In the world of herbalism, few names command as much respect and admiration as David Winston, RH (AHG). With a career spanning over four decades, he has not only established himself as a prominent figure in the field but has also tirelessly shared his wealth of knowledge and expertise with eager learners across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. As the dean and one of the primary instructors of the renowned DW-CHS program, which has been a beacon of herbal education for more than 40 years, David Winston has left an indelible mark on the world of herbal studies. Founder of David Winston's Center for Herbal Studies, he continues to be a guiding light for aspiring herbalists, nurturing a deep-rooted passion for the healing power of plants. Join Delivery Rank as we delve into the fascinating journey of this herbal luminary and the invaluable contributions he has made to the world of natural medicine.
There are many cases, and one of the things to provide a little background on the idea of treating the person rather than the disease is that we could have five people all diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, but they are not all the same. They are five unique individuals. Statistically, more women than men have rheumatoid arthritis because women tend to develop autoimmune diseases more frequently than men. Some will be old, some will be young, and some will have digestive issues, while others will have circulatory issues. The more you can focus the treatment on the individual with the disease, the more effective your treatment will be.
Let me provide you with two examples. Firstly, I do a lot of work with depression. When we examine the statistics from human clinical studies on treating depression, it becomes apparent that pharmaceutical medications used for depression, such as SSRI's or SNRI's, are effective about 40% of the time. However, placebos are effective about 33% of the time. This suggests that these medications are only about 7% more effective than a placebo, and some studies even suggest that they may not be significantly more effective than placebos at all. In fact, any active therapy, if it could be believed that something like jumping rope is good for depression, might work well for certain individuals. This is not to say that someone benefiting from one of these medications should stop taking it; if it works for them, that's great. Based on my 47 years of clinical experience, I've treated many people with depression, and I've found that there are more than 14 different subtypes of depression from an herbalist's perspective. Depression is not a single entity. Orthodox medicine recognizes postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder, hormonal depression, and more. From an herbalist's standpoint, there are even more subtypes, including cardiac-based depression, thyroid-induced depression, neuroinflammation-induced depression, hepatic depression, and GI-based depression. The more you focus on the specific type of depression a person has, considering their individual history, patterns, and issues, the better the results. While I can't point to a clinical trial proving this, I can refer to my 47 years of case histories. I can demonstrate that at least 60 to 65% of my patients with mild to moderate depression have significantly improved when treated specifically for their type of depression. There isn't a one-size-fits-all depression remedy. People often ask about a single herb for depression, but it doesn't work that way. In fact, of the fourteen types of depression I mentioned, a single herb like St. John's Wort works well for only about three of them.
Now, let me share a specific case from about 25 to 30 years ago. A friend's wife contracted bacterial meningitis and was hospitalized for treatment. After her release, she suffered from severe cognitive dysfunction, including difficulty speaking coherently and visual processing issues. Doctors informed her that these cognitive issues might take up to a year to resolve. My friend called me for help because his wife was a professional storyteller and couldn't work in her current condition. We developed a specific protocol tailored to her, incorporating nootropics—herbs that enhance cerebral circulation, memory, focus, concentration, and reduce neuroinflammation. In just two months, she was about 95% back to her normal self. Is this proof? No, it's not, but it strongly suggests that the herbs played a significant role in her rapid recovery. This case was the first of many over my decades of practice, where I've helped people recover more quickly than expected from serious concussions and other head trauma injuries.
When I first started studying herbal medicine in the late 1960s, all my friends were interested in one herb—I think it was cannabis—and I was interested in all the others. It's funny because that one herb is probably even more popular today than it was then, but it's certainly more widely available. For me, the idea was that I literally fell in love with plants and the idea that I could walk out in the fields and woods near my home and find food, find medicine. To me, that was the most amazing thing.
People would ask me, 'What are you doing as an herbalist?' and they'd look at me like I just told them I had arrived from another planet. They would say, 'Herbalist? You mean like spices?' And I'd respond, 'No,' although, honestly, most spices are herbal medicine as well. One person even asked me, 'Do you mean like potpourri?' I replied, 'No, medicinal plants.' I could see them shaking their heads, thinking, 'Poor misguided soul, why would you waste your time on something people did a hundred years ago? Nobody does it anymore.'
But again, I simply fell in love with not only the idea but the fact that these plants had incredible gifts to offer us, and they were being overlooked. There was a time in the early 1970s when I genuinely believed I was the only herbalist in the entire eastern United States. Was that true? No, it was not. There were others, mostly older individuals, who were part of various ethnic or rural communities—Native American, African American, Hispanic, Asian American, and many rural communities. They used herbs, but they were not well known and were invisible to the mainstream.
Years passed, and in 1981, the first large herbal conference in the United States took place at Brighton Bush Hot Springs in Oregon. I sat there with 70 other people interested in herbs and thought, 'Oh my God, this is incredible. These are my people.' I was also the only person in the room from east of the Mississippi River, which represents half the country. That's a large country.
One significant change over the years is the growing interest in herbal medicine. Many still view it with skepticism, concerned about herbs being dangerous, but there is now more interest and openness. In my two-year Herb Studies program, half of my students are medical professionals, including physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, veterinarians, and dentists. There is a greater interest in herbal medicine now, and that's exciting.
When discussing herbal medicine, people often view herbs the same way they do pharmaceutical medications, but that's not how herbs work most effectively. We treat people, not diseases. Herbs work best when matched to the individual. Traditional systems of medicine, whether it's traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, Unani Tibb, Kampo, Jammu, or other systems, use complex formulas because they deal with complex people. They rarely use single herbs. They create complex formulas to match the person being treated.
To do this effectively, you need to know several things. In my opinion, when I start my two-year program and ask how many want to be good herbalists, everyone raises their hand. But I say, 'Wrong answer.' I explain that if you're going to be an herbalist or anything else, don't settle for just being good. Strive to be great. We may never reach that pinnacle, but it's a continuous process of learning, improving, gaining experience, and learning from our mistakes.
We want to do our absolute best, especially when it comes to helping other people. In my opinion, there are three essential things required to achieve that. Of course, there are more than three things you need to learn, but let's focus on these three key aspects:
Listening: Often, people complain that they visit a doctor and don't feel heard. It's crucial to learn to listen to the individuals who come to you because their experience is valuable. They may not know their condition accurately, having spent too much time searching online. Nevertheless, they have the actual experience of what is happening within their bodies. So, learning to listen is paramount.
Energetics: Herbs possess an energetic quality. Some herbs are heating, some are cooling, some are moistening, and some are dry. Understanding energetics, an underlying aspect of traditional medicine systems, helps you comprehend the qualities of the herb beyond its actions (e.g., diuretic or diaphoretic). It involves whether the herb will warm or cool the body, whether it stimulates or calms. This knowledge helps you select the right herb for a specific individual. Additionally, understanding human energetics, which involves differential diagnosis (e.g., traditional Chinese tongue diagnosis or Ayurvedic techniques), is crucial. It helps determine what's happening in the body, going beyond just the disease name.
Synergy: Synergy is a vital concept in all traditional medicine systems. Twenty years ago, proving synergy scientifically might have been challenging, but today, there is substantial research showing its significance. Synergy involves the combined effect of multiple herbs being greater than the sum of their individual effects. However, it's important to note that simply combining herbs doesn't guarantee synergy; there can also be anti-synergy or antagonism where the combined effect is less than the sum of individual effects. Understanding how to combine herbs effectively is key to maximizing their benefits.
The beauty of herbal medicine is that, for the most part, herbs are gentle and relatively safe. While there are toxic herbs, we are primarily discussing herbs used by the general population, not the potentially toxic ones that are mostly unavailable in the marketplace and should be reserved for use by trained clinicians.
A lot of people have this idea that there is a dichotomy, and they think it has to be either orthodox medicine or herbal medicine, or any kind of complementary medicine. It's often seen as an either-or situation, but nothing could be further from the truth. I've been studying herbs for 54 years now, and I've been in clinical practice for 47 years. During this time, I've always collaborated with physicians, and I have a deep appreciation for working with them. The reason is that what they do and what I do are not the same things. While there is overlap, each field excels in different areas. When a skilled herbalist collaborates with a competent physician, it can result in a true win-win situation for the patient.
In the United States, healthcare is known for being incredibly expensive and often unaffordable. It's an unsustainable system. Medications with exorbitant costs, like those reaching $20,000 a month, are simply not feasible for most people. However, I believe that integrating high-quality herbal medicine into mainstream healthcare could be one way to create a more sustainable and desirable healthcare system. It doesn't have all the answers, but herbal medicine's strengths often align with areas where orthodox medicine has limitations, and vice versa.
For example, if someone is bitten by a deer tick and develops a bullseye rash, they should consult a physician for prompt treatment. In such cases, antibiotics are the right choice, and early treatment can be highly effective in curing Lyme disease. However, chronic degenerative diseases that offer little hope for improvement with orthodox medicine often respond well to herbal medicine. Conditions like arthritis, migraines, specific autoimmune diseases, and even prevention or slowing the progression of conditions like Alzheimer's are areas where herbal medicine can be incredibly effective. It can also play a significant role in healing neurological injuries.
Additionally, antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose a serious global health threat. Herbs offer several advantages in addressing this issue. Firstly, herbs can be highly effective in treating conditions like urinary tract infections (cystitis) without the need for antibiotics, which reduces antibiotic use and lowers the risk of resistance. Secondly, studies suggest that combining herbs with certain antibiotics can inhibit antibiotic resistance by interfering with the bacteria's multiple drug-resistant pumps. This synergy between herbs and antibiotics is an exciting development.
In summary, herbal medicine can complement orthodox medicine in various ways. While orthodox medicine may be the primary care choice for certain conditions, herbs can provide valuable adjunctive care. There are also cases where both approaches are valid, and the decision should be based on what makes the most sense for the patient. Moreover, herbal medicine could play a small but significant role in creating a sustainable healthcare system, not only in the United States but globally.
First off, avoid getting your education solely from Google or TikTok. The internet is a vast source of information, ranging from excellent to mediocre to downright inaccurate. So, #1, while reading books can be beneficial, it's essential to have some foundational knowledge to discern which books are worth reading and which are not. When I began my journey in herbal medicine 54 years ago, I bought every book I could find. Back then, there weren't as many resources as there are today. Looking back, some of those books turned out to be quite terrible. However, at the time, I had no way of distinguishing the good from the bad. Therefore, I recommend finding a reputable source to learn the basics of herbal medicine, ideally from a respected clinical herbalist with decades of experience. Such individuals have hands-on experience, having witnessed what works and what doesn't.
#2, and perhaps most crucially, is to remain humble. I've emphasized before that if you want to be an herbalist, strive to be a great herbalist, but never believe that you are already great. Instead, continuously pursue improvement and be open to learning from your mistakes. In my experience, what I consider the most dangerous trait for a clinician is what I refer to as 'hardening of the mind.' This occurs when one becomes rigid in their beliefs, thinking that everything they know is irrefutably true. I advise my students to keep an open mind and be willing to consider that everything they know could change. While it doesn't mean everything will change, it allows room for growth.
For instance, about 5-6 years ago, I was updating my paper on migraine treatment. To do so, I had to review the latest research. During the short span since my last update, new research had emerged, significantly altering our understanding of migraines. Had I been resistant to change, I might have clung to outdated notions. However, by remaining open to new ideas, I was able to improve my protocols for treating migraines. The lesson here is to embrace new information and admit when your past beliefs may have been incorrect.
Stay open to learning and resist clinging to sacred cows—those steadfast beliefs that dictate a single approach for all situations. Recognize that what works for one person may not work for another. Listen to your patients and adapt your methods accordingly. Regardless of how skilled or well-educated you are, there's always more to learn. Even when I attend conferences, I participate in classes with experts I admire, as there's always someone who knows more.
By continuously learning, you can make a significant difference in people's lives. Many individuals are suffering, having consulted multiple doctors and practitioners without finding relief. While you may not be the one to help everyone, you might be the one to change their lives for the better.
If you would like to find out more about David Winston’s Center for Herbal Studies, visit https://herbalstudies.net/