Seeking sanctuary

Boutique health store and clinic Botanica has quickly become a local health and wellbeing hub. Jim Manson has been along to find out more

In just two years since it opened Botanica has quickly established itself as a local health and wellbeing hub. But its growing reputation already extends well beyond the village of Rusthall in Kent where it’s located, and nearby Tunbridge Wells. In fact, Botanica gets regular visits from customers from right across the South East – and perhaps even more surprisingly, from as far afield as Scotland. But more of that in a moment.

For now, I’m sitting on a sofa at the back of a beautifully light and vibrant shop in Rusthall high street. I suppose I’d describe Botanica as a contemporary take on the traditional wholefood store with its thoughtfully edited mix of wholefoods, specialist loose teas, natural remedies, organic skincare, eco products and children’s health care – all set out among contemporary light wood storage and white walls.

But how would co-founder and owner Naomi Murray describe Botanica? “I see it more as a boutique than a health food store. Maybe a sanctuary of sorts, a retreat.” And immediately I see what she means. The friendly greetings, the calm and homely atmosphere clearly put Botanica’s customers immediately at ease.

“I see it more as a boutique than a health food store. Maybe a sanctuary of sorts, a retreat”

“We always wanted this to be a happy, welcoming place where there would be time to talk. People get a lot of TLC when they come in. And our ethos is always to treat people as a whole person, not as a symptom.”

With its on site-clinic, wide range of treatments ­– medical herbalism, nutritional therapy, podiatry, natural facelift and sports injury therapy among them – and separate NEWtritious Delicious business (see story below), Botanica is very well placed to offer a total wellbeing approach.

While the Botanica business itself is relatively new, through its well-qualified team, it’s able to offer over 20 years’ experience in natural healthcare.

And that’s where the Scottish connection comes in. Naomi and her husband Alan – a sports injury specialist – both hail from Thurso, just a few miles from John O Groats. For nearly 20 years Naomi worked with her father Brian Lamb – Scotland’s longest practicing medical herbalist – in his clinic in Thurso.

“This whole thing really started when my dad first took me herb picking in the Highlands when I was about 10. We’d often spend a whole day out there, and then we’d come back and dry the herbs on the Aga. When I look back I realise it was quite a unique upbringing.”

Five years ago Naomi and her family moved to Kent. “When we came down I really had no intention of doing this. It was when Alan started his sports injury clinic down here and was looking for premises that we came across this place in Rusthall High Street. I just walked through the door and thought ‘this feels right – we could do something very nice in this space’.”

Botanica 7 copyMurray says she wants Botanica to be accessible to as many people locally as possible. “It’s not a hard sell. We’re careful to make what we do affordable for as many people as we can, so we’ll offer different ranges at different prices. We love helping people. And we always sell with a big conscience.” And that, she says, means “taking a stand on certain things”. Like lots of natural products retailers Botanica edits out any products containing artificial sweeteners, preservatives and hydrogenated fats. Murray also doesn’t stock any soya products, although she makes the distinction between traditionally fermented soya food and modern ‘wayward Western’ products.

“It’s not a hard sell. We’re careful to make what we do affordable for as many people as we can, so we’ll offer different ranges at different prices. We love helping people. And we always sell with a big conscience”

Botantica’s ethos is based on a conviction that most nutrients we need for health and wellbeing should come from food. So there’s a strong emphasis on helping people to switch to healthier diet – Murray calls it a “lifestyle prescription”. But there’s also a recognition of the important role of supplementation – “we’ve been really quite forthright about the importance of vitamin D, and magnesium” –  and a special place for foods and botanicals naturally rich in key nutrients – for example, specialist loose teas, kefir, raw chocolate and super juices.

The combination of friendly and knowledgeable customers service and a carefully thought through and coherent product mix seems to be working. Comments Murray: “The shop is doing fantastically well as we pick up more and more word of mouth recommendations.  A lot of people are coming to us now.”

All the time we’re talking, customers are popping into the shop. Some are buying, others have arrived for a treatment in the clinic – but some have just dropped by for a chat. And that, says Murray, is absolutely fine.

“We really try to make a difference to people’s lives,” says Murray. “Giving our customers good service is the most important thing – even more so than offering good products. And we never stop learning. You can’t stand still in this work.”


Bridging the gap between food and medicine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANEWtritious Delicious sets out to bridge the gap between food and medicine, offering courses based on traditional dietary wisdom backed by leading-edge nutritional science.

NEWtritious Delicious has been running for eight years and started life in Thurso, Scotland, where Naomi and medical herbalist Sophie Lamb both practiced at their father’s herbal clinic. Now the business – run as a separate entity by Naomi, Sophie and Kent-based nutritional therapist Abir Hamza-Goodacre – operates from a purpose built space on the Botanica premises.

The NEWtritious Delicious courses aim to empower people – and their families – to eat for health and vitality. Each course offers the opportunity to taste five courses of delicious food and health enhancing drinks. But they also offer insights into healthy eating principles, helpful practical advice on cooking and preparing nutritious and delicious food – I sat in for part of one course and can absolutely testify to this! – and the chance to ask questions in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere. There are also some first class resources that explain the benefits of particular food groups and nutrients and recipes for all the food prepared during the courses. Probably what impressed me most was just how thoroughly researched the courses are. But it’s even rarer to come across that knowledge combined with the food lover’s sheer passion for food and fresh ingredients.

As well as Comprehensive and Condensed courses, there are self-hosted courses (the NEWtritious Delicious team take along all the food and appliances) and a Weekend Break Package that includes accommodation advice and a visitor’s itinerary. The courses have developed a reputation both locally and nationally – “we’ve even had people coming all the way down from Scotland,” says Naomi. She also sees the concept as an eminently  transportable one. “We’d love to develop the idea and maybe take it into schools or businesses.”