by Kerry Politzer
As a naturopath, businesswoman, and mother, Chris Alstat draws from a variety of experiences to serve in her new role as president of Eclectic Institute. We sat down with her to learn more about her background and her visions for the future of the company.
Can you tell us about a bit about yourself and your background?
I have always been a really nature-driven person with an interest in health and well-being. I grew up in New Zealand, a country of pristine beauty where nearly everyone grows up with an innate respect for the environment and a love of plants. As a young adult, I became somewhat obsessed with health and healing and sought out as many retreats and therapy workshops as I could. During those years, I discovered a lifelong interest in the healing power of plants, as well as the newly emerging field of naturopathy which encompassed everything that I aspired to practice. I graduated from naturopathic school in New Zealand and briefly worked in a clinic before moving to Japan to teach. I spent ten years traveling the country, writing and teaching about herbs and natural medicine, while also continuing to study new therapies.
I now enjoy living in the rural Oregon countryside, surrounded by 165 acres of herb gardens. Together with my nine-year old son, we incorporate herbs into all aspects of our lives. Beyond the growing and harvesting, we use them in cooking, crafting, and making our own remedies and personal care items. I’ve always delighted in making my own remedies, and to do it on a large scale with Eclectic is an endlessly rewarding experience. I’m very grateful to my late husband for the beautiful lifestyle that we created together.
How did you meet Ed Alstat, the late founder of Eclectic Institute?
It was in Japan that I met Ed, who later became my husband. A mutual friend introduced us because of our similar backgrounds and interest in herbs and healing.
We were very philosophically aligned, and spent a lot of time traveling and studying plants from around the world. When I moved to the United States, I started out managing international accounts at Eclectic, and eventually worked my way up to vice president. While becoming deeply familiar with all aspects of the company’s operations, I also studied business at Massey University to enhance my knowledge and understanding.
Can you tell us a bit about Ed, his vision for the company, and his legacy?
Ed truly was one of a kind. He was a super sharp visionary who was well ahead of his time. When I remember him, I think of someone who lived his life purpose and left the earth behind as a better place, with his contributions to naturopathic medicine and herbalism, and the incredible amount of healing he has brought to people through his products.
He grew up in a farming family and always loved plants and was happiest when he had his hands in the earth. Professionally, he was both a pharmacist and a naturopathic physician, but he most loved the farming and product development aspects of the business.
Ed was the first person in the herbal medicine industry to freeze-dry. He was particularly passionate about this process, which is the best method of preserving a plant’s freshness. He became fascinated with it after learning that it was so powerful that you could even freeze-dry plasma and reintroduce it into the body.
I got really interested in freeze-drying myself after meeting him. Freeze-drying keeps all the beneficial constituents of the plants in the same ratios as they are found in the fresh plant by gently removing only the water with cold temperatures and vacuum. When you consume a freeze-dried plant, it’s the closest thing to eating a freshly picked plant from the earth.
So Ed set out to grow herbs with the best farming methods possible, and then fresh freeze-dry them for optimal potency. Whereas other companies extract medicinal compounds and add them back into the products, we prefer to keep our herbs as close to the fresh whole plant as possible, preserving their enzymatic activity.
Farming and freeze-drying were essential to Ed’s core values of quality and integrity, and they continue to be essential to our company. As a naturopathic physician, Ed was driven by an earnest desire to keep people well, and therefore developed his products for maximum effectiveness. Being greatly inspired by the Eclectic Physicians, a group that practiced during the golden age of botanical medicine in the United States, Ed avidly studied their journals of formulas and made them available once again through Eclectic. Still, we are one of the only companies to offer these unique Eclectic formulas.
How do you see yourself continuing Ed’s legacy?
I am very passionate about maintaining the quality of our products and staying up-to-date on changes in the industry. With the recent acquisition of a new freeze-dryer, we are looking forward to increasing our production of freeze-dried herbs. We are also looking toward expanding our farm program this year, to continue supplying our freeze-drying facility with the freshest herbs possible.
Ed was also very invested in education. I want to continue nurturing this through our herbal internship program and herb camps for children.
Last year, we launched our first internship program. It brought in five wonderful interns from around the country, who shared Ed’s passion for the earth and brought incredible energy to the farm. This year, we are expanding the program and inviting interns to work and learn with us throughout the entire farming season.
In addition to this, every summer, I enjoy hosting an herb camp that allows children to play and craft with nature, and to even bring home some of their own remedies to share with friends and family. I’ve always enjoyed doing things like this with my own son, so this camp is an opportunity to share this experience with other children and encourage their love of nature and plants. I’ve also held workshops at my son Edwin’s school – last year, we made elderberry syrup with all of his classmates.
What are some of your best-selling products?
Our freeze-dried line is our best-selling. Some of our most popular products include milk thistle, beet juice, kale, and freeze-dried cranberry. One of our up-and-coming products is freeze-dried aronia berry, an herb which has already gained a lot of attention throughout Europe. Rich in antioxidants and anthocyanins, this superfood supports a healthy urinary tract, healthy blood pressure, and stabilized blood sugar levels.
I personally love our kids’ line. We offer Kids Superfood, a great tasting blend of fresh freeze-dried vegetables and fruit, and Kids Super Immune, a delicious immune formula that can be stirred into water. It’s great to have products that are so pure and fresh, to be able to follow the plants from our farm to freeze-driers to bottles, and ultimately to our customers. I truly believe that we have some of the best products out there.
As a busy mom and businessperson, what products do you recommend for the stresses of modern life?
Relatively new is our Adrenal Support capsule, a concentrated blend that includes freeze-dried rhodiola and ashwaghanda, herbs that support the body’s resistance to stress. I also like to carry around our Calming Tonic glycerite, which contains passionflower and chamomile, among other herbs that support relaxation. Another great product is our freeze-dried holy basil, which is sourced from our own farm. Considered a sacred plant in India, holy basil is an adaptogenic herb that protects against stress throughout the body.
I place a really high value on healthful eating to help with stress. Our whole-food powders line of fresh freeze-dried fruits, vegetables and herbs can be very helpful for those who value eating healthily but don’t always have the time to prepare foods from fresh ingredients. Our Lemon Greens product can be simply whisked into water to provide your daily serving of fresh greens. Equally important is quality sleep. We offer a very effective formula with valerian, passionflower, and other mildly sedating herbs, which works great and is easy to travel with.
Where do the majority of your customers purchase your products? Is there anything new in the works?
Our products are sold online and at many independent health food stores. We’ve got some new products launching in Q1 2019, including a Kidney Support capsule and an HBP capsule that supports healthy blood pressure levels. Also, we’ve got some new herbs to add to our freeze-dried singles line – sweet wormwood and black seed.
Do you have any more words about your vision for the future of Eclectic Institute?
It is really important to me to keep Ed’s vision alive, to ensure that we are a company of high integrity that makes very effective, high-quality products, and one that is interested in environmental sustainability. Ed’s major mission was always to “keep people well,” and I share that drive. It’s important to me to respect our core values, and to keep our operations and ingredients as local as possible. Ed and I always shared a passion, and now it is up to me to continue it in his memory.