October 1858 - Napiers First Herbal Remedy

This May, 2015, we're celebrating 155 years of making herbal medicines at Napiers.

In October 1858, 155 years ago, our founder Duncan Napier bought a copy of "Brook's Family Herbal" from Mr Hastie, the second-hand bookseller in Nicholson Street. Duncan had been interested in plants for some time. He had attended Scientific Botany classes at the age of 15, encouraged by a friend and later patron Mr John Hope, and also joined the Edinburgh Botanical Society. This purchase changed his life and, a century later, ours.

This book was to prove a turning point in his life. As a baker, he had suffered a persistent dry cough since he was first apprenticed at the age of 15, no doubt caused and aggravated by the flour dust. His neighbours in these early years remarked “Pair laddie, he canna’ live long wi’ that grave-faird cough”! 

This simple act of purchasing Brook's Family Herbal introduced him to the herb lobelia that he bought and made into his first herbal medicine, Lobelia Cough Syrup. The success of this in curing his 12 year-old cough inspired him to plan the opening of the first Napiers the Herbalist shop in Edinburgh in 1860, supported by John Hope who lent him the first six month's rent. The rest is history!

For a foundling like Duncan, abandoned at birth, childhood was exceptionally hard. The support and friendship of his mentor and patron John Hope was life-changing. We are all part of a community and it is the children, especially those who start with a disadvantage in life, that benefit so much from the interest and love of others.

In Africa there is a saying, that "It takes a village to raise a child". Sadly, for a very special group of children even their villages cannot protect them. This month, inspired by the early years of Duncan Napier and the courageous work of Josephat Torner - protector of children born with albinism - we are sponsoring Standing Voice.

Albinism is a genetically-inherited skin condition where babies are born with a defected melanin metabolism. Without melanin to darken and protect their skin, these children have pale skin, hair and eyes and suffer from impaired vision and skin cancer. Worse still, in many parts of Africa, they experience witchcraft-fuelled dismemberment and murder, their limbs and body parts taken, trafficked and sold for use in witchcraft ceremonies. 

It is unbelievably tragic that these children are persecuted for a skin condition. Josephat Torner, an albino himself, together with Standing Voice, has created havens and schools for them where they are safe, educated and nurtured. Josephat also puts his own life in danger to travel around East Africa, trying to educate and enlighten communities, encouraging them to protect albino children from persecution and death.

This month, in honour of Duncan Napier and his protector John Hope, we will be donating 10% of our profits to the charity Standing Voice to further the work that Josephat's started in Tanzania.