10 questions with Swiss trained medical herbalist Sandra Clair

Sandra Clair is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified Swiss trained medical herbalists and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). She believes pharmaceutical drugs should be used as a last resort not as a first choice, and plant medicine offers a healthy and safe alternative to deal with many common health issues.

Currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury, in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland, Sandra tells Chelsey how to incorporate plant medicine to ensure good health.

1. What is plant medicine and why should Kiwi women use it as a first choice rather than using pharmaceutical drugs? 

Plant medicine is sometimes called herbal medicine, phytotherapy or traditional medicine and is the practice of using medicinally active plants to prevent and treat illness, to build resilience and support optimal health.

Humans and plants share a very long co-evolution. Medicinal plants have specific nutrients and phytochemicals that effectively re-balance and strengthen human physiology. It is therefore no surprise, that plant medicine has been continuously used across all times and all cultures.

Plant medicine provides essential remedies for healthcare for 5.6 billion people (80% of world population) as documented by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In New Zealand, plant medicine was taught at medical schools well into the middle of the 20th century. Prior to the recent advent of synthetic drugs in the late 19th century, physicians used safe and effective plant medicines to heal their patients. There is a Renaissance happening in medicine where plant medicines are coming back again into mainstream.

Kiwi women should use plant medicine as their first choice because it:

- Increases the body’s resistance, repair and recovery mechanisms

- Prevents illness in the first place

- Improves health outcomes when taken alongside drugs

- Has a high safety profile: suitable for babies, children, in pregnancy, breastfeeding

2. What are some tips for boosting our immune system as we head into Spring?

Fortify yourself daily with plant remedies, which help to build your resilience and keep the bugs at bay such as Thyme, Echinacea and Elderflower.   

Drink extra fluids because hydrated mucous membranes are a barrier against infection. Furthermore, the body needs help with flushing out invaders. Medicinal teas are great to achieve both. Artemis Immuno Boost Tea available at artemis.co.nz  is an effective Swiss formula that protects your respiratory system. The medicinal plants used are known to push out an infection quickly should you have come down with a cold or a flu.

Increase daily your intake of nourishing foods – organic fruits and veggies are high in the nutrients needed to keep the immune system working well. Add some warming spices to your foods such as ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and clove.

Keep warm, especially your feet and kidney area and ensure that your house has an agreeable ambient temperature and is dry.

3. Some experts claim a detox programme can improve digestion and lessen fat build-up around the tummy and hips - is that true and what are your recommendations?

Not all detox programmes are created equally. We do not recommend fad products that contain artificial ingredients.  However, a programme which focuses on supporting our detoxification organs with organic, medicinal herbs, eating real foods and reducing daily toxin exposure, can definitely improve digestion and lessen fat build-up.

This is because if the detoxification organs are overloaded, they will store excess toxins in fat, since fat cells are very stable. Once your detoxification organs (your liver, kidneys, digestive system, and skin) are working optimally, your body releases the toxins from these fat cells for elimination. Many people end up losing weight on a detox programme.

Every day we are exposed to harmful toxins, no matter how organic, clean and green we live.  Looking after your liver and kidneys is one of the most important things you can do to improve your overall health. Daily detoxification is the key to gaining long-term health benefits, including weight loss, clear skin, more energy, improved sleep and mood. Try Artemis’ Live Detox Tea and Kidney Cleanse Tea.

4. Do you have any tips on how to deal with PMS?

While PMS is common, it is not normal - we as women should not need to suffer from wild hormonal imbalances. There are three main things that women can do daily to reduce PMS symptoms.

Plant medicine: There are specific women’s herbs which help to reduce symptoms of PMS and also gently rebalance the hormones long term. The Artemis PMT Ease Tea formula contains Chaste Tree Berries and Lady’s Mantle and is designed to do exactly that.

Diet: Without realising, many women are consuming foods and beverages that are aggravating their PMS. Sugar, alcohol and coffee for example deplete magnesium. A lack of magnesium can cause uterine tension and menstrual cramps. This mineral is also essential for for physical and mental relaxation and sleep. Sugar furthermore disrupts blood glucose balance, gut flora and liver function – all contributing factors to bad moods and progesterone depletion. This aggravates oestrogen dominance, a key feature of PMS. Caffeine in coffee and black tea can also disrupt sleep if taken too much or too late in the day. Avoid drinking from plastic water bottles and microwaving in plastic containers, because phthalates and bisphenol acetates mimic human oestrogens, worsening PMT.

Avoid processed foods, additives, preservatives, and other pollutants like herbicides and pesticides as much as possible as many of them are endocrine disruptors. Instead, eat plenty of organic fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats such as unrefined, cold-pressed vegetable or seed oils, coconut oil, or oils from fish. Increase your fibre such as oats, brown rice, nuts, seeds, psyllium husks and unpeeled vegetables, as fibre encourages the excretion of excess oestrogen. Fermented foods (saurkraut kefir, yoghourt, miso) encourage a healthy gut flora, key for a healthy hormone balance.

Lifestyle- Stress can have a major impact on hormones. Make sure you have regular exercise that helps to clear cortisol levels and also regular rest. If you smoke, stop it, it hurts you.

5. If a woman was to change five things about her diet and lifestyle what would you recommend most?

- Introduce daily rituals of self-care! Your body will be much healthier and your mind becomes calmer. Medicinal herbal teas are a great way to stop for a moment and look after yourself.

- When you are feeling under the weather or you are going through a stressful phase, fortify yourself so that you are not getting sick. Medicinal plants are a nourishing and non-toxic way to rebalance yourself.

- Spend some time outdoors in the natural environment every day. Nature will regenerate you.

- Make sure you get enough down time and sleep. During sleep we regenerate all of our important body functions.
Go organic wherever you can. This lessens your toxic load, provides higher levels of nutrients and organic foods really taste better.

6. What’s your favourite plant-based medicine and why?

I just love the Artemis Liver Detox Tea - it is a blend of the most amazing bitter herbs, which have a profound healing action on the liver and digestive system. 

St Mary’s Thistle, which is the key ingredients, is one of the most powerful liver regenerating herbs known - it is the only known treatment for poisoning with Death Cap Mushroom.  This just shows you how effective plant medicine can be!

7. What are the top three things Kiwi women should do to help the entire family remain healthy?

It all starts with good nutrition - that is the basis for health!  Eating foods in their natural state is best, the less processed the better.  Teach your children to love nutritious food. Introduce a policy into your household that you eat first and foremost real foods. This increases your intake of fresh, organic fruit and vegetables and reduces processed foods, sugars and unhealthy fats.

Reach for plant medicine first. Pharmaceutical medicine is excellent in emergency situations, but these days we are using it too much for non-urgent issues. Plant medicine is not only effective, but gentle and nourishing.  It builds up your resilience in a way that pharmaceutical medicine cannot.

Make sure that everyone (Mum included!) is getting enough exercise and enough rest and sleep. These days we tend to only focus on the exercise side of things and forget that rest and relaxation is equally essential to good health.

8. How do you keep fit, healthy and balanced in your life?

My life is very busy, just like everyone these days but I have worked hard to create rituals in my day which support good health. I know that without our health we have nothing, and so I make it a priority.

I eat a healthy diet of wholefoods. I grow many of my own vegetables and buy local and organic wherever possible.  I try to go for a walk outside every day as this time out helps to refresh and rejuvenate me and I find that I actually get more work done when I’ve had a walk. I love my daily Pilates practice, it makes me feel vital and calms my mind.

And I also drink a lot of medicinal teas. Our medicine chest should live on the kitchen bench not in an emergency medicine cabinet. Plant medicine is simply a part of my everyday life and I use it every day to keep me well and to support any issues that I may have.

9. Many powerful drugs used in modern medicine originated from plant-based medicines. What is being substituted in place of plants in our contemporary medicine and why the move?

I think in modern medicine we are always looking for the “magic bullet” - what is the chemical which is active in this plant?  But in reality, plants don’t work like that. They are incredibly complex and sophisticated organisms with thousands of phytochemicals, and we simply do not have the technology yet to understand exactly how they work.

What we find with modern medicines is that you end up with side-effects which don’t take place if you use the whole plant.

A good example of this is Aspirin, a drug which was derived from the plant Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). As a single chemical, the synthesised salicylic acid in Aspirin helps to relieve pain.  But it can also cause stomach ulcers and bleeding from the mucous membranes.  As a whole plant, Meadowsweet contains the natural phytochemical salicin which is converted into salicylic acid only once it is in the gut, therefore bypassing any irritation of the stomach whilst still providing pain relief. 

And while our modern medicines tend to work very quickly, they are often symptom-based; meaning that they simply repress or relieve the symptom rather than treating the underlying cause.  And so what we find is that people are not actually getting better, and if they come off their medication they are the same or worse than they were when they started taking it.

So, we are getting a quick fix but paying for it in the long-term. And this is one of the reasons why we see a rise in the use of natural medicine, because people are finding that conventional medicine does not address their chronic conditions very well.

10. Why did you start Artemis and how will your products help Kiwis? 

I started Artemis because I wanted to share the healing knowledge of 2,500 years of Western plant medicine and provide effective tools for self-care. I know how effective plant medicine can be when it is grown carefully, and harvested and formulated properly. I want everyone to have access to safe and effective natural medicine, and the knowledge required to heal us and keep us well.

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