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Institute Member, Schia Mitchell Sinclair and The Herbtender Project

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We are thrilled to see that Institute Member, Schia Mitchell Sinclair has been working alongside The Herbtender to build a range of expertly blended adaptogenic supplements around contemporary wellness needs.

Read on to find out more about Schia's involvement in this exciting project...

           

Small moments of chance and curiosity can quickly become lifelong choices. Schia's career as a medical herbalist partly resulted from a day exploring the shelves of a bargain book shop. Here, she discovered a glorious old hardcover on herbal medicine that she still has to this day and in the back was a prospectus for a training course.

Having only just completed a Degree in microbiology and still studying for a Master’s in science, she might have been more sceptical had the prospectus not appeared to look more like a condensed medical course. Elsewhere in the book were applications of pharmacology and case studies approached with scientific discipline. As curiosity turned to active interest, she set off to try the course for a year.

That day may have involved chance but the roots of the curiosity went back further. Schia remembers her ‘quirky’ grandmother’s house from her childhood as containing multiple pots of various herbal medicines due to her grandmother’s interest in alternative treatments and therapies.

A house with this appearance can easily appear magical to an inquisitive child and fond memories like that leave an impression.

The late Christopher Hedley used to say: "Once the herbal fairies get you, that’s it".

‘That’ may have happened in a dusty book shop or it may have happened many years before at her grandmother’s house. However it did, the result is that herbal medicine has another highly skilled practitioner.

Today, Schia runs her own practice, The Cambridge Herbalist, and has done for some years. It is there in Cambridge where she met Mark and Laura Neville, the founders of The Herbtender.

The Herbtender offers a range of sustainable wellness supplements and it is currently going from strength to strength. With beautifully packaged products being sold through its online store it is now, after only a couple of years, having its goods stocked by Selfridges in London.  A commitment to acting in harmony with nature and “being kind to people, animals and the planet”, makes it easy to see the appeal.

The Herbtender was started during the forced respite of the first lockdown, when many people spent some time reconsidering their routines and the various stresses that life was placing upon them. Mark and Laura too had this moment of reflection but they also became inspired to start the company when looking for more natural sleeping supplements than the ones mostly on the market.

This search also gave Mark and Laura some insight into the fascinating world of adaptogens. Adaptogens are herbs and mushrooms that help with a wide variety of stressors by working intuitively with the pituitary, hypothalamic, and adrenal glands. Crucially, they do so by supporting equilibrium in the body.

The goal is to support the body’s natural defences by adapting to its needs, not overriding or manipulating them. In terms of helping return the body to its natural balance, they could either calm a person feeling stressed or revitalise a person feeling worn down.

Adaptogens were already easy enough to buy but Mark and Laura quickly saw that even ‘natural’ products such as this can still come with an alarming quantity of unnecessary additives and fillers. This gap in the market was perfect then for the founding of The Herbtender.

One underlying motive was helping people cope with the stress and the lack of sleep which cause so many physical and emotional health problems. The goal was clear, but the exact strategy less so. It seemed at first that they would either have to mix the capsules themselves or outsource the process entirely and Mark and Laura were unhappy with both those options.

They wanted a qualified medical herbalist to work with them as part of the company and, having recently discovered the role of adaptogens in helping the body fight the toxic effects of stress, they wanted to know a great deal more.

To have their questions answered, they contacted Schia to give a talk on adaptogens to them and some colleagues. This would also turn out to be a meeting where they had the opportunity to see if they would be a good fit for working together.

They got along immediately, and Schia was hugely impressed with their integrity and determination to provide all-natural products that could make a genuine difference. She e-mailed them later with ideas of various things they could potentially sell, based on what they had said about their objectives.

Currently, The Herbtender sell various combinations which contain adaptogens and work on the principle of balance. That could be Doze & Dream to assist sleep or Calm & Collected to help manage anxiety, and for those having more trouble finding the energy they need, it could be ‘Rise & Shine’ to combat fatigue. There’s Perform & Recover to help the body cope with strenuous exercise and a ‘Daily Defence’ which is likely to become even more popular as we head into the cold and flu season.

Some of those adaptogens being used by The Herbtender have been used as herbal treatments going back millennia, and the history behind some of them only increases their charm.

Rhodiola was apparently used by the Vikings for mental and physical endurance.

Cordyceps, a medicinal mushroom that assists kidney and liver function, was said to have been so rare before mass cultivation that in ancient China, it was reserved for the use of the Emperor alone.

Other herbs include Astragalus to support the immune system and help stave off infection and Ashwagandha, a non-stimulating adaptogen used to improve the body’s resistance to stress and maintain mental balance.

But the prize for the best name of all really must go to ‘Holy Basil’ which acquired the name because it was said to promote long life. While nobody is going to promise that, its significant antioxidant properties are the reason it was used by herbalists through the ages to enhance mental clarity and promote calm.

Schia was very familiar with all of these herbs having used them for years in her private practice but now she had a new task. Working with an individual client allows a medical herbalist to recommend mixtures of herbs which are best suited to them specifically. That can be quite different from creating mixes of herbs which must be as widely applicable as possible to work for most people.

Part of the challenge is ensuring that the energetics of the herbs is such that the formulas are neutral and neither heating nor cooling. This is an approach more rooted in Chinese or Indian herbal medicine but there is still the need to avoid formulas which are too heating or cooling and could therefore exacerbate an individual’s condition.

Making these formulas as widely applicable as possible will ultimately also help the most people as possible. Mark, Laura and Schia are focused on products which allow the body to cope with all different sorts of stress because stress is the key that affects a great deal of other things.

Not just lack of sleep and loss of focus but because stress depletes the immune system. Anybody who has noticed how much easier it is to catch a cold while being overstressed can attest to this. Herbal remedies can not only help the body cope with the initial stress, but also assist the body in fighting off any lurking infection. A good example would be supplements that boost the white blood cells. Here it is not about trying to fight the virus directly but rather bolstering the immune system so the body’s natural defences are better able to fight the virus.

That is where the ‘bend don’t break’ mantra that The Herbtender operates under resonates so clearly. Adaptation or ‘bending’ often means survival in nature and our bodies are not separate to that. Nature is one of the best ways of helping people because people are nature and by finding a solution there, it can get people on the path to healing.

With this sort of focus, it shouldn’t be surprising that The Herbtender insists on making sustainability central to its approach. That is why much of their packaging is recyclable, or even compostable in the case of the pouches used for many of their products.

The Herbtender is also committed to sourcing as many of the herbs as possible locally. At the moment, this would be impossible as some of them just do not grow in this country. It is an imperfect world but there is hope to do a lot more. One of their suppliers is a farm in Ireland who are trying to grow as much as they can there.

They grow organic herbs and are experimenting to see what will grow and what won’t, especially herbs which are hard to get elsewhere. It is only in the first year or so with only one harvest completed so far, but there is a great deal to hope for.

Great things like this might take time but the great doesn’t need to get in the way of the good. Daily decisions at every stage of the process make positive impacts whether it is related to packaging or suppliers. Schia’s respect for the Founders’ integrity was justified again over the issue of selling more vitamins and minerals in the products.

There were extensive discussions over the point of what qualified as a natural vitamin and how they could get what they wanted into products while avoiding anything synthetic. This may seem like a minor point to some but Mark and Laura’s initial aim had been inspired by what they found on the market. A vast amount of things being sold as natural had the additives, which apart from being potentially more difficult for the body to process, are just plain unnecessary in many cases.

If anyone has the ability to judge how well The Herbtender stands up to scrutiny on these issues, it’s Schia. Schia had previously worked for a company who used to test some of the products that other companies were selling.

They found incidences of capsules of Echinacea which had white powder not even containing plant material - let alone Echinacea. Other discoveries included expensive herbs being sold cheaply which were at least 50% NOT what they were being sold as.

Schia points to the need for clearer certification standards that would separate companies such as The Herbtender from those companies whose care for nature is sometimes more based on marketing.

Still, these are exciting times for progress as the world of herbal medicine is moving fast in response to decades that have seen the birth of online shopping and the potential for a much more informed consumer than ever before.

The rapid changes in commerce also mean that there are opportunities for innovation in the way that ancient wisdom extends more deeply into the modern world.

The opportunities are there for practitioners like Schia who can not only follow their own path but apply their years of experience to ensure that standards are kept high for the sake of the whole profession and those who benefit from it.

Branching out from practising herbal medicine privately to also working with a company like The Herbtender provides an opportunity for learning too – even to those with a lifetime of experience. Recently Schia researched more deeply than ever before into the topic of adaptogens and how they are distinguished from an overlapping but different category, Nootropics.  A blog on this topic can be found on The Herbtender's website - https://the-herbtender.com/blogs/journal/what-are-nootropics-how-can-they-benefit-you

More generally, clear information and a better-educated consumer will be needed in maintaining good standards. With increasing numbers of people looking towards herbal supplements, medical herbalists will play a crucial role in ensuring that people are well-informed and that the supplements they buy are high-quality.

Not just for the sake of reputation, but because this is about a lot more than growing markets, operating profits and supply chains.

As Schia clearly put it: “it is about helping ourselves be fitter, happier, healthier and better able to have a fantastic life - rather than just dragging ourselves through it”.

That certainly won’t come from lucky moments of chance, but from a series of positive choices from everyone involved...

 

You can find out more about The Herbtender via their website - https://the-herbtender.com/

To find out more about Schia, simply visit - https://www.cambridgeherbalist.org.uk/