David Christopher Shares His Family’s Pioneering Work with Whole Herbs, Part One
Here we present part one of The Earth & I’s exclusive interview with David Christopher, son of pioneer American herbalist and founder of the School of Natural Healing, John R. Christopher.
The Earth & I: David, can you start us out with the basics? Why should we be interested in herbalism?
David Christopher: Herbs have been around for so long. They were created before we were. The plants were here for our benefit and are time tested. Herbs have been used for medicine since the beginning of time.
E&I: How would you distinguish an herb from other plants?
David Christopher: A botanical definition would be any plant that does not have a woody stem above ground. Some of them have woody stems below ground, but not above ground. An herb is a plant that would die down in the wintertime. It may come back up again the next year, but it
dies down each year. Our definition, of course, would be any plant structure that would be medicinal.
E&I: Do you think most plants would meet your definition and we just don't know it—yet?
David Christopher: When I was very young, I used to say that all plants have a purpose. Of course, they do. We know that 25,000 have been identified as medicinal plants. And of those 25,000 medicinal plants, there are about 400 that are used today; not that the others are not valuable.
“We lay people did not care for plants that were very dose dependent, that you could hurt somebody with. So, I think we narrowed it down to the 400 safest, most reliable, effective herbs. That is where we stand today. About 400.”
I believe when the medical profession stopped using medicinal plants—that would have been in the early 1900s (they took it out of the curriculum in the 1930s)—then lay people had to take up the burden of herb information and herb usage. We lay people did not care for plants that were very dose dependent, that you could hurt somebody with, so I think we narrowed it down to the 400 safest, most reliable, effective herbs. That is where we stand today. About 400.
E&I: When your father—pioneer American herbalist John R. Christopher—started out, he did not have all the technology and equipment available today. How did he develop his herbal formulas in his early days?
David Christopher: Do you see the books behind me? A lot of those were in his library. I inherited his library and then built my own to go with it. He was very good at studying. Every morning, no matter what, he would get up early and study his herbs.
He knew his herbs very well. When he was younger, he had a photographic memory. Later, he was in an automobile accident where he was thrown through the windshield. He recovered his health, but lost that photographic memory. In fact, he was enrolled to go to law school prior to the accident. I'm glad it worked out the way it did. Today, John R. Christopher formulas are probably the most widely used herbal formulas in the United States.
Anyway, he seemed to not be able to remember things anymore, except for herbs. Herbs clicked with him. When he would read something about herbs, he would remember it. That's the field he went into because that's kind of where he was directed.
E&I: You have created herbal formulas, as well. What role does intuition play? Or is it based solely on thorough study and reasoning?
I have often been asked, “How did your father know that?” He knew his herbs and was able to see that a particular herb needed help from something else and knew the herb to put with it. With all that knowledge, he always mentioned in his writings, “We did this and we did that,” and people would ask, “Who were you with?” And he’d say, “God.” He really relied on inspiration from his Creator.
Once when he was lecturing in Snowflake, Arizona—to give you an example—someone raised their hand and asked, “What do you do for the plague?” He was taken aback. “Are you talking about the plague in the 1300s?” And the person said, “Yeah, we've had a breakout here in Arizona. The animals were having a problem with it and then it spread to humans.”
I didn't know this, but I guess wild animals have carried the plague since the 1300s.
Anyway, the person asked, “So, what to do?” My father didn't know, so he took a minute and said a quick prayer, and then he gave a formula to write down, a fairly detailed formula with quite a few herbs in it. It wasn't already being manufactured; he just offered it.
“With all that knowledge, he always mentioned in his writings, 'We did this and we did that,' and people would ask, 'Who were you with?' And he’d say, 'God.' He really relied on inspiration from his Creator.”
He later found out that the students had made the formula and had used it successfully.
At about the same time, I came down with a bad case of the flu. I was in bed for two weeks and wasn't getting better.
One of my dad's local students made up that formula and brought it over to me. I'd never tried it; it wasn't being manufactured. I took a swig of it, shivered, and said, “This is horrible.” I finished about a four-ounce bottle that day. The next day I was out of bed, going to work, going to school, and getting things back to normal. It became the “anti-plague formula” until the FDA got involved and said you can't call it that.
But I think you asked about my formulas. One of them would be the Immucalm formula with two herbs.
E&I: Just two?
David Christopher: It has astragalus and marshmallow. I've had a number of calls from people saying, “ Why are you putting astragalus into a formula where the immune system is overactive?”
And I’d say, “That's the whole point of doing a formula.” Astragalus is a very good herb for strengthening the immune system, but you have to explain what you mean by strengthening. When we are strengthening, we are making the immune system more capable of working, but not stimulating it. Astragalus is also one of our best tonics; it tones and strengthens the immune system. By adding marshmallow, that made it more calming. So those two together have a different effect than either one of the herbs separately.
That's how a formula comes about. There are different approaches. The Asian way has your royalty herb, then your prince herbs, and then your magistrate herbs, and these all help the one.
A lot of people who have applied to our school have gone to a school teaching traditional Chinese medicine and it was too complicated for them. They said, “I need something a little simpler.” They came to our school and found great satisfaction in the way we teach, what we teach, and how practical it is.
The Herbalist’s Friend: The Internet
I have one advantage over my father—the internet—which has so much information, perhaps too much contradictory information. It should be used with discernment. I think discernment comes with a connection with your Creator. And sometimes you have to go a step further and make sure it wasn't just your personal feelings coming through.
I've had so many people call me and say, “I heard that this herb is very dangerous,” And then I'd find out where the information came from and think, “They've drawn up a case study here, but I don't think it's correct.” So, I'd go back to see who the writers were, and they were all medical doctors. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they don’t.
Like I said earlier, we're down from 25,000 down to about 400 medicinal plants that are used today and they are all time tested, safe and effective. And so, usually when I read that an herb is dangerous, I have to look into it more. These herbs today aren't dangerous. Do you know how many people die from taking herbs?
E&I: I'm going to guess it's pretty close to zero.
David Christopher: It's zero. An agency keeps those figures. You can call Poison Control; it says zero people have died from taking herbs.
E&I: Impressive. It sounds like a lot has changed since you entered the field.
David Christopher: Things have changed a lot. We were all small companies, working out of garages. We were all starting out and probably making mistakes, but that's changed, and now the herb industry is pretty big.
E&I: I know from my own experience how thoroughly some of those 400 herbs have been researched. There are many journal articles on herbs from scientists all over the world.
David Christopher: The National Institutes of Health commissions a lot of studies and keeps track of a lot of studies. You can find a lot of good information from them. PubMed is another place to get really good information.
Creating Formulas Today
When I'm creating formulas now, I usually look up the disease and treatments, then think about the herbs that would best fit and study them more.
One of our newest formulas that I created was for repairing nerve sheath. Nerve sheath is like the outer coating of an electrical cord to an appliance. What keeps electricity flowing to the appliance is the coating material used to insulate the wire so that electricity follows the correct path.
Your nervous system is like this. It has nerves with a protective coating that carry the message. That coating is the nerve sheath. When that is worn away, it is like the rubber coating wearing away on an appliance cord; those electric signals can be sent out any place. You can touch the cord in the wrong place and get shocked.
That kind of happens with the body. These nerve impulses go awry, and then you can get all kinds of jerks and motions. A lot of people's problem today is that their nerve sheathing has deteriorated, or isn't there, or doesn't function as well as it should.
We have herbs that are specifically for the nerves, but there wasn't anything yet for the sheathing, which is different than the nerve cells themselves. Surprisingly, the number one substance the body has in order to make that sheathing is cholesterol.
“[I]in studying the journal articles on nerve sheath, I found that there are a lot of other substances that have to be present, even in small amounts, such as uridine and lithium, to make a nerve sheath. So I had to find herbs that had those substances in them.”
However, in studying the journal articles on nerve sheath, I found that there are a lot of other substances that have to be present, even in small amounts, such as uridine and lithium, to make a nerve sheath. So I had to find herbs that had those substances in them, reviewing works like Dr. James Duke's The Green Pharmacy, which would give you the substances you're looking for and the herbs they're found in. His database is online.
And so, I put hops in the formula, which has uridine. The herb we use that has lithium is cayenne pepper. Cayenne is something we'd want to use anyway, because it seems to stimulate other herbs to work better. [See The Earth & I, April 2021] Then there is iron; we put raw cacao in for the iron.
That's why James Duke's website is really important. You can ask, “Well, what herbs have lithium?” You can find that out. But we couldn't get everything we needed, so we recommend any of these formulas be used with a good diet, eating whole foods. Then it's going to be much easier to get that nerve sheath repaired.
E&I: I think you started to answer my next question: How can people maintain health at a high level, in ways that don't harm the environment?
David Christopher: One of the first things I talk about—when people call me about their situations—is food. They sometimes say, “I called an herbalist, not a foodist.” I say, “Well, you don't understand. Even though the herbs are really high in minerals, vitamins you're finding more in foods.” You do find vitamins in herbs, but you're going to find a higher concentration of vitamins in the foods eaten. It's really important to get those vitamins, and they're not going to come from highly processed foods. A lot of those vitamins are processed right out. So, the best way to stay healthy is to have a wholesome diet. And that’s “wholesome,” with a “W.”
About David Christopher: Having been raised in the simple ways of natural health, David's interests grew beyond his university study. In 1974 David Christopher, MH, took his place by his father's side at The School of Natural Healing. David's book, An Herbal Legacy of Courage is a loving tribute to his father. In 1979 he became a Master Herbalist and the director of The School of Natural Healing. Today, thousands safely apply the Christopher methodology thanks to his directorship.
David is an international lecturer and has been instrumental in helping to establish Herbal Schools in England and Ireland. David and his wife Fawn host “A Healthier You“ podcast. He has generated new ideas on the management of high blood pressure, diabetes, and auto-immune diseases, and was one of the first to discourage the use of Prozac in favor of natural methods.
David Christopher’s goal in life is to help others learn to benefit from a healthier lifestyle.
Editor's Note: For The Earth & I, Jerry Chesnut spoke with David Christopher.