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A trip to Williamsburg, Virginia is always a pleasurable get away. If any of you readers have not been there, I recommend a trip in early spring when the tourists are few and the flowers are just beginning to bloom. While there last month, I paid a visit to the apothecary and noticed a little book entitled, "Every Man His Own Doctor or The Poor Planter's Physician." This seventy-page monograph, printed in Williamsburg and AnnapolHerbsis in 1736, provided a source of "plain and easy means for persons to cure themselves of all, or most of the distempers, and with very little charge, the medicines being chiefly of the growth and production of this country."
I read with interest some of the cures and suggested remedies of this beginning of the Age of Reason and tried to get a perspective of what was useful and what might merely be thought useful. We suffer from not being able to tell the difference due to the limits of our training and experience and we often have to wait generations to be truly able to separate the two. I thought a review of this book and its remedies might be instructive considering the recent 60 Minutes or 20/20 shows where they discussed the deaths related to individuals using herbal products containing ephedrine.
Bear with me as I quote this little treatise and make my droll comments as much that was true in the seventeenth century is still true today.
"I publish this treatise to lead the poorer sort into the pleasant paths of health; and when they have the misfortune to be sick, to show them the cheapest and easiest ways of getting well again.
"Our country is unhappily subject to several very sharp distempers. The multitude of marshes, swamps and great waters, send forth so many fogs and exhalations, that the air is continually damp with them. This, in spite of all our precautions, is apt to shut up the pores . . . proceeding to fevers, coughs, quinsies, pleurisies, and consumptions, with a dismal trail of other diseases." (I remember when my family moved out of town to a house on the South River, many couldn't understand why anyone would want to live on the waterfront. It's marshy, humid, damp, everything gets mildewed, full of insects, mosquitoes, and mice.)
"Certainly nothing can be more melancholy, than to have so many poor people perish, purely for want of using timely means for their preservation. They neglect to take any remedy till their case is grown desperate, and death begins to glare them in the face." (The same is true today. Often people say to me when introduced, "I'm glad I don't need to see you." I have long since stopped responding back, "I don't know how you get by without seeing a chiropractor.” Unless you like suffering the "usual aches and pains" and giving up doing the things that you used to enjoy doing because of "old age." It is true that the population is getting sicker and sicker before they see their physician, but it is not due to lack of remedies. As a child, I suffered severely from allergies. All the prescription medications that I took then are now available as nonprescription items. There are so many over-the-counter remedies available today, and people take them as freely as breathing. After all, since they are advertised on T.V. and all the magazines, they must be safe.)
"They consider not, that a moderate skill may recover a patient in the beginning of a distemper, while he has the strength to go through all the necessary operations, when the whole College would not be able to save him, after his spirits have sunk, and all the principles of life near extinguished . . . Indeed, some would be glad of assistance, if they did not think the remedy near as bad as the disease: for our doctors are commonly so exorbitant in their fees, whether they kill or cure, that the patient had rather trust to his constitution, than run the risk of beggaring his family." (Certainly health care today is not cheap. As a general rule, however, chiropractic care is. I remember the comment of a practice consultant back in the early '80's saying, "The reason insurance companies don't want to include chiropractic coverage is because it's too cheap. If more people went to chiropractors regularly, and they felt good and stayed healthy, and it only cost them $500 a year, why would they be inclined to spend thousands on health insurance?)
Let's take a look at one of the eighteenth century recommendations for a cough, "which is the foundation of many bad distempers, and therefore should be taken care of as soon as possible. It may be cured in the beginning with riding moderately on horseback every day." (Now this is a doubly good remedy. For one thing it showed you were of good station in life, being wealthy enough to own a horse. Secondly, an added benefit was that it assisted the development of a gentleman's calf, which often was pleasing to the ladies' eye. Night riding was discouraged, not only because of the night air, but also because the roads weren't very good. Riding today is still considered a healthy form of exercise with it being taught to handicapped children as a method of improving their coordination and body awareness.) And taking a little Ground Ivy Tea sweetened with Syrrup of Horehound at night when you go to bed. (I can't speak about ivy, but horehound is well a known expectorant and will cause perspiration when taken hot, a laxative when taken in large doses.) "But in case it be violent, it will be proper to bleed eight ounces. (Blood-letting was a common remedy used all to frequently and freely in those days. I don't recommend this.) In the mean while, you must use a spare and cooling diet, without either flesh or strong drink. (It is still a good recommendation if one has bronchial problems to drink plenty of fluids or eat more water-filled foods, which does not include meats, as most people are somewhat dehydrated.) Wash every day in cold water, and very often your feet."
Doesn't sound too bad, does it? But if your cough should turn to consumption, "I would advise the patient to shave under the arms and apply strong poultices. Let him chew sassafras root every morning fasting. I would likewise entreat him, before he goes to bed to take 3 pills made of turpentine and deers dung in equal quantities. . . The way to prevent this wasting disease is never to suffer a cough to dwell in you; but bleed in time, and purge gently once a week."
How about colick? This "begins with a grievous pain in the bowels; and by being neglected, fixes a length in the pit of the stomach. The patient frequently vomits everything he swallows, and can hardly go to stool, even with the help of purging medicines. . . I would recommend this certain and easy remedy: let him leave off all strong, windy and fermented liquors, and drink nothing but water, enriched with a brown toast. To force a passage, you must take 2 or 3 spoonfuls of bear oil (now that'll clean out your gall bladder), which will seldom fail; or else drink a quarter of a pint of decoction of peach leaves with 2 spoonfuls of syrrup of peach blossoms."
If you have the dry-gripes (like dry heaves), which "blessed be god, are much rarer. This is the cruellest kind of colick. If the previous remedy for colick has failed, then you must submit to a Tobacco Glyster, performed by blowing the smoke through a pipe into the fundament." (Phillip Morris fear not. There is still a future for your products!)
The use of herbal remedies as healing agents has been practiced by every race in every land on the face of the earth. Early man by means of trial and error and accidents, found that certain roots, barks, fruits or seeds possessed properties of healing. Many learned scientists have bitterly criticized, laughed at, and even pitied some of these primitive cultures for their 'stupidity' and lack of knowledge of scientific patent medicines. Medical experts are now taking a more honest and critical look at some of these 'primitive' cures. As our 'modern' antibiotics are losing their efficacy (You can't fool Mother Nature. Bacteria can evolve much faster than we can create poisons. Microorganisms have a function on this earth which they will perform for millenia.), researchers are taking to the jungles and our backyards to seek medicinal plants. Probiotics will hopefully replace antibiotics. And although the obstacle for developing herbal remedies is still there (drug companies can't patent herbs), it seems to be being pushed aside as the courts are allowing biotech companies to patent genetically engineered plants. So be on the look out for new varieties of once ancient herbal remedies.
If you are currently seeking herbal remedies, be sure to buy from reputable companies with quality products. Not all extracts are of the same purity. And not all plants are the same. Many plants go under the same common name, but different scientific name. Proper genus and species identification can mean the difference between a helpful herb and a poison. Chiropractic in its purest form does not include herbal remedies, as a chiropractor's focus is on the proper functioning of the nervous system. So, if you are not getting full benefit from your herbal or nutritional products, it may be because your nervous system is not coordinated sufficiently to allow proper absorption or utilization. Remember, if yours is not a medical problem, it just may have a chiropractic solution.