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You have a real treat in store with today’s episode, all about stinging nettle benefits (Urtica dioica). My guest, renowned herbalist David Winston, shares multiple stories about the rich herbal medicine of nettle leaf, nettle root, and nettle seed, gleaned from his 54 years of clinical practice.
David shares so many pearls of wisdom about stinging nettle, herbs, and herbalism during our conversation that I think you’ll agree I made the right choice in letting the interview meander longer than usual.
As a listener, you’ll also receive access to David’s recipe for Green Powder Spice Blend. This nutrient-dense blend is delicious sprinkled on eggs, cooked grains, soups, stews, salads, cooked greens, and other savory dishes.
By the end of this episode, you’ll know:
► What are the benefits and applications of nettle leaf, nettle root, and nettle seeds?
► Is there any real hope for remineralizing bones weakened by osteoporosis?
► How herbalism and Western medicine beautifully shore up one another’s weak spots
► Why it’s so important to treat the person rather than the disease
► Why do so many herbal traditions emphasize complex formulations?
► What is David’s advice for aspiring herbalists?
For those of you who don’t already know David, he’s an Herbalist and Ethnobotanist with 54 years of training in Chinese, Western/Eclectic and Southeastern herbal traditions. He has been in clinical practice for 47 years and is an herbal consultant to physicians, herbalists and researchers throughout the USA, Europe and Canada. David is the founder/director of the Herbal Therapeutics Research Library and the dean of David Winston’s Center for Herbal Studies, a two-year training program in clinical herbal medicine. He is an internationally known lecturer and frequently teaches at medical schools, professional symposia and herb conferences. He is the president of Herbalist & Alchemist Inc., a manufacturer that produces herbal products that blend the art and science of the world’s great herbal traditions.
In addition, David is a founding/professional member of the American Herbalist Guild, and he is on the American Botanical Council and the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia Advisory Boards.
He’s the author of many books including the co-author of Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief.
David has taught thousands of herbalists around the world and is the recipient of many notable and prestigious awards and fellowships.
I’m beyond delighted to share our conversation with you today!
-- TIMESTAMPS --
Green Powder Spice Blend
By David Winston
A flavorful, nutrient dense spice blend to sprinkle on eggs, cooked grains, soups, stews, salads, cooked greens, and other savory dishes.
Rosalee: Welcome to the Herbs with Rosalee Podcast, a show exploring how herbs heal as medicine, as food and through nature connection. I’m your host, Rosalee de la Forêt.
I created this channel to share trusted herbal wisdom so that you can get the best results when relying on herbs for your health. I love offering up practical knowledge to help you dive deeper into the world of medicinal plants and seasonal living.
Each episode of the Herbs with Rosalee podcast is shared on YouTube, as well as your favorite podcast app. Also, to get my best herbal tips as well as fun bonuses, be sure to sign up for my weekly herbal newsletter at the bottom of this page. Okay, grab your cup of tea. Let’s dive in.
I have learned so much from David Winston over the years and so, it was an absolute pleasure to have him on the podcast. He’s knowledgeable, witty and a wonderful storyteller who shares many insights about nettles, but also about other important pearls of wisdom about herbalism and herbs.
For those of you who don’t know David, he’s an herbalist, an ethnobotanist with 54 years of training in Chinese, Western, Eclectic and Southeastern herbal traditions. He’s been in clinical practice for 47 years and is an herbal consultant to physicians, herbalists and researchers throughout the USA, Europe and Canada. David is the founder and director of the Herbal Therapeutics Research Library and the dean of David Winston’s Center for Herbal Studies, a two-year training program in clinical herbal medicine. He’s an internationally known lecturer and frequently teaches at medical schools, professional symposia and herb conferences. He’s the president of Herbalist & Alchemist, Inc., a manufacturer that produces herbal products that blend the art and science of the world’s great herbal traditions.
In addition, David is a founding and professional member of the American Herbalists Guild and he is on the American Botanical Council and the American Herbal Pharmacopeia Advisory boards. He’s the author of many books including the co-author of Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, as well as the co-author of Herbal Therapy and Supplements: A Scientific and Traditional Approach. David has taught thousands of herbalists around the world and is the recipient of many notable and prestigious awards and fellowships.
Welcome to the show, David. It’s an honor to have you here.
David: Thank you, Rosalee. It is an absolute pleasure to be here. I’ve been looking forward to this and thank you so much for asking me to share my experience and passion with your listeners.
Rosalee: Oh, yes, absolutely. I’ve been—I felt like I’ve just been steeping in this world of David Winston for the past several days, just getting really excited for this conversation. Something I’ve been thinking about is just how much over almost—or over half a century, you’ve been embodying your path as this herbalist and ethnobotanist whether that’s through your personal achievements with your incredible teaching career, all the awards you’ve won, honorary doctorate, as well as the many contributions you’ve given to us as herbalists through your books, through the David Winston Center for Herbal Studies and all of the people you’ve trained as practitioners, as well as your incredible formulations in Herbalist & Alchemist. It’s just a lot to think about, but I want to start all the way back at the beginning and hear how young David found himself along this path.
David: Well, I feel really blessed and really fortunate. I’ve met so many people in my life and you know, here they are. They’re in their twenties or thirties or forties and they’re still trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up. Well, I fell in love with plants at a very young age and one of my first experiences I was about 11 years old. I was at a summer camp and someone showed us this edible plant. I didn’t remember what it was called, but I remembered what it tasted like. It had this wonderful lemon lime kind of tart flavor. I’ve always enjoyed sour things much more than sweet things. I was intrigued and I decided I wanted to find out what this thing was. It took me a few years but I eventually found out that the plant I had tried was wood sorrel and I was just fascinated.
I came across this book called, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, by Euell Gibbons, which had actually been published in the ‘60s, but it hadn’t been very popular, and all of a sudden, here we are in the late ‘60s—it was published in the early ‘60s. Here it is the late ‘60s, and I come across this book and I read it and it just blew my mind! It was just like, wow! You can walk out into the woods and into the fields and I’d always grown up in areas where there was woods behind my house or nearby or farms, so I spent a lot of my childhood walking through the woods. Suffice to say, I was not your average child for a number of reasons. If I was younger I would’ve been diagnosed just having ADHD as well as dyslexia, but when I was a kid, there were no such things so they just—I had problems learning. I also was exceedingly shy and an introvert, which is not probably the best combination. I was also the little kid that had the sign on their back that said, “Kick me, beat me up and steal my lunch money.”
Rosalee: Oh, David.
David: That actually did happen. I was not comfortable with people, but plants and trees and rocks and things like that, they spoke to me. I actually remember making concoctions in my backyard, picking plants. I actually remember some of the plants. I didn’t know what they were called then but one of the main ones was plantain, and I’d make it in this concoction in a bucket in the back of my house. I’d mash it up with water and when my mother would say, “What are you doing?” I’d say, “I’m making medicine.”
So, anyway, some years pass, I read Euell Gibbons’ book then I read his second book, Stalking the Healthful Herbs. I was so—it was just—I literally fell in love with this idea that I could go outside into the woods, into the fields, find medicine, find food and it was just the most fascinating thing in the world to me and so, I started to look for where I could learn more. I’m 13 years old at this point. I will also mention that at that age, I also had read one other really important book. It was important to me and that was Carlos Castaneda’s book. Now, I understand that that book is controversial and a lot of people claim that it’s not real, but at the time, I didn’t know anything about that.
I also went on a phase from 13 to 14 years old where I tried every plant hallucinogen that I could get my hands on. There were companies then, there was one out in California called, Legal Highs, and you could buy all sorts of stuff. You could buy ayahuasca. You could buy Hawaiian baby woodrose seeds. You could just buy all sorts of things that today you probably couldn’t necessarily get. But the thing is I wasn’t trying to get high. That wasn’t my purpose at all. I had read this book and it was about altering consciousness and I was trying to do the same thing.
What I found after a year though is that I was sort of doing I guess what it says in the Bible, “casting your pearls before swine,” in the sense that I didn’t understand these medicines. Yes, my intent was good but I didn’t know the songs. I didn’t know the proper ceremonies. I didn’t know or understand how to prepare them properly, so I managed to make myself violently ill any number of times. I gave up on that idea of doing that, but I still felt that plants were a way of not only helping other people, but helping me to become the person that I wanted to become and so that set me off on this journey.
At that time, I was unaware of any schools of herbal medicine. There was a very long period of time where I thought I was the only herbalist on the East Coast. I was not, but the other herbalists were mostly much, much older than I was and they were mostly sort of tucked away into rural communities. They may have been known in their local community. People like “Catfish” Gray in West Virginia or Tommie Bass in Alabama or Evelyn Snook in Pennsylvania— middle of Pennsylvania. These people that most people don’t really know about, they existed, but I just had no way of finding out about them.
And so, what I would do is I would buy every book I could find on herbal medicine and read it cover-to-cover. The only problem was most of the books published in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s weren’t very good and I had no way of knowing whether the information was valid or not. What I did is I taught myself field botany so I could go out and identify plants although I must admit I made some very funny, luckily non-fatal errors. I would go and gather plants and I would make medicine out of them and I would try them. I would experiment on myself to see what they actually did and whether they were effective. I have lots of—I don’t know if we have time for today, but I have lots of funny stories about things that worked, things that didn’t work. Believe me, I know senna. I bought it at my local Whole Foods store. But when I read Back to Eden, by Jethro Kloss, he doesn’t really go into a lot of detail about proper dosing, and so, yes, to this day, I know senna. I have a gut feeling about that plant.
That’s how it started and I never stopped. I never lost the passion even though I was younger. People would say to me, “What are you doing?” I’d say, “I’m an herbalist,” and they’d look at me with this kind of puzzled look. They’d say, “You mean, like spices?” and I’d go, “No,” although most spices are indeed herbs. They’d say—if somebody was really smart and knowledgeable, they might say, “You mean, like potpourri?” and I’d go, “No, medicinal plants,” and I could see them shaking their head going, “Poor misguided youth. Why would you waste your time doing something that people did a hundred years ago? Nobody does that anymore.” It would be like me telling them I was learning to deliver blocks of ice for their ice box or light the gas lamps at night. It was pretty much at this timeframe. It was pretty much extinct. There really was virtually no herbal medicine.
The first time that I actually took a class with somebody was Dr. Christopher. Thank goodness, even though what he practiced was very basic, sort of neo-Thomsonian herbal medicine, this-herb-for-this-kind-of-disease kind of thing and it’s not… I really don’t think the way herbs work the best. I honor him because he and some of his compatriots, mostly from Utah, kept herbal medicine alive at a time where it was at its absolute nadir, at its lowest point. I just kept going and had the opportunity to learn in various traditions and from various people and thankfully, eventually, the rest of the world became interested as well.
Rosalee: Just hearing your experimenting and trying all these things, it makes me realize as a younger generation how much I’ve benefited from that because I have not been the one that’s been excited to experiment with senna or anything else, but I have learned so much from you and a lot of that comes from your many years of experience. I also would just… really wanted to mention, too, that I love that it began with the taste of wood sorrel because I have personally learned so much from you about energetics and taste. I love that that was like such a big spark for you back when you were 11.
Well, I am so excited to talk about everything nettle. It was kind of a request on my part because you have some unique contributions to our understanding of nettle that I’m excited to talk about, but there’s so much to talk about nettle so I’m just going to let you dive in wherever you want to dive in.
David: Great. One of the things I really appreciate about nettles… it’s not the only plant like this. I really like weedy plants where you get multiple medicines from the same plant. Most people are familiar with nettles, of course, Urtica dioica, they’re familiar with using the leaf, but nettles is one of these plants where not only is the leaf a medicine, but the root is a medicine. What the root does is totally different than what the leaf does, and then there is the seed. We’ll save that for last because that one is really, really special to me for multiple reasons.
I would say that nettle leaf was one of the very early plants that I learned and I, again, have some pretty humorous stories about nettle leaf. I will share one of them with you. It is, of course, also known as, stinging nettle, and that is because the little hairs on the stem and leaves contain formic acid. They actually inject it into your skin and it causes what’s known as a nettle rash. Many, many years ago, when—oh, I don’t know. This would’ve been probably sometime in the early 1990s, so probably about 30 years ago. It could’ve been the late 1980s, sometime around then. As you mentioned earlier, I have an herb company, Herbalist & Alchemist, and while I don’t run the lab anymore, I still formulate all the products and things like that.
Anyway, a friend of mine used to help me in the laboratory when I used to run the laboratory and he also was teaching me. I was teaching him about herbal medicine and he was teaching me Long Yong Pai’s Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu. We would work in the lab, processing whatever needed to be processed that day and then at the end of the day, we go outside and we practice the Kung Fu. One day, we go outside and we started to spar a little bit and he kept holding his shoulder. I said, “What’s the matter?” His name was Russell. I said, “Russell, what’s the matter?” He said, “I was working out last night on the heavy bag and I pulled something in my shoulder. It’s really painful.” I said, “Russell, you know”—‘cause where we were there was a lovely nettles patch. I said, “Russell, you know, there’s this old tradition in herbal medicine, European herbal medicine, and it’s known as urtification. What you do is you take a bunch of nettles and you whack a stiff, sore joint and it increases the blood flow and it helps to make it feel better.” I said, “You want to try it?” He said, “Sure. That sounds great.”
Rosalee: I love the level of trust here.
David: So, I put on a glove. I took some—I gathered some fresh nettles and I whacked his shoulder, his right shoulder, and I have never in my life seen somebody respond as intensely as he did to nettles. I mean, his whole shoulder swelled up. It was red. It was blistered. It was not great looking. Then I said to him—and it sounds really bad but we were good friends. Russ was one of those people that he would literally try anything. I said, “You know, Russell, there’s all this folklore about nettles, what’s good for nettle rash.” I said, “I have this theory that this plant that’s right over there would be really good, but I’ve never read about it. I’d like to try it.” I said, “Can we do an experiment? I’ll whack your other shoulder, the one that’s not problematic and we’ll try different things to see what works best for the nettle rash.” He said, “That sounds great.” Seriously. So, I whacked his other shoulder with it and it, too, balloons up. It looks like he’s wearing red shoulder pads at this point.
What I did is there’s this plant that I had known for decades which is called jewelweed, Impatiens biflora or Impatiens pallida. If you crush it up and you put it on poison ivy, if you put it on before you get poison ivy, actually, if you’ve been in contact with it, it helps prevent you from getting poison ivy although it’s not very effective once you actually have poison ivy, at least in my experience. I always felt like it’d be great for nettle rash, but I never read about it being used for that. I took some jewelweed. I crushed it up, put it all over his right shoulder, and literally, within five minutes, the redness, the blistering — gone! I had never seen anything work so well for nettle rash. Then we tried some of the other traditional things. We tried it on his left shoulder. We tried plantain leaf. It helped a little bit, not impressive. We tried yellow dock leaf, not particularly impressive. Then I said, “Well, alright. Let’s just try the jewelweed.” We put it on his other shoulder and sure enough, the redness and the swelling fairly shortly dissipated.
And so, it gave me this great appreciation of nettle for its ability to increase circulation and at the same time, it taught me this great lesson about this plant that I was quite familiar with but had this use that I was totally unfamiliar with. When we were all done with this wonderful experiment, I said, “Oh, by the way, Russell, how’s your shoulder?” ‘cause that was the point in the first place. He said, “Pain’s gone.”
Nettle is this amazing plant. Now, yes, it can be used topically. It’s a rather heroic treatment. I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint of heart and you don’t need to do treatments that are that intense. I will say I know people who have really bad arthritic hands. A lot of people who are body workers, after 10 or 15 or 20 years of doing body work, again, a lot of arthritis in their hands. I had a friend that would get bee venom therapy, get stung by bees, and his hands would swell up for a day or two but then the arthritis would be gone for like a month or month and a half.
One time I mentioned to him, I said, “You know we should try and see if nettles would work,” and actually the nettles worked just as well as the bee stings except the nettles tend to cause a little bit of blistering where the bee stings just cause redness and swelling, but it actually worked for that, as well.
Nettle leaf, on the other hand—and I will warn our viewers, there are some people who will tell people that if you take nettle leaves and you roll them up to a tight ball, you can chew on it and suck the juice out of it or eat it. I do not recommend that process at all because I know people who have tried it and had nettle stings in their throat. It was horrendous so I wouldn’t recommend that, but when you dry nettle leaves, it loses that stinging quality. Nettle leaf, most people in the herbal community think that nettle leaf is super rich in iron. It does contain easily absorbable iron, but the reality is the iron levels of nettle leaf are nowhere as high as people think they are. Nettle actually contains more calcium than it does iron.
One of my favorite uses for nettle leaf is to use it in combination. I gave you a recipe, which is basically a spice blend, but that spice blend not only is really flavorful but it is nutrient dense and it can be used among other things to help prevent things like osteoporosis. I use a combination of nettle leaf, alfalfa leaf, spring gathered dandelion, horsetail, and then usually I’ll throw in some, maybe a Chinese herb or two. Maybe a teasel root or Achyranthes or Eucommia, Du Zhong, and use this formula for treating people who have early stage osteoporosis.
Clinically, I’ve been using some variation of that formula for about forty-some odd years. I have in my case files lots of before and after X-rays showing before X-rays, bone that looks like lace and is demineralized. Two years later, we mineralize bone, and now, more recently, over the last 30 years, instead of X-rays, DEXA scans showing the exact same thing. It takes 18 months to 2 years to do it. If you have bone loss, meaning if you have lost bone in the jaw, the hip, wherever, that’s not coming back, but if the bone is still there, not only can it slow bone turnover, it can actually help to remineralize bone and it works incredibly well. That is one of the things that I love using nettles for.
I also use it for people who have fractures. I’ve used it—when I say this I’m guesstimating ‘cause I don’t really count, but hundreds, at least times—where people had fractures where they are given that formula and their fracture almost invariably heals in about half the time expected and it heals really well. I’ve had opportunities where I had people who had fractures that refuse to heal where we use that formula along with electro stim. It could be electro acupuncture or TENS unit or whatever, so electrical stimulation to the area of the fracture and most of the time the bone will heal. It is absolutely a remarkable plan.
In addition—again, we’re going to get to the fact that you can use the leaf, the root and the seed—let’s not forget that it’s also an edible plant. Cooked nettle greens, the fresh greens when cooked can be used in almost any recipe where you might have some spinach. Although it has a different consistency than spinach, it’s a bit more granular so you might not want to use all nettle. You might want to put some nettle, some spinach or something like that. For instance, if you make—back in the early days before I realized I was allergic to dairy and I went through my brief vegetarian phase, this would be when I was about 17, 18, 19, I used to make this dish that was either like a lasagna or a manicotti or stuffed shells, stuffed with three kinds of cheeses and spinach and nettle leaves. Really good. Oh, by the way, totally off topic, if you want to make the best tomato sauce ever, use a little bit—instead of oregano, use Monarda didyma leaves.
Rosalee: Ooh, nice tip.
David: Not a ton, but really good. Anyway, [inaudible] is oregano. The fact that it is also edible. The word “nettles” comes from the old, old English “net,” meaning rope. You can actually—and I’ve done this. I’ve never tried making it… a bowstring out of it, but you could actually make a bowstring. It’s that strong. Bowstring needs incredible structural integrity to be functional… Out of nettle’s cordage. There was a video online about this man who made a dress….
Rosalee: I’ve seen that, yeah.
David: Out of nettle fiber and it was just magnificent and I’ll tell you something--that dress could probably last 50, 70 years. Nettle fiber is so incredibly strong. So, here we have this plant that is routinely despised, because I will tell you this: you don’t want to plant nettles in your garden unless you want to have a garden that is pretty much nothing but nettle. Not only can it spread by seed, it spreads by rhizome, underground runners and it is incredibly invasive, so I always tell people, “If you’re going to plant nettles, put it someplace where you don’t care if it spreads.” Of course, it stings. People spend probably—I don’t know—certainly millions of dollars a year trying to eradicate this plant when it is such an incredible blessing – a food, a medicine, multiple medicines, economic uses. What is not to love about a plant like that? So many of our weedy plants – burdock, where the seed, the root and the leaf are medicines and the stalk is edible. Dandelion, where you have the flower, the leaf and the root. As I said before, I love plants where they are multipurpose, where you get food and medicine and multiple medicines from different parts of the plant. Nettles, to me, is just this superstar when it comes to herbal medicine. In the wider culture, it’s not all that well-appreciated, but I think among herbalists, it is.
But what I would say—and just a few more things maybe about the leaf—nettle leaf is an aquaretic. For anyone who doesn’t know the term, an aquaretic is a non-irritating, potassium-sparing diuretic. It’s a lot easier to just say aquaretic. It is for people who, for instance, want a lower blood pressure. Aquaretics are one of the first things you might want to try because if you lower the volume of fluids in the body, you reduce blood pressure. In fact, a study was done with pharmaceutical blood pressure medications. I believe it was done with hydrochlorothiazide, but the ALLHAT study that came out in 2002, the authors of that study—and this study was done on something like—I don’t know—several hundred thousand people? They found that in this case, pharmaceutical diuretics work just as well as beta blockers and ACE inhibitors for lowering blood pressure with a significantly reduced cause and much fewer adverse effects. Well, the same thing is true of aquaretics except that unlike hydrochlorothiazide, they don’t deplete potassium because they actually contain more potassium than you excrete.
Nettle leaf is a great aquaretic. Nettle leaf is also used for a number of other things. For instance, for people with hematuria, that’s blood in the urine whether it is coming from the kidney—no, I mean if somebody has a ton of blood in their urine, you need to go to the doctor and find out why. But for somebody with trace amounts of blood in their urine, somebody who runs marathons, many marathoners after 26 miles running on hard concrete will often have blood in the urine for the week after the marathon. Take nettles, it’ll stop that. It stops bleeding both in the kidney and in the bladder.
Nettle also has significant anti-inflammatory effects. In fact, a clinical trial done in the last couple of years showed that a nettle capsule had significant benefits for knee arthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis. Here, you don’t have to whack yourself with it. You can just take a dried herb internally.
The Eclectics—for those listeners who are not familiars or viewers who are not familiar, the Eclectics were MDs who primarily practiced herbal medicine who existed from the 1820s through the 1930s. I am a big fan of their medicine and their work. Them and the physiomedicalists who were the two primary herbal medicine sects in the United States – s e c t s. Their work is phenomenal and any American herbalist or actually, around the world, but certainly American herbalists, who doesn’t go back and look at our forbearers and see what they did in this rich history that they left us about using plants, is really missing an incredible resource. The Eclectics especially like to use nettles for skin that either tears easily or that bruises easily. You know you go like that and all of a sudden, you’ve got a bruise. For those sorts of things, nettle leaf, again, skin that kind of tears easily or looks or feels like paper, like parchment, people who may be sun worshipers and got way too much sun or also skin that bleeds very easily and you really easily develop bruises, hematomas, think of nettles for that, as well. Those are some of my favorite uses of nettles.
I mentioned earlier about the fact that it has way more calcium than it has iron, but still think about something like nettles with some parsley leaf, maybe a little bit of yellow dock or something like that for somebody with iron deficiency. It can be a benefit there, as well. Those are just probably some of my favorite uses if I really wanted to think about it. I’m sure I could come up with more but…
Rosalee: David, before you move on to the root which I’m just guessing you’re about to do, I do want to highlight the recipe that you shared with us, the Green Powder Spice Blend, because this looks so delicious. There is nettle leaf in there, parsley like you’ve been talking about, that combination is great. There’s dulse. There’s onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, so many wonderful things and thank you so much for sharing that recipe with us. I also wanted to mention that the nettle horsetail combination that you were mentioning before, specifically for fractures and arthritis, I’m a big fan of that formulation. People might not know, but they can get that in capsule form from Herbalist & Alchemist called, Osteo Herb. I just wanted to mention that, too, in case someone didn’t know.
David: Thank you. That formula, as I said, H & A has been making it for probably about 20 years, but I’ve probably used it for close to 40 years, maybe even slightly longer than that. I started studying herbal medicine—this year will be 54 years and I guess I’ve been in practice now for about 45. I’d say probably about 40 years I’ve been using that formula or some variation of that formula. It just continues to astonish me what herbs are capable of doing and the story of nettle seed takes that even further. We’ll get to that in a little bit. It just amazes me because when you look at people and they’re taking medications like Fosamax or things like that which inhibits bone remodelling, the problem is then you really have dead bone. It becomes really brittle bone, so yeah, you don’t develop osteoporosis but there’s a high likelihood of developing fractures and things like that.
Here we have these very simple things that can make such a huge difference. If you have somebody who has a family history of osteoporosis, you know I’ll just put them on a maintenance dose of the Osteo Herb and just keep them on the maintenance dosage. No downside to it. The downside is you’re going to increase your ferritin levels, your iron levels, your salicylic acid levels, your potassium levels. I mean, unless you have somebody who has degenerative kidney disease and can’t have potassium or something like that, there are a number of situations where that might not be indicated.
I always tell people the side effects of taking that product, because it takes about 18 months to 2 years to fully have that effect, especially if you try to mineralize bone. But there are things you notice within a very short period of time—well, short comparatively… two to three months—all of a sudden, you notice your fingernails are stronger. If you had somebody who has their fingernails break easily or they flake, they get better. Their hair gets nicer and it stops breaking off and they get less split ends. They start having stronger teeth and stronger enamel on their teeth, less cavities. That formula including the nettles not only strengthens bone, but hair, nails, skin, so it is remarkable formula that is easy to take and just works incredibly well.
I just love that herbs can do these things. You might notice that I get enthusiastic about this stuff. I’ve been doing this for, I said 54 years and it is just as exciting to me and fascinating now as it was back then. For instance, just to give an example, I’m going to be on a panel in March on the Southwest Conference of Botanical Medicine where I’m on a panel with some of the great people. We’re doing a panel on treating people with medium and long COVID. It’s just like here are all these people who are suffering and orthodox medicine, unfortunately, doesn’t have a lot of answers at the moment. They’re still trying to figure it out, and yet I know dozens of herbalists who, instead of—okay, studies are great. Believe me, I love studies, but I’ve got patients who have problems now and the nice thing is that we can try things that are unlikely to have any significant adverse effects. The beauty of it is a lot of these things work incredibly well.
To me, it is just about sharing this information, sharing it as widely as possible so that everybody has access to this because this truly is not only our first medicine no matter who you are and where you come from, but it’s the people’s medicine. You don’t need a patent. It doesn’t have to be super expensive. You can learn to make your own medicines and you can learn—many of these things are easy to grow. Even if you live in an apartment, you just have a little balcony, you can still grow these things. You can learn to make medicines at home.
Rosalee: I love it.
David: It is just so empowering. The only sad thing is, when I first started studying herbal medicine, as I said earlier, herbal medicine was so far out in left field. It was in a totally different field altogether and it’s much better known today. I mean, everybody’s heard. I don’t get those phone calls anymore, “What’s this herb ‘echikanakea’?” That was a real phone call. Everybody’s heard of Echinacea. Everybody’s heard of saw palmetto. Almost everybody’s heard of black cohosh or turmeric. The problem is, certain herbs have become popular but herbal medicine has not. Most people still don’t really understand that herbal medicine, yes, you can take… Somebody says, “Hey, I have a tummy ache. What’s good for that?” You can say, “Here, try some ginger,” and there’s a good chance that it may help. But if they come back the next day and the next day and the next day and they still have the stomach ache, then you’re not treating the underlying issue. You’re not treating the person. You’re treating the disease.
Hippocrates is believed to have said and Moses Maimonides, the great Jewish physician, Unani Tibb sort of Jewish physician, did say something like it’s more important to know the person that has the disease than the disease the person has. Whoever said it first, Hippocrates, 2000+ years ago or Moses Maimonides and probably any number of other people in between, it is true. That’s where herbal medicine works best. Herbal medicine works best treating people rather than treating diseases. I can have ten people all diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. They’re not ten rheumatoid arthritises. They’re ten unique people – different genders, different ages, different underlying constitutional issues. Some have digestive issues. Obviously, rheumatoid arthritis, they all have immune problems because they all have an autoimmune disease, but there’s all these other underlying components that are not necessarily being addressed.
I would also point out one other thing. Again, slightly off topic, but I just think it’s worth people knowing. A lot of people have this idea it’s either herbal medicine or orthodox medicine or CAM medicine versus orthodox medicine. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. In the years that I’ve been in clinical practice, I’ve always worked with physicians. I love working with physicians. What they do and what I do are not quite the same thing. If your goal is to help the person then you have to be open minded to look at what is the most appropriate treatment for this person at this time for this condition, and sometimes that’s orthodox medicine. There are some things they do incredibly well, but then there are some things we do well. In fact, often it turns out where orthodox medicine is strong tends to be where herbal or complementary medicine is not so strong, but the obverse is true, where herbal medicine is strong tends to be where orthodox medicine is weakest. So, the two together, really is an incredible win win for the patient. I think there is nothing better than a great physician and a great herbalist working together.
Rosalee: I concur on that absolutely.
David: So I guess that brings us to nettle root.
David: If you grow nettles, you have no shortage of nettle root. I generally recommend gathering the roots when they are dormant, when the plant is dormant so that means—with nettle leaf, by the way, I didn’t say this, with nettle leaf, you want to harvest it in the spring time or in the early autumn if you’ve cut it back and you get new growth. But with nettle leaf, when it gets older, it develops what are called cystoliths. These are granular structures that can actually irritate the kidney. So, you want to get your young nettle leaves in the spring time or after they go to seed, you cut them back and you have a nice long autumn, you’ll get all this new growth and you can gather them again.
Nettle root, on the other hand, I want to harvest when the plant is dormant, when the plant has died back, usually after a nice frost. This year we didn’t get a heavy frost until, I think, the first week of November. Our first frost used to be in the beginning of October. I live in Pennsylvania. Not anymore or at least not usually. It’s at least two to three weeks later now for our usual first heavy frost. I still had roses blooming in the first week of November, which is nice. I love them. We should do a talk on roses, too. Anyway, that’s when you want to harvest the roots. You just clean them off. You can cut them. Whereas, if you’re going to make medicine out of nettle leaf, you can dry the leaves but I do recommend artificial heat, like a dehydrator for nettle leaf, especially if you live some place humid like I do in the summer time or spring. You can also tincture nettle leaf either fresh or dried. There are a lot of people who believe that fresh nettle leaf tincture is a really good antihistamine and really useful for allergies. Personally, I have never found that to be all that useful. That information originally comes from a company that was making freeze dried nettle products, which do act as an antihistamine, but the effect is actually very short-lived, meaning, you take the capsules and it helps clear you up for 15, 20, 30 minutes, and then usually you have to take them again, so it’s a short-lived effect.
I have never found fresh nettle leaf tincture to be all that great as a sort of antihistamine. I think there are things that work better like fresh eyebright tincture, if you can actually get real, fresh eyebright tincture. I would warn our listeners, viewers, that at the moment, I do not believe, I cannot find any real eyebright in the American marketplace virtually anywhere. Every single thing I’ve tested that has been sent to me as eyebright is actually an adulterant called red bartsia or Odontites, which is a real problem if you really want your herbs to work. It’s important you got the right herb.
Rosalee: An important tip.
David: Yeah. Anyway, getting back to nettle root—you can tincture nettle leaf fresh or dry. I actually prefer the dry nettle leaf. I actually think it makes a better tincture. On the other hand, nettle root, there is no benefit out of tincturing the root fresh. You can do it if you want to, but there’s no real benefit. There are no easily damaged constituents. Drying, all you’re doing is getting rid of the excess water. You can make a tea out of nettle root, but I probably use it more often as a tincture. In fact, I use teas and tinctures more often than any other form of herbal preparation. I do use some glycerites. I do use some standardized extracts, but not a lot of them, a few. I do use some of the Chinese extract granules which are a handy way of using some Chinese herbs, but not all of the products in the marketplace are of equal quality. I do use tinctures probably more than anything else.
Nettle root tincture has been shown to inhibit the conversion of aromatase. Aromatase is involved with the conversion of testosterone into a secondary metabolite called DHT or dihydrotestosterone. High levels of dihydrotestosterone increase the growth of prostatic tissue, hence, benign prostatic hypertrophy or hyperplasia, BPH, and so nettle root can be used to treat the aging male prostate. One of the things I would say about that and this is one of the challenges I mentioned earlier, that while certain herbs have become popular, herbal medicine has not. The way that a lot of Americans still use herbs is this-herb-for-this-disease.
When we look at all the world’s great herbal traditions whether we are talking about TCM, Ayurveda, Kampo, Jamu, Unani Tibb, Tibetan medicine, physiomedicalism, etc., one of the things that we see almost across the board is the use of complex formulas. Why? Because we’re dealing with complex people with complex problems, so what I would say is using nettle root by itself is not that effective.
In fact, one of the things that we often hear about herbs is we hear these little sound waves of information. Saw palmetto was the prostate herb and black cohosh is menopause herb. St. John’s wort is the depression herb. There’s only one problem with each of those statements. They are wrong. Wrong. Oh, yes and wrong. What I mean by that is St. John’s wort only really works well for three of the more than 14 different types of depression that exist, so if you’re treating depression as a generic entity, the results are never going to be that great. While cohosh for menopausal symptomology, most of the people I know who have taken it are underwhelmed when they just take black cohosh. Yeah, it helped. Maybe, “I had one less hot flash.” Maybe they’re a little less severe, but when you combine herbs properly and create synergy—synergy is incredibly vital in traditional herbal medicine.
Understanding how with herbs just throwing them together in a formula does not guarantee synergy. In fact, there’s also the opposite – anti-synergy, antagonism. Synergy is 1+1 no longer equals 2. One plus one, equals three, four, five. There’s one study that was done 10, 15 years ago showing that Herb A and Herb B combined increase bioavailability of Herb A by 2,000%, meaning 1+1=2,000. So, synergy is knowing how to combine things. When we get back to the prostate, everybody thinks saw palmetto is a prostate herb, but saw palmetto by itself is also rather underwhelming. But when you take saw palmetto and you add in some nettle root and then you add in maybe a little bit of fresh Collinsonia tincture and then maybe a little bit of mullein root or white sage, now you have something that is highly effective and much better than saw palmetto as a simple.
Nettle root is of benefit, as we said for BPH, and I would also point out that increased levels of DHT are also associated with increased risk of prostatic cancer. Now, I’m not saying if you use nettle root on a regular basis, somebody will not develop prostatic cancer. What I can say pretty safely is if you do that and other things to minimize your risk, for instance, stop smoking, lose weight, you know, little things like that, you can absolutely reduce your risk. What did they say? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Well, anybody who has developed any type of chronic degenerative disease, the reality is it would have been a lot easier to deal with it if you could have prevented it. One of the beauties of herbal medicine is it’s not just about treating disease. It’s about staying healthy and helping to prevent disease in the future and herbs can work incredibly well to do that.
Let me think. So, I guess at this point, we come to nettle seed. I have to tell you two stories to fully give sort of credence so people understand how this came about. One of my teachers when I was young was one of my uncles and one of my aunts. They lived in North Carolina. My uncle was more of a… we’ll call him a folk healer. My aunt was an herbalist. My uncle, one time, he told me, he says, “You know, if you ever don’t know what herb to give somebody, what you do”—he called it a walking meditation. He said you’d walk through the woods and the fields, thinking about the person who needed help, but keeping your eyes open and sooner or later, a plant will announce that it could help that person by shaking. My response was, “Hmm. That’s very interesting,” but I was the herbalist. Usually, I knew what I wanted to give people or at least I thought I knew what I wanted to give people. The arrogance of youth, so I never used it.
One day, I’m visiting some friends in Churchville, Virginia. I was teaching class for them. It was in the morning and it was pretty—well, they had electricity but it was pretty primitive, simple living conditions. There was no bathroom, so I woke up in the morning and I had to use the outhouse. I’m just wearing my underwear, my shirt because nobody’s around. I go out to the outhouse and there’s a sign on the door that says, “Out of order.” I’m looking at this, “Okay.” I look around and everywhere I can see is poison ivy. Everywhere. There are worse places to get poison ivy than on the soles of your feet and between your toes, but not many. I’m kind of hopping from foot to foot because I really have to go and I don’t want to walk to the poison ivy with bare feet because I am sensitive to poison ivy.
All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I see this bush and it’s shaking back and forth. I look at it and for a moment, I’m kind of not noticing… I need to go to the bathroom. I’m looking, going, “Is there a bird in there? Is there a squirrel? A chipmunk? A raccoon? A whatever?” I walk over there thinking something’s going to fly away, run away. Nothing. Then I look down and realize there’s no wind and where this bush is shaking is the only place there’s no poison ivy. So, I went in there, took care of what I needed to take care of and from that moment, I have believed if you ever need, the plants will provide.
Fast forward a decade or so, I’m out by my old farm. I’m sitting out by the barn and there was a big, big nettle patch past the barn. It was one of these—this is in Northwestern New Jersey. It’s one of these summer days. It’s about 122% humidity. I know there’s nothing over 100%, but it felt like it. It’s probably 92°, not a breeze to be found. It is hot. I’m sitting in the shade by the barn and I’m thinking about a patient of mine who’s got degenerative kidney disease. She had glomerulonephritis. She had been to all sorts of nephrologists. She had been all over the place and I was kind of a last resort because often, back then, but even this day, herbalists in many cases, not people’s first choice. They often wind up with an herbalist because they’ve tried everything else. I’m thinking about her and I put her initially on a TCM formula called the Rehmannia Six Formula. This formula for people with degenerative kidney disease will often kind of plateau them. It’ll keep them from getting worse. It’ll work for maybe a year, a year and a half, two years tops, and then it stops working. She’d been on it for about a year and three or four months and her latest Glomerular Filtration Rate and BUN and creatinine, her kidney function had dropped. It had gone from 18 to 16. I knew at this point the formula had stopped working. At this point, she’s got about maybe six to nine months the way she was going before she’s on dialysis. While dialysis won’t save your life, it is incredibly expensive. Even though insurance usually covers it, it’s still a very expensive process. For many people who are in dialysis, they feel lousy a lot of the time. In fact, from what I’ve read in the medical literature, the average lifespan once somebody goes on dialysis is about five years.
So, I’m thinking about this woman and I feel really bad because I don’t know of anything else to do for her. This was the last thing I—all that I had. I know she had already been everywhere else. There’s nobody I could think of to refer her to. As a clinician, for everybody listening who’s a clinician, never be embarrassed to say you don’t know or you don’t have all the answers. If there’s somebody who can do something better than you, refer them. You know nobody knows everything. At best, we know a fraction of what there is to know. Anyway, I’m feeling like there’s got to be something that’ll help her. I don’t know what it is and I don’t know who to send her to.
All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I see that the nettle plants were waving at me. What do I think? Is there a bird? [Laughter] I was a slow learner. Is there a squirrel? Is there a rabbit? Is there a chipmunk? You know. I get up. I walk over to the nettles patch. Nothing flies out. Nothing runs away. In my head, in my mind’s ear, I hear, “I can help her” and I’m like, “Uh, okay.” I think nettle leaf is great for hematuria and minor kidney pain, but it’s not going to treat glomerulonephritis. Then I hear, “Not my leaves” and it was also in August, wrong time to gather the leaves, by the way. I hear, “Not my leaves, my seeds” and they kind of gently rustle. I picked my jaw off the floor, off the grass. I went back to the house, got some tobacco which I use as a ritual offering to the plants, came back, made an offering, put some gloves on and I gather a whole bunch of the nettle seed which was beautifully ripe, came back to the house, tinctured it up. Let it sit a couple of weeks, pressed it out. I called up my patient and I said, “Listen, I’ve got this thing. It’s very experimental, but I don’t believe in any way, shape or form it will harm you. If you’d like to give it a try, I’ll give it to you and see what happens.”
The only thing I knew about nettle seed at this point, which gave me some comfort is I’d never read about it being used medicinally, even though later I found out that it actually had some tradition of use. Not common, but it did have some tradition of use. I knew that in Europe that was used as an emergency food during famines and people could survive on it, so I knew it was not toxic. I gave her the nettle tincture and a month goes by and she has her next test because she’s being tested monthly. She’s back to 18% kidney function from 16. There’s usually a little variation. That doesn’t tell me anything yet. The next month goes by, she stays at 18. That’s good. The next month goes by, she’s up to like 19. The next month goes by, she’s up to 20, 21, 22, 24. Eventually, she gets up to 28% kidney function. Her nephrologist says to her, “Are you doing something?” She says, “Yeah, I’m taking—“ he’s, “I don’t even want to know. Keep doing it.” I actually thought that was a really weird response, but okay, fine. She continued to take nettle seed. She was in her late sixties and for 12 years, it kept her between 26% and 28% kidney function, and at about 82, she died of something totally unrelated to kidney failure. That was my first experience with nettle seed.
The next one was about six months later when a Native American woman called me and said that she had degenerative kidney disease and did I know anything. I was like, “Well…” You know sometimes something works for one person, but it’s not necessarily going to work for everybody. In fact, it’s one area where I’m quite conservative in that just because something worked once or twice doesn’t mean it’s going to work again. I had this experience and for me, if I learn something new, I want to see it work repeatedly, over and over and over again, 30, 40, 50 times where it has worked 65%, 70% of the time before I start telling anybody else about it and saying that this is real. Because I’ve seen all too many times where something helped one person, but then you give it to ten more people and it doesn’t do anything for them. Great for that first person, but that’s not proof. It was a benefit for that one person. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be beneficial down the line. After five years, I probably had well over a dozen cases. At this point, I guess 50, 60, 70, 80? I don’t even know. I’ve never counted the cases of people with degenerative kidney disease where nettle seed has in most cases been remarkable.
Now, I’ve learned some things about nettle seed in the process. Number one, it does not work for polycystic kidney disease. I don’t know why it doesn’t. My understanding of nettle seed— there’s not a lot of information about this, but I did come across one report where they found out that there were compounds. There are lectins in nettle seed that had an affinity for the nephrons of the kidney. I believe that is one of the major ways that it works. It does contain a lot of fatty acids which generally tend to have anti-inflammatory effects. I would also point out that these days, I rarely use nettle seed as a simple even though that’s how we started off using it to understand it and to really see whether it worked.
I tend to use it with a Chinese mushroom called cordyceps. Today, I would recommend the Cordyceps militaris because the Ophiocordyceps sinensis costs more than $7,000 a kilo and I don’t know anybody who can afford medicine that expensive. The Cordyceps militaris is much less expensive but works. I also use it combined with a Chinese herb called huáng qí or astragalus. Another Chinese herb called danshen or Salvia miltiorrhiza – those are two herbs I commonly—three herbs I commonly combine it with and there are a few others. There is a relative of nettles from the UK called Pellitory-of-the-wall, which could be used here. You have Chinese dogwood fruit, can potentially be used here. Very small amounts of rhubarb, interestingly enough. The Chinese da huang have some benefit. There are a number of other herbs that had been shown and proven to have significant nephro-protective, kidney protective effects. Of all the kidney trophorestoratives —a trophorestorative is a physiomedicalist term. Think of it as a food for an organ or a tissue that strengthens and nourishes that organ or tissue. In my mind, nettle seed is by far, the greatest kidney trophorestorative we have and those other herbs are supportive herbs. Number two would be cordyceps, but they support each other and work really well together.
I would also point out that I don’t just use this for humans. I have many—I don’t personally work with animals. I’m not a veterinarian or herbal vet, a veterinarian or animal herbalist, but I teach a lot of veterinarians. My two-year herb studies program, I almost always have between four and ten veterinarians per class. I’ve learned a lot about animal medicine from them because they know animal medicine. I don’t but I’ve learned quite a bit. I mean, I’ve had companion animals over the years and I’ve certainly used them on my companion animals, but that’s a very limited experience. I cannot tell you how many stories I have heard and seen, read case histories of cats and dogs with late stage, degenerative kidney disease where the animal has stopped eating and the vet or the owner will pry open their mouth and mix some of the nettle seed tincture with water. With cats, you have to dilute it very heavily because cats, really, are not very good at breaking down alcohol and they will foam at the mouth. The foaming part is not the problem. It looks weird but that’s not the problem. It’s just that they don’t have the ability to break down alcohol well, so you mix it in with things, heavily dilute it with tuna fish juice and things like that they’re very happy to take. I cannot tell you how many stories I have of dogs and cats who literally or probably, no more than days or weeks away from dying, who recovered and lived for years. I’ve seen it over and over again.
I also have two reports. I have not done this myself. I do not make any claims here but I have two reports from herbalists who I know very well and trust that they were able to get people on dialysis off dialysis using nettle seed. Now, I would need to have a lot more cases of that to say that I was really confident of that but I’m really confident that for things like glomerulonephritis, chronic nephritis with degeneration, i.e. Buerger's disease, for diabetic nephropathy. Obviously, you also have to control the blood sugar there. For those types of conditions, nettle seed is absolutely brilliant.
I’ve had people say, “You discovered it.” I didn’t discover it. I just listened. The plants told me. The truth is they are living beings and they know so much more than we will ever know, so opening your mind to listen. Yes, I’m a big fan of research and science and looking at the old literature and clinical experience, but never downplay the importance of learning to listen to the plants. Plants can communicate if you understand how to listen, as well as gaining information from dreams or visions, things like that. These are all ways people throughout the world have gained knowledge about plants and I’m open to all of them. It’s herbal medicine. There’s an art. There’s a spiritual practice. There’s a science and they are all equally valid. Don’t sit there and pigeonhole yourself into one way of seeing the world because it means that as much as that can show you, there are other things that you are not seeing and you are missing. I firmly believe if you have a need, the plants will respond.
Rosalee: Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much for all of that nettle wisdom and also other herbal wisdom that was sprinkled throughout. I had to stop myself at times not to pick up a notebook. Luckily, this is recorded so I can take notes later. I do want to talk about some of the offerings you have before we get to the last question, which I’m very excited to hear from you about. I do want to mention as I mentioned in intro, you have many wonderful books out there – Adaptogens, which was previously published in the early 2000s and then re-released in 2019, and that is the book-
David: New edition.
Rosalee: New edition. New edition, that’s what we should say. That one is just, I mean I think my own copy is so dog-eared and I’ve read it so many times. It’s certainly a really important book. Another one which I sometimes feel like doesn’t get all the credit that it could is, Herbal Therapy and Supplements, which I think the last time this was published was 2008. Any chance that we might get a new edition of this, David?
David: I wish. The publishers don’t seem to be—this was a major publisher. This was Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. There were two editions. The first edition came out and then we had a second improved edition. I was hoping they would go for a third edition but they never did. I don’t understand why because it was actually sold very well. I think-
Rosalee: I’ll give them a call. I’ll talk to them.
David: Do you know them?
Rosalee: No, I don’t, but I do—you know what I love about this? Because I know we have the Botanical Safety Handbook now which has been more recently released, but what I love about this is it’s thorough and the size of it is just really nice, especially for people who aren’t ready to invest $120 into a huge textbook. Even though this is from 2008, I still refer to it all the time. There’s so many herbs covered and it’ll give me a great quick glance at things that are really important, so that’s one of my favorites.
David: I would actually love to do a new edition of that book. There’s so many cool updates that could be added, new herbs that could be added, but who knows?
Rosalee: I’ll cross my fingers for that. I know we’ve mentioned Herbalist & Alchemist. I just want to do that officially. I’m a huge fan. I think your ability to formulate… since you’re talking about synergy, you’re absolutely brilliant with that. When I was in clinical practice, which I’m not anymore, but when I was in clinical practice, I heavily relied on that. I saw mostly long distance clients and so I would send them to you for those formulations. They’re absolutely brilliant. People can visit online, look at those. A great example is if you look at the respiratory section. There’s all the different lung—it’s not like, “Here’s the lung formula. This is David Winston’s take. There’s all these different lung formulas for dry, for antispasmodic, for congestion. There’s so much there with your formulations and Herbalist & Alchemist is a fabulous company. There’s that that I wanted to make sure we mentioned and would you like to say a few words about your practitioner program?
David: Sure. Getting back to Herbalist & Alchemist, if people want to look at the website, it’s herbalist-alchemist.com. We just moved to our new facility--much, much larger… will help us to actually keep things in stock and produce things on a higher level—not a higher level, but a greater volume and maintaining the same quality. Goodness gracious, Herbalist & Alchemist, this would be 41 years I guess we’ve been in business? Anyway, we started the companies not because I wanted an herb company. I never wanted a company. I’m not a business person, but I couldn’t get good products for my patients. When you make products, your certain scale of volume or volume of scale, you need to make a fairly large amount to make it practical. Then I was like, “What do I do with this? Oh, I’ll start an herb company,” like I had any idea what that entailed.
The two-year herb studies program is the David Winston Center for Herbal Studies. It is a two-year clinical herb studies program. There’s a lot more herb schools out there and there’s some really wonderful herb schools out there. I’m not saying that this is the only school that is worth going to. There are so many good herbal programs which is so different than when I started when they were literally none, but what I will say is myself and the other instructors combined probably have close to 200 years of clinical experience. It’s just remarkable. It’s now pretty much fully online. I used to be either live or online. We all still do a few classes and herb walks that are live, but we have students, literally, all over the world. It doesn’t matter where somebody is. They can take the program. I’d say about half of our students are already medical professionals. They’re MDs, DOs, NDs, veterinarians, acupuncturists, chiropractors, nutritionists, dentists, nurses, nurse practitioners, etc. Really amazingly, we get a number of really incredible high-level herbalists who are people who are really well-known, who just think that it’s always good to continue our education. I’m one of those people. It’s like if I didn’t learn something new in a day, I haven’t been—it wasn’t a great day. The other half of the students are people who are just been fascinated by herbs sometimes for a year or two and sometimes for decades and they just want to take it to the next level to be able to actually work with people on a more clinical level. It’s a wonderful program.
The next program is every two years, so the next program doesn’t start ‘til September 2024, but we already have applications for that next class. We’re planning probably to do maybe one, possibly two in the next two years, independent intensives that will be open to anybody where it will be myself and probably one other teacher. We’ll do an entire weekend just on herbal gastroenterology or herbal neurology or something that topic and then be a sort of high-level clinical training program. I think that’s pretty much what I’d want to say about the school.
For me, my first two-year herb studies program was in 1980. I had two students and I was thrilled because back then this was something that most people just weren’t interested in. The fact that anybody wanted to learn this, to me, was just the most wonderful thing that I had somebody to share with and pass it on. It’s just wonderful because now, 43 years later, 43rd year of the school, we have this incredible herbal community that really started out mostly in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, people who were close enough to commute although we had students come in crazy distances. We even had people driving once a week from Massachusetts, West Virginia, Virginia. I thought they were crazy but they thought it was worthwhile. Georgia--we had somebody fly in every week from Georgia. I was like, “Really?” But now, people can be, again, anywhere and take the program. I’m just as excited at teaching people and sharing this information because what I know now—oh, my goodness, I have so much more experience and so much more to share than I did in 1982 or 1992 or 2002 or 2012. I just keep trying to learn as much as I can.
The other thing I would tell everybody, because I know your question is going to be what to do, don’t just study with one teacher. You could say that this old kind of joke if you have five of whatever group of people, you get 15 different opinions? Well, that is absolutely true of herbalists. That is absolutely true. My dear friend, Rosemary Gladstar, said the only thing that herbalists agree on is not to use aluminum cookware. Pretty much true. There are so many approaches, so many ways of seeing things and I would be loathe to say that there are many ways that are wrong. There probably are not very many. There are some people who are telling people things that are simply not true, but for the most part, you have the American herbal community, an incredibly creative, varied, diverse and brilliant group of people who I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent most of my life in that community hanging out, learning, growing and sharing.
If you take a program, that’s fantastic. There’s lots of good programs out there, but I would never stop at just one. Most programs you’ll probably benefit by doing something else with somebody else or at the very least, going to herbal conferences and going to as many different teachers’ classes as you possibly can so you get a sense of who you sort of like in the sense of their teaching style, but also that you hear different things because I can only talk—I mean, I can tell you about the research. I can tell you about my experience. I can tell you about what’s in the literature, ethnobotanical literature or the Eclectics or the physiomedicalists, but that is still a narrow slice of what is there to know. Never, never—this really goes to your last question—never stop learning.
Rosalee: Thank you, David. You began talking about how in your early studies you took every herbal hallucinogen that you could find and that did not seem to maybe go over so well in the end. That was the learning experience.
David: I wouldn’t recommend repeating, by the way.
Rosalee: Yeah, so your tips for where to start for people who are just starting out in their herbal path is learn from many teachers and never stop learning.
David: Never stop learning, learn from many teachers and if you find somebody whose work really resonates with you, then go as deeply as you can with that person but remember something – every tradition has its strengths and weaknesses. For instance, I’ve been trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s one of the traditions I have some knowledge of, but what I would say is just because it’s part of TCM doesn’t mean I always agree with it. There are things that I learned in TCM that I vehemently disagree with because in clinical practice it just hasn’t proven to be true.
One of my other early teachers was, in my opinion, one of the greatest American herbalists of the 20th Century. His name was William LeSassier. William was brilliant. William is the person who introduced me to the concept of energetics. William is the person who introduced me to Chinese herbs although he didn’t use a lot of them, but he used Rehmannia and astragalus, cassia buds and white peony. These are herbs I knew nothing about when I started with him. He was very eclectic in the sense of the meaning of the word, not the eclectic physicians, but I mean he did all sorts of things. He was a brilliant diagnostician. He also did palmistry and numerology. You name it. He also did a lot of diagnostics and some of the diagnostics I learned from him I used in practice for about ten or twelve years until I just realized I wasn’t really seeing it. It’s like I believed it when I learned it and I tried it. Don’t be afraid if something just doesn’t work for you. Just say, “Never mind.”
Over the years, I learned iridology but I just didn’t see it really panning out and so I stopped using it. I learned, applied kinesiology, which I think as a body work technique is fantastic, but as a diagnostic technique, I totally disagree that it is an effective technique at all. If something works for you, it works for you. If it works in your clinical practice, don’t let anybody tell you that, you know, unless you’re hurting people or you’re not getting results, if something works for you, that’s phenomenal. Don’t be afraid to question, to say, “Hmm. I’ve tried that not once or twice, but I’ve tried it a hundred times and I don’t get results with it.” Then you know what? Find something new. Find something else. Be open to change. Don’t develop… I think as a clinician, the worst disease you can get is what I call hardening of the mind. Hardening of the mind is where you start believing that everything you know is true. Be open to the possibility that everything you believe and “know” is subject to change. It doesn’t mean it will, but you’re open to the possibility. You’re open to learning new things.
I’ll just give you one quick example. A few years ago, I was redoing my paper on treating migraines. The old theory of treating migraines is migraines were vasoconstrictive, vasodilative or both. I can’t say that I never had success treating people with migraines. I had some success, but I have to say that the success rates that I had were not where I would’ve liked to have seen them, especially for people who had what I believed at the time, were vasoconstrictive/vasodilative migraines where you had both patterns. Those people just didn’t respond at all.
When I started looking, and again, I said two years. It might be three or four, kind of time all blends together for me in this big, amorphous past, but I started looking into the new research on migraines and it turns out that migraines are not vasodilative or vasoconstrictive. That’s the result of the migraine. That doesn’t cause the migraine. The migraine causes the vasodilation and vasoconstriction, so if you’re trying to treat the underlying pathophysiology, then you have to find a whole new model. I came up with a more TCM way of looking at it of what I call excess heat or deficiency called migraines. I had to redo my whole way of approaching migraines and thinking about migraines, and it’s been fantastic because my ability to help people who are experiencing migraines has improved dramatically because I have now a better understanding of what’s really happening. So, be open to learning new things.
On the other hand, I think that there is some benefit to being conservative. I mean this in the best sense of the word – to conserve. Not only being careful as to where you get your herbs and making sure that they’re sustainably harvested or organically cultivated, things like that, but also in—and I mentioned this before—just because I learn something, I remember speaking to a well-known author one time, herbalist author. They had written a book about their approach to treating something. I looked at the book and I wasn’t all that impressed. I asked them. I said, “How many people have you actually treated with this?” and their answer was one—themselves. I have no problem with that except that nowhere in the book did it actually say that, meaning, the book gave you the impression that this was based on lots and lots of clinical experience when in reality that wasn’t the case at all. As I said before, I tend to be really conservative.
Final story, I was referring to this before but I didn’t tell you the story. I had read—somebody wrote an article talking about making a vinegar extract of bloodroot to use it for athlete’s foot. While nobody dies of athlete’s foot—well, possibly people with really severe diabetes who get infections in the feet—but athlete’s foot is one that is really annoying and really hard to treat. Have you ever tried it? “Oh, yeah, tea tree.” Yeah, well, as soon as you stop using the tea tree, the athlete’s foot comes right back. I had never had anything that I thought was greatly successful in treating athlete’s foot, although I will admit one of my first products before Herbalist & Alchemist, I called my company, Herbal Therapeutics, Incorporated. I used to make a product called, Herbalist’s Foot, and it actually worked pretty good. The problem is it made your shoes smell to high heaven. It made your feet smell to high heaven in your socks and the only way to get the smell out was to throw your socks and shoes away.
David: So even though it worked really well, it was not a success is the problem. I also knew that in a lot of Southeastern ethnobotanical traditions—actually, excuse me. I’m sorry. It was not bloodroot vinegar. It was horsetail vinegar. I knew in a lot of Southeastern traditions that horsetail was used for fungal infections as well. Based on that, I made up a batch of horsetail vinegar although bloodroot was in the other product as well as horsetail, sorry. I gave it to a patient of mine who had athlete’s foot and her athlete’s foot went away. It was the best treatment of athlete’s foot I’ve ever seen. Then I gave it to a second person and it didn’t totally go away but it really cleared up pretty quickly. I started telling people, “This stuff is amazing! It’s great! It’s wonderful!” breaking my own rule. I try never to do that. I gave it to the third person, the fourth person, the fifth person, the sixth person, the seventh person, the eighth person, the ninth person, the tenth person. You know two out of two is remarkable, but when it gets to be two out of ten? You have a little placebo level because for everybody else I gave it to, it hardly worked at all.
My suggestion is be conservative in that you try things. If it works, great. Does it work consistently? And that doesn’t mean 100% of the time. Nothing works 100% of the time, but does it work most of the time, repeatedly with similar conditions? If you see it over 20 or 30 or 50 or 80 or 100 cases, at that point, then I start feeling really comfortable saying, “This really works.” I try never to exaggerate or to claim things unless that I have seen them enough that I am convinced that it really works.
Rosalee: Which is one of the many reasons I love learning from you, David. This has been such a pleasure. Thank you so much for generously spending your time with us. It’s been an honor for me and I would love to have you back on the show again.
David: Well, I have enjoyed myself thoroughly and I would love to come back, so you let me know the time and we’ll make it happen.
Rosalee: Alright, sounds wonderful. Thanks again, David.
David: You’re welcome. Thank you everyone. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Rosalee: Thanks for watching. Don’t forget to click the link above this transcript to get free access to David’s recipe for Green Powder Spice Blend. You can find David many places online including his website, herbalstudies.net and herbalist-alchemist.com.
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Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Healand co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.