A Brief History of the Herbal Apothecary

Cecily, James and Hugo Fearnley

Herbal Apothecary has been in existence since the early 1990’s. James Fearnley, owner of Herbal Apothecary and CEO of Nature’s Laboratory, despite training as a lawyer has spent the last 30 years involved with researching and manufacturing natural medicines derived from both the beehive and from plants. For the last 20 years he has focused on trying to understand the remarkable properties of propolis, a resinous product used by the bee to keep the hive free from infection, but has always maintained his interest in herbal medicines also. Over this period, he has carried out research at the universities of Oxford, Manchester, Strathclyde, York and Bradford and has published a number of peer reviewed articles. He is also the author of ‘Bee Propolis: Natural Healing from the Hive’ and ‘Propolis in Oral Healthcare with Dr. Phil Wander’.

James became involved in Herbal Apothecary in 1998 when it was based in the midlands. James worked here for several years before purchasing the company in 2005, and moving it to its new headquarters in the scenic coastal town of Whitby, which resides in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park – comprised of extensive moorland, a jagged coast, ancient woods and timeless villages. The North York Moors is a special place, forged by nature and shaped over generations. After the move to Whitby, Herbal Apothecary was incorporated into Nature’s Laboratory. We then moved to build a modern manufacturing and research facility on the East side of Whitby, which was opened in 2008 by champion of plant medicine, David Bellamy OBE – researcher, conservationist, writer and TV presenter.

Research Driven Natural Products

James wanted to focus on understanding natural medicines and move us away from viewing them as simply folk remedy. In light of this, James decided to push towards the scientific research of natural medicines. Nature’s Laboratory was the first company ever to receive a ‘Smart Grant’ from the UK government to research a natural product. After receiving this award, years were spent researching the potential of propolis, a product of bees, as a natural medicine.

Research into this area still continues to this day, with the more recent creation of the International Propolis Research Group (IPRG) of which James founded along with other passionate researchers. The IPRG recently held an online conference which had attendees from around 90 countries and was an overwhelming success. As much as we’d have liked to hold a physical conference, the current situation with the ongoing pandemic deemed this impossible, however with help from a team of dedicated individuals, the conference was able to take place using an online format, and has opened us up to the idea of holding ‘hybrid’ conferences in the future, a mix of physical and virtual, which will give those unable to travel or short on time to be part of future events by using our online capabilities.

BeeVital Propolis Tablets

Natural Skincare

Although James has been the main focus of this article so far, his family has also been involved with Herbal Apothecary since the late 1990s when James became a Director. At that time Hugo and Cecily Fearnley, James’ children, used to work in the company during school holidays, earning extra pocket money by bottling herbal tinctures. As years passed by, Hugo became heavily involved in Herbal Apothecary, helping with the day-to-day operations, leadership and development of Nature’s Laboratory.

Cecily has also been involved with company and later decided that she wanted to create her own natural skincare brand, and so ‘Sweet Cecily’s’ was born, to supply natural cosmetics which contain the absolute minimum of nasty chemicals and additives – her vision was to create products which were almost good enough to eat! We are proud of the fact that we are a family run business wholly committed to the principals of natural medicine.

Some of the Sweet Cecily’s Natural Skincare Range


Our factory is now equipped with both production and research facilities, where we study and produce both herbal medicines and bee medicines (also known as apiceuticals). Herbal Apothecary produce one of the largest ranges of high-quality practitioner herbal products in the UK. Many of the products developed with practitioners are now available to trade customers and the wider public.

More recently, there has been a growing interest in equine herbal medicine, which is a growing market as people are becoming aware of the amazing properties which natural herbal medicines provide. We hope to be at the forefront of this sector and continue to develop the products which customers require.

At Herbal Apothecary we’re not merely just a sales team, we’re much more than that. We’re driving research into the properties of natural medicine, we develop new and innovative products. We supply practitioners, the public and are also contract manufacturers for herbal products. With the facilities to create unique products for those in trade wanting to create their own natural herbal products. This year we will be introducing an online contract manufacturing calculator, where you’ll be able to calculate the cost of manufacturing products meeting your specific requirements, from tinctures to supplement capsules – we have our own in-house researchers who can formulate new concoctions and ensure they meet the high standards which we hold ourselves to.

Community Involvement

James is also committed to social and cultural change, and uses his platform to help others in the community. One example of this is The Dispensary in Whitby, a not-for-profit community interest company, which aims to improve the communities physical, cultural, social, spiritual, economic and emotional health. The Dispensary may appear to be another health food shop, but it is much more. We run a shop (physical and online), organise events, courses, groups.

We help people connect with each other and with what makes them feel healthy, we encourage discussion and debate around all aspects of health, we help people connect with groups and organisations that bring social quality to our lives, we set up local initiatives and encourage and help others to set up their own, we provide the community with high quality information about every aspect of primary, natural healthcare.

Things don’t stop there either, James is also involved in a variety of different campaigns and companies, such as ‘We Are Whitby’ and ‘The Campaign for Real Care’. We Are Whitby wishes to build a healthier local community for all through mutually supportive relationships between responsible local businesses, social groups, cultural groups and individuals in Whitby and the local area. Part of that involves organising and running community-based events such as ‘Winterfest’ which has gained a lot of traction over the years. The Campaign for Real Care has supported the very heart of Botton Village – a unique social impulse providing real care for people with learning disabilities, which is under threat from a regulatory system that seems unable to recognise its real values and ethos.

As you can see, Herbal Apothecary is part of something much larger. It is part of a collective of socially, culturally and economically responsible companies, campaigns and projects which aim to bring about real change in this world we live in. We believe in real change and have embraced this in our approach to business, hopefully creating a foundation for other companies and individuals to join us on our journey for healthier, happier and closer communities.

Whitby, on the North Yorkshire Coast

What’s Next for Herbal Apothecary?

This is our story so far, but it is far from the end. It is our belief that there is much more to be accomplished in the future. We strive to continue growing and provide quality, ethical services to business and the wider public. We hope you’re able to follow us as we continue on this journey!

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