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THYME TRAVELLER; HIGHLANDS HERBALIST REVEALS HOW SHE INSPIRED TV SMASH OUTLANDERReal-life passion for plants is mirrored in plot of fantasy hit.

Byline: Katrina Tweedie

She is a young herbalist called Claire living in the Highlands using traditional healing methods from a different era.

It's a scenario that will sound familiar to fans of Outlander, the novel by US author Diana Gabaldon which has become a TV sensation.

However, this is not Claire Fraser, the time-travelling nurse from the epic romantic series, but Claire Mackay, a mum whose passion for traditional herbal remedies has coincided with the TV phenomenon.

And when Hollywood producer Ron Moore, of Battlestar Galactica fame, began filming Outlander - the most expensive TV production shot in Scotland - he asked Claire to become a consultant on the show.

She said: "I was working in a herb nursery, learning how to grow medicinal herbs, and had started blogging about it when they found me.

"I got a phone call asking if I would be interested in speaking to Ron Moore about Outlander. At that time I didn't know who he was until I Googled him and realised he was actually quite a big deal."

DEBATE Milkwort plant " Claire was sent some scripts before meeting Ron at the production studios in Cumbernauld, where he asked for her advice on how to translate the author's vision to the small screen.

She said: "It was clear that Diana really researched her subject and I'm not surprised it took four years of research to write each book. I was amazed she knew so many obscure herbs and facts."

In fact, several key scenes in the story centre on the heroine's interest in herbs and flowers.

Claire added: "My job was to read the scripts and highlight anything that might be relevant or make the scene accurate."

For example, the story refers to a blue flower with a bright orange centre that 1940s war nurse Claire finds near some standing stones. This is when she is magically transported back to 18th-century Scotland where she meets heartthrob warrior Jamie Fraser.

Claire said: "That flower was the subject of much debate and they wanted to know what it could be so we finally settled for milkwort."

The first book - there are eight in the series - has significant references to medicinal herbs.

Claire, who lives in Cromarty with husband Lucio, a geneticist at Glasgow University, and son Luis, six, had to do a crash course in Outlander.

When she opened the first novel and discovered she shared her name with the main character, she was taken aback.

She added: "As soon as I opened the page and saw my name, I said, 'Oh, this is me.' Sometimes it does get confusing. Some people have been reading these books for 15 or more years and I read them all within eight months, studying them intensively to find herb scenes.

"I actually wake up in the night dreaming of Outlander and I have a moment where I think, 'Okay, pinch yourself, you are not Claire Fraser.'" But Claire, who is passionate about making more people aware of Scottish traditional herbs, is delighted that her once obscure hobby has become more mainstream thanks to the popular series.

And her involvement in the PS50million Outlander production has opened a host of new opportunities.

Diana has asked Claire to contribute a chapter on medicinal herbs for the new Outlandish Companion guidebook, due out in October.

I in She has also been encouraged by Diana to write Outlander Herbal, based on the historic herbal use referred to in the books.

Earlier this year she was invited to Tartan Week in New York with VisitScotland. And Historic Scotland have asked Claire to reinstate some of the traditional herbs in many of their gardens.

Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop has also requested Claire translate ancient Gaelic manuscripts on herbs and medicine, held in the Scottish National Library, that date back 600 years.

All this attention is a far cry from her previous life, living in Burkino Faso in Africa while her husband studied the effects of sleeping sickness from the tsetse fly.

wake up the night dreaming of Outlander Claire said: "It's the third poorest country in the world and doesn't have a health care system so I suppose I was a bit like Claire as it felt like going back in time."

She moved back to Scotland in 2013 to learn how to manage Poyntzfield Herb Nursery on the Black Isle, although her husband is still in Africa.

Although she has a degree from the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine, Claire says there is still much to learn from traditional folk medicines passed down through the decades.

She said: "In the Highlands, there are still people who use old methods, perhaps without having a formal qualification.

"Some of the older herbalists have been practising for 40 years and may not have a degree but they still have a lot of skill and knowledge."

Claire has always had an interest in the outdoors and one of her earliest memories is when she was lost, aged three, in a woodland.

She added: "I have this vivid memory of looking at the plants and being in awe. I think I was a herbalist from a young age as I was just so curious about plants and nature.

"The Outlander effect has captured the attention of enthusiasts on a global level who have approached me wanting to know more and to learn about the Highland tradition of herbs.

"There's a special quality to Outlander fans and it takes something special to make hundreds of people come in droves to visit sites on the opposite side of the world that inspired a piece of fiction.

"I have become a diehard fan since reading the books too.

"I think Outlander has made what will become a lasting, positive impression on cultural and heritage interests in Scotland."

I wake up in the night dreaming of Outlander


TV DEBATE Milkwort plant

ouT of This world Poster for the hit series

FLOWER POWER Herbalist Claire, left, and, above, Caitriona Balfe plays Claire in TV series Outlander
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 31, 2015
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