Healing by way of
medicinal plants

Clinical Herbalist Chara LeMarquand talks about common herbs used for common problems

By Craig Cormack

June 19, 2024

Herbalism, also known as herbal medicine or phytotherapy, is a traditional and holistic system of healing that utilizes medicinal plants and natural protocols to prevent, treat, and maintain optimal health and well-being. It is a practice deeply rooted in the belief that plants possess inherent healing properties and the body has an innate ability to heal itself when provided with natural remedies.

It is always important to do your research before using herbs, and the following interview should not be construed as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult with a medical professional before starting any new treatment.

Chara LeMarquand is a Montreal-based clinical herbalistChara LeMarquand is a Montreal-based clinical herbalist who does most of her consulting work online. I consulted with her at the NDG health food store A Votre Santé, where she works two days per week. I was so impressed with her knowledge and helpfulness that I interviewed her about herbal medicine and some herbs used for common problems.

What brought you into working with herbs and where did you receive your training?

It was a long journey. Herbalism is a powerful tool for connection, both to ourselves and our bodies, and to the ecosystems that sustain us. I worked for some time in urban agriculture and environmental design, during which time I became enamoured with plants and the many ways that they support us. I also studied at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism in Montpelier, Vermont. It was a three-year program, full-time. As a Canadian, therefore, I have spent a great deal of time in the United States.

Many of my clients come to an herbalist as a last resort and being able to support people with chronic illness is really my passion.

Where do you practice now and what conditions have you come across in your practice or during your teaching of others?

Besides practising at the Westmount store two days a week, I consult with most of my clients virtually at the moment, so they and I can be anywhere. I also have clients in other provinces and the United States. I work with people experiencing a wide range of conditions, and I see a lot of chronic illnesses in my practice, such as autoimmunity, dysautonomia, and so forth. Many of my clients come to an herbalist as a last resort, so being able to support people with chronic illnesses is a real passion of mine.

I also support folks who want to enhance their fertility, including perinatal care. I work with metabolic concerns, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. I work with clients looking to enhance their quality of sleep, or who are looking for support for anxiety and depression. So really it is a wide range. Sometimes my client’s concerns will be acute, such as infections, but often it’s more chronic conditions that I’ll see in my practice.

‘Many of my clients come to an herbalist as a last resort, so being able to support people with chronic illnesses is a real passion of mine.’

I remember in the store talking to you about remedies for colds and cases of flu, and you said that echinacea works differently than goldenseal, which would work differently than goldenrod and astragalus and all those different herbs. Could we dig into this? How does echinacea work on the immune system?

Plants are all different, and each has different actions and works with the immune system differently. It is important to understand that the immune system has different branches: the innate immune response, the first line of defence against a foreign agent entering the body, and the adaptive immune response, which has more to do with our acquired or learned immunity, including B-cells that create memory via antibodies, T-cells, etc.


Echinacea shines as an immune stimulant, working primarily on the first branch of the immune system that I mentioned, that first line of defence. I like to think about the innate immune response as being sort of like Pacman, the video game character. When something enters the body, the immune system gets tipped off that there’s an issue and dispatches white blood cells at the scene to gobble up the invaders. This process of immune cells ingesting pathogens is called phagocytosis.


The echinacea plant contains constituents called alkamides, which up-regulate the innate immune response, and therefore increase phagocytosis. The alkamides in echinacea are also mildly calming – when you’re overworked and under stress, calming the nervous system has benefits for the immune system.

I primarily use echinacea either at the first sign of infection or after a known exposure to a pathogen. Many people take it every day, but it is preferable to take it at the first sign of something coming on. Let’s say that you have a tickle in the back of the throat and think you might be getting sick, or you’re feeling run down, not sleeping well, and may be vulnerable to infection – that’s the time to reach for echinacea.

It is best to use echinacea for a few days, then stop because it’s not a great idea to stimulate the immune system constantly. This being said, if someone has a chronic infection, something that they just can’t kick, and that’s lingering, it might be indicated to use echinacea for the medium term.

‘It is best to use echinacea for a few days, then stop because it’s not a great idea to stimulate the immune system constantly.’

Echinacea is also an immune modulant. What I mean by this is that it shifts the balance in the players in the acquired immune system, so again the T-cells, B-cells, and so forth. Because it simulates the innate immune response or that first line of defence, it can be contraindicated for autoimmunity. However, because it also affects acquired immunity, it can sometimes be indicated because it has a balancing effect, helping to resolve chronic inflammation.

This is an individual case-by-case situation, and I recommend that people work with a practitioner for guidance. Also, you will need to get the right dosage for a person’s specific profile, and the length of the treatment. Echinacea is contraindicated with immunosuppressants.


What about goldenseal and its potential health benefits, interactions and side effects?

Goldenseal, or Hydrastis canadensis, is a plant native to North America. It has a long history of use among many First Nations communities. I believe it was the Cherokee who first introduced it to European settlers. In the late 1800’s it became so popular that the plant was almost completely eradicated in the wild.

Goldenseal is still considered an at-risk botanical. It is powerful, but it must be used wisely. I prefer to steer people to alternatives as much as possible – there are more sustainable plants that do very similar things. If you are going to use goldenseal, it’s preferable to get roots that have been cultivated or grown, rather than harvested in the wild (wildcrafted). You can ask suppliers about their sourcing before buying it.

‘Goldenseal is still considered an at-risk botanical. It is powerful, but it must be used wisely.’

I should also mention that echinacea has a similar status. It became very popular in the 1990s and also came close to being extinct in the wild. That’s another one to only buy cultivated rather than wildcrafted.

The plants can’t speak for themselves, so we have to advocate for them. There are many at-risk plants due to climate change, habitat loss, and overharvesting, so that is always something to consider when learning about and starting to work with herbs. Sometimes we need to dig a little bit deeper to see how wise it is to use a certain resource, sadly.

I heard that goldenseal is very much like a natural antibiotic, is this true?

GoldensealGoldenseal is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial due to the alkaloids it contains, such as berberine. It is active against bacteria, viruses, and fungi, but it works best when topically or directly applied to an infected area. It can be really helpful, for example, when you have a gut infection and for diarrhea caused by e-coli as well because it is active against H. pylori. It can also be helpful for dysbiosis in the gut when the microbiome is out of balance and needs some modulation. Generally, I would use it short-term in these cases.

What about food poisoning, would Goldenseal work there also?

Yes, though I don’t use Goldenseal in that way because there are many more sustainable options available. It would be beneficial in the aftermath of a gut infection because the mucous membrane of the GI tract is disrupted after something like food poisoning. It’s a mucus membrane tonic, meaning it helps support the integrity of the mucus membranes in the body, – including the gut. But again, for food poisoning, I would use something more common and sustainable, such as wormwood.


I heard about this other plant called goldenrod. Is this another good plant for the immune system?

Yes, goldenrod is a beneficial plant but in a very different way. It is supportive for those with allergies, an aberration of the immune system Allergies are basically an immune response gone wrong. Let’s use a dust allergy as an example. The immune system comes into contact with dust mites, but instead of viewing that as normal and harmless, it triggers an overly exaggerated response.


One of the reasons goldenrod is helpful is because quercetin, one of the flavonoids it contains, helps to stabilize mast cells. These are immune cells that put out histamine in response to an allergen. Goldenrod helps to calm this process down so that these mast cells don’t spew histamine everywhere, contributing to an allergic response.

Goldenrod also shores up the integrity of the upper respiratory tract. If someone has a lot of activation and irritation in that system, it can be very helpful. It is an astringent and is considered to be drying and warming. I also like it for UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections) as a urinary antiseptic, and as a tissue tonic that helps to restore the integrity of the urinary tract, reducing the likelihood of repeat infections.


In Chinese Medicine, astragalus seems to be a very popular type of root to use. What are your thoughts?

Astragalus is a tonic. It’s indicated for the person who is very depleted, and who can’t mount an immune response, or the person who is burnt out and needs to be built up a bit in terms of energy levels. You can add astragalus to soups or stews as part of the broth. It is a root, so it needs to be simmered to extract the constituents. Simmering pulls out the polysaccharides from the root. These are immunomodulatory – they modulate the immune response –similar to medicinal mushrooms which are really popular right now.

AstragulusAstragalus has long chain polysaccharides which are not absorbable by the body and stay in the large intestine where they interact with lymphatic tissue. This can essentially “wake up” the immune response a bit, as the body isn’t sure whether they’re something to worry about, which can in turn modulate T-cell function. This is how we think they are producing this balancing effect on the immune system.

Do you work with mushrooms as well?

Yes, in cases where a person needs deep immune support and modulation.

Do you use herbal poultices?

Yes, in cases such as a first aid situation, as a topical application made by combining fresh or dried herbs with water, oil, or clay to form a paste-like mixture. Plantain poultices are helpful for bug bites and splinters because of plantain’s drawing action.

Herbs provide many possibilities in order to bring back balance from illness. Make sure you check any herbal remedies with a qualified herbalist or pharmacist so you can avoid any contraindications with other medicines.

You can reach Chara at, or visit her website at

Feature image: Sophia Forbes – Unsplash

Bouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre –

Other articles by Craig Cormack
Other recent articles

craig cormack

Craig Cormack, BA, is a Chi Kung and Reiki master, a licensed Chinese massotherapist, and a senior Tai Chi instructor based in Montreal, Canada. He is presently working with seniors to help them stay healthy and keep their balance. He a principal at Rising Tao Integrative –

There are no comments

Add yours