Herbal Medicine: Phytotherapy
By: Herbert M. Shelton
Hygienic Review August 1978
The worst type of blindness is intellectual
blindness—"There are none so blind as
those who can see and won't."
Modern man likes to think of himself as
"enlightened" despite the fact that his
intellectual equipment contains a
preponderant admixture of ancient errors
The survival in modern times, of the ancient herbal practice is a case in point.
Here we have an ancient method of treating the sick that has as its sole claim
to superior merit, the fact that it is less lethal in its effects than the virulent
poisons employed by the modern physician.
The two superstitions are of a piece and it is not to be forgotten that "modern
medicine" is a direct outgrowth of the ancient herbal practice.
The physician regards his present practice as an improvement on the ancient
practice; the herbalist or "natural therapist" looks upon "modern medicine" as
a perversion and departure from what he likes to think of as the "natural cure".
It is difficult to differentiate between the two superstitions.
Herbalists attempt to rationalize their herbal practices by discussing their use
in the light of modern nutritional science. As an example of this, one writer on
"natural therapeutics" says that: "as an aid to the natural cure, some positively
beneficial herbs and herbal juices may be used.”
These should be such as are locally available and of such nature as to make
up for the known deficiencies of the sick—the various organic minerals and
These are not strictly medicines; they must be considered as part of the
curative diet. If the herbs so used are nonpoisonous, they are true foods; but
it will be observed by the student of these practices, that nonpoisonous herbs
do not give rise to the alleged physiological actions that they seek to produce.
Only poisonous herbs are considered "medicinal".
I frequently find the herbal practice designated a "Nature Cure" method. That
herbs, all of them, the nonpoisonous as well as the poisonous ones, are
natural is true.
But they are no more natural than mercury and arsenic. All that is, is natural.
The bite of a rattlesnake or the sting of the nettle are both natural. The venom
of the cobra is as natural as the opium of the poppy. A stroke of lightning is as
natural as the digitalis of foxglove. The eruption of a volcano with its
poisonous gases is as natural as the prussic acid of the bitter almond.
The cyclone and tidal wave are as natural as the nicotine of tobacco. That a
thing is natural does not mean that it has any normal relationship to the living
organism. It does not belong in the human body merely because it is natural.
The various molds from which the antibiotics are derived are as natural as any
herb that grows. It is objected that the medical man does not use the whole
herb, but extracts of the herb, I reply that the herbalist uses teas, infusions,
extracted juices, and in other ways, employs, not the whole herb, but extracts
But I deny that his use of the whole herb is any more rational than his use of
infusions and juices made from the herb.
One could easily get the idea, after listening to the fulsome eulogy lavished
upon aloe by certain of the herbalists, that, this plant is some kind of king or
queen of the plant world and a real wonder drug among the medicinal herbs.
A genus of plants of the lily family, of which there are several species, the dried
juices of the leaves of several of these species provides the herbalist and the
physician with a laxative. An aloetic is defined as "a medicine" containing
Time was, and this was in the not distant past, when aloetic pills were very
popular and were prescribed by physicians in a variety of so-called diseases.
It is difficult to understand why so much praise is lavished on this "laxative"
Any other laxative would do as much mischief; indeed, some of the more
poisonous herbs are purgatives and drastics.
Some of the self-styled "natural therapists" never tire of extolling the virtues of
the simple "home remedies" by which they mean herbs, that were employed in
the past, and which they tell us were "harmless".
The so-called "medicinal" herbs were not harmless. Many of them, on the
contrary, can be deadly, as deadly as any drug the physicians now use.
None of them removed the cause of the patient's trouble; all of them were
directed at the suppression of symptoms; all of them gave rise to evils of their
The herbal practice was the original drugging practice and only those drugs
were used that occasioned marked defensive actions on the part of the body.
They were given to produce vomiting, purging, diuresis, diaphoresis and
expectoration, to reduce fever, relieve pain, allay coughing, to produce
blistering, as sedatives, stimulants, narcotics, etc., etc.
They are still employed for the same purposes, despite all the loose talk about
their alleged richness in minerals and vitamins. Few of them have ever been
analyzed to determine their mineral and vitamin content. That they are
possessed of these food factors, as all plants are, is not denied; that they are
superior sources of such nutrients has not been proved.
Certainly a drug that induces vomiting and one that occasions purging does
not yield up any minerals and vitamins to the sick organism.
The sick organism is suffering from poisoning, not from deficiency.
Deficiencies do exist, but the so-called deficiency diseases are not numerous.
The acutely sick patient is as unable to digest and assimilate medicinal herbs,
as he is to digest and assimilate the nonpoisonous herbs.
The presence of poisons in herbs renders their digestion all but impossible.
Imagine trying to digest a salad of fresh green tobacco leaves!
I have taken the following examples of the "medicinal" use of herbs from but
one issue of a magazine devoted to what its editor and publisher and its
contributors all agree in calling "Nature Cure" and "Natural Therapeutics".
Were I to take time to go through several issues of this same journal or to go
through several issues of several similar journals and take out the great wealth
of similar examples that could easily be collected I could fill a book with them.
The few that I have offered here, however, will be enough to reveal to the
reader that the herbal practice is not a nutritional program but a drugging
Herbs are used to suppress symptoms and not as a means of supplying
nutritive deficiencies. The fact is, as every student of the subject is well aware,
that the herbal practice antedates our knowledge of nutritional deficiencies by
several hundreds of years and grew, not out of any effort to supply the
nutritive needs of the body, but out of the assumed necessity of driving evil
spirits out of the sick.
Under the spell of this ancient etiology, the more of nausea, griping, purging
and convulsions a drug occasioned the more effective was it supposed to be
in exorcising the malignant imp that had taken up housekeeping in the body of
Spikenard may serve as our first example of the way in which herbs are used
as nutritive substances. This herb is described as a "good stimulant,
digestant, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, and a good antispasmodic and
nervous tonic in hysteria, chorea, convulsions and epilepsy".
In India this herb is said to be good in "leprosy, old fever, internal heat,
diarrhea, diseases of the eye, asthma, dyspnoea or difficulty of breathing,
Penicillin will have to move over and make room for a new wonder drug. All
the "therapeutic" classes, into which this drug falls, prove it to be poisonous.
Certainly none of these alleged "medicinal" qualities have anything to do with
nutrition. Like all herbal "medication" the use of this herb is purely
Not only is the use designed to "treat the symptoms as they arise" but its use
is on the allopathic principle. As an antispasmodic it is used to suppress
spasm, not to remove cause.
After talking of the vitamins and minerals in herbs, they offer us pastes made
from herbs that are applied externally. It is a carminative. It is a good
If all this has anything to do with nutrition, I fail to understand the relationship.
Of another plant we read that: "the leaves are astringent, detergent and
deodorant. The flower is refrigerant and soporific. The seed is deodorant. The
bark is astringent."
What have vitamins and minerals to do with all these effects?
Here is another herb of which it is said: "its nutritional value is very little." But
it is declared to be a "beneficial stomachic. It aids digestion. It is given even to
feverish patients." It is said to be useful in asthma, bronchitis, consumption,
fever, dullness of digestive fire, rheumatism, paralysis, etc.
It is an expectorant, diuretic, and carminative. Its seed is a drastic purgative.
Its alleged therapeutic actions are evidences of its poisonous character.
Here is another herb that is said to be "cathartic, anthelmintic, aphrodisiac,
lithontriptic." It is useful in "tapeworm, chronic skin disease and hookworm." It
is said to kill the tapeworm. Another herb is described as a "good purgative"
and causes small threadworms to "come out".
Here is another herb that is described as "sedative" in its effect and is advised
in cases of irritation in the digestive tract. It is said to form a coating between
the lining of the intestines and the food and feces, thus protecting the surface
of the stomach and intestine from irritation.
Here is another herb that is described as "a mild astringent, refrigerant, diuretic,
demulcent and emollient." It is taken internally and applied externally. It is
"useful" in a wide variety of diseases, ranging all the way from headache (in
this complaint it is applied to the forehead so that the minerals and vitamins
may be absorbed through the cranium, I suppose), biliousness, dysentery,
scalds, burns and skin diseases, to "syphilis". Certainly this herb should be
kept in every "medicine" cabinet in the land. It is almost as "good" as
A self-styled "natural therapist" who uses and advocates a great medley of
herbs, many of them highly poisonous, so far forgets the basic tenets of his
herbal practice as to parrot (repeat without understanding) the Hygienic
principle that people are sick because of their errors in living and that they can
escape from their ills only by correcting their ways of life.
He goes so far as to repeat the Hygienic teaching that responsibility for
disease rests squarely upon the shoulders of the sick and suffering and that
responsibility for recovery rests upon the same shoulders.
After he has repeated these Hygienic teachings, he offers his readers a great
array of herbal "remedies".
Can he give herbs to stop sexual excesses and abuses; will herbs correct
gluttony; will they cause the patient to control his emotional life or to secure
more sleep; will they render white bread adequate or make unclean living
safe? What have herbs to do with right and wrong living? He speaks of the
necessity for making "amends for past transgressions". Perhaps the herbal
"remedies" will make amends.
Too many of the "natural therapists" are trying the impossible task of riding
two horses at once, the horses going in opposite directions. The mental
gymnastics and logical somersaults that they perform in trying to reconcile
their two opposite courses of action fill all rings of a five-ring circus.
But their antics are neither amusing nor entertaining. To be intelligent and
informed, these things are saddening.
Here we have a large group of men, represented in almost all parts of the
world, who have hibernated in antiquity and who seem unable to free
themselves from fallacies that were born in the fecund brain of the ancient
Physically, they live in the second half of the twentieth century; intellectually
they are with the cave man.
By: Herbert M. Shelton
Article: Herbal Medicine — Phytotherapy