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Herbs

CHAPTER XLVIII

   Medical men long held and many do yet seem to hold that nature has provided remedies for disease, that there is a "law of cure." To provide remedies, instead of requiring obedience, would be to break the laws that exist. A "law of cure" would be in opposition to other laws. Broken law provides penalties. Obedience to physiological law is the condition (not the remedy) for recovery from penalties. All penalties are limited; hence, recovery becomes possible if obedience is returned to. The millions who live on the earth today who are convinced that they must have drugs with which to dose themselves continually to keep the machinery of life operating, supported in this as they are by their medical advisors, are greatly deluded. Not one of them could but discontinue this false and destructive dosage at once with distinct advantage. We know the difficulty of convincing them of this truth, but this in no wise invalidates the fact.

   No argument about the Deity having provided these things for man's use can excuse us from the results of the abuses which we deliberately or ignorantly heap upon our long-suffering body. Such an argument is specious, false, unscientific and absurd. It is not sustained by theory nor by results, neither by logic or analogy nor by experiment or experience. No argument about the necessity of drug taking has any basis in any sound principle. There is no such necessity. This dreadful delusion of the people is an insult to intelligence and a libel of nature. The very way in which organisms are made and organized upsets at once this foul and murderous doctrine. But little investigation should make this clear to everyone.

   It has long been held that somewhere in nature there is a cure for every disease, if only this can be found. In the search for cures, the vegetable, mineral and animal kingdoms have been ransacked for 2,500 years and yet no cures have been forthcoming. Both in the medical profession and outside the medical profession the belief continues to be held that the vegetable kingdom, especially those portions of it that are laden with alkaloids and glycosides, contains cures for the diseases of man.

   Nature produces a great number of poisonous plants and venomous animals. It is rare that one of these is not recommended as a medicine. Almost the whole of the herbal practice consists in the employment, as medicines, of poisonous plants. Rarely are non-poisonous plant substances thought of as remedies for disease. Sometimes, it is true, poisonous plants are regarded as foods; but on the whole, the nutritive herbs are non-toxic and the medicinal herbs are toxic. The common weed known as burdock was once recommended in America as a food and in France as a medicine. It is extremely doubtful that any plant substance that may be used as a medicine should ever be used as a food.

   It may, indeed, be truly said that every substance taken into the body which is unwholesome depraves every organ of the body in proportion to its unwholesomeness. This is as true of vegetable drugs as of mineral drugs and synthetics. When a thing is nauseous, disgusting and poisonous, we should have sense enough to keep it out of our body.

   It is folly to assert as many have done that Hygienists make no distinction between poisonous drugs and innocent medicines. By innocent medicines they mean their so-called herbal remedies, which, though often less toxic than the pharmaceutical preparations of the laboratory, are nonetheless poisonous. The so-called active principals of herbal drugs are poisons. As medicine's "best remedies" are among the most virulent poisons, drugs cannot serve nutritional needs. We know that the effects of poisons are injurious, even when they are not apparent, and the very actions that their presence occasions are evidences of their harmfulness. A "mild laxative" is a laxative only because it is injurious. Were it harmless, it would not be a laxative. This is as true of herbal laxatives as of other types. The same fact is true of herbs that fall under other classifications.

   How and when did the notion grow up that noxious and poisonous herbs that are unfit for food for man or beast are designed to restore man to health when, by repeated violations of the laws of life he has made himself sick? If the self-styled healers can find any plant possessing what they term remedial properties, which if used by a man in good health will not make him sick, we will offer no objection to its use in caring for the sick.

   The herbal practice was originally a ceremonial practice, the herbs being used in the rites and ceremonies of the shaman with no thought that they possessed any healing virtues. Medical historians are well aware of this fact, yet they have helped to create and perpetuate the fallacy that from remotest primitive times mankind has resorted to herbal medicines when ill. Indeed, several of them have attempted to establish an instinctive foundation for the resort to herbal medicines. The instinctive basis of a practice that changes with the wind and that, in almost all of its appliances offends the instincts of man, would be a joke were it not such a grim tragedy.

   We need to recognize that many of the products of nature are unfit for entrance into the human body. Even many of the plant substances that are used or that have been used as human foods contain toxic substances and their employment may prove decidedly detrimental. I need hardly remind my readers that the tobacco plant is a product of nature and that its green leaves are as appealing to the eye as the green leaves of chard. But, besides containing minerals, vitamins and high-grade proteins, it is a hot-bed of toxins, nicotine being its most abundant and most toxic ingredient. Whoever would eat a salad of tobacco leaves would probably not live to regret it.

   It is not true, as has been asserted, that when the poison has been extracted from an herb all the curative properties of the herb may then be safely taken advantage of. The alleged curative property of the herb is the poisonous quality and when this is removed, there is left only the food values of the plant. If all the poisons could be extracted from the tobacco leaf without damage to its other qualities, the leaf would form an excellent addition to a salad, as it is possessed of a rich supply of minerals and vitamins and contains superior proteins. But it would cure nothing.

   Thus, it is sound to say that not everything that is a part of nature, that is, not everything that is natural, is fit for human use. This is true whether we seek to use it as a food or as a medicine. It is also important to note that, if there is nothing in a weed or plant that is inimical to the body's welfare it will be utilized as food and there will be no so-called medicinal action. Calder says of lobelia, which we received from the Indians of North America, that "like so many plants, lobelia is treacherous in the wrong hands. In very large doses it can paralyze the heart's action. In mild doses," he says, "it relieves the spasms of asthma." He omits to add that the relief is evanescent and the asthma persists. This indicates that the herbal practice, like all other drug practices, is symptomatic and that it uses for this purpose poisons.

   People who believe in the curative power of herbs seem to think that they grow only to be steeped, compounded, desiccated, extracted, inspissated, concentrated and swallowed as medicine. Each herb is supposed to possess its own virtues and to carry healing potencies that are significantly different from those of other herbs.

   Let us consider a few of the herbal medicines that have been and are used in the treatment of the sick. In an old medical work I find a prescription for making what its author called a peristaltic persuader (a laxative ) in which two drachma of finely pulverized rhubarb was the chief active ingredient. The formula was to be made into pills, each of which would contain three grams of rhubarb. These rhubarb pills were especially recommended for "delicate females" and for children. Their agreeable flavor was supposed to make them easy for the children to take.

   Said a famous British physician of the last century: "If the bowels are constipated, they should be kept regular by a pill of rhubarb of five grains every morning." Both physicians and herbalists prescribed rhubarb as a laxative. It was also employed as a domestic remedy. A tincture was made of rhubarb and it was employed as a purgative. As a pill, rhubarb was declared to be "the most gentle and gradually operating form of the drug," while the tincture was said to be "the most immediate in its action." With all the virtues with which they invested rhubarb, it was commonly observed that the employment of both rhubarb pills and tinctures for constipation aggravated the constipation, as did all other laxatives and cathartics. For example, podophyllum, which is still employed as a laxative and which occasions griping and purging, is well known to aggravate constipation. Indeed, it should be common knowledge today that all means of coercing bowel action aggravates the condition of the bowels. Only the removal of the cause of constipation may increase bowel action without doing harm.

   Returning to rhubarb, although this was classed as a form of "mild medication," it should not be forgotten that the employment of rhubarb as a laxative was observed to occasion, even from a single dose, what was called a violent bloody flux, that is, dysentery with blood. It would surprise us to know all the evils that can and did flow from drugging with what we now regard as relatively harmless herbs. Still greater evils flow from drugging with the more virulent toxins that are used as medicines today, but we are not reduced to the necessity of choosing between the two evils. We do not have to choose the lesser of these two forms of poisoning the sick.

   It was declared to be not always easy to force physic upon a "spoiled" child. But it was said that if a rhubarb pill was pounded into a powder and then mixed with currant jelly, honey or treacle, infants and young children would take it. Certain laxatives were made "to taste exactly like ginger bread" in order to induce children to take them. Every means was employed to slip their poisons past the faithful sentinels that guard the entrance to the alimentary canal. When a thing is nauseous, disgusting and poisonous, we should have enough sense to keep it out of our body. We must learn to respect that which saves life, not that which destroys it. It is a mistake to suppose that a vegetable poison may not be as great an evil as a mineral poison. Indeed, several of them are more virulent than any known mineral. Rhubarb is not a virulent poison, but it is sufficiently toxic to occasion much sufferingnausea, vomiting, griping and violent diarrhea.

   Another example of the herbal remedies that have been popular, one that is still in use, is mandrake (podophyllum peltaturn or may apple), the roots and leaves of which are poisonous. Long employed to cure disease and thought to be especially valuable in diseases of the liver, it occasioned much griping and purging. It is an extremely bitter substance. It would appear that all bitters (among which should be listed quinine, morphine, dandelion, chocolate or cocoa, etc.) are poisonous--hence our advice not to eat "foods" that are bitter.

   As all healing power resides in the tissues of the sick individual, mandrake can cure nothing. It is simply an evil when introduced into the body of the sick, one that must be expelled. This is the meaning of the griping and purging that follow taking it. This is the means of expelling it from the domain of life. In the days of ignorance the actions of the body in expelling poisons were mistaken for the beneficial actions of the poisons. Now that we know that poisons are inert substances and do not perform these actions, there is no longer any excuse for us to make this mistake.

   We may employ mandrake as an example of the herbs that are employed to cure disease. Only poisonous herbs are thought to have medicinal qualities. If an herbal substance does not occasion actions of expulsion and resistance when taken into the body or applied to it, it is not vested with any power to cure. If the body ejects it by vomiting, expels it by diarrhea, casts it out by diuresis, excretes it by diaphoresis or in some other manner speedily expels it and, if in doing this, pain or griping or vertigo or other discomfort and physiological disturbance is caused, this is regarded as sure evidence that the herb is beneficial. If the patient that has thus been abused recovers health in spite of it, credit for the recovery is given to the herb; the self-healing power of the body is completely ignored. There is no difference in this practice from that of the regular or scientific physician who credits his patient's recovery to the curative work of his drug and ignores the body's power to heal itself.

   The obvious fact is that the regular medical practice and the irregular herbal practice are but two parts of the same system of fallacy. Herbs are not natural medicines. That herbs are as natural as stones or rattlesnakes is certain, but that they are medicines (healing agents) is a fallacy. Gather up a whole armful of herbs from the fields and creek bottoms and give them to the sick with a liberal hand and they will no more remove the cause of the patient's suffering than will the pills or bottled potions that are sold in drug stores. They no more supply any of the normal and necessary elements of health than do the drugs of the corner apothecary shop. The herbal practice is no more based on physiology and biology than is the regular drugging practice.

   Many common plants have been employed as herbal medicines and many of them are still employed from which to extract their so called medicinal qualities. The common jimson-weed, for example, is the source of stramonium. Fox glove is the source of digitalis.The medical profession borrowed this remedy from an English countrywoman herbalist who brewed fox glove and gave the tea to her patients. Members of the physio-medical school, which was almost exclusively an herbal school, spent much of their strength in bolstering the self-evident absurdity that while the drugs of all the other medical schools were poisonous, their drugs were not. The simple fact is that the drugs of all the medical schools of that time (as of the present) were and are poisons. Their pharmacopeias were catalogues of poisons. Even so mild an herb as peppermint has been known to kill and side effects have been reported to flow from its administration.

   The vegetable alkaloid reserpine (which first came to the attention of the English speaking world as rauwolfia serpentine) was first used to reduce blood pressure. Then it became a "wonder drug" in the treatment of the mentally ill. The first blush of enthusiasm was soon followed by a realization that it not only does not remedy mental disease, but that it causes a whole series of undesirable effects. This has not hindered the search for and employment of other tranquilizers, all of which have been equally disappointing and have been loaded with undesirable effects of their own. In the face of all this failure and evil it is still hoped that something really valuable may yet be found in the socalled hallucinatory drugs--peyote, mescaline, mushrooms, LSD and other such drugs to be tried. If a drug will occasion hallucinations, it must be useful in remedying mental disease. This is in keeping with the whole medical idea that in order to possess curative properties, a substance must be capable of producing disease. Herbal drugs have been called "traditional medicines," a fact which does not alter their harmful character. A Dr. Schonental of the Toxicology Research Unit of the Medical Research Council (Britain) said in an article in the New Scientist, April 16, 1965: "Toxic substances found in plants used traditionally as medicines may be responsible for some diseases prevalent in isolated and primitive communities, thought till now to have been caused by either viruses or genetic factors." He points out that many plants which have been thought to be possessed of medicinal qualities, as shown by their inclusion in herbal drugs, contain substances capable of damaging the liver.

   He thinks that immediate poisoning from the use of such plants would be quickly noticed and the plants would be avoided as a consequence, but he stated that it was found only comparatively recently that there may be a "delayed-action effect" and that, as a result, liver tumors may be produced some years after the plants have been employed. He mentioned ragwort as a plant long in use and still in use as a medicine, yet which is dangerous to use. This drug is still found in some of the textbooks and he quotes the following about it from a book published as late as 1923: "Useful in coughs, colds, influenza and catarrh of the mucous membranes generally. It gives relief in sciatica and rheumatic or gouty pains in limbs. The decoction of 1 ounce in 1 pint of water is taken in wineglassful doses as desired."

   If we substitute the phrase cumulative effects for delayed-action effects, we will probably better express the facts. It must be realized that the so-called "active principle" in all medicinal herbs is a poison. To say that diseases caused by their use are due to viruses is to use the original and true meaning of this word. It would not be correct to call them diseases of medical progress, as is now the custom, but diseases due to poisoning. As almost the whole of medical practice is a poisoning practice and has been so from Hippocratic times to the present, it is absurd to say that if a substance is found to be immediately poisonous it will be avoided.

   There are many misguided people who think that if a poison is wrapped up in a plant, it is harmless and they continue to hug this delusion in spite of the fact that many of these plants are capable of killing quickly. These people may be temporarily upset by such revelations as those made by Schonental; but they will return to their herbs with confidence after the first shock wears off because they do not realize that for a drug to result in a so-called medicinal effect, it must be a poison. The alleged medicinal effects of drugs are the efforts of the body to resist and expel them. Instead of digesting them and utilizing them as foods, they are expelled.

   There is a tendency in many quarters to laud the former employment of what are called "natural substances" as drugs, while deprecating the employment of synthetic substances. "For many years," says a magazine article, "organized medicine employed only natural elements in animal, vegetable and mineral realms for its drugs; but in the nineteenth century it began to turn to synthetic drugs."

   It is true that there has been increasing reliance on synthetic products, but there has been no total abandonment of so-called "natural substances." But the implications of the language employed, that, "natural substances," being more like the elements of the body, are less harmful or more beneficial, are false. If this were always true, and it certainly was not true in the employment of gold salts, mercury, silver, bismuth, potassium, lead, etc., from the mineral kingdom, it does not follow that because a substance is less toxic, it is, therefore, more curative. It certainly cannot be contended that the animal and vegetable substances formerly so largely relied upon were harmless or that they did not give rise to untoward, even lethal side effects.

   The venom of spiders, of bees and other insects, snake venom and similar animal toxins, which were so freely used as medicine and which are sometimes still used, cannot be thought of as harmless and beneficial substances. Vaccines and serums, now so freely employed, are of animal origin and are well known to be sources of severe damages, such as are subsumed under the rubrick anaphylaxis. Speedy death, sometimes following vaccination and inoculation, is dignified by the title, anaphylactic shock. In the past when an individual showed what is now termed unusual sensitivity to a drug, this sensitivity was called idiosyncrasy; today it is called allergy.

   There are and have been those who rationalize the employment of so-called herbal medicines by declaring them to be foods. The physiomedicalists, who thought that drugs may "sometimes provoke the organs to do good work," contended that their drugs were absorbed and became a part of the living fabric. Thus, they dressed an old doctrine in a new gown--a doctrine subversive alike of both reason and science. If their doctrine were true, fruits would be the best remedies since they are the best foods; but in no sense can foods be regarded as medicinal. Foods are nutritive substances; medicines are substances that occasion disease.

   A recent author says that, "they (herbs) are neither drugs nor poisons, but marvelous gifts of Nature herself." He attributes "healing power to them" and asserts what we know to be untrue, that this healing power "was recognized even by the most primitive peoples." He thinks that herbs are specially fruitful sources of minerals and vitamins and that "their effect we may probably ascribe to certain bitter principles which very likely sustain the alkalinity of the blood, thus aiding the combustion and elimination of the blood poisons."

   With all of this pretense that they are better foods than the nonpoisonous herbs that we regularly eat as foods, he employs them in baths, poultices, compresses, in steam baths, sitz baths and in other ways that foods are not used and in which it would be impossible for them to be used as foods. In addition to these various non-nutritive means of application, he employs them as tonics, aperients, diuretics and for various other so-called therapeutic effects. His use of them constitutes a symptomatic treatment of the sick rather than an effort to nourish his patient. He lists senna leaves among those being specially vaulable, while he thinks that camomile is the finest of all herbs. He says: "The curative virtues of these are all well recognized and firmly established." He makes teas of indiscriminate mixtures of some of the herbs he specially likes and administers what he calls a "constipation tea," a "tonic tea" and a "nerve tea."

   If herbs are really employed as foods, they will be prepared as foods and eaten as part of the meal, either as salads or in some other form in which we customarily take vegetables. They would not be given in doses to be taken at regular intervals for their alleged pharmacological actions. Certainly, when they are put into the bath water or in compresses (poultices), they cannot be digested, absorbed and assimilated. No man can claim that such employment of herbs constitutes their nutritive use. The obvious fact is that all the pretense that herbs are employed as foods is but rationalization. They are used as drugs or so-called medicines. They are not employed in health, but in sickness. Some of them are employed to reduce fever; some are employed to relieve pain; some are employed to occasion diarrhea; some are employed to occasion diuresis; others are employed to stimulate the patient and they are used in a variety of so-called therapeutic ways.

 


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