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Duncan Napier was a Victorian botanist and herbalist. His early start in life was hard as he was orphaned at an early age. From his youth he was fascinated by plants and nature. His interest in herbal medicine started when he found a book about it on an Edinburgh market stall. He had been apprenticed to a baker and, possibly due to the flour dust, had developed a chronic cough. After reading the book's recipes he experimented and made a Lobelia Cough Syrup that cleared up his cough within six months.
Encouraged by this success, Duncan started to make other herbal medicines and try them out on his friends and family, collecting herbs from the surrounding areas of Edinburgh in the Pentland Hills. He became a member of the Edinburgh Botanical Society and was encouraged by his contemporaries to open a herbal shop. Duncan Napier opened his first herbal shop on Bristo Place, Edinburgh in May 1860, so that the local community could benefit from herbal medicine. The shop and clinic at Bristo Place remains open to this day and is now Scotland's oldest and only remaining herbal house.
Duncan Napier collected herbs and plants from Edinburgh and the Borders, often rising before dawn and returning in time to open his shop to the waiting queue of people. Bunches of herbs were dried in the basement to be made into syrups, tinctures and ointments. Some of these formula are still manufactured today. Family holidays were spent with his sons walking the Highlands of Scotland and collecting plants and herbs. His sons went into the business with him and it became D. Napier and Sons.
In the mid-19th century, British herbalists banded together into the National Association, which became the National Institute of Medical Herbalists. This is still the oldest and major professional organisation for herbal practitioners in the UK, with members being recognised worldwide. Duncan was a founder member.
When Duncan Napier died at 91, the shop was taken over by his son; the business remained in the family for many years, passing down through the generations. The last family member to carry on the practice was John Napier, a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, but when John died in the late 1970s the business virtually came to a stand still.
When Medical Herbalist Dee Atkinson MCPP, MNIMH took over the Napiers' business in 1990 she found antiques and historical materials that had been left untouched for many years. Dee immediately started to research the traditional old recipes such as Duncan Napiers 'Lobelia Cough Syrup' and built the business back up to include four stores - two in Edinburgh and two in Glasgow - each with a traditional herbal dispensary, herbal and complementary therapy clinics and a mail order service still selling Napiers' unique traditional herbal products.