Love what you do. I love being an herbalist. I love talking about nutrition. I love helping people be their own health advocate. Do I have bad days? Sure. Do I let those days stop me from my true calling? No. I own those bad days, yes, I may even eat a brownie and skip a workout and wallow in front of the TV for some downtime, but then I get my butt back in gear. Don’t let a bad day stop you, use it for what it is, a check in on where you want to make changes, and that’s a gift…it really is, to know what you want and know how to change it.
As a part of our series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlotte Traas.
Charlotte is the Director of Education at innovative supplement company, New Chapter, Inc. She is a board-certified Master Herbalist and holds a certification in Nutrition from Stanford University. She has extensively studied Traditional Chinese Medicine, Mycology and Women’s Health and is known for being a bit of a science whisperer, translating difficult scientific concepts into easy to understand bites of knowledge.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Absolutely. You should know, I’m a bit of a rebel, I think to be an herbalist you have to be! I’ve always been an educator, and I was teaching at a medical college in Saint Louis when the opportunity to go to Japan to get into corporate training happened. I admit, I was frustrated with the medical college at the time, as it seemed that our US healthcare system was all about reactive care- if something went wrong, and I was much more interested in proactive care. I think that’s why I fell in love with Kampo, which is a traditional Japanese style of healing. When I moved to Hong Kong a few years later, my immune system really took a dive, and after visiting a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, I was able to get better through the help of some herbs and botanicals I couldn’t even pronounce. I was hooked. I had to know more. So when I returned to the states, I deferred starting to teach again to go work in a health food store and talk to people all day about their health. It was a perfect fit, and as time went on, the opportunities to learn more about people and their health increased until where I am today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
One of the things that amazes me is the tradition of herbalists being rebels. We are a ROWDY bunch, let me tell you. And why is that? Well, it’s because herbalism fights the status quo. When I was early in my herbalism career I learned that medicine and healing technologies were often reserved for the rich. Whether it was authentic cordyceps collected for Chinese royalty or the British aristocracy having access to medical texts, but not the commoner, history is full of health coming at a cost…and this translated to American history. When the American Medical Association was formed, they actually shut down the schools that focused on herbalism and went towards a more pharmaceutical-centric approach. Herbalism has lived on though…how? No one really talks about herbalism being the medicine of the people…those that were denied medical care during slavery were supported through herbal gardens. Harriet Tubman was an herbalist! Herbalism survived because people who were told no, who were told you don’t have enough money, or you shouldn’t have the power to heal yourself said, yes, we do. I remember that when things get rough…that I am the descendant of herbalists who have fought so hard to support our bodies and our minds…and I take that lesson with me when I feel we fight the bigger fights…validation…support, recognition within the medical industry. Herbalism has it’s place and I am proud to be a speaker for both people and plants.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was scared. It was plain old fear that almost kept me from this path, which is obviously what I was meant to do. I knew I had a passion for this. I could feel it in my bones, and yet I had all this doubt about quitting my stable teaching job for this flirtation with plants, but what I know now is that PASSION transfers to others. It’s infectious. If you love something, it shows in your body, in your voice and in your face and it’s worth it to take that risk. I almost didn’t, and my life would be completely different now. Sometimes I regret not listening to myself and my own intuition earlier in life, but those are the lessons that teach us how to gain confidence in our choices as we grow.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Without a doubt my greatest teacher is a woman named Shauna Wall. Some of our greatest teachers are not the people we seek out for learning. When I started my job, Shauna trained me and then when I was promoted, I became her boss…but here’s a mistake I think many people make, they think a teacher has to outrank you or be in a position of power. While she technically worked for me, she was my partner, and my greatest teacher. She asked great questions, she challenged me and she reminded me that work, when you love it, is personal. My dear friend and partner in crime Shauna passed after we worked side by side for four years. We had far too short of a time together, but the things I learned from her shape my decisions and my choices today, and I’m grateful for every second. She inspires me to seize every day to its fullest and a reminder that every person can teach us something.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
First, you have to believe you can change the world. Every person has that power, and that belief will drive you and your work. It drives mine. I see this world that pops ibuprofen like candy, that stresses themselves to the point of sickness, that drinks energy drinks to borrow energy their body doesn’t have to give and I say, this is my fight. Every natural product I get to help put into the hands of people who need it is an opportunity to improve the world. When we develop products that support pain relief through Ginger rather than through NSAIDS, it’s an opportunity to show someone the power of herbs and rid them of this idea that this industry is built on snake-oilers. I get to extensively research plants and look at the latest scientific research to help guide decisions on how we can support our world through their health. In essence, I work at giving people more time through the power of botanicals and plants. I’m grateful to say that I think we achieve that when someone takes our plant based calcium made with K2…which is important for helping calcium get to your bones where you need it, because excess calcium COULD go to your arteries and make you more likely to have a heart incident. Those choices may seem small, but think about the implications here…my work could help give someone more time, and what a tremendous gift that is.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
So, of course mine are mostly going to be botanically based, you’ll have to excuse my bias for plants… I love them.
First of all, one hundred percent, take a multivitamin. Let me explain why, because man, do people get frustrated when I say this. They say, I can’t feel it working, I don’t know why I take this…to them I say, a) I think you’re taking the wrong multi, but let’s look at how these things work in your body. Let’s say you are deficient in Vitamin D, that can make you feel tired…if you’re deficient in Zinc, that can affect your immune system, are you going to FEEL that? No, probably not until there is a problem, but this is where you can lay a great FOUNDATION. That’s what a multivitamin does (and yes, I’m totally biased towards the fermented multivitamins we make at New Chapter). We are so good at counting fat, calories, protein, but how much do you eat of Vitamin A in a day? Vitamin D? You probably don’t know…and that’s where your multivitamin can REALLY cover your bases. You know, our food is less nutrient dense now than it was in the 1970’s…we turn our soil so fast, and it doesn’t have a chance to catch up…so even if you want to eat perfectly, it’s like there’s already a strike against you…I like to think that taking my multivitamin in the morning gives me freedom from that worry…and I’ll always take one less thing to worry about.
Two, put down the ibuprofen and pick up some supercritically extracted Ginger. Ibuprofen is good for some things, but it can really destroy your stomach lining…I love that Ginger has so much research showing it’s ability to work on pain and inflammation markers just as well ibuprofen and its great for your digestion, and YES, even has some early studies showing it may support weight loss.
Three, SLEEP more. Yes, you, powerhouse who is going hard on the coffee…I will never take that away from you, promise, as you couldn’t pry mine from my hand, but..you gotta sleep. Sleep is where you recover, it’s where your body is able to set itself up for success, and we are always cheating ourselves out of the time our body is in it’s most effective state of recovery…sleep!
Four, find your adaptogen. Okay, so adaptogenic herbs are herbs that support your body through stress. Are you stressed? Of course you are. We all are, but there are these great herbs that can work with your body chemistry to help your body deal with the stress more effectively without turning off your ability to feel the good stress. AND YES, there is good stress…first date jitters, rollercoasters, scary movies…all put us in a state of Eustress, or good stress…we don’t want to turn that off, but we do want to manage the work stress or the traffic stress, but here’s the key…you have to find the herb that works for your body. If you like to ride the lightning like me and have your adaptogen not take your edge, try Rhodiola. If you want to have the chill of a glass of wine without the fun and in a work friendly way, try Holy Basil. Trying to up your overall stress game and feel connected to your soul, Ayurvedic darling Ashwagandha.
Five, be kind to yourself. We are so dang hard on ourselves. We are usually so much kinder to others than we are in our inner monologue. What if you loved yourself as much as you love your kids or your puppy or coffee? YES! And with that kind of self-love and confidence, to quote Dr. Seuss, you can move mountains, kid.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would say I would start a self-care revolution. We would pay attention to our bodies, we would glorify rest and recovery rather than the grind. We would teach kids to love themselves through nutrition and exercise and we would be unapologetically allowed to take time for ourselves.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Everyone is far too busy worrying about themselves to worry about you. Realize your own validation means more than others. Trust me, win the battle with your inner monologue and you will be a force to reckon with.
- Trust yourself. This is tied to number one. Yes, you will make mistakes, yes, you will have moments of doubt, but you have to trust that you are on the right path. You have to trust that you have all the tools and skills you need to be successful. If you don’t feel you do, trust that you will find your teachers.
- That reply-all button is a KILLER. Don’t email without checking that first.
- We live in a world where plants are viewed as second class to people, but they are what provides us with our means of life…energy, food…take care of your environment, it takes care of the people you love and YOU.
- Love what you do. I love being an herbalist. I love talking about nutrition. I love helping people be their own health advocate. Do I have bad days? Sure. Do I let those days stop me from my true calling? No. I own those bad days, yes, I may even eat a brownie and skip a workout and wallow in front of the TV for some downtime, but then I get my butt back in gear. Don’t let a bad day stop you, use it for what it is, a check in on where you want to make changes, and that’s a gift…it really is, to know what you want and know how to change it.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Gosh, they are all tied together aren’t they? Our mental health is leading us to become more isolated, less connected to our body, our environment, ourselves. The more divorced we become from our environment, the more we get away from our sustainability goals…and vegans just want to save the world, you gotta love that. I would say the cause I am most dedicated to is CONNECTION. We are all connected, and I want for people to become connected to themselves and their health and the health of the planet and the health of others. Can that be a category?
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Search for Charlotte Traas, and you’ll find me. I have a pretty unique name, and I promise, I’m working on upping my social media game. I’ve always been a pen and paper kind of girl, but I realize that you have to communicate your ideas broadly and social media is the best way to do that, so I’m going to get there! Promise.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!