by Beth Davis
From the time he was a child, David Winston—an herbalist and ethnobotanist with over 40 years of training in Cherokee, Chinese and Western herbal traditions—always had a strong relationship with nature. He spent hours in the woods, studying the plants and the trees. By the age of 11, he had become fascinated with edible plants—even ingesting them and observing their effects. When he was a teenager, he started spending summers with Cherokee relatives in Western North Carolina. Here, he began learning about Cherokee herbal medicine and his passion only grew. At age 17, he began leading herb walks and teaching others what he had learned.
With a strong desire to continue on his path of discovery, he moved to New York City and apprenticed with a Chinese doctor. Later, he studied with the great American herbalist, William Le Sassier. Around the age of 22, Winston started working with patients in his clinical practice.
Now, more than 40 years later, Winston is one of the very few people in the United States that has been trained in three different systems of herbal medicine. But that doesn’t stop him from wanting to learn more. “I am still constantly fascinated by herbal medicine,” he says. “There is such a vast amount of information out there that I won’t come close to knowing it all—but I love to grow in my knowledge as much as I can.”
Since he first began, Winston has developed quite a resume. He is a founding/professional member of the American Herbalists Guild, a founding advisory board member of United Plant Savers, an herbal consultant to physicians throughout the U.S. and Canada, and president of Herbalist & Alchemist, Inc., an herbal manufacturing company. He is also the founder and director of David Winston’s Center for Herbal Studies, which features a well-known and highly respected two-year clinical herbalist training program. His graduates include MDs, nurse practitioners, RNs, naturopathic physicians, veterinarians, nutritionists, acupuncturists and hundreds of herbalists.
As if that weren’t enough, he has authored several books Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, 2007, Winston & Kuhn’s Herbal Therapy and Supplements, 2008, Saw Palmetto for Men and Women, 1999 and Herbal Therapeutics, 2009) and hundreds of articles, and is an internationally known lecturer and teaches frequently at medical schools, universities, symposia and herb conferences.
And while that is all very impressive, perhaps most remarkable is Winston’s sincere desire to continue educating others about herbs—both the benefits and the dangers—even after all these years.
“Although certain herbs have become popular over the last 15 years or so, most people don’t understand what herbal medicine is,” he explains. “They think herbal medicine is St. John’s Wort for depression or Echinacea for cold, which is not how I see herbal medicine at all.”
He says it is important to understand that a good herbalist treats the person, not the disease. There is no depression herb or osteoarthritis herb. “I can see five people with the same symptoms, but treat them all differently. Each treatment is individualized for that person. As Hippocrates said, ‘It is more important to know the person that has the disease than to know the disease a person has.’”
He says lack of experience, education and information makes it difficult for consumers, as well as physicians and healthcare providers, to know who—and what—to believe. Constant negative publicity on the dangers of herbs is not helpful. He says though some reports are based on seeds of truth, it is still mostly untrue.
“To use herbs safely and effectively, people need education,” he notes. “Just because it’s a natural plant does not mean it’s always safe. And, the philosophy, ‘If a little bit is good, more is better,’ is not always true in this case.” He suggests working with a registered herbalist (RH, AHG) to ensure best practices and clinical level competance.
At his Center for Herbal Studies, Winston focuses on teaching the next generation of herbalists. Geared toward those who want to become herbal practitioners, the program runs from September through August for two consecutive years. The next Herbalist’s Training Program will begin in September. The class will be held in Washington, N.J. and online via a live webcast. He is also offering the popular, “Ten Tastes—The Energetics of Herbs,” as an online class for the first time with more to come.
As a result of teaching the program for the past 30 years, Winston says he has trained some amazing people in the community. Among them is David Harder, owner of Nature’s Way Market in Easton. A registered herbalist and professional member of the American Herbalists Guild, Harder offers wellness consultations by appointment. Winston calls him an “incredible herbalist.”
Clinical herbalist, Elaine Kilgannon—a “wonderful practitioner” according to Winston—is another local that trained with Winston. As the owner and operator of Second Nature in Kutztown, she advises customers on the uses of herbs.
“The great thing about David and Elaine is they wanted to take that extra step to provide the best service and education to the people that came to their respective businesses,” notes Winston.
For the average consumer looking to incorporate herbs into their repertoire, many resources exist. Winston recommends taking a beginners course, or finding a good book that covers the basics of herbal medicine such as Christopher Hobbs’, Herbal Remedies for Dummies, or David Hoffman’s, The New Holistic Herbal.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember, says Winston, is to use common sense. “More is not always better. You would not eat an entire bowl of ginger or garlic. And, just because a plant is ‘natural’ does not mean it is safe. There are toxic plants such as monkshood or foxglove which are more likely to kill than heal.”
For more information, call 908-835-0822 or visit HerbalStudies.net or HerbalTherapeutics.net