I felt truly blessed the day I went to interview Sam for this blog. It was a morning in late September, and there was still some warmth in the sun, enough for us to sit outside in her garden (which may I add is all totally edible.)
Sam picked fresh herbs from her boarders to pop in the teapot, so that we could enjoy a fresh herbal brew whilst we chatted about everything from yoga, to how to nourish and nurture yourself through autumn and winter and how she became fascinated by nature at a very early age.
I first met Sam when she was the guest speaker at a meeting I was attending. She had brought with her a dandelion plant, and I remember her speaking passionately about what we often consider a common weed and the enormous health benefits it had to offer.
Since then, Sam has featured throughout my own healing journey and hand on heart, I don’t think I would be as well as I am today without Sam’s gentle compassion and kindness and of course her amazing herbal tinctures.
It was an absolute privilege to interview her, so grab yourself some tea and take a seat to just be for a moment to read Sam’s fascinating story.
Sam, I would love for you to share just a little of your story, and what first fascinated you about herbal medicine.
Looking back, I was one of those children who had to be begged to come in from the garden. We had a dog, and I absolutely loved being outdoors. If we were on holiday, I was always in the rock pools, or off exploring somewhere, so I think I developed a connection with nature from a young age.
My Nana Barclay would come over and we’d pick roses and make infusions, and rosemary concoctions to put on our hair after we’d washed it. She had a Culpeper’s Herbal, which I have now inherited, and I think it was really from her that the ancestral love of the great outdoors was passed down to me.
At about 7, I remember buying a book on yoga with some pocket money and copying the positions straight from the book. As I grew older, I was always drawn to products from places like Neal’s Yard and the Body Shop, things that were either related to nature or good for your health and wellbeing, I suppose.
To become an actual herbalist, wasn’t something I decided upon until my Mid-20’s, when I found the degree I wanted to do. Before that I’d worked for a magazine up in London, a printing company and travelled a fair bit. I sold most of my belongings bought a VW campervan in Los Angeles, and spent 6 months driving around the States and Canada.
It was during my time travelling where I think I made the transition to knowing I didn’t have to do what I thought I should be doing, and instead do something that was truly me. When I came back from travelling, I worked for about 18 months in the city as a Brokers’ assistant to get enough money to be able to enrol on the BSc (hons) herbal medicine degree.
It was an exciting time. I met people who were probably the complete diametric to me, and they would often come to me if they were stressed or unwell, as at the time I was studying aromatherapy at the weekends.
I went on to work as an aromatherapist part time, whilst I was studying herbal medicine for 4 years, and having had quite a few different jobs, meeting lots of different people with real-life problems, was healthy from the point of view that it was good being in a herbal bubble, where everything is beautiful and everybody’s eating plants and life’s great. Realistically, that’s not what people are like, so I’ve gained a lot from the experiences I have had over the years.
Starting out as a Medical Herbalist there was no way I could’ve supported myself financially, so I worked other jobs alongside it. Sometimes to do with herbal medicine, and sometimes not. It did however mean that I could do what made my heart sing and pay the bills.
I’ve taught on complementary health degrees in Oxford and Gloucester in the past, and I still teach today, teaching biology at an alternative provision school.
I’m lucky enough now to be in a situation where my herbal medicine is my focus.
The seasons are changing. As we head into autumn, what can we be doing to look after ourselves at this time of the year?
Whereas in the spring, the sap is rising, stuff is popping up in the ground, and everything is growing and reaching upwards, autumn is the opposite. Nature is drawing everything back into the ground to be stored in the roots, and that’s essentially what we need to do. We need to imagine ourselves as a root and pull in everything to keep us going throughout autumn and winter.
In autumn, we feel this need to be inside, however when its light I would say take every opportunity to go outdoors. Whilst the sun isn’t enough to make Vitamin D between October and March, we all still need light and air, so get out when you can.
I’m not a great supplement taker, although I positively encourage preparing for winter, and taking Vitamin D, is one of those supplements that is sensible to take.
I love to walk on the grass in my garden in bare feet all throughout the year. Admittedly in the summer it’s easier, although in the winter it’s invigorating, and it’s like earthing yourself.
If that’s not your thing, going for a walk, pottering in the garden, doing stuff with plants and soil, can help keep you connected to the seasons and be more mindful.
Having Chilli my dog, forces me to go out whatever the weather, and it’s good to have that dependency sometimes, especially on those days when you might be feeling a bit “meh.”
If you’re inside and it’s dark, turn the lights on. It doesn’t matter if its 11 in the morning or 2 in the afternoon, if it’s dark because it’s cloudy, don’t be miserable inside, put the fairy lights on, light a candle, make your surroundings feel homely, cheery and cosy, and create your own light.
I always recommend stews, soups, and slow cooked meals packed full of vibrant highly pigmented foods at this time of year to really nourish yourself, and although it’s nothing related to herbal medicine or nature, pick up that craft, whether it’s to sew, crochet, knit, or bake. Being creative indoors, when the darker nights draw in, can help to inspire and motivate you in a different way.
I used grumble about autumn, because I loved the summer so much, but I’m much better at it now. So rather than suffering when the seasons change, embrace something, even if its going out to buy some new fairy lights to adorn your mantlepiece and give your home some welcome sparkle.
You always look completely at ease in your work, like you have discovered your true purpose and are being truly you. What would you say to someone who may be feeling stuck and looking to make changes in their life?
I would probably say give yourself permission to be honest and seek the truth about yourself.
Every patient who comes to see me has a story to tell, and as far as they’re concerned, they are coming to see me about an ailment, or for help with navigating their way through a key stage in their life, like pregnancy or the menopause for example.
What I see happen when people come to an appointment, is that by sitting down with me it gives them permission to talk, be honest and to feel their true feelings.
Interestingly when people aren’t true to themselves, they often become ill, and suffer niggling complaints. So their digestion might not be firing up properly or they are having trouble getting off to sleep. Whilst they are symptoms that need dealing with, whether it’s a digestive or nervous system complaint for example, there are often other factors playing a part.
I know some might think the word journey is somewhat overused or a bit corny, but there is a journey that a patient goes on with me. My aim is definitely to support them with herbs, but also to teach them about their bodies, so they can go one and look after themselves without me, and in doing so, have an effect on those around them too.
I get so much joy from seeing somebody peel back the layers, be more of themselves and at the same time see the benefits to their health and wellbeing.
I do feel truly blessed because I utterly adore what I do, and I get to be truly me doing it.
You spend a lot of time giving to others as a therapist and teacher, what do you love doing that supports your own self-care?
Yoga, I adore it. It is top of the list of things I love to do to care for myself.
I’ve done it for years, and there have been times when I’ve got cross with myself for not doing it, and now I make time, even if it’s only a few salutes to the sun.
I go to classes, and throughout the year I book half and full day workshops with my sister. It means I get to spend time with her, and we have a huge giggle. It’s funny really because we didn’t get on as children. I was probably an annoying little sister, but as we’ve grown older, we’ve grown closer and we can be totally honest and our true selves with each other.
Other than yoga, I would have to rate tea, being out in nature and walking my dog Chilli somewhere special like Westonbirt Arboretum high on the list of things I love to do. Being amongst big trees where you get to listen to all the woodland sounds is something special.
Which fascinating women have inspired you throughout your life?
My Nana Barclay was and still is a huge inspiration to me. I utterly adored her. She was like having a best friend. Having been sent down to London from the north-east when she was only 14 to work in service, her life was extremely hard. Yet she was feisty and showed courage in the face of adversity, as someone who didn’t put up with anything.
My sister is also on my list of fascinating women. She teaches now, and having chosen to re-educate herself later in life, she never ceases to inspire and encourage me. I think as you get older you need more people around you who get you and who you can be totally honest with, and my sister is one of those people in my life.
Thanks to my mum, we both grew up knowing the latin names of plants and have her love of gardening and cooking with herbs and spices. Gardening has always been my mum’s panacea and my sister and I feel like that too. She recently moved 150 miles to be closer to us both and her garden was the first thing she tackled. Nothing holds her back.
My daughter Emily has developed an incredible way of dealing with the complexities of growing up in today’s world, and she is often the voice of reason in our conversations. I am hugely proud of her and seeing her grow up and find her own way is both fascinating and inspiring.
Someone who I love to work with is Leanne Holman from Echo Foods, a fellow local small business owner. We have worked together to create a pop-up shop near to Christmas for the past few years and I completely love it.
After months of preparation, when we get together and she opens her home up to the public to create the shop, there is this effervescent female energy buzzing around, and it’s just magical and inspiring.
Finally, although I have no personal connection with her, I would have to say Greta Thunberg. To be that young, and so defiant in her goals. The way in which she deals with adversity and her steadfastness, she is truly inspirational. I have so much respect for her and I’m rooting for her every step of the way.
What are your top tips to leading a fulfilled and happy life?
My first top tip would be if you are feeling anxious or low about not knowing what direction you are heading in life, when you go to bed at night, close your eyes and say to yourself “show me the way.”
By doing this you are telling your subconscious to be open to opportunities and possibilities. It takes away the responsibility of always searching and desperately feeling as though you’ll never know.
My second tip would be to live in the present. We so often worry about the future, which quite often we have very little control over. We might sow the seeds for something to happen, but that’s in the present too.
When you find yourself worrying about something in the future, or what someone else might be doing, bring yourself back to the present. Do what you can do right now whether it’s making a cup of tea, walking the dog, calling a friend, or starting a piece of work.
You can’t change the past, and if you project too much into the future, it could make you anxious. Peel away the layers of worry and live for the here and now.
My third tip would be do something for your health and wellbeing every day. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture. It might be as simple as a nice comforting mug of soup, a moment to reflect, making time to read, to stretch, or be with those who lift you up.
Finally, I would say nourish yourself, and eat lots of colourful foods.
If you would like to find out more about Sam the Herbalist, you can hop over to her website here.
I hope you enjoyed taking a moment to read this blog, and I can’t wait to bring you the next in this series of interviews next month.
Until then, be truly you!