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Whole Foods, Herbs and Healing

Master Herbalist David Christopher Explains Why Whole Foods are Key to Good Health  

Plant-based, fresh, whole food dishes.  ©Ella Olssen/Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)
Plant-based, fresh, whole food dishes. ©Ella Olssen/Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

This is Part 2 of The Earth & I’s exclusive interview with Master Herbalist David Christopher on why he thinks eating whole foods is the best long-term medicine for humans—and their pets. [See Part One at The Earth & I, October 2023]


The Earth & I: Why eat whole foods and herbs?


David Christopher: The key [to good health] is to eat whole foods. That is why we use whole herbs instead of drugs, because they are in their whole state. 


A lot of the drugs on the market today came from herbs or are still taken from herbs because the drug manufacturers cannot seem to duplicate the chemical that is in the herb. So, what they are saying is, "We found this herb that's wonderful, it works really well, and this is the substance in it that has the medicinal quality we’re looking for."


[Manufacturers] will extract that ingredient out. And if they can, they will duplicate it chemically.

That is why drugs can be stronger and faster acting than herbs, but certainly not safer. You can lose the safety when you discard the other parts of the plant. We like to say, "The whole is greater than the part." 


But that is not the way modern science is today. Today it’s "the part is greater than the whole." They take the part out of the whole and say, "This is what's effective."


We say, "It may be effective, but it's not safe, because you've got buffers and you've got adjuvants that are in the plant naturally, and you just took those out—and it's not going to be as effective in the long run." 


“A drug might have a quick action to it, but it is not going to be healing in the long-term like a whole herb would be, with everything in there that is supposed to be in there.”


A drug might have a quick action to it, but it is not going to be healing in the long-term like a whole herb would be, with everything in there that is supposed to be in there.  


Many people—and this is not just about drugs—call me and say, "I'm having problems with my vascular system. I've got varicose veins; I've got vascular problems in my eyes.” And I tell them, "Eat some oranges. It's the white parts you're after because, in the white parts, you're going to find one of the flavonoids, rutin, that's specifically for vascular integrity." 


They say, "Okay, I'll just go buy rutin."


But you are not going to get the same effect. I tell them, "If you're going to use a rutin supplement, take it with oranges to make sure you get all those other parts that are supposed to be there.” I usually tell them to take a carrot peeler and peel off the colored part of the outer orange, so you have a big white mass. Cut that up and eat it, or put it in a blender with some fresh squeezed orange juice and do a Julius, which is very pleasant. Or you can make a smoothie, and put blueberries in it, and the blueberries would really help. 

Apples are high in rutin.  ©Markus Hagenlocher/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Apples are high in rutin. ©Markus Hagenlocher/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

We like to deal with foods. And then they might say, “Are there any herbs we can take?” I say, “Yeah, there are herbs. Let's talk about that now, too.” So, that is generally how I operate. It is food first. 


Food First—for People, Pets


E&I: We have not treated nature well. We've ultra-processed nature until we have turned it into microplastics that are now found in seawater and human blood. We have poisoned land, air, and sea with chemicals. Over half of our calories come from highly processed foods that can sit on store shelves for years, and so on. What role can whole herbs play in unraveling the damage that all these processes have inflicted?   


David Christopher: When I was growing up, nobody had pets with chronic problems. Pets had acute problems like getting run over by a car, but I do not remember pets having chronic problems.  


I remember visiting my sister-in-law and her family. They had a dog with chronic problems, but the dog was eating the same things they were eating. They were getting a little hefty, and so was their dog. The dog's chronic problems were caused by its diet. It was not eating what it should be eating. 


We see today that dogs are chronically ill. I get so many calls from people. "My dog needs to have heart surgery" or "My dog's got liver problems." Those are the same issues we have because pets are eating the same foods we eat, except maybe worse. They buy dog food, like you said, that can sit on the shelf for years and nothing changes. 

As far as our pets are concerned, I do not remember anybody going to the vet when I was a kid, but when they started vaccinating pets and giving them food that had nothing live in it, then they were going to the vets all the time. Our animals were going to the vets more than we were going to doctors, which is amazing because we are going way too often.

A veterinarian performing surgery on a cat.  © CCO
A veterinarian performing surgery on a cat. © CCO

Then they came up with products like vitamins and greens for dogs. If dogs have bad breath, these products take care of their bad breath and stop their farting and a lot of problems that can make dogs unpleasant to be around. Suddenly, the dogs were running around like little puppies. And people look at those dogs and say, "That's fantastic."


But what about people? "Oh, no, I don't need that stuff." I think if we all started getting these super nutrients that are in live produce, we would see a big difference in our health.  

‘Cat grass’ is popular with pets and owners.  ©Bertux/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
‘Cat grass’ is popular with pets and owners. ©Bertux/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
One of the things that we can do to lower our carbon footprint on the Earth is to grow food in our gardens, harvesting wonderful produce. At our house, we are living out of our garden.


One of the things that we can do to lower our carbon footprint on the Earth is to grow food in our gardens, harvesting wonderful produce. At our house, we are living out of our garden. I don't grow everything we need, but when we shop, we spend our money in the fresh produce section. That is where we shop, and that is what we eat. I think that helps keep us healthy.  


I think I have seen medical doctors maybe once or twice in my life.


The Vascular System—Whole Foods vs Drugs


E&I: What happens when a patient with ... let's say a life-threatening heart condition … comes to an herbalist for help? Give us some examples, please, of how that would work; I know your father used herbs like lobelia and cayenne successfully in treating some very serious cases.  


David Christopher: Cayenne pepper is one of the first herbs we turn to for a heart condition. 

Cayenne: A favorite Christopher herb.  ©igorr!/istock
Cayenne: A favorite Christopher herb. ©igorr!/istock

When the heart pumps blood through the body, it goes through the vascular system into tiny little vessels that feed the heart, but sometimes the heart’s not getting the benefit of the blood being pumped. The blood is supposed to go into those little capillaries. A lot of times those little capillaries are worn out or destroyed or lacking nutrients that are not being replaced. The capillaries are often clogged up with waste, like damaged cholesterol and triglycerides. 


And when we get a lot of triglycerides—when we eat a lot more food than we need, if we are not moving our bodies and exercising—we are going to have a lot of waste, and the body is going to go, "Oh, I need this," so it stores the waste. And that is where we get the triglycerides: It sticks to your vessel walls, and then it builds up, and then your blood cannot get through, and then the heart, or anything else, isn't going to get the nutrients it needs. 


You have trillions of cells in your body that do what they're supposed to do. You have cells in your heart that know exactly what they are supposed to do, and they all function well our whole lives. But then we eat the wrong foods and we clog up the vascular system, or we're uptight and we're making it so the blood can't get through the vascular system, or we're doing some drug every day that tightens the vascular system. That does not allow the blood to flow through. Instead of stopping the drug, people take another drug to counter that drug.


Do you know which drug I am talking about? Caffeine.  

E&I: You surprised me with that. 


David Christopher: Caffeine tightens your vascular system and does not allow the blood to flow like it needs to. And if your vascular system is clogged or tight and cannot get the oxygen and nutrients; if that oxygen and those nutrients cannot get to the cells, then those cells that are working perfectly now start to work erratically. And if it goes on long enough, the cells will atrophy; they'll die.  


So, before they die, they send off a distress signal that they're not getting the nutrients they need. The central nervous system picks up that distress signal, and the life-saving mechanism sends the signal to the circulatory system to raise the blood pressure to force blood out to those cells so they do not die. 


“If you artificially lower the blood pressure of people that aren't getting the nutrients out to their cells, that's the worst thing you could do for them. If you artificially lower the blood pressure, you assure that those cells die.”


If you artificially lower the blood pressure of people that aren't getting the nutrients out to their cells, that's the worst thing you could do for them. If you artificially lower the blood pressure, you assure that those cells die. So, I tell people, if you want to die of kidney disease, liver disease, or heart disease, take high blood pressure medication. 


But that is not to say to just jump off your medication! Your body gets the signal to raise the blood pressure, and if you block it using the medication...the body is going to go, "I sent a signal,” so it sends a bigger signal, and you block it, and it keeps sending a bigger signal. 


And then you suddenly take out the blocks and you've already got this signal that's "kaboom!" and you blow out your vascular system. So, that can be very dangerous getting off high blood pressure medication. 


Think about high blood pressure medication. What does it do? The most common one. You've got all these beta cells all around your heart that all contract at the same time. 


And they've got this drug that just wipes half of them out. So, then your heart doesn't beat hard, it beats softer. And that lowers your blood pressure, you see. But it doesn't get the blood out to the cells where they're needed. And what else have you got, your calcium channel blockers? Your muscles need calcium to contract, so your heart muscles, if they are denied the calcium, they can't contract as hard, see? To me, that is a terrible thing to do. 


We use an herbal diuretic, but we don't use it for the same reason. We use it to make it more efficient for the body to get rid of waste and to keep the blood pressure where it is supposed to be.  


Do you know what they use diuretic drugs for? Getting rid of a lot of the water in your system so your body can't make blood cells. So, now you've got less blood, so you have less pressure.  


Cayenne and Hawthorn


We do something very simple like use cayenne pepper to increase the circulation, to get the nutrients out to those cells, so they don't have to malfunction and die. 

As far as the heart is concerned, we give it the food it needs to strengthen and be able to pump the way it is supposed to. Hawthorn is the specific herb for heart disease. With any heart disease, we want to get hawthorn in the patient. Most herbs have a myriad of uses. Hawthorn has one—food for the heart. We use the berries. Hawthorn is a food. People make hawthorn jam and jelly and syrups and other things out of it. We don't need all the sugar, but hawthorn is exactly what we want.


We have all this hawthorn in our area that's wild, crataegus rivularis, and some other varieties that are found around streams. The Dr. Christopher company has people that go throughout the whole state,

harvesting fresh berries in the fall. That is what they make the hawthorn syrup out of. I think that is

why it is not only popular, but so beneficial.

Young hawthorn fruit, crataegus rivularis.  ©Nadiatalent/Wikimedia  Public domain
Young hawthorn fruit, crataegus rivularis. ©Nadiatalent/Wikimedia Public domain

One of the things our students love most is touring Wholistic Botanicals, the manufacturer of the Dr. Christopher products. They do quality control that is just amazing, manufacturing at such volumes I would have never dreamed of when I first started in the business.


Back then, we were putting the capsules into herbs and sticking them together by hand for a while, and then we had a little machine that helped, but it was almost impossible to do a big volume. They now put out more in a day, I think, than we put out the whole year. Things have changed quite a bit in the herbal industry. 

Can I say one more thing?  


E&I: Absolutely. 

Purslane, portulaca oleracea.  ©ZooFari/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Purslane, portulaca oleracea. ©ZooFari/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

David Christopher: Do you know what I love about my field [herbs]? No one is dependent on me or on Dr. Christopher. No one is dependent on Wholistic Botanicals or anybody. We can teach you the herbs. We have [educational] materials at Christopher Publications, and The School of Natural Healing has the materials that you need to learn it yourself. Even the internet has a lot of that information. You can learn it yourself. You do not need us. You can go pick your own herbs and use them.

As far as looking out for the environment is concerned, please do not harvest them all. You never want to take all the herbs in an area. You want to leave some to propagate. And they can propagate well, like purslane does, for instance. It creates tens of thousands of seeds, so once you have purslane growing where you are, you have it for a long time.  


E&I: Thank you for sharing with us, David. This is why we love our jobs, too.  


David Christopher: Good. 

David Christopher.  ©The School of Natural Healing
David Christopher. ©The School of Natural Healing

*David Christopher is a Master Herbalist and Director of The School of Natural Healing, founded by his late father and renown herbalist John R. Christopher. David speaks to international audiences about using whole foods and herbs to manage such conditions as high blood pressure, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases, and has helped establish Herbal Schools in England and Ireland. He and wife Fawn host “A Healthier You” podcast. In 1993, David wrote An Herbal Legacy of Courage as a tribute to his father.


Editorial Note:

For The Earth & I, Jerry Chesnut spoke with David Christopher.


Disclaimer: Please consult your physician when making any changes to your health regimen.


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