Charmaine Dennis from Fertile Ground Health Group
🌿 Please introduce yourself in a few words?
I am a naturopath and herbalist with a career-long focus and passion for working with people through fertility issues, IVF, pregnancy and birth. More recently my practice has been transitioning to supporting people going through or recovering from cancer treatment. I love working with transformative health issues – where people are ready to make real change in their lives. I started Fertile Ground Health Group (FGHG) 20 years ago now. I was a naive, yet bold, new graduate. I’d worked with a focus on massaging pregnant women through my studies at the Southern School of Natural Therapies, alongside working with inspiring practitioners in the field of fertility, like Ruth Trickey and Doreen Schwegler.
With our team in the early days, we created a vision to be the go-to centre for collaborative health care for anyone wanting to create a healthy family in Melbourne. 20 years later, I am so proud to say we are. Achieving this dream has brought not only that, but also a strong reputation that spans the field amongst our profession and the medical profession too. Our book published in 2019 “Create A Fertile Life” has become the new bible for preconception health care among medical and complementary practitioners and patients alike. The practitioners and staff involved with FGHG have changed and evolved over the years, but we do have a core team of people who have been doing the work they love with us for over a decade and up to 18 years working together this year. I feel so privileged to be working with many of Australia’s top practitioners in this field. Our team is filled with so many great people.
Last year, our latest vision was realised as I joined forces in business partnership with my love, Carly Woods. We bought a beautiful building in Smith Street, Fitzroy, moved Fertile Ground into it and created The Melbourne Apothecary (fondly “ The MA”) as a shop front dispensary. Right in time for the first lockdown! It has been the most challenging 18 months but the best time to start a general health focused practice. Through The MA, we are supporting new graduate naturopaths with mentoring and supervision and together with them we are running an amazing new clinic.
I am also so proud to say that we have been supporting many a herbalist around Melbourne and beyond who could not access or sadly had to let go of their dispensaries in these terribly uncertain times. The MA has also acted as the dispensary for the Southern School of Natural Therapies as they pivoted to Telehealth and needed access to a well stocked practitioner only dispensary.
You may have also seen the reproductive, IVF and pregnancy specialist online masterclasses we have been rolling out with Rhiannon Hardingham over the past year. We are super keen to be doing more of this over time so please do connect if you are interested to learn from us, support your practice, and be able to launch your own online programs and events.
🌿 How/why did you become a naturopath?
I have to say this was a stroke of luck really. I knew I wanted to help people and I loved giving massages (our local naturopath was known for her massages). I found naturopathy while studying the careers book in year 12 — it was just above Nursing. Not an inspiring story!
I studied at at the Southern School of Natural Therapies when it was still a not-for-profit college with some of the most incredible and inspiring teachers in naturopathy, herbal medicine, nutrition, homeopathy, flower essences and various massage styles – many of whom I am privileged to call my friends today. It was an extraordinary education that I knew would serve me in good health for life. I really had no idea what I was in for before I started though. I was one of the youngest students, back in the day when most people who studied naturopathy were “mature age”. I LOVED it. My mind was blown with possibility every day, but I never imagined I would be where I am back then. And my own health has benefited so much over the years too. I truly couldn’t imagine what life would have been like had I not stumbled across this course!
🌿 How long have you been a NHAA member and what do you love about it?
I have been an NHAA member for about four years now and I really love and appreciate the association. The NHAA works really hard to advocate for and advance our profession with local issues, and also on the global stage, and by providing great CPD opportunities. I always feel like both myself as a I have been a member of NHAA since the beginning of my naturopathic career over 20 years ago now. My naturopathic idols back in the day were all NHAA advocates and while I was practicing massage to put myself through SSNT and a member of another association, I felt I had to change to NHAA as soon as I graduated to feel like a valid naturopath! Mostly, I love the people involved who dedicate their time voluntarily with such a passion for our profession. I witness the intensity of the work involved, often thanklessly, and am so grateful for all that you all do on behalf of us naturopaths and herbalists. I am especially proud to be a part of an association that is pushing for registration and elevating our professional standards and reputation at every opportunity.
🌿 Any favourite herb of yours? Why?
Oh this is a hard question! The herb I use the most frequently would be chamomile. I LOVE the immediate effect of a good strong pot, especially in times like these when uncertainty has become part of the new normal. I had some serious panic attacks and many sleepless nights as the impacts of COVID was hitting hard all arounds us while we were moving our large practice. For a while there it felt like it might all fall over. I truly don’t think I could have survived it with out access to an entire dispensary, but especially strong and regular pots of chamomile tea to take the edge off and keep carrying on.
I seriously don’t know how anyone survives the stresses of life without understanding even then simplest of herbal medicines and what a powerful difference they can make. We do such important work with herbal medicine. Every time we help people understand how they can help themselves by using herbs, we are literally changing lives for the better.