Whole Healthcare

July 2, 2014
Susan Clearwater, right, waits in silence with students before digging up a plant May 3 in her herb garden and botanical sanctuary in Nashville. Clearwater teaches classes twice a year on the subject of raising and using herbs as medicine.
Susan Clearwater, right, waits in silence with students before digging up a plant May 3 in her herb garden and botanical sanctuary in Nashville. Clearwater teaches classes twice a year on the subject of raising and using herbs as medicine.

Whole Healthcare

After a moment of silence, listening to the world around her, Susan Clearwater pushes her shovel into the earth to dig up a burdock plant. Working in the open of her rural botanical sanctuary in the hills of Brown County, Susan takes the plant to be rinsed, cut, and processed into tinctures.

After receiving her nursing certificate from Indiana University in 1988 and working at Bloomington hospital for nearly four years, Susan has fulfilled her dream of having her own practice. However, while she values the lessons learned from her conventional medical training, she steered herself in another direction: herbalism.

Susan’s interest in herbal medicine started quietly at the age of 18 when a friend gave her a cup of goldenseal tea to help with a bad cold. She said the next day her cold had cleared up, which amazed her because it typically took nearly a week to recover. This caught her attention.

“Everything started with that one cup of goldenseal tea,” Susan says. After this, she began studying herbs on her own, and after a conversation with a nurse-friend, she started thinking about a career.

“She talked to me and kind of opened my mind up to the [reality] that nursing offers many, many, many alternatives in different fields of interest,” Susan recalls. It was then that she decided to study medicine but to use that knowledge to direct her clients toward natural medicines.

“When I went to nursing school it was with the idea that I would be doing what I am doing now,” she says.

Susan’s approach to medicine is to look at the whole body, treating not just a symptom but working with her patients to increase their overall health.

“In my nursing practice I talk a lot about diet and nutrition as a foundation and basis for overall good health,” she says. She encourages her clients to see the relationship mental health and nutrition have with their physical wellbeing. Her method of treating the whole body, not just symptoms, requires a lot more involvement of her clients than perhaps going to a conventional medical doctor might.

“Holistic medicine really involves the participation of the client,” Susan explains. Part of this participation is active learning. Susan says a big part of her practice is education. She works very hard to ensure her clients know why they are taking certain herbs or are recommended a particular treatment.

“Teaching is really huge … I always explain what [the treatment] is and why they are taking it,” Susan states, adding that this leaves out any mystery.

This care and attention to detail resonates heavily with her clients. Gloria Stearns-Bruner, a mother of four, says she and her family have seen Susan for nearly 11 years. One of Gloria’s children had a serious illness at a young age, which caused kidney damage. After hearing about the issues he was having, Susan explained to Gloria’s son what was happening with his body and what the medicine and treatments she was recommending did. She also helped the family find other ways to help support his health, which Gloria said they appreciated.

Elise Naticchia, right, and Brendan Peterson, both of Cleveland, Oh., help clean up one of Susan Clearwater’s herb gardens at her botanical sanctuary in Nashville. Naticchia and Peterson are spending the summer with Clearwater as part of her internship program where they will learn about the processing and cultivation of herbs.
Elise Naticchia, right, and Brendan Peterson, both of Cleveland, Oh., help clean up one of Susan Clearwater’s herb gardens at her botanical sanctuary in Nashville. Naticchia and Peterson are spending the summer with Clearwater as part of her internship program where they will learn about the processing and cultivation of herbs.

The tinctures and salves Susan makes from her herbs are given to her patients and sold in our stores under her Green Turtle Botanicals line. She takes pride in the medicines she has developed and in having such a deep understanding of the herbs she prescribes.

“The more I am involved with herbs, the more I really appreciate the chemistry behind them,” Susan says. She also enjoys being able to provide a broad base of knowledge to the people she serves. She said because of her RN certification, a lot of her clients are able to feel more confident in her opinions. She said she actually believes it would be much harder to be good at what she does without the scientific background she has.

“It really helps to understand some of the pharmacology and the science behind the chemicals in the herbs and again how that is going to act physiologically in the body,” Susan explains.

Gloria agrees. She has seen several other natural medical practitioners, however Susan is the first who has a traditional medical background. This boosted Gloria’s trust.

“She can look up things, she knows very well what interacts with what, she can explain the whole systems of our organs, our glands, [and] our neurological realities from the medical perspective … and then show us how that interplays with what she is doing,” Gloria says. She reveals she believes this kind of faith in Susan helps her treatments.

“When you are a patient, a huge amount of the success is your trust and confidence in your health practitioner,” she explains. “It totally increases and supports my comfort level … and I recommend her and refer other people to her comfortably.” Gloria says whenever she hears friends say they have seen several doctors for an issue but have received no recommendation on how to treat it, she always says one thing:

“Please call Susan. She will have something to tell you.”

Though she prefers to work in the world of holistic and herbal medicines, Susan said she never hesitates to recommend other doctors.

“I like doing collaborative work with other health professionals in town,” she says After all, the end goal is for the people she treats to be healthy, and sometimes that means working with the traditional medical community.

The work Susan does, both with her clients and with herbs comes from a place of calm. She takes great care in her gardens, monitoring her plants’ progress much in the way she might a patient. She treats both with respect and takes the time to listen to plants and patients alike.

“Susan is an amazing listener,” Gloria reveals. She went on to say that she looks forward to her visits. “I know I’m going to feel good when I walk out of there.”

This kind of enthusiasm about health and wellness are a pivotal part of Susan’s practice. At it’s heart is healing people using time-tested, natural remedies, but the other, key component is instilling confidence in her clients.

“By educating people, you empower them and to me that is what healing is all about. That is what my nursing practice is all about,” she explains. She wants to give the keys to whole health to those she treats.

“I really believe the best healer is you,” Susan says.