In conversation with Herbalist and Naturopath, Dr Bilquis Shaikh
  • 07 Jul - 13 Jul, 2018
  • Attiya Abbass
  • Interview

The sage says, you become what you love. In Dr. Bilquis case, her love and unadulterated connection with nature has made her what she is today – a herbalist and naturopath. As she sits across me with her henna-dyed hair and fresh, glowing skin, talking about herbs, plants and nature as if they were real-people – I had a feeling nature has reciprocated her love, two-fold. Since childhood, my interviewee had a deep-seated understanding of herbs, their uses and medicinal benefits; using them to treat ailments of people and injured animals. Now a famed television personality, she is a face most are well familiar with. As we munch on fistfuls of mulberries, almonds and dried apricots; which she tells me are souvenirs from her village, she talks about her work, relationship, profession and journey with nature. Excerpts:

Please begin with telling us about your background and education.

I belong to Chitral. My village Kailash, now known as Karimabad, serves as the last border of Pakistan. When I was born in ’73, the situation of education wasn’t satisfactory in my village. My mother served as the first lady of Chitral in PIA and my father, who too was inclined towards giving me the best of education, decided to send me away. Hence, a one and a half-year-old Bilquis was sent to Karachi along with her aunt. My father named me after a FRCS doctor and I aspired to become one. Unfortunately, I have haemophobia and trypanophobia – irrational fear of blood and needles. So I steered my forces towards what I do and know best – nature. I was in intermediate when my mother passed away; it was a point in my life where I had to stand by my father like a rock. I privately appeared for my BA exams. An avid reader, I extensively read about herbalism and by 2005 I completed my thesis-based study from Sri Lanka as alternative medicine. Then I proceeded to study homeopathy for four years and attained certification. I am passionate about education. You won’t find any gold jewellery in my possession, but you will sure find a book that costs around two lacs in my study. Knowledge is wealth. Also, I feel incalculably lucky having garnered so much knowledge from horologists in Chitral and I am greatly influenced by their works.

Masses revere you for your work; for your tried and tested remedies. Tell us about your journey from a practicing herbalist, to becoming a television personality?

Fate had it stored for me. I was always of the opinion that if I possess knowledge that can benefit others and their health, I should pass it on. I was offered to appear on a television program at PTV called Sehat Ka Raaz Apke Pass. Incidentally, the television program was an instant hit. The telecast got so popular that it was aired multiple times on the channel. Then followed a series of offers from various prominent channels and there is no looking back since then.

There has been a raging popularity with nature-based products and remedies, with many herbalists gaining recognition and acclaim. And it is also true that not of all them are masters of their field, in such times, how one differentiates between a certified herbalist and ‘the quacks’?

There are many instances where I have been asked to promote unauthorised products, undeserving celebrities and a plethora of lies; but I have held my ground, and refused such offers. Media has also played a part in promoting certain individuals and their false tactics in the name of expert advice. You’d see many quacks earning recognition. I have seen such ‘glorified’ television personalities prescribe such toxic herbs to people at large; and it angers me so much. I have turned this into my ultimate jihad to stop these quacks from harming people with their amateur, uncertified ways. It’s true that God has concealed powerful cures to many ailments in nature; but shifa is truly in His hands. Herbs, albeit possessing infinite benefits, don’t really possess magic; they take time to heal.

What is your idea of beauty?

I prefer inner beauty. I constantly tell my daughter and other women that our faces and our bodies will never be the same forever, our soul is eternal, and it should be beautiful. Your mind, body and soul should be on the same page. I’ve met people who may appear average in looks and appearances, but when you hear them talk and see them walk, it is so lovely and truly beautiful. What’s inside, reflects and seeps through the exterior; a beautiful mind makes a beautiful face.

Pakistani society has deplorable fixation with fair complexion. And this has been further fuelled by the beauty industry through manufacturing of skin whitening creams. What are your thoughts on this?

Oh yes, it’s madness. More so, upsetting. I have women coming to my clinics along with their daughters, begging me to prescribe something for their complexion. I have heard countless stories of young girls getting rejected for marriage because they have dull complexion. And we have several culprits in the house which are after this; media and the beauty industry. Women even come to me with their new born babies requesting me to make them fair-skinned, it’s outrageous. What one doesn’t know is that these creams are as good as applying raw mud to your face; they cause infections, result in discolouration, dull patches and ingrown hair on the face.

How well does homeopathy work as alternate medicine, as opposed to, manufactured, boxed pharmaceuticals?

The most common misconception regarding herbs and homeopathy amongst the masses is that it doesn’t require research. Most people do not know the fact that the first person who researched and branched on homeopathy, was an allopathic surgeon. Homeopathic medicines are fast-acting and beneficial, provided that the ailment has been diagnosed correctly. The medicines that you receive from certified homeopaths are very effective. I have treated patients through homeopathy, who were scheduled for surgeries. They come thanking me later. But abstinence from bad diet and being health conscious is an imperative during a homeopathic course. The best part about homeopathic medication is that it promises minimal side effects; you won’t find any medicines in my clinic or home which carries adverse side effects. Many people state that Arsenic has great medicinal properties, but you won’t find it in my clinic; because I know that it’s made from poison; the sellers would never tell you that!

What other treatments do you offer?

At my clinic, we offer herbal, aesthetic and homeopathic treatments. We also perform hijama (cupping).

What sort of problems do people usually come to you with regarding beauty?

Yahan pe koi apnay ap sey khush nahi hai. Selfies and social media frenzy has driven everyone nuts. The little self-satisfaction we had, have been ruined by the actors and their artificial ways to appear youthful. People come asking for recommendations for a good shampoo for hair-growth. Firstly, I have to educate them that hair growth depends largely on a good diet, regular oiling and hair care, and not only on a bottle of chemical concoction we call shampoo! The obsession with unhealthy dieting has also tampered greatly with our beauty. People come to me with dull, sagging skin and when I ask them about their food intake, they confess that they are dieting. People need to realise, you are what you eat. Embark on a balanced diet and good skin, good health, good body will follow suit. And when we, as their doctors, try to provide counselling, they don’t like it. I even had women in their late 50s and 60s come to me, requesting me to prescribe something that makes them look younger. I am not capable of doing that, no herbs are! Most of the visitors to my clinic have problems regarding ageing, acne and hormonal imbalance.

What is your opinion about the current beauty industry and unauthorised local manufacturers?

Things which don’t happen in the world are mostly happening in Pakistan, and often, the fault lies with the consumers, but most importantly, it’s the doctors and the mafia which bribes. Many people come to my clinic and bribe me to treat allopathic patients, but I cannot deal with such customers because I am a herbalist and homeopath, I cannot cross my limits. There are many homeopaths that will provide you with herbal medicines and allopathic creams and no one is there to question them because no one follows ethics; everyone falls for money. Does anyone know that by consuming wrong vitamins, a pregnant woman can miscarry her child? In many cases, precautions are plainly written on prescription but people just choose to ignore it. Therefore, uncertified local manufacturers should be banned so the honest one can work.

Is it true that herbs can also cure depression?

Yes absolutely! Mushk-e-Bala, leaves of ginkgo biloba (maidenhair tree) and leaves of peepal tree (sacred fig) have proven to cure depression. Herbs soothe away the ailments, commercial medications scratch at them. Now answer yourself, would you prefer, someone scratching you or someone dealing with love? Allopathic medicines help stop your disease to react further and cures slowly, you cannot fight with nature. Naturopathy is so good that it helps you cure your disease painlessly, many doctors I know, who were fighting depression had used peepal leaves, and it benefited them. The only problem people have with herbs is that they have a strong smell and can taste bitter.

Your one, holy grail beauty secret would be?

I don’t have secrets. I’d tell you. If you don’t have flu, make sure you use yoghurt or raw milk daily; it’s the secret to a healthy skin. And for anti-ageing, nothing is better than aloe vera gel.

We asked Dr. Bilquis, herbal cures of the most common ailments:

For diabetes:
Hermal herbs and unaab (jujube fruit) helps control diabetic levels.

For acne:
Before curing, it is important to see what is causing acne. For individuals who have acne on their scalp, which is largely caused by dandruff, mix sugar and yogurt and apply on hair roots. It helps getting rid of dandruff.

Take neem leaves, gandhak and phitkari (alum) and tie them together in fabric and boil it. Massage your face with that water. It will cure your acne.

For stress:
Chamomile tea

For healthy hair:
Boil ginger and extract its juice for healthy hair. Beetroot juice is also very good.

For liver ailments:
Place phitkari (Alum) on a hot pan, allow it to spread. Eat less than a pinch of it during early hours of morning, (say 4 a.m). •