Friday, June 1, 2012

My Amazing Day with Herbalist David Winston

The Medicines of the Earth Conference 2012 begins tomorrow in Black Mountain. But a lucky small group of us, a combination of clinicians, herbalists, and curious plant-lovers, convened on the wild and beautiful grounds of the Black Mountain Assembly and listened to the ethnobotanical lectures and plant descriptions by David Winston, herbalist extraordinaire and founder of Herbalists & Alchemists. 

He began the morning with his traditional Cherokee singing, prayers, and a beautiful ceremonial walk into the stream before more stories of healing, plant identification, and discussion. 

Pictured left, David is discussing Wild Yam, (Dioscorea).  In Chinese Medicine it is called Shan Yao and acts as a qi tonic.  But in Western and Cherokee herbalism it is used more often as a gastrointestinal antispasmotic (think irritable bowel) or for gallbladder spasms.  It can be helpful to move liver qi and when menstrual cramps accompanied by nausea. 

Below is pictured Spikenard, an aromatic adaptogen whose root is very helpful for a dry cough, arthritis made worse by cold, and traditioinally used in combination with cottonwood bark and black cohosh can stimulate stalled labor in pregnant women.

Left, David shows us a blooming Black Cohosh, pollinated by flies because (if you haven't had the pleasure) the smell resembles that of rotting meat.   Though widely believed to be the herb of choice for menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, that is not really this plants strong suit.  Chastetree berry is much more effective for those complaints.  Though Black Cohosh can be excellent for menopausal depression, fibromyalgia, and uterine and testicular pain, among other uses.

As David points out, however, and as any good herbalist knows, herbs are complex and have personalities.  An elegant combination of herbs works best, based on each patient's individual needs.  The source of an illness in one person is different than the source of the same illness in another.  Same disease, different treatment.

It was inspiring to spend the day with a master who so loves his work, his culture, and the plants themselves that I came away with a renewed passion for my herbal work and with new knowledge and ideas for helping my patients and spreading the word about the power of herbal medicine.  Thank you, David!   Stay tuned, there is more to come as Saturday through Monday the conference will continue.