Kelly Jobanputra speaks to Max Drake of Urban Fringe Dispensary about ditching the drugs and taking a more natural approach this winter

We live in a society where there seems to be a pill for everything and doctor surgeries have been increasingly under fire for dishing out tablets quicker than you can finish describing your ailments. And now we are in the winter months, our bodies go into overdrive and we can end up with all kinds of coughs, colds, fevers and aches and pains. Not forgetting the more serious illnesses that can be further aggravated by the seasonal changes.

But one place in Bristol is on a mission to try to get people in the city to realise that natural herbs can be key to good health and can tackle all kinds of illnesses. Urban Fringe Dispensary, which is in Colston Street, is behind this mission and the Medical Herbalist there, Max Drake, is so passionate about his research into natural medicine that it’s infectious.

“…the herbal approach to health and wellbeing offers a really good alternative to conventional approaches…”

Urban Fringe Dispensary started as a teaching project in 2006 and opened as a shop and clinic in November 2009. Originally it was about having a way of getting people to connect with herbal medicine by learning about interesting plants that are growing all around us in the city.

Urban Fringe Dispensary

However, since opening the shop seven years ago, the clinical practice has come much more to the forefront as Max’s own knowledge and skills have progressed through seeing so many patients. They do still teach an introductory course in herbal medicine though, run over thirty times to date, and they still love doing herb walks around the city in the spring and summer months. 

“We deal with a very wide range of ailments, and the herbal approach to health and wellbeing offers a really good alternative to conventional approaches to many chronic conditions, such as chronic fatigue, circulatory, emotional issues, sleep problems and just generally feeling under the weather a lot of the time,” says Max. “We also treat a lot of straightforward acute conditions – coughs, colds and allergies, stomach upset and so on over the counter, making up medicines on the spot after a quick chat to make sure we’re covering all the bases.

“It feels like such a privilege to be working in this way, and to see such positive changes in patients brought about by something I found growing at the side of a field in Cornwall…”

“We’re getting quite well-known in Bristol because we’ve been doing it a while,” he adds. “We’re probably seeing twice as many people now as we were even 18 months ago, as so much of this work comes through word of mouth and it takes time to build up a busy practice. I’m actually advertising for another herbalist to join the practice in 2017 as we are getting so many enquiries.”

Urban Fringe Dispensary

When asked about what he loves about his job, Max stated: “I sometimes don’t know where to start when people ask me what I do for a living as it often strikes me as being such a weird and wonderful career. Experience has taught me what the limitations are with herbal medicine, and where it can be used most effectively. It feels like such a privilege to be working in this way, and to see such positive changes in patients brought about by something I found growing at the side of a field in Cornwall, or on my friend’s allotment. Also I love the space in the consulting room. Something happens when the door closes and you are able to give someone your complete and undivided attention. I never tire of this, and I can’t imagine a more satisfying way of working.”

The team at Urban Fringe Dispensary are constantly developing new products that you can come in and buy from the shop – including teas, all sorts of interesting powder blends and liquid extracts – so if you’re feeling under the weather this winter, it might serve you well to take the natural approach and pay them a visit. 

For more information visit urbanfringe.co.uk