Physiomedicalists and the Eclectics
Samuel Thomson, born in New Hampshire in 1769, was the force
behind the Physiomedicalists. His early experience with orthodox
medicine turned him against the practice of bleeding and mineral-based
medicine. He believed medicine should help the body heal itself.
He used hot baths to induce sweating and herbal regimens to
purge the body and promote healing. He used native herbs, such
as black cohosh, blue cohosh, and Indian tobacco. This brought
him into opposition with the medical establishment of the day.
To protect his therapies, he patented "Thomson's Improved System
of Botanic Practice in Medicine". He then sold, for $20.00,
rights to the therapies along with some instruction. It is likely
that Thomson did not foresee the evils this would bring about.
Obtaining a patent on a medicine allowed an unscrupulous entrepreneur
to confer some legitimacy on the compound to "make a fast buck."
Alcohol, opium, cocaine, and marijuana were sometimes added
to the quack medicines.
Eclectics (Eclecticism began in 1830 and was the brain-child
of Dr. Wooster Beech) also combined Native American healing
practices and herbal remedies. They differed from the Physiomedicalists
in combining these with more orthodox techniques in the analysis
of disease. This movement was squelched when Andrew Carnegie
and John D. Rockefeller gave financial support solely to orthodox
Physiomedicalism was brought to England in 1838 by Dr. Albert
Coffin who set up a similar system of patent remedies and do-it-yourself
guides to diagnosis. Then came Wooster Beech's preaching the
Eclectic message, which caught on in the 1850's. In 1864, the
various groups merged to form the National Association of Medical
Herbalists, which continues to thrive to this day as the National
Institute of Medical Herbalists-the oldest formalized body of
specialist herbal practitioners in Europe.
Traditional herb practice has always combined herbs, viewing
the whole as greater than the parts. The movement to identify
active ingredients and to isolate them and recreate them synthetically
began in the 18th century. But these chemicals display quite
different properties from the original herb in its whole form.
In the transition from the use of plants to clinical pills,
modern medicine has lost the art of combining herbs to modify
toxicity. Also, modern medicine does not use whole plants, which
contain other ingredients that help reduce the risk of bad side
effects and work together with the active chemical to heal.
first, drugs could only be obtained from the plant, but later
the chemical structures of the substances were identified, isolated,
and made synthetically. One of the first modern drugs to be
isolated was morphine. White crystals were extracted from the
crude opium poppy. Similar techniques were used to produce aconitine
from monkshood, atropine from deadly nightshade, and quinine
from Peruvian bark. These are very powerful alkaloids. In 1852,
salicin, the active ingredient in willow bark, was artificially
made for the first time. Later it was changed to reduce severe
effects on the stomach, and in 1899, Bayer launched the first
less than 100 years extracts have filled the shelves of pharmacists.
These extracted chemicals can be extremely potent and cause
side effects that could never be dreamed of when the whole plant
was used. Indian snakeroot, Rauwolfia serpentina, has
been used for centuries for snakebite, anxiety, and fevers.
In the West, it was used as a tranquilizer, for high blood pressure,
and in the treatment of schizophrenia and psychosis. In 1947,
reserpine, an alkaloid from snakeroot was marketed as a cure
for hypertension under the name Serpasil. It had side effects
that included severe depression and abnormal slowing of the
heartbeat. In the '50s, a new drug was developed from the herb.
It is restricted to prescription-only in the US, but in Europe
and Asia, the whole plant is still taken as a soothing tranquilizer.
The above trend in medicine is the norm today. Few of us remember
another time. It hasn't taken long for most herbal knowledge
to have fallen by the wayside. It would be nice to think that
the revival in interest in herbs today is because people have
come to realize the importance of herbs in healing. Unfortunately,
that is not the case for most of us. Except for some lucky souls
whose knowledge of herbs and their uses has been passed down
form generation to generation, we will need to hit the books
and learn from the plants all over again. It is in part the
insurance companies that have begun funding alternative medicine
who have been an impetus in this movement. And the media and
marketers are also in part responsible for this rebirth in herbal
knowledge. Now that the interest has been rekindled, it is important
that those interested in using herbs educate themselves so they
won't be swept up in the marketing blitz that sometimes distorts
the way herbs work. It seems we've come full circle!
about Herbal Lore