Interview: Plant Medicine with Sandra Clair

Sandra Clair is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified, Swiss trained medical herbalists and has a background in health science. She is also the founder of Artemis (, a New Zealand company specialising in traditional plant medicine products. With June being Men’s Health Month, Get Frank spoke to Sandra about how to incorporate plant medicine to ensure good health.

What is plant medicine?

Plant medicine, sometimes called ‘herbal medicine’ or ‘traditional medicine’, is the use of medicinal plants to prevent and treat illness, build resilience and support optimal health.  Plants have been the basis for medical treatments through much of human history, and such traditional medicine is still widely practiced today.  Medicinal plants contain unique phytochemicals that effectively re-balance and strengthen human physiology.  They also contain beneficial nutrients; vitamins, minerals and trace elements essential for a strong body.

Now that winter’s on the way, what are some tips for boosting the immune system to ward off winter bugs?

- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) supports the immune system. Its expectorant action helps clear the air passage of sticky, tickly mucus. Eases cough, a sore throat and decongests a blocked nose.
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) has antibacterial and antiviral properties and supports the activity of immune system cells and the body’s defenses.
- Olive Leaf (Olea europea) boosts the natural immune response, has antioxidant properties and supports heart function when the body is under stress.

TOP TIP: Combine the above medicinal plants plus five additional beneficial herbal allays with Artemis ViroGone! When you start to feel unwell, take a healthy dose of ViroGone for immediate action. For ultimate protection, take one teaspoon every day as a proactive defence.

Heart disease is a huge concern when it comes to male health. What can men do to proactively look after their ticker?

It’s great you ask about a preventative approach.  So many times I see men long after the first warning signs have made an appearance.  Because this question is particularly relevant to men in New Zealand, I’m going to spend some time on it.

My number one piece of advice is BE PROACTIVE!  Now. It’s especially important to take control of your heart health if you have family history of cardiovascular issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.

The standard advice is to eat a balanced diet of unprocessed foods rich in nutrients, exercise regularly (your heart is one big muscle that needs to be worked), don’t smoke and limit your alcohol.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to do this as your essential health maintenance.

Plant medicine can significantly help, in particular Hawthorn (Crataegus spp). In a meta-analysis of this plant, treatment with Hawthorn showed an improvement of heart function and provided overall benefits in cardiovascular conditions, including when suffering from fatigue.  A key benefit of Hawthorn lies in its ability to strengthen the heart muscle. It is rich in antioxidants and helps increase the integrity of blood vessels, improves coronary blood flow and decreases blood pressure in those suffering from hypertension. These actions provide an increased benefit to the cardiovascular system and the utilisation of oxygen.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) is high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. This is important because cardiovascular conditions can arise from high inflammation levels within the body. Cinnamon also helps to lower blood pressure and can help reduce cholesterol.

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) holds multiple active constituents that attribute positive benefits for the cardiovascular and muscular system.  It acts as a muscle relaxant that eases general muscle tightness and supports normal heart rhythm in those who feel stressed.

I formulated Healthy Heart Tea for Artemis for the purpose of maintaining good heart health due to the high number of people needing heart support in New Zealand, both men and women.  If you have risk factors, I highly recommend you add this liquid plant medicine to your daily routine.  Medicinal teas are an easy way to utilise the powers of plants. And again, I reiterate the importance of taking a proactive approach to heart health.  Everyone ages and as we age, we need more support.  It’s not a sign of weakness.  It’s a sign of wisdom and experience! And best of all, there are no drug-herb interactions with the plants discussed, so you can take both therapeutic approaches if you also need help from your doctor.

Men often struggle with depression and anxiety, but it often isn’t talked about. What plant medicine would you recommend to help with this?

St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is one of the best and most researched medicinal plants for stabilising and nourishing the nervous system and generally uplifting the spirit. It is clinically proven to help in mild to moderate depression.

There is quite a lot of confusion around the safety of St John’s Wort.  Hyperforin is an active constituent that naturally occurs in St John’s Wort.  Hyperforin is very efficient at supporting liver clearance, and this is how it may interfer with some medication. Selected classes of drugs require a slow-release mechanism which means the drug stays in your system for a specific length of time.  If you take high levels of hyperforin at the same time as medication, the hyperforin will prompt liver clearance, the medication included.  Therefore, the medication’s full effect isn’t delivered.

St John’s Wort, in its natural form (the whole plant, eg. leaf and flower), is low in hyperforin and therefore doesn’t have the liver clearance effect.  MedSafe NZ stated in 2014 that the risk of interaction with St John’s Wort in its natural form is not clinically relevant.  It does not interfere with medication.  A safe preparation is a traditional medicinal tea or tincture, for example.

However, some St John’s Wort products are now prepared as modern pills and a number of them have been artificially standardised to contain high levels of hyperforin. As explained above, it’s this high level of hyperforin that interferes with medication and it is only those pills that need to be used with caution when taken in conjunction with pharmaceutical drugs. 

As a rule, if you’re on medication and think St John’s Wort might benefit you, use either traditional preparations low in hyperforin or check with your health practitioner as to to the suitability of the herbal pills in conjunction with the drugs you are taking.

Other excellent plants for stress and anxiety include lemon balm, chamomile, passionflower, lavender and licorice root. Many of these have mild sedative properties that help to calm an overworked nervous system and support relaxation.

What is your favourite plant medicine from the Artemis range?

Liver Detox Tea.  It’s something my husband and I enjoy every morning as our daily ritual.  I start the day knowing I’m supporting my body’s hardest working organ, the liver. While it can taste bitter at first, the more you take it, the more you enjoy it.  I challenge you to try it and make it part of your daily ritual too.

What’s the best part about being a traditional plant medicine expert?

Helping people!  It’s why I started my company Artemis and why I continue with my research as well as provide education around best ways of self-care for a healthy and happy life. I want to share the knowledge I have gained over the years so people can live a life full of vitality. 

Remember to always seek advice from your health practitioner or call 111 in health emergencies.  This is information only and does not replace medical advice or instruction from a healthcare professional.

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