It’s ‘‘thyme’’ for a change for Sandra Clair.
Dr Clair, a traditional Swiss herbalist and qualified health practitioner, is moving on from Artemis, the plant medicine business she has built up over the past 25 years.
It was a strange feeling, given the business had been present in ‘‘absolutely every facet’’ of her life. ‘‘This is a big change for me but it doesn’t change my passion for plant-based medicine or my direction. I will focus on different aspects,’’ she said.
Originally from Switzerland, Dr Clair felt fortunate to have come to New Zealand in 1995 and to have been able to to do something ‘‘really positively’’ in her new country.
‘‘I think it’s amazing to have come here and realised there was something really special going on with medicinal plants in New Zealand,’’ she said.
Plant medicine was an official part of public healthcare in Switzerland where Dr Clair had been trained academically in herbal medicine. She also had the opportunity to do a three-year apprenticeship with a Swiss Catholic nun who taught her herbal remedy traditions that dated back centuries.
Discovering the impressive quality of plants in New Zealand, she embarked on a mission to offer natural remedies as an available option in mainstream healthcare.
She initially formulated plant medicines for the clients she saw in her practice. Once Artemis was established, products were sold directly to health stores, pharmacies and practitioners.
When she first established the business, there were very few other options for people seeking natural healthcare. When she first came to New Zealand, she did not plan to build up a business; it came about through not having access to effective plant›based medicine.
‘‘The purpose of Artemis was to help people effectively and safely improve health resilience and to naturally deal with common health complaints. Keeping the needs of my clients firmly in mind, it was fundamental to me that they experience tangible and swift relief. For this, correct formulation and the medicinal quality of pure organic ingredients are essential,’’ she said.
Artemis quickly gained traction; her clients wanted her remedies for their family members and she started to get approached by health stores wanting to stock her remedies.
She said New Zealand was a country that supported ‘‘pioneership’’ and she was grateful for the support of the Dunedin City Council and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, as well as the local and business community.
In 2012, Artemis won the Deloitte Fast 50 Award for fastest growing manufacturer in Otago and the lower South Island and the Westpac Otago Business Excellence Award for ethics. In 2015, it was a winner of the Westpac business growth grant top 10 businesses.
Artemis remedies were also chosen by the Chinese daigou channel in 2016 which led to Artemis building a Tmall flagship store for servicing the cross›border e›commerce channel in China.
In 2017, Artemis was awarded a contestable Callaghan Innovation research grant for Dr Clair and her team to investigate the therapeutic properties and potency of a proprietary fresh›plant extract from a special chemotype of thyme growing in Central Otago.
The results showed three times higher levels of antimicrobial thymol than an equivalent extract made with European thyme.
In 2020, her formula ViroGone Spray, containing the proprietary ThymeMed extract won the immunity category in the Best of Natural Awards.
Central Otago might be better known for its wine and horticulture but the quality of medicinal plants in the region was ‘‘world class’’. Its climate produced ‘‘incredibly potent’’ medicinal plants and a highlight of her business journey was being able to validate that, she said.
Spending time picking the likes of thyme in Central Otago had been very enjoyable. Several tonnes were hand› picked every year and harvesting the herb was another of her highlights.
‘‘It’s such a beautiful environment there. It’s also putting my hands into the soil and being away from my computer .’’
It might have resulted in sore backs and weary bodies by the end of it but it was ‘‘still such a thrilling time’’.
Since the inception of Artemis, Dr Clair has been a prolific presenter, writer, media voice for medical herbalism, a regulatory adviser and, most recently, a TEDx speaker on the clinical value of medicinal plants.
Until July 2021, Dr Clair had a strategic management and governance role in the business and led the Artemis research and development programme, also overseeing quality and education.
Artemis restructured its shareholder base in 2021 which saw the New Zealand Regenerative Investment Group — also an investor in Ceres Organics — taking a majority shareholding in the company.
Dr Clair, who lives on the Otago Peninsula, was unsure of her next steps, but she saw her next professional phase as including teaching, policy work and research. ‘‘I will continue with my passion for natural living and plant›based medicines.’’
She was proud of what she had achieved, putting plant medicine ‘‘on the map’’ in New Zealand.