Transcript of an interview with Medical Herbalist Susan Siegenthaler, director and founder of Wildcrafted Herbal Products
Susan Siegenthaler is a Medical Herbalist with over 25 years of clinical experience in private practice. She also has qualifications as a Medical Aromatherapist and holds a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours in Biology.
Susan is a long-standing member of Australia’s largest Natural Therapies Association (ATMS – Australian Traditional Medicine Society) and is the founder of Wildcrafted Herbal Products, a company specialising in making therapeutic herbal products and a large, handmade range of therapeutic grade natural and organic skin care products.
A local reporter caught up with her recently to ask her a few questions about her beginnings as a herbalist and how starting as a herbalist lead to her being involved in running a company and producing unique range of products.
Interviewer: Susan, please tell us a bit about the beginnings of your carrier as a herbalist?
Susan: Well, after graduating in 1978 as a Herbalist from the Dorothy Hall College and studying Herbal Medicine with Denis Stewart, I started my first clinic on the northern beaches of Sydney. It was a small clinic, tucked away in an arcade in Newport and with virtually no money for advertising or experience in how to run and manage a business, I opened the doors, and luckily for me, the patients started coming.
Interviewer: So, what does a herbalist actually do?
Susan: As a Herbalist, basically you find out what the problems are that the patient is experiencing and once a disease pattern has been identified, a herbalist will use a mixture of herbal extracts that will help to address the disease pattern, and all going well, the patient will start to get better.
Interviewer: Okay, so you mix up individualized herbal extracts to treat your patient, and if I understand the process correctly, no two mixes are the same – so how does that lead to starting a company making herbal products?
Susan: Yes, that is a little strange, but you see what started to happen was that I would see a patient and make them up a particular mixture for their problem. They would go away, use it up and come back to get a second or third lot of their particular mixture from me. What started to happen though, was that suddenly people whom I’ve never seen as patients before would walk into my clinic with an empty bottle of herbs and say that their friend gave them what was left in the bottle because their friend had been ‘cured’. They would say to me “my friend knew I sufferd from a similar problem and gave me what was left, suggesting it might help too”. They would happily tell me what a big difference it had made for them and ask if they could get some more.
This is not how it’s supposed to work, but it started to happen on an every increasing basis and started to take a lot of time away from my seeing patients.
Interviewer: So you ended up spending too much time mixing up herbs instead of seeing patients?
Susan: That’s right, it started to restrict me from seeing patients and instead I was in the dispensary mixing up the same formulas over and over again.
Interviewer: Is that how Wildcrafted Herbal Products come about?
Susan: No, not at that stage. What I did do was I started to think about the basic formulas I was making time and time again and tried to streamline this in order to save time.
What I started to do was to make up basic mixtures. For example, I’d make up a Lung mixture that formed the basis of treating most of the common Lung problems such as bronchitis, asthma, coughs, colds, etc., and to these basic mixtures I could then easily and quickly add additional herbs that would make the basic mix more patient specific. In this way, I could save myself quite a lot of time and focus on seeing patients rather than making up herbal mixtures.
Interviewer: So how did Wildcrafted Herbal Products come about?
Well, in the beginning my system of the basic herbal mixtures worked okay, but after a while even that wasn’t keeping me out of the dispensary long enough, so I re-examined the basic formulas to see if I could make them specific enough to address various problems within a particular range – so for example, I developed a Cough & Colds compound that anyone with a cold could take and get good results.
Similarly, I developed the Female Compound that would address most common menstrual problems experienced by women.
Over time I developed quite a few off-the-self formulas that seemed to get very good results, to the point where people from all over Australia and even New Zealand were ordering my creams and compounds.
Interviewer: You just said creams, how do creams come into it?
Susan: The creams were an adjunct to the herbal mixtures which people took internally. For instance, someone might have presented with Arthritis and I would give them a herbal mixture that they took internally, but I would also give them a cream to rub onto the painful and inflamed joints.
Or someone may have had a car accident and still had deep bruising and tender muscles and joints for which I would give them the Analgeze Cream, which works really well on these types of residual aches and pains.
Another patient might present with haemorrhoids for which they would get a herbal mix to take internally that addressed the underlying health problems which resulted in them getting haemorrhoids in the first place, plus I’d give them a cream to apply directly to the haemorrhoids to get rid of them more quickly.
In this way I was able to help a lot more people without spending most of my day in the dispensary making up herbal creams and compounds. And that was how Wildcrafted Herbal Products come into existence, because I had to put some sort of label on the bottles and jars that identified them as coming from my business.
Interviewer: How did that lead to your range of natural and organic skin and personal care products?
That primarily originated with my female patients, members of my family and myself. You see, back in the late 70’s and early 80’s the only type of skin or personal care products that were easily available were the ones you bought at the local chemist or the department stores, you know, the high profile cosmetic brands. Problem was, my own skin did not react well to them and many of my female patients presented to me with skin problems after using some of these brands.
I had made products for myself and my family for a while and as more patients with skin sensitivities and irritations presented to me I suggested I’d make them a moisturiser that they could use instead and see how they go.
At first I’d make these for nothing and give them to my patients to try – after a while, when I started to get good feedback, I followed the same principles with the skin care range as I had done with my herbal compounds.
Interviewer: How did you come up with the formulations for the skin care range?
Well, that was actually both reasonably easy and quite difficult. You see as a medical herbalist, you know how the skin works, you understand the physiology behind it and know how herbs and essential oils can influence the functions of the skin. So, if you know all that, then it is relatively easy to develop effective skin care products.
But to develop a range of products that can easily and safely be sold to the general public is an entirely different ball game.
Interviewer: Why is that?
Because now you are no longer dealing with people you know, patients, family members, but you are making products that anyone can use. You don’t know if these people have underlying health problems that may or may not be related to their skin problem. They may have allergies to even the most natural of substances, etc. All these things have to be considered and taken into account when making up the formulations.
At the same time you don’t want to make a ‘wishy-washy’ product that does little or nothing other then moisturise the skin. The products I was making for myself, my friends, patients and my family worked more like therapeutic creams rather than just a simple moisturiser and I did not want to lose that quality.
Interviewer: So how did you over come this challenge?
There were several things that helped. You see, I’ve always been a Hippy at heart and as such I prefer to use natural products, natural fibre clothing and I was always into health foods. So if there was a natural version of a product, I would prefer to use it and if not, I’d make a natural version of it for myself.
What helped me a lot was that my patients were quite willing to try my products as I was not charging them and they were very happy to give me feedback, make comments and give me ideas.
After a few years the skin care products I was making had been used on hundreds of patients, friends and members of my family, and they had shown themselves to be safe and effective. By then I knew what would work and what wouldn’t.
Also my knowledge as a herbalist gave me the understanding not just of the human body, it’s organs and their functions, but also the insight into the plants that I was using to treat my patients. That was a vital key to the development and formulations of the products.
You see there are herbs and essential oils you would never use on an individual unless you had in-depth knowledge of their condition. On the other hand there are herbs and essential oils that are totally safe and extremely effective.
The ‘secret’ is to know how herbs and essential oils complement each other and how they work synergistically to affect a range of different skin problems, while at the same time remain safe and effective to use without causing any unforeseen problems.
In a commercial sense it’s the difference between products that smell and feel nice but do very little, and products that are actually effective, safe, and smell & feel great – it’s a huge difference not easily achieved.
Interviewer: So what came then? You now knew the products were safe, effective and totally natural, how did you go to that next step of running a company?
Susan: I registered the business name Wildcrafted Herbal Products pretty much from the beginning, but it was by no means a company, if by company you mean a big multi-story building with lots of staff and all that – in fact it still isn’t that and if I have anything to do with it, it never will be.
Interviewer: So where do you see the company?
Susan: My husband, Danny and I have a vision for our business to always be in touch with its roots. That is the individual person who uses our products. All our products are handmade from the ground up and that will never change, no matter how big the customer base gets.
Interviewer: How are you going to achieve that?
Susan: We’re doing it now, by offering all our products directly to customers via our web site. That way, we have the opportunity to get to know every single customer no matter where they live and they can get to know us. This is one of the things that makes Wildcrafted totally unique.
I’ll give you an example. We have people ringing us from the US, Canada and of course from within Australia who can and do talk to us in detail about their particular skin problem and whether we could suggest something. The advantage for them is that when they ring they are talking to either Danny, who is a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, or myself, which means they are not talking to an 18 year old sales assistant that doesn’t know anything or wait in a phone cue with no guarantee of ending up being able to talk to someone who has half a clue.
Instead, they can actually speak with one of the owners who’s qualifications and knowledge cannot be met by a shop assistant or department store sales person. And let me tell you these people appreciate that.
Interviewer: Considering you’re selling your products all over the World, how do you manage to maintain making them by hand from the ground up?
Susan: It sounds much more difficult than it is, although I’m not going to get into the details of how we do it. The key is to be organised and have an effective, efficient work plan and knowing our customers. With that in place, it’s not as difficult as you might imagine.
Thanks for talking to me Susan and I would like to take this opportunity to wish both you and Danny all the best with your business.