The power of herbal medicine 

Susan Clearwater offers nutritional counseling and traditional herbs

Susan Clearwater offers nutritional counseling and traditional herbs
Susan Clearwater plucks an orange flower petal from among the rows of purple, yellow, red and orange flowers in her garden and nibbles on it. She offers me some. It tastes like a low-fat snack. “This is calendula,” she says, “a beautiful orange and yellow flower in the marigold family. The leaves and particularly the flowers are used in healing. It is one of the major ingredients in my salves.” She adds that the flowers are also good as cake decorations and that you can even take the petals off and toss them in salads.
Clad in a T-shirt and jeans, Clearwater’s affect is bright underneath a crown of long, wavy hair. Susan Clearwater, R.N., is a holistic nurse practitioner and herbalist living in Martinsville, Ind., where she has an herbal sanctuary and gardens. She practices nursing at the Center for Wholism in Bloomington. Clearwater combines her nursing education with holistic and traditional herbal medical perspectives to offer a comprehensive approach and blend of healing therapies. She also offers nutritional counseling and traditional herbs in addition to the salves and tinctures she creates from her sanctuary. Clearwater teaches one-day herb classes and all-season apprenticeship programs. She says of the longer program, “We could look at the plants that grow wild in the woods like goldenseal. People can see the beginning phase of the flowers, and the flower forming seeds. Then we harvest the seeds.” She explains that you get to see the whole lifecycle of the plants. We walk over to a green mullein plant and she explains that each of us has a plant ally. “One of the things I do with my apprenticeship programs is to encourage people to develop a personal relationship with the plants and find their plant ally. We all have plants that have a special affinity toward us or us toward them. It’s like a good symbiotic match.” As we walk along, she explains what the different flowers and plants are used for. Cinquefoil flowers are yellow. They grow wild and their leaves and flowers are used in a tincture as an astringent to stop bleeding and diarrhea. Feverfew is in the chrysanthemum family. Its upper leaves and flowers are used for migraine headaches, and inflammatory problems. Clearwater says that plants with red or purple flowers are good for the blood and circulation. Echinacea, for example, which has a pinkish-purple flower, is a good blood purifier. Clearwater is largely self-taught by many years of personal experience with the plants. She reads a lot to keep up with the latest research findings and has been a member of United Plant Savers for many years, which is an organization of herbalists dedicated to the continual survival of medicinal herbs. She says, “Most of our herbal knowledge comes from our ancestors and current research.” She explains further that, “All indigenous and ancient people throughout the world used herbs because they looked to nature for whatever their needs were. So basically, the early history of medicine is the history of herbalism. “From a historical perspective, it wasn’t until fairly recently that there was a distinction between the two,” Clearwater explains. “It really changed when scientists started isolating and identifying different chemicals in plants. Then by either isolating them in large quantities or synthetically reproducing the chemicals found in plants, they were made into pharmaceutical drugs. By that method, pharmacists and physicians could give medicines in specific dosages. To the scientific mind, it became a lot easier to work with dosages in that way, than to prescribe a cup of tea.” As medicine became more professionalized, and science enabled the isolation and synthesis of specific chemicals, herbalism started decreasing in popularity. The really large shift came in the early 20th century when John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie commissioned Abraham Flexnor to do a study to determine the most effective way to use their investments for American medicine. Flexnor reported that physicians using surgery and pharmaceutical medicine would provide the greatest development of industrial technology and profit. Endorsed by the financial support of Rockefeller and Carnegie, pharmaceutical medicine flourished and herbalism declined in America. The popularity of herbs in the United States has been changing over the last 20-plus years according to Clearwater. She explains that in the 1980s, the hippie generation and a back-to-the-land movement rekindled herbalism in the United States. “I think herbs will continue to be more popular and one of the differences now is the amount of scientific research and clinical studies going on. Researchers have been able to identify specific chemical constituents in the plants that validate their traditional uses.” Still, many doctors today do not condone the use of herbs. Clearwater explains, “Most doctors are not trained in holistic therapies such as herbalism and nutrition, and prefer to use only those drugs that have been approved by the FDA.” Clearwater says that many variables in research can skew the public’s opinion about herbalism. For instance, she says, “It is important to know the type of herbal preparation that was used in tests and whether it was potent or not. A lot of herbs used in research were not very potent and so it’s not a true representation of the activity of the herb.” Herbs also undergo a greater degree of scrutiny than pharmaceutical drugs. As a registered nurse, Clearwater explains that “It’s important to realize that all pharmaceutical medicines have potential side effects. Even drugs like Methotrexate, routinely used for cancer and arthritis, causes extreme liver damage and are prescribed all the time.” She cites other examples. Prednisone weakens the immune system. Tylenol has caused liver toxicity and death. “Since the FDA has allowed these drugs to be on the market, people assume that they are safe. People need to realize that just because the FDA allows a drug to be on the market, it’s no guarantee that it’s safe.” On the other hand, the scrutiny of herbs is substantial. Take comfrey, for example. “Approximately four or five people who had taken large doses for a long period of time had liver failure, or liver problems, and one person died. Automatically the FDA took all comfrey off the market and it is banned.” Clearwater explains that there is no national certification program for herbalists. “At this point it is unregulated, which some people like and some don’t. I do feel that to be a responsible and professional clinical herbalist, some medical training is essential.”
Taking charge of health
Her own background in nursing gave Clearwater the scientific knowledge she needed and provided her with early experiences in helping people from a holistic approach. As a surgical charge nurse, Clearwater talked to her patients about nutrition and herbs and also practiced Therapeutic Touch to provide pain relief. In some cases, where even morphine wasn’t alleviating the pain, her massage techniques did. Clearwater went into nursing with the intention of one day establishing her own practice centered around wholism. After nearly four years at Bloomington Hospital, she left and spent a summer looking for office space and making “gallons and gallons of tinctures.” This was good because stepping out on her own proved to be an instant success with many clients. She then became a holistic nurse practitioner through the American Holistic Nursing Association. The ultimate goal for Clearwater is to help her patients take charge of their own health. She says, “The job of a really good health care provider is to get people to take their health into their own hands, and to be responsible for their health and empower them with that.” Clearwater likes to see people collect all of the information about their health concerns, and then make informed choices. She suggests, “Find a medical doctor and health care practitioner who is willing to listen to you and work with you in the plan of care, rather than somebody who just dictates to you.” She adds, “I always tell people to remember that you hire your health care practitioner and they work for you, and you are a major player in your health care.” Clearwater finds that much illness stems from poor nutrition and believes firmly in the old adage “You are what you eat.” She explains, “Food provides the substance of the cells, so if you eat food that’s devitalized, and doesn’t offer nourishment, you’re going to get cells that are weak and don’t function properly and you’re going to have organs that don’t function properly.” While Clearwater believes that good nutrition is vital for optimum health, she also believes that the root of much illness lies deeper than that — in the emotional and psychological levels. When she sees clients with ongoing problems such as high blood pressure, heart palpitations, chronic digestive problems and depression, she asks them to look at their emotional and psychological life and encourages people to explore if they are happy. “If you’re not happy with your partner, or if you hate your job, if you really would rather be doing something else, then your body is going to respond to that, and being unhappy is a stressor that slowly wears the system down. Oftentimes being unhappy is a root cause of physical problems.”
How we ate 100 years ago
When buying herbs and supplements it’s important to go to a good health food store, or a health practitioner who carries them, rather than going to a grocery store or a discount store. Clearwater cautions that since the 1980s, when herbs became more popular, “a lot of companies started producing herbal products and are mainly motivated by profit and consequently a lot of herbal products out there are not made well, and have low potency. They put a lot of additives, fillers and food colorings in them that have no place in a good herbal supplement.” When asked if there was one piece of advice for how people can reclaim their health, Clearwater says that it would be for them to reconnect with nature. “That means be outside in the sun, exercise, breathe in fresh air. That’s good for the body and good for the mind and emotions. Along with that is eat natural foods. I usually tell people to think of how we ate 100 years ago. It’s a good way to eat now. That means eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, proteins, nuts, seeds and whole grains.” One of Clearwater’s philosophies is to set a good example for her clients. She looks to nature for her own healing. Clearwater’s herbal sanctuary serves both a practical and healthy purpose. She explains, “My personal healing comes from gardening and it also provides me with the herbal material to make the salve and tinctures with.”
Clearwater’s product line, Green Turtle Botanicals, is available in these stores: Bloomington: Bloomingfoods, Sahara Mart Franklin: The Franklin Cornucopia Indianapolis: The Good Earth (located in Broad Ripple) To make an appointment: Center for Wholism 2401 N. Walnut Bloomington, IN 47404 812-335-0640

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