Ukraine. One specific story that resonated with Nicole was about a woman who previously made her own rose-based medicine every year using roses from their garden, which was destroyed following the invasion. Nicole acknowledges the gravity of such testimony; “She was weeping. It was really intense”. 

Nicole did return to the UK, but the space continued to operate while she focused on medicine making. She returned multiple times with a van full of medicines and, when she was unable to, had them shipped over. As the number of arrivals scaled down, distributions continued in Warsaw until it was concluded that efforts should specifically focus on supplying other distributions in the country. 

SA has seen developments throughout 2023. Nicole has launched a course which she notes has assisted hundreds of participants with traumatic stress and PTSD. Accessibility is important to her; she believes no one should be turned away due to poverty. So far, more than half of the participants have received a free place on the course. Developing practical systems and structures has also been a focus, which aims to make SA sustainable long-term and become “deeper rather than broader”. Not all work, however, has been behind the scenes. 

The solidarity work in Calais has continued, and though she describes it as “continuously intense”, Nicole reminisces “seeing so much humanity and beauty” in the people she has supported and regards these as special moments. Her ongoing prisoner support is also highly significant despite both coming with extensive emotional gravity. The tragic loss of Taylor in 2022, whom Nicole had built up a relationship with for 13 years, is just one painful example of this. “Seeing people living in such horrific conditions [in Calais] and feeling a lot of clinical responsibility”, she explains, is another. Indeed, the nature of her work is deeply emotive and means confronting a variation of human suffering, often a direct result of state oppression. 

Navigating this is undoubtedly a challenge. She acknowledges that she has a support network of close friends and her partner but remains grounded by enabling both physical and psychological self-care in what she describes as a “rest and digest state.” Herbalism plays a huge role in this and includes daily intake of medicines and teas, making evident to herself that “these plants really are our allies.” 


Nicole is due to give birth in April and will be taking maternity leave, but this won’t mean a pause of SA. She will remain active behind the scenes with campaigning, fundraising and producing care packages whilst operations on the ground continue through others. She hopes this will also give her an opportunity to develop some of her ambitions for SA’s future. One of these is to train and support other people to run their own projects similar to the clinic in Calais but in other border hotspots. As well as offering additional online courses and expanding on prison abolition and prisoner support, Nicole aspires to write and publish multiple books. She began 2024 by completing her most comprehensive book, a practical guide to surviving state violence through herbal medicine. But there is more work to be done.

Maintaining SA, let alone expanding it, is a lot of work. Though Nicole has experienced burnout before, she remains positive about her journey and humbly describes the project as “deeply nourishing”. Indeed, herbalism is something that is universally beneficial, as is solidarity. 

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