Late one night on a trolley rolling west from City Hall, Wellington Christian struggles to open a plastic shopping bag. The handles are tied in stubborn knots, so he takes out a knife and cuts through the plastic. The bag falls open, revealing three large boxes of herbs: two types of ginseng and a deer tail extract.
It’s nearly 11 p.m., but when Christian gets back to his West Philly house, he will spend the next hour sterilizing equipment in a secret laboratory, off-limits to all. Then he will work throughout the night into the following afternoon, cooking and mixing a special recipe with the herbs. “This is for dick-hardener,” he explains, grinning conspiratorially. He has an 80-year-old client who needs the potion by the following night, a rush order because the customer is leaving on a trip to visit his 20-year-old girlfriend. Christian is making him a gallon and a half, or about a month’s supply, which he sells for $275. Clients take one dose a day, preparing them for any occasion that might arise. “You’ll be ready when you need it,” Christian says, noting that the elixir doubles as a general strength potion. “I used to sell it to wrestlers,” he says. “The stuff costs a lot of money, but it’s worth its weight in gold.”
Christian, a 50-year-old stout, affable man, has spent most of his life performing manual labor. The evidence is there on his hands, enormous and swollen with worn fingernails, palms chapped and flaking from the cold, dry air. He currently works part-time doing maintenance at the Public Ledger Building and the Curtis Center in Center City, but the jobs are just a way to pay the bills. Christian’s hobby, passion and true calling is medicine—not the modern medicine found in hospitals and doctor’s offices, but natural, herbal-based recipes based on traditional remedies from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
He can rattle off a whole list of popular tonics he learned from old family recipes, from blood purifiers to the ever-popular colon cleanser. “It tastes like hell but it works like magic,” Christian promises. “Just make sure you’re at home when you take it. It’ll clean you out to the last grains of sand.”
Laxatives and erection drugs are one thing, but over years, Christian has come up with potions that far surpass the traditional mountain lore. He claims he’s found the key to solving a host of modern medical problems that have flummoxed doctors for decades—cures for asthma, permanent blood-sugar normalizers for diabetics, tumor dissolvers for cancer patients. He even thinks he’s hit on the solution to the biggest public-health crises of the last 30 years, a way to stop the HIV/AIDS virus square in its tracks. It sounds crazy, and maybe it is. But willing to testify on Christian’s behalf are a host of satisfied clients, customers who have taken his products, felt the results and sing the praises of the man who healed them.
Christian has spent years toiling around the security desks, back alleys and loading docks of eastern Center City, and it’s there he’s built a customer base of friends and colleagues. Eager to show off his successes and dressed up in a crisp suit for the occasion, he leads a tour of his old haunts, where it seems like there’s no one who doesn’t know him—or hasn’t tried his medicine.
Ann Brown, a receptionist at the command center at the Public Ledger Building sits behind a terminal filled with screens, phones and keyboards. Three years ago, she found out she was diabetic when her sugar crashed and she was carried out of work in an ambulance. Taking insulin and metformin in the years following, she still had trouble maintaining her sugar levels—sometimes it would soar as high as 1,000, a life-threatening condition (normal daytime levels usually fall between 80 and 120).
Then, two months ago, Christian made her a tonic she now swears by. “My sugar’s under control,” Brown says. “Right now it’s at 98.” Pleased with the results, Brown has also started taking Christian’s colon cleaner and blood purifier and says she’s never felt healthier. “I give him all the credit in the world,” she gushes.
Standing nearby, the building’s security manager, Lee West, says he also took a potion Christian made, this one for acid reflux. “The first batch wasn’t strong enough,” West admits, “but he went back and made a second batch and I didn’t have no problems since.”
Christian leaves the building through a back door and walks into a side entrance of the stately Curtis Center. He wanders through the cavernous lobby past a giant Christmas tree and finds his way to a table outside the Cooperage Cafe, where one by one people stop by to say hi and share their stories. Almost immediately, the manager of the coffee shop, Corey Newman, spots him and comes out to sit for a minute. Five years ago, when Newman, then 28, was working security at the Curtis, he’d heard rumors of Christian’s talent. Newman’s girlfriend was suffering from a bad case of asthma, requiring a breathing mask to sleep, so he was ready to try anything to help her.
“I started asking around, is this guy legit?” Newman says. He questioned Christian and was impressed with his breadth of knowledge and willingness to draw a diagram or give an anatomy lesson on the fly. “Not one question I asked him, he didn’t know anything about,” he says.
So Newman bought an asthma tonic, describing it as “a wheat germ kind of thing.” “It worked great,” he says, adding that his girlfriend no longer has to use the breathing mask. What’s more, Christian made him a diabetes potion for his girlfriend’s father, which cut back his sugar considerably.
After Newman goes back to work, Christian takes a pen and sketches a rough diagram of a set of lungs to explain the theory behind his asthma medicine. He takes on a pedagogical air as he labels the alveoli, bronchioles and other parts.
“Primarily with asthmatics, you can’t get the air in cause you can’t get the air out,” he explains, as if teaching a class. “With asthmatics you see over-inflation of the bronchus. At the same time you see narrowing of the bronchioles.”
“One part is swollen up, the other part is closing down. So what you gotta do is go in there and reverse the polarities of this. Which is what I do.”
He contrasts asthma to emphysema. “What happens is in the case of emphysema, cigarette smoke provokes the enzyme in the alveoli so instead of dissolving what would hurt it, it starts tearing holes all throughout itself,” he says. “Now a person can’t effectively expel the air.”
He finds standard solutions for lung and throat problems counterproductive at best. “Never use cough suppressants. You paralyze the nerves, and all the phlegm and mucus gets stuck down there,” Christian says. “You’re setting yourself up for pneumonia. You’re laying the groundwork for your own destruction.”
His sermon on the lungs is interrupted when an older man sits down at the table. It’s Gervis Soloman, 60, maintenance supervisor for the Public Ledger Building and one of Christian’s bosses who has also taken advantage of some homemade medicine.
In 2005, Soloman was diagnosed with stage four inoperable colon cancer. Doctors gave him six months to live. Just to prove them wrong, he says he walked around for six months before beginning treatment—chemo and radiation. The cancer had spread to his liver as well, spotted with tumors. Soloman was going to chemotherapy during the day, but says he got tired of the intervention interfering with his job. Plus, after four years and $520,000 in bills, the tumors were still there. He decided to try something new. “I told my doctor I was goin’ natural,” he says.