There is a lot that can be studied with the history of medicine.  My studies focus on the uses of plants in medicine, the history of “irregular,” alternative or complementary medicine, and the various cultural roots and personal upbringings related to how and why these different methods of healing were discovered and/or became well-known.

The unique thing about my research in this area is that I tend to cover these topics quite differently than how it has been traditionally researched, analyzed, reviewed and then written about or taught by medical historians.  During my earliest years of studying medical history, the oldest members of this profession were famous due to their studies about the parts of medical history I like to review as forms of “quackery”, methods to be mocked, made fun of, or otherwise set apart from regular medicine due to their lack of authenticity and the ways their claims were made and supported.  With time I realized that there were two angles at which medicine reviewed its own history.  Regular medicine researchers were unwilling  to remove the cultural prejudice-related interpretations their stories or writings were providing outside readers by admitting that even though these methods being practiced are termed “quackery”, that this term is highly prejudicial and developed by specialists that are often equally responsible for generating some forms of error in medicine and medical understanding.  An MD who bloodlets and then terms the non-lancing herbalist a quack, is just as responsible for the overall ineptness medicine had for the time as does the misunderstanding of science as a whole.  No one is really to blame for this problem and no one is singularly responsible for its inabilities to perform better.

As recently as a decade or two ago, I attended meetings held by regular or allopathy physicians who a century earlier might have termed the non-bleeding professions as “quackery,” and their own “true medicine.” Pushing aside their own problems for the time, such a strong political movement that has prevailed against non-allopaths has continued since the Civil War. These movements were effective enough to result in a rewriting of medical licensure and legalization practices, making it more important to meet the status quo requirements than practicing safe medicine. Even when such a method of judgment was highly subjective, opinionated, and most importantly, time-sensitive, little could be done.  This is kind of what we are reminded of when we see those old advertisements that display the icon of a “healthy physician” during the 1950s, with a BMI>25  and smoking cigarettes.   This same solicitor of health told you your diabetes was due to your diet type, or your lipids problem were due only to your diet–something now that physicians have tried to change their minds about, dropping the mention of cholesterol in exchange for the more accurate LDL-HDL statements, admitting very slightly that ‘oh, by the way, we made a mistake, we actually should of said it was your LDL and HDL levels and not at all that cholesterol intake on its own’.   The medical world is often the last to recognize its own misunderstandings about health and physiology, or its own mistaken ways of treating a particular malady.  In the 1730s, a women who had evil or horrible thoughts was responsible for her child’s deformity, not the environment that she lived in taking in the essences of a nearby spermaceti or apothecary lab rich in heavy metal based ores use to produce numerous alchemical contributions to the industries.   The scrotal cancer a chimney sweep got was due to his personal habits, not his job.  The lung conditions miners experienced were due more to the same events that caused other patients’ cases of tuberculosis.  The relationship of cause and effect is not always something that practitioners of medicine are always experts with when it comes to understanding the reason for a disease or illness.


In the medical community education setting, herbal medicine is not something commonly taught, and will never be anything that an MD can be an expert in unfortunately, until he/she learns this trade professionally and on her own and can fairly compare the activities of coca leaf to cocaine in its pure form, the digitalis leaf to the digitoxin concentrates, or the GI versus IV use of echinacea or its purified extract, only one of which effectively blocks amanita poisoning within the hepatocyte.  Only an expert physician today would know why Carters Little Liver Pills worked effectively as a laxative, but were more effective as cancer drugs, unfortunately overlooked due to the more popular used of mustard toxins, or could tell you how a snake bite remedy like scullcap became a seizure remedy, or why plantain is a sanative remedy, not a sanitative remedy.

unfortunately, the materials presented to students are usually both subjective as well as objective, too often with the former greater than the latter.  As examples of how little even the most expert of botanic educators are learned in, ask the simple questions:   how was Culpeper’s book on herbal medicine first printed?  was Culpeper a Christian or Not?  How much of a puritan was he about his “faith”?  Did he follow astrological tradition instead of relying upon religious reasoning to produce his medicines, like his herbal suggests, or did he  try to make use of both?    When you look into Culpeper’s history and read all of his writings, you get a new interpretation of just who he was and how this related to his community practices and behaviors.


Culpeper was a Christian Astrologer, a member of a social group established to promote the Christianization of New World Indians, and a common ‘new age’ thinker for the time.  He wrote about the trinity of medicine, as both a religious and natural philosophy concept.  His great herbal medicine book had to be published post-humously, by his wife but taken advantage of by the local printer they had already befriended and published the first rendering of Culpeper’s books, without his wife’s permission. The reason why Culpeper’s wife had to communicate with Nicolas’s spirit in order to publish the true herbal is made clear by the foreward in his early writings.  Soonafter Nicolas Culpeper’s death, another printer who obtained or had a copy of these manuscripts published them without  Culpeper’s wife’s permission.  To counter this publishing of her husband’s work–his wife claimed her version was in fact the only authentic version that exists, supported by the same claim made by her husband as it appears in the forward, before his spiritual departure from the present macrocosm.  As part of this message, Nicolas informs her of the importance of the content of this book and its importance as his final truths.

Unfortunately, I have found medical history to often be a reiteration of past scholars’ findings and philosophy, including conclusions and culturally defined criticisms, each of these restructured slightly to meet the contemporary expectations of medical history scholars.  This means that the definition of quackery is the same, although slightly modified through the little bits of cultural acceptance of past practices now taking place, such as herbal medicine use, the importance of exercise (in the past gymnastics therapy), water cure, and nutrition therapy.  For the most part, quackery is still quackery, even though the mountebanks of the past, are not equivalent to the alternative healers of the present.  Whereas in the past, a mountebank made claims based on a patent remedy, often in conflict with the teachings of regular physicians, the present mountebanks are more the untrained distributors and sales representatives promoting unique cure opportunities, not the educated herbalist or therapist who is better instructed in their practice and its applications than most regular physicians.  Today’s alternative health practitioners are much like the past midwives, learned and experienced, just not as book smart.  Of course, this doesn’t pertain to all doctors and their counterparts, it is meant to point out the fluidity and ever-changing logic that this incriminating form of human behavior is capable of undertaking.  The conclusion drawn in these cases are subjective and temporally sensitive, not objective and set in stone.


Adrien Albert, SUNY Stony HSC.  His first classes were on the impacts of toxins in the environment, including as essential agents with special effects of metabolic processes.  His most courageous, least mentioned writing is his study on the gas-producing chemicals in certain plants, especially legumes.  Toxicology was his specialty.  ‘Selective toxicity’ was a term he pretty much invented, and which I took courses on during the years to come, and taught classes in for decades to come.

This kind of interpretation has led to some interesting changes in the sharing of knowledge in medical schools.  In the past,  this knowledge was one of the most important parts of the lab and lecture experience of pharmacology as it was taught by some of the country’s first pharmacy schools.  By the 1980s, plants and medicine and the teachings of medical philosophy were left to rest as educational material for physicians to engage in, and more a topic for anthropologists and sociologists to learn as part of their professional training.  How this impacted people like me, interested in what these old-timers had to say and how truthful these claims might be, required we take no side and scout out the answers to these questions on our own.  The only way I could, as a 1980s medical student, review this topic in the medical school setting was to research this matter as a history of medicine topic, and so I became a “medical historian.”

Over the years I have learned that medical history itself began as an offshoot or special research topic adjunct to the teachings of regular or allopathic medicine.  This preconception of medical history as some sort of  topic subservient to medicine penetrates most if not all of the writings that exist with this topic.  This is readily apparent with how MDs review alternatives, which they view as not the most correct form of thinking and often, quite the opposite, the worst most possible way to think or go when it comes to self-healing practices.  This kind of professional judgment is made by those with partial training, partial knowledge and a great deal of historical writings-related support for these claims that are made.  This is kind of like the European physician telling the Oriental physician how to best find his or her acupuncture sites based on modern knowledge about how the nerves leave and travel parallel to the spinal column.



Dr. Daniel Fox, my Mentor while I was in medical school, engaged in medical history research focused on “alternative health care traditions”.  His most important impact on public health was in 1989 when he took a stance on the side of the public when official began directing the blame for AIDS on individuals from the Caribbean migrating to the United States. Under pressure for his refusal to make a public statement, he left the medical school and took on Chief Editor’s position with Milbank Quarterly. (see http://www.improvingpopulationhealth.org/blog/2011/04/acos_and_pop_health.html)

To the regular writers writing about alternatives, the roots of their thinking began with the problem of quacksalvers or “quacks” during the middle ages and renaissance Period.  These individual made claims about a particular method of medical practice that was not status quo, and even if it was healthier to perform than some of the “barbaric” practices of regular medicine about this time (bleeding, blistering, cupping, purging, bone-breaking, and submission to enemas), it was still not status quo.  The result of these personal and political differences was typically severe chastisement by the principal “experts” in the field for time.  As examples, if during the 15th and 16th centuries f Royalty did not support your preachings, then you could be labeled a mountebank or “quack,”  and during the 17th and 18th centuries, a particular class of physicians not supported by Royal guidance and leadership could still be uniquely allowed to be in charge of their own conclusions and determine if their methods were right or wrong, and if they conformed to popular culture and religion or not.  In essence, this part of the history of “irregular” healing practices was very much exemplified by what those with little knowledge of their own practice in a modern sense could do to those who knew even less.  In the end, knowledge and faithfulness to the status quo almost always outweighed correctness.

Now this is not a criticism of medicine, its practices, or its paradigms as a profession devoted to providing health care.  Instead it is a statement that implies rightfully that todays best practitioners, using the most up-to-date methods of trying to treat something, could very well in the next century become labelled as practitioners whom we consider “untrained”, “unlearned” and completely wrong in whatever methods they were using to try to heal a particular problem.  Today’s MDs may very well become tomorrow’s “quacks” to many onlookers reading into their history, but this history may ne be retold as an attempt to find out how to treat a particular problem, often to little or no avail.  Instead we are taught this part of medical history as an attempt, or “the best attempt possible” made to try to better a sick person’s life and life experience.   In many cases, the old-time “quacks” or alternative healers that we learn about were no more correct than their medical profession allopathic onlookers.  The medical historian never really makes note, even in passing, of the cultural prejudice and predefined statements of right and wrong that very much make up the bulk of their observations, comments and criticisms.    This is not so much the case with sociological medical historians as it is with practicing, professionally trained MD historians, but it is still an issue when it comes to reviewing the past medical history writings that exist.  We learn best about this interplay of politics with the practice of medicine and its legal history when we look at the history of a hospital providing three forms of healing–homeopathy (philosophically the favored treatment modality at this site), eclectic medicine, and allopathy.  At this early version of a teaching hospital near Cincinnati, Ohio, it was the nuns who decided to enable all forms of potential cure to be practiced, but with the wards apparently empty for one of these groups, it took the local court and attorneys to force the hospital to shut down its other wards, leaving the patients with nowhere else to go but to be bled once again.

Medical history does have its cultural prejudice that pretty much defines most of its research topics and the way in which they should be heading, the desired findings and results of these studies, and how these results should be worded in a final report.  Yet, medicine isn’t always what its “quacked up to be” one might say.  Medicine is an ever-changing philosophy of mostly scientifically based processes and procedures that on occasion get it right, and when they make the proper conclusions the disease or problem they are treating gets resolved, allowing other unsolvable diseases and dilemmas to now take their place.  In the best of situations, regular medicine is the best option one has to pursue when dealing with a problem or condition, in the worst of situations, medicine is just as wrong as its counterparts.

When reviewing the history of medicine, the only way to really understand the methods of practice being initiated, one has to somehow review the practice of medicine and forget everything regular medicine and science have taught you.  As a historian, this is much easier to do since the knowledge of medicine itself doesn’t get in the way of you training and integration of intellectual concepts.  Physicians and other medically trained professions have to take a further step in initiating their reviews of history.  The have to accept the fact that regular  medicine was very much in error during the time period that they are researching, and may not have even offered the best of all options for the patient to choose from.  If possible, they have to also forget everything they know as “truths” in the modern sense and try not to include any of this thinking at first in their study of some practice method or technique.


The most common errors physicians back then and now make with regard to alternative healing is well-evidenced by the modern takes of herbalism.  Physicians often use philosophy and personal judgements to determine whether or not a particular plant is first, okay to use, and second, might even work.  The first issue pertains to the toxicity of the herb to the individual, for example would you want to prescribe a women expecting a child to take Veratrum for some sort of heart or nervous condition?  No, Veratrum causes teratogenesis in livestock.  Would you want to give a person with some autoimmune disease something like Echinacea?  Again, the answer is no, for the Echinacea, if traditional philosophy is right, could excite the wrongs part of an immune reaction and exacerbate the case or condition.  Superficial knowledge is what makes these regular healers attempting to use alternative methods of treatment deadly hospital bedside visitors.

Likewise, when the medically trained individual looks at a recipe from the past, he/she likes to try to put it into some sort of modern medical sense.  He/She likes to assume for the moment that assuming it worked, then why in the modern sense is it working?  During the 1830s botanic physicians took on this very same assumption-based review process.  They would try to decipher why the Indian snakebite remedy worked for a condition that in their thinking had nothing to do with snakebites.  In this way we had a physician convert snakebite-induced convulsions and semi-paralysis signs and symptoms based thinking into the possibility that the plants had some sort of miraculous effect on the nervous system, and so was born the use of Scutellaria (Scullcap) as a nervine , or an effect of muscular activity and the cell activity associated with muscles, and so was born the smooth muscle relaxant theory for Caulophyllum (Black Cohosh).

Sometimes, it is how we interpret and bring together traditional medical concepts into some modern sense of understanding that is the only reason we apply a plant for medicine in a specific way for a specific medical condition.  But as an extensive review past medical practice and teachings should show us, most of the history of medicine consists of physicians trying to find answers to questions they are concerned with about issues which they have a limited understanding of.   Both medicine and reviewing its history has this problem.  When we don’t know what the historically important practitioner knew when we judge him or her as writers, we are only adding to a collection of knowledge certain types of information that are only valuable for as long as that paradigm persists.

I like to state this from the beginning about my own coverage of medical history.  At times I too like to do as the historians do and speculate about past practices beginning with an assumed, unstated assumption that perhaps this method works. (My own extensive reviews of plant medicines and the evolution of these chemicals in plants exemplifies this.)   I do this by redefining the underlying parts of the methods being employed, but not the entire method itself.  I look at an herbal formula and say ‘perhaps this worked because of the ____ in it and we know this about _____’.  What we ‘know’ is only what we as individuals think we know, based on our upbringing; this piece of knowledge we call ‘truth’ is very likely only partially correct, and will be correct only for the time being, until its replacement arrives.  Researching the history of medicine is more a study of philosophy and its applications to medicine, than it is a study of medicine as a pure science.


The evolution and history of ophthalmic and ophthalmic-related medicines in plants. 1988-1989.


The history of medicine in English, Dutch, French, Swedish and Spanish settlements in the New World. A review of the various primary and secondary writings on this aspect of North American history insights into Native American-colonial medical history and philosophy. Explorers/Journal Writers reviewed: Dr. VandenBoecken (1620), Jasper Danckaerts (1667), Adrian Van der Donck (1690), Dutch-Spanish War Colonel Barentus Van Kleeck (1712), etc.  War-related practice: the pre-war manuscript of Dr. Cornelius Osborn, Revolutionary War Surgeon (1768), the Fishkill barracks materia medica (War years), the pre- and post-war manuscript of Dr. Stephen Thorne (ca. 1775 – 1790).  1992-1994.

New France, French Canadian Medicine and the unique Materia Medica.  A review of the New France series for information pertaining to medical practices, from approx. 1595 – 1720.  The most important concepts pulled from this sizeable series of writings (72 vols), includes popular conceptions at the time regarding various Indian medical beliefs and practices (shamanic and non-shamanic), the perceptions of New France missionary writers on the herbal medicines present and available for use at the time (including the religious symbolism of their shapes and form), and important insight into the medicine used by the Church Hospital (l’hopitals or l’hotels) founded in the latter years of the 16th century in the Quebec area.  This includes specifics about their materia medica of this hospital, with ingredients more reminiscent of the 13th century nun’s hospitals commonly used in the dark and middle ages in European medical history.  This entire series of New France writings provides valuable information, which to this date is in desperate need of cataloguing and comrpehensive review.  It provides use with value insight into both upper New York medical history, as well as the history of 16th centuiry medicine as it was practiced between the late 16th and early 18th centuries of fur trade and exploration in North American history.  1993-5.

Electric Cure: Colonial and early post-colonial electric healing traditions. A review of the philosophical and scientific basis for medical traditions established between the 17th and 19th centuries. From the Dutch discovery of the Leyden’s Jar to the development of early nineteenth century electrochemical salt-and-water generated battery and galvanic devices. Research is focused on the Connecticut-New Jersey-Pennsylvania-New York area, with most biographical coverage pertaining to Hudson Valley/Lower NY practices and the historically important initiators of electric and magnetic healing practices in the Valley, from 1600 to 1850.  1994-5.

The history of medicine and plant use by colonial and 19th century trappers and explorers. An exploration of the roots of Indian medicine, Thomsonianism and early Reformed or Eclectic medicine. The roots of Thomsonianism are in the local medical history for the Vermont-New Hampshire-Connecticut area.  To at least one mid to late 19th century journal editor  for one of the alternative healing faiths brought about due to Thomsonianism, the beliefs practice by Thomson were already common place and simply put into writing in a much simpler fashion by Venetian writer Joseph Townsend, whose writgings were already popular,  published and disseminated locally by a Bostonian printer.  Thomsonianism was a combination of Townsend and traditional European practices and to some seemed to posess some Native American concepts although mostly in the steam therapy sense and not at all in the herbal medicine sense.  The major exception to this lack of indigenous thinking on behalf of Thomson is his use of Lobelia in place of the imported emetics like ipecac and bitter apple.   This local knowledge of Lobelia use was documented long before Thomson’s use of it by John Bard, the botanist of a Philadelphia school of medicine.  Its use was taught to military officials overlooking the early encampments these natives were force to reside in, but the uses of these medicines were otherwise limited for the most part due to readily available import medicines.  The indigenous philosophies continued to impact medical thinking, and within two or three generations Thomsonian thinkers were as unique as their various cultural backgrounds and regions.  This ultimately led to the great split in Thomsonianism taking place from approximately 1825 to 1835, from which point on physicians became a new breed of “irregulars” known as the Botanic Physicians, Physiomedical doctors, and traditional Thomsonians. 1993-1994.

19th century Trapper Medicine, ca. 1750 to 1860.  A review of the documents, journals, letters and administrative notes and official transactions produced by the Hudson Bay Company (1750 – 1870), Couriers, Hommes du Bois, Montagnards and Mountainmen (1820-1850), 1835-1855 “Trappers” and other explorers and entrepreneurs engaged in the trapping and/or fur trade industries. Several hundred historical documents were reviewed in both original and reprint collections forms. Materia medica developed and indexed.  Ethnobotany and ethnomedical information were collected and discussed.  The most interesting findings in this work included description of an Indian medicine bag which contained game cards from a children’s collection due to their “magick” and another containing spices from the West India-Dutch spice trade industry, taking the place of traditional more plant-based remedies.  1994-1996.

Overland Trail Medicine. ca. 1837 to 1870. A review of the earliest overlanders’ experiences (primarily Santa Fe and other trails to Mexico, Utah or California), and the primary years of overland migration to California and Oregon (1845 to 1856). The philosophy, teachings and practices of both professional/regular (allopathic MD) medicine and alternative medicines are reviewed. Non-allopathic philosophies reviewed include domestic medical practice, trapper medicine, indian root doctoring (early and mid-19th century forms), thomsonianism, neothomsonianism, reformed medicine, eclectic medicine, physiomedicine, and religious-based MD training (non-accredited church-based “reformed MD” or “doctor” programs). Trail diary, journal and reminiscence information is reviewed.

The National Association of Eclectic Medicine annual meeting in Portland, Oregon, 1896. At the Portland, Oregon NEMA meeting, members of the field of eclectic medicine proposed a significant change in the philosophy of this profession. Due to irrefutable finds related to the late 1870s and 1880s discoveries and proofs of a disease-causing bacterium (“germ”), a “New Eclectic” medical philosophy and professional direction was discussed. The value of local botanicals was discussed. The political division involving the two local allopathic (regular MD) programs was also reviewed in relation to the value versus need to discredit the study electric therapeutics as part of the regular medical training sessions. 1993-1994.

The History of Naturopathy, 1890 to present. A study of the creation, professional development and academic history of this field of Natural medicine, with special emphasis on the Pacific Northwest history of this field due to the establishment of the only two licensed and accredited professional medical schools devoted to this specific form of alternative/complementary medicine. Results of research included documentation of cause for the split between Chiropractics and naturopathy which took place from the 1940s to the early 1950s. A 1953 letter uncovered revealed attempts made to continue the educational programs using other teaching locations. The subsequent re-opening of the school of naturopathy in 1956, followed by its growth and development from 1957 to 1970 was reviewed using original school documents and records. The rebirth of this profession during the 1970s required first the establishment of a creative program involving basic science training programs involving other accredited universities and the establishment of the last two years of clinical training locally by the Portland naturopathic program. The establishment of a satellite school in Seattle help to further the development of this program throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, leading to a rise in the political power of John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine, Seattle, Washington. During this time, the Portland school of naturopathy produced an Oriental Medicine specialty program, which later split to form its own accredited medical school: Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM). The rebirth of naturopathy as a viable form of accredited complementary medicine experience a brief period of rapidly rising popularity during the 1990s, along with many other alternative medical professions. 1993.

Biographical Work

Dr. Cadwallader Colden. A review of the historical medical botany writings and teachings of New York’s first Governor, naturalist and physician. The botanical records of Colden’s home town Coldenham and his treatise published by Linnaeus – Coldenhamiae Plantae.

Dr. Isaac Marks (ca. 1700 – 1785). The practice of medicine by one of the first Jewish physicians in the New Netherlands-New York settlements region. A study of 18th century Ashkenazi tradition in combination with Dutch-English and possible 16th to 17th Century Eastern European Jewish influences. 1994-1996.

Dr. Cornelius Osborn (ca. 1720-1783). A Dutch-English physician of local cultural and political influence in the Colony of New York. A review of his 82 page vade mecum or recipe book for insights into the Boerhaavian and Iroquois influences on late Colonial New York medicine. 1983 – present.

Dr. Bartow White (1776 – 1876). State congressman and physician Dr. Bartow White was trained both traditionally by way of an apprenticeship, and by attending classes at one of the United States’s first medical schools located near New York City in 1802/3. Trained in regular medicine, he favored the popular belief that disease was primarily a consequence of climate, weather and other forms of environmental exposure, in combination with the notion that illness and disease were also a consequence of one’s temperament produced biologically, psychologically and as a consequence of family traits. Dr. White was forced into retirement due to his development of Jacksonian seizures during the Civil War years. In spite of this retirement he remained active as a member of the New York Medical Society.

Dr. Shadrach Ricketson.  A Quaker physician  who is considered by many American Sports medicine experts as the initiator of the modern-day healthy living moving consisting of health diet and exercise practices.  Ricketson was also important due to his mention of electric cure as a healing experience that he measures first hand following the drowning of someone (the placement of his body in suspended animation) in the Hudson River.  Ricketson produced essays on the uses of opium and the related controversy, and one on the yellow fever epidemics stricking the Hudson valley.

William Dain.  Thomsonian-Indian Doctor.  ca. 1837-1880.  A Materia Medica study.  [Dr.] William Dain is unique because he provided us with a mancuscript detailing his recipes for use by Solomon Tetherow’s travels across the country in 1845.  This expedition took place as part of the plan to explore and settle the Pacific Coastline region from California to Oregon.  One of the explorers in this expedition was Abel Bristow, the father of another trail physician also researched, John Kennedy Bristow.  William Dain’s recipes demonstrate evidence for thomsonian practice, a non-allopathic method of therapy not unexpected for this time in American medical history.  More unique about William Dain’s writings is his includion of specific local plants from the overland trails, their uses as medicines, and at times even detailed descriptions in order assure that Tetherow’s team members can recognize should such a need ever arise.   The origins of Dain are unknown.  It is possible that his surname is an anglicization of a French Trapper family name like D’aigne, but some Dain families are found in the Kentucky-Tennessee area in upcoming years, suggesting he may simply be another US Indian Doctor who took on this profession due to its purported excitement and thrills.   Dain is married to an Indian lady of local Pacific Northwest Origin, who commonly socialized with the Missions and local Fur Trade Fort Vancouver staff and social settings, but  hung out almost entirely with other Indian and halfbreed individuals.  It is therefore very likely that William Dain is a Fort (Fort Vancouver) hired informant and Indian-Hudson Fur Trade translator, who once these economic associations were established between the two trading groups, took on the trail guide work as a new occupation.  1994 – 2002.

John Kennedy Bristow (1815-1886).  A Biographical and Materia Medica study.  A significant part of the Oregon Trail work included a biographical review of John Kennedy Bristow, a physiomedical doctor apprenticed by an Illinois Thomsonian sect graduate who attended 6 weeks of classes in the Chicago area about 1845.  His vade mecum and log book on patients and their visits as a horse doctor , practiced throughout his life, is detailed with their medical conditions diagnosable and their treatments provided in considerable detail. In 1852, Dr. Bristow left Illinois for Oregon, when he became a witness to the largest epidemic to strike the Oregon Trail.  After obtaining his land claim in Oregon in 1855 (arrived 1852; claim finalized 1855), he reinitiated his practice up this time focusing on Eclectic medicine and a similar trade practiced by Bible Belt individual, physiomedicine.  Bristowbecame a strong supporter of the political movement of non-allopathic medicine in Oregon state from 1856 on.  During his practice years, he made use and sometimes popularized the teachings of the trail guide, trapper, and Combined Thomsonian-Indian Doctor William Dain, the local trapper-like botanic physician “Catnip”, and helped promote the popular beliefs in gymnastics medicine which become the craze during the l;ate 1860s.  Bristow’s professional and personal life are reviewed, including his becoming a doctor due to the loss of his first wife to typhoid in 1844, his second along the trail in 1852, and his youngest child just a few days later possibly due to Milk Fever or sickness brought about by Eupatorium consumption by cattle and oxen.   Because he was trained in a non-traditional form of medicine for his time, Bristow was never officially licensed to practice medicine according to the state legal standards for physicians established in 1883.  As a result he retired from medicine around this time but continued his work as a midwife, and developed his own business devoted to office products. Bristow is unique in that he documented the recipes of a local trapper physician, helped his brother open one of the first gymnasiums devoted to improving the human physique and health state through exercise regimens, interacted with local herbal medicine growers helping to strengthen the local herbal medicine market, and made numerous attempts to incorporate a variety of allopathic and non-allopathic teachings into his practice.  1994-1999.

Special Studies

New World Medical Discoveries

Identifying the first herbal medicine discovered in the New World is not easy. A traditional interpretation of New World history pretty much begins with the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus and his travels in the Caribbean portion of the Americas. Other historians like to search for evidence of New World exploration two or more centuries prior to Columbus’s late 15th century travels, providing evidence for Russian exploration during the 14th century, and Viking exploration during the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. To define the most appropriate time frame for these discoveries, we have to ask when the most important exploration took place in western European history, since that is the primary cultural setting upon which the “first” discovery is based and defined.

There is significant evidence that the first discovery of New World medicines most likely took place in the Southern Hemisphere, and that this knowledge is what led to the discovery of similar medicines in other portions fo the New World such as Central and North America. The best evidence for this history is a tracing of the history of the snakeroot medicines, the various Aristolochia species seen and documented in the Southern Hemisphere. The discoveries of Southern and Middle America (especially New Spain) formed the knowledge which explorers then were brought to the Northern hemisphere, allowing for the rapid identification of herbals medicines in areas that would later become known as New England, New France, and New Netherlands. The knowledge of the snakeroot medicine and its various philosophical underpinnings set the stage for further documentation of other North American New World medicine about to be discovered. North American herbs discovered due to this philosophy include Asarum, Cimicifuga, Caulophyllum, Podophyllum, Arisaema, Eupatorium, Spigelia, and Penstemon.

The notion of Entia and the redesigning of the Philospher’s Stone as Ens Veneris in eighteenth century colonial American medicine.

Dr. Cornelius Osborn gave an interesting recipe for treating missed or late periods.  This was  a direct result of local knowledge popular during the mid to late 17th century, popularized by Christian Alchemist George Starkey.  Born in Bermuda  in 1628, George Starkey removed to Yale College at the age of 17 (1645).  By the end of his first few months at Yale, he penned his thoughts and philosophy regarding an application to produce the Philosopher’s Stone equivalent for the time–entia or spirit in the form of ens veneris.  For several years he was in communications with the Chemist-Alchemist of the time, Robert Boyle, to who he first proposed this particular philosophy of alchemy in January 1646, by which time he had already tested and proven to himself the potential value of this entia in the form of ens primum veneris.   Boyle accepted Starkey’s premise about the use of copper to produce this form of entia, but immediately recommended other versions less astrologically linked to the feminine spirit or energy such as  Martis or iron to produce this philosophical remedy which he appropriately referred to as ens martis.  The philosophy at this time did not always link the absence of menses to impregnation, enabling physicians to perform whatever practices were necessary to remedy the situation.  Due to the underlying medical philosophy which stated that the feminine energy comprised by the uterus was an effect of venus, it was believed that certain medical practices such as  ens veneris could remedy the problem by altering the flow of this early notion of the vital force.  This remedy would ultimately become one of the most popular Boerhaavian-philosophy based remedies used to treat the menstrual period related problems.  The philosophy of the time by Boerhaavians suggestedthat there was some form of inherent magnetic problem to the ailing body responsible for problems commonly experienced by women in relation to their menstrual cycle.  This typically required a bleed was close to the woman’s ankle, but an apothecarian remedy for the ailing venetian flow remedied by Copper seemed more attractive to many.  Dr. Osborn preferred to use both, but relied more upon Boyle’s version of this formula.    Robert Boyle’s formula stated that a red copper salt, which required a lot of effort to make, could be replaced by redto yellow rusts and powders produced in just the right way from iron.  To many, this would make Boyle’s version of the ens eneris philosophically appear more of the imbalanced humours at stake regarding menstrual flow problems.  The support provided by alchemists/chemists and physicians such as Boerhaave and James Shaw, facilitated the continued use of Iron rust-generated ens veneris formulas instead of the seeming “Out of date” philosophy underlying the copper salts use.  In due time, this use of iron tonics for treating post-menstrual anemic-like symptoms became more chemically and biologically-based theories in terms of their effectiveness and reasons for their benefits, which inm due time allowed for the complete exclusion of the ever-popular metaphysically-based “wandering uterus” theory that once prevailed throughout colonial times.  Ens Veneris, in due time, converted the pharmacyof menses remedies from a metaphysical practice into a iatrochemical and ultimately completely physical, natural philosophical method of practice.

Triunalism and Social interpretations of the Yellow Fever epidemics that struck the Hudson Valley in New York, 1790 to 1845.

Between 1789 and 1824, Yellow fever struck the rapidly evolving urban center of New York City every few years. The reasons for this recurring epidemic were unclear to physicians, but most argued it was due to a combination of factors related to immigration, international trade and travel, or the lack of acclimation suffered by the new settlers of the United States in this region.  As the influx of passengers infected by yellow fever following their arrival by merchant vessels increased during the post-revolutionary war years of 1782 forward, the recurrence of yellow fever epidemics amongst these in-migrants in 1793 and 1796 led religious leaders to suggest that these epidemics were of Divine origin, taking place as a consequence of the uncivilized lifestyle many US citizens were then living. Even to those who did not interpret the yellow fever as a problem of Divine cause, signs of an upcoming Plague were now evident once again.  This led many people to flee thus urban settings, in some cases as many as 50,000 people fleeing the city for the much safer rural setting.  The most devoted religious followers could no doubt itnerpret the recurring pattern of yellow fever as a three-year event or triennial fever (as it later came to be called elsewhere).  One could eaily look at the fever epidemic history and interpret the years of its recurrence and occuring in cycles of approximately every three years.  By the time the 1806 yellow fever epidemic struck New York City, the third such epidemics to many, citizens were fed up with the failure of the regular medical system and turned to the church for support in order to prevent their demise.  This recurrence of yellow fever epidemics  led to the development of a strong movement over the next decade which supported the notion that this fever was of Divine origin.  meanwhile, the regular medical profession ahd its own theories as to the cause for these events, but could never obtain complete public support for their explanations.  This led to the practice of behaviors very much defined by the use of trines to determine whether or not the proper actions were being taken. This adherence to trine-based medical activities is further supported by one of the strongest advocates of this popular cultural belief system, Thomsonianism, the major leaders and supporters of which admitted to this popular practice in a later court session held in Albany, NY, in 1845, contesting the validity of the practice of Thomsonian medicine.

Transformation of Common Belief

By tracing the epistemology of herbal medicine folklore and professional opinions, we can draw parallels between how and why some herbs are discovered and how and why they become actual medicines, versus those which never become famous. Folklore, phytognomics/doctrine of signatures, domestic medicine, herbalism or herbology, Indian Root Doctoring, Thomsonianism, botanic medicine, physiomedicine, Reformed medicine, eclectic medicine, “New Eclectic” medicine, naturopathy, pharmacognosy, phytopharmacology, and integrative herbal medicine all demonstrate how a belief that originated as a folk tale can be perpetuated from one generation to the next, changing slightly from generation to generation, to finally become a belief that is supported and continued due to purported scientific foundations being established. The truth is very little of herbal medicine has a perfect scientifically-based foundation of proof regarding the performance of an herb as a medicine. We like to accept scientific proof as the best outcome for supporting evidence, but even scientific evidence has its foundation of beliefs and observations that are mostly culturally defined and accurate only for the time they form the core of any medical practice. With time, science too defaults to the lack of supporting evidence most of the time, and like medical science the century or two before, changes its theory or hypothesis as to how and why a particular medication actually works and causes a cure. There are several examples of this common fallacy to the philosophies and teachings underlying how and why a particular herb is accepted to be beneficial, versus why it is not. A number of herbs that are traced throughout time with regard to the evolution of science-generated theoretical error.

The first non-humoural theory for Disease practices in the Hudson valley following the Revolution: Medical Climatology, Medical Topography and Disease.

Samuel Mitchell, of the New York medical school reopened following the War, had a theory that disease was due to the effluvium and other wretched odors and such produced by climate and terrain.  Evidence for this was the large numbers of diseases, especially fevers, that arose near swamps, dumping sites, latrines, dead animals, shorelines with rotting vegetation, and filthy harbors.  Dr. Mitchell came up with a number of alternative theories as to how the same outcomes could develop in completely different places, at times related this stench to the stench of volcanic air and even excessive amounts of post-thunderstorm odors in the air.  This theory for disease had a strong following in New York, and led to a natural history approach to understanding disease as a natural even that everyone must face.  In 1797, the Medical Repository began publication.  Its Chief Editor was Dr. Mitchell.   We can review the various articles in this journal fairly extensively and come up with a theory as to how physicians were beginning to take a closer look at disease as a biological and ecological phenomenon.  This study reviewed the medical topography and climatology of a number of New York county and town or city locations, as their descriptions were published in the Medical Repository.  A significant number of similar articles pertaining to other geographic locations were available as well for cross comparison of different geographical settings.