Dr. Michelle Clay, D.O is a physician and the CEO of FreealiTEA, an herbal tea company founded for women’s healing and stress release.
Photocred: Dr. Michelle Clay
Why and when did you first begin experimenting with herbs?
My journey with herbs started when I was a little girl. Herbs and horticulture are all about being close to the Earth and directly gathering sources from Her to create food and medicine. My parents and grandparents taught me this, and I began my journey with them. My grandma and my grandpa had a garden in their backyard, and I can remember helping them tend to it. They had these humongous sunflowers, and when I was a little girl, it seemed like those sunflowers were reaching to the sky! We had a summer cottage at Fox Lake, and my grandmother used to take my other two girl cousins and me around the lake to pick berries and apples. She explained the purpose of different plants to us, and she taught us everything we knew. After our lesson, we would gather the plants, and we’d use the berries and apples to make a cobbler.
Now, as for my formal training with herbs, this began with me having uterine fibroids. I found out in early 2001. When I found out, I started reading books and researching online what I could do. I was having abnormal periods, and I didn’t know why. The doctor gave me an ultrasound, and he told me my options.
I just said, “Let me just think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”
So, I thought about it, I prayed on it, and that led to me researching what causes uterine fibroids, and research didn’t seem to have a definitive answer. And today, they still don’t really know. So, I began looking at the natural things I could do.
I started taking herbal supplements — but just the capsule ones you get at the store. I stopped perming my hair, I stopped eating meat, and my fibroids began to shrink. I became energized with purpose, and I thought, “I think that I can help other women do the same thing.”
I was living in New York at the time, and I started researching schools. I came across The Academy of Natural Health Science, and I liked this program the best because it went more in-depth on the herbal component of nutrition. The program delved deeply into anatomy and physiology. I already had this knowledge from being a physician, but I didn’t know the herbs and nutrition piece. This is where I got my formal training, and as a result of doing that, I became a Certified Holistic Health Counselor, and Clinical Nutritionist.
Soon after, I started putting together bags of herbs, and I developed a knowing of what I wanted to do. I experienced an alignment with my purpose. My spirit recognized this, and I began to walk with purpose in a fuller way. I thought back to how my great grandfather was a master herbalist. He was the healer in his hometown of Kokomo, Indiana. He truly knew the Earth. So, even though I never knew him, I’m a continuation of his legacy and his story of being a healing helper. This journey is sprinkled into FreealiTea, and it is my way of helping women release and rediscover a knowledge of their purpose too.
When are times that you've faced chronic stress, and how did this impact your mind? How do different herbs come into play?
Sometimes, I go down a spiral where I feel unconfident, insecure, short on time, and unsure if I’m doing the right thing. That’s very unsettling for me. So, the first thing I do is center myself and meditate. My tea is also part of the way I calm down. When I’m stressed I like to drink my Release Your RoyalTea because it has butterfly pea flower in it. Butterfly pea flower is calming, and the blend also has ashwagandha in it. Ashwagandha is not only great for balancing out cortisol levels, but it also helps protect the body from the adverse effects of chronic stress.
Chronic stress will literally affect your body from the crown of your head to the tip of your little toe. High cortisol levels can cause a cascade of events to occur. Your hair can begin to change or thin. Stress can cause skin changes, acne, changes to your digestive system, your nails, hormones, and your menstrual cycle.
Some of my other blends like Release Recharge give a sense of calm and ease too. Sometimes, I just take a moment and go drink it in my car. The main ingredient in Release Recharge is hibiscus. Hibiscus isn’t really known to calm, but it has benefits like helping high blood pressure and cholesterol. However, the second ingredient is rosemary which does help with anxiety. Additionally, there’s cinnamon, and that gives the blend a nice sweetness without putting the blood sugar up. Cinnamon can actually increase insulin sensitivity too. This is wonderful because low insulin sensitivity is the deal with type 2 diabetes. Your pancreas is producing enough insulin, but the cells aren’t sensitive enough to use it for maximum benefit. So, they’re not bringing the blood sugar down. Rather, it goes up. Furthermore, cinnamon can be calming, and I’ve also incorporated rose hips which are a great source of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps balance out cortisol as well.
How do herbs compare to OTC medicines such as ibuprofen and Prilosec?
Whether it’s OTC or pharmaceutical, the root of all medications is a plant. They don’t just make it up in a laboratory. They take the plant into the laboratory, add different fillers, and other synthetic materials to make it work faster. Sometimes, these synthetic materials can give people adverse effects. So, when I have some inflammation, I go to pineapple, turmeric, or ginger root because they are naturally anti-inflammatory. Taking too much ibuprofen can result in thinning the lining of your stomach or esophagus, and that can result in an ulcer. But when I eat, pineapple, turmeric, or ginger root, I don’t have to worry about that or acid reflux developing. This is the case for most people unless you have an allergy to these things, especially pineapple.
What are some herbs that help with low energy?
Green tea is great because it can give you energy without that crash and burn feeling. There are other health benefits too. Other herbs that are good for energy are ginseng, yerba mate, and maca root. Ashwagandha is also good because it can help to energize and calm you at the same time. On the other hand, I would stay away from energy drinks because they can lead to issues with higher heart rate, and they can affect your kidneys too if you have too much of them.
When I was in medical school, I started drinking coffee and mountain dew at the same time, and I started getting costochondritis. I was having chest pains, and when I took a deep inhalation my chest would hurt. Costochondritis is when the cartilage around your ribs becomes inflamed, and sometimes, when you move, it hurts. I was also having palpitations because the caffeine intake was causing my heart to skip a beat.
What is your perspective on meat consumption?
I stopped eating meat because of what they put into the animals. My mom worked in the animal and health division of a pharmaceutical company, and I found out from her everything they put into the animals to make them mature and get to market quicker. The feed they give the cows to get them to market is not good either. It causes tumors in their stomachs. Because of that, they had pharmaceutical companies create a drug so cows wouldn’t get a tumor in their stomach. They won’t let them eat grass because of profit.
And one day I was in the car, and people on the radio were talking about how chicken is the number one selling meat. They’re finding a way to get chickens from being hatched to market in 6 weeks.
Honey, no chicken grows that fast...
So, what do you think they’re giving the chicken? That’s what is going in you.
What does self-care look like to you and how do you practice it?
For me, I would say that the root of self-care is not luxury. It’s about being in the moment, true, and unapologetically honest about what I want and need. Self-care means not doing certain things because you feel “as if you should.” Self-care is the elimination of “should.” Self-care showed up for me when I learned how to say “no.” I still work on that daily, but I’ve learned how to say “no” and “yes” without explanation.
I’ve been feeling more confident to speak my truth, and for me to do that, part of my self-care is meditation. Meditation is about me tapping into my inner self, my power, and my divine self. That’s where I find my truth, and that’s how I move forward. To get to that place of meditation, sometimes I have to go away, drink my tea, or put my phone on do not disturb. Self-care is also knowing the expiration date on certain relationships or conversations. Ultimately, self-care means owning your reality and being free from expectations that do not align with your spirit.
Photocred: Dr. Michelle Clay