How did you become interested in clinical herbalism?
What set me on the road to holistic medicine was my involvement in martial arts, which I started when I was 9 years old. I had very classical teachers that believed the fighting arts had to be paired with the healing arts, otherwise you would be ineffective at both. I got introduced to herbal medicine when I was 14 or 15, and soon after I discovered yoga and Hinduism. From there I began to study Ayurveda. When I was around 17 I met a spiritual healer from South Africa and I studied with her for two summers. She taught me a lot more about Ayurveda and herbal medicine, and she was a very influential force in my life.
I never really thought of making herbal medicine a career. As a kid, I just grew up with it as a fact of life. I would drink teas and make incense and things like that; all of my friends thought I was weird, but I was kind of a pioneer with my Hopewell, New Jersey peers.
Then I started working at a health food store, and learned a lot more about supplements, nutrition, and herbal medicine. I attended David Winton's lectures at Herbalist & Alchemist about once a month for a couple of years and I became very interested in the field. While I was in acupuncture school I took his two-year herbal training program followed by the one-year graduate course. I did four years of Oriental medical school including Chinese herbal medicine and Japanese herbal medicine, and that led me to where I am now. I opened up a practice six years ago. Even before that I was treating people with herbs, and as a teenager I would advise people of things they could do to help themselves with various ailments.
So working at a health food store led to your formal herbal training?
Yes, the store carried the Herbalist & Alchemist product line and I started experimenting with the products on myself. I loved the feel of them. I noticed that when people used them they got better, quickly. I saw a dramatic improvement in customers' results. I found out from the H&A newsletter that David taught classes. I went to one of them and he talked about his philosophies on life and medicine. I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, that is what I have been thinking my whole life!” It resonated with me so much that I took his program as soon as I could. It changed my life. I will say this: I believe I learned more in his two-year program than I did in four years of Oriental medicine school. Many clinically useful techniques I use now came out of his program. Because of my early experiences with the effectiveness of Herbalist & Alchemist tinctures, they are the only ones I use in my practice.
As for my formal training, I am an acupuncturist and eclectic herbalist. I am trained in four different styles of acupuncture that I weave together, similar to herbal medicine and nutrition. I was trained by David in his eclectic practice that combines Chinese herbal medicine, Cherokee herbal medicine and traditions from Europe and the Americas. I combined those with what I learned about Ayurveda earlier in my life. I use tools from a number of different traditions, including bodywork from a variety of modalities such as tuina, shiiatsu and reiki. I recently finished a nursing degree and will be starting work on a nurse practitioner degree so I can add Western medicine to my treatment modalities.
You are also one of the teachers in David's two-year herbal training program, correct?
I teach the TCM module and sometimes students come to shadow me in my practice. I do one-on-one tutoring and case studies. I also do clinical supervision and case studies for physicians and other herbal practitioners around the country when they want to understand more about herbs and what their clients are using.
How much does intuition enter into how you choose from the different modalities at your disposal?
Any experienced practitioner will tell you that learning to master your craft is what brings intuition. For example, when you were a small child learning to count, you had to learn that two plus two equals four by counting on your fingers. But now you don't even have to think about it. It is the same thing. The more you learn and immerse yourself in the arts you practice the more it becomes intuitive. It is assimilated into your being and becomes second nature.
My view is that I am a holistic practitioner and that means body, mind and spirit are not different; there is no separation. So a Western practitioner would reduce it down to biochemistry and viruses, etc. A nurse is more holistic because they usually take family systems and emotional state into account. But they are still separating the three. For herbalists, there is no difference. Your anger can get lodged into your shoulders so we release the anger to release the shoulders and vice versa. For me that is just how the world works, and I don't really have to think about it.
Talking more about tools for addressing mental and emotional conditions and their impact on health, let's talk about David's formulas for mental and emotional conditions, because you just don't find those very often.
H&A Grief Relief formula is absolutely incredible and I have treated clients with it for PTSD. I have clients that have been going to therapy for years and nothing happened. I give them some Grief Relief and all of a sudden they are able to open up and start processing things they weren't able to deal with before. I also frequently use Tension Relief and Serenity Compound for clients with stress and anxiety with great success. Herbs can do so much more than treat at the body level.
That's not common knowledge, is it?
Only recently with the advent of Western civilization has there been a distinction between body and mind. The Inner Classic, an Oriental medicine text, says that in ancient times people were not ill like they are today because they lived in harmony with the environment, they lived in harmony with the cycles of night and day, they lived in harmony with what their body and mind were saying. Eat when you are hungry, drink when you are thirsty. We don't do that anymore. Because we disrupt this cycle and we separate body, mind and spirit, we are no longer in tune with what is healthy and what is not. How do we fix things? How do we know that an herb can fix our emotions, because what does that have to do with anything? Well, you fix your emotions by going to a therapist and you fix your body by going to a doctor but that's more a Western, modern-day view of things. In my mind, THAT is a disease. We haven't figured out that we really should be in harmony with ourselves, our community and the cycles of nature. That's a big part of why holistic medicine is starting to become more popular. The world needs traditional herbalists to heal illness that is destroying the earth, destroying our relationships, and destroying our inward connection.
Andrew Appello, MSOM, L.Ac, RH(AHG)
Healthy Living Acupuncture