Baptisia: Eclectic materia medica by William E. Bloyer

by Paul Bergner

Medical Herbalism: 07-31-97 9(2): 13-15

I spent one afternoon last summer reading through old issues of the Eclectic Medical Journal at the Library of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. EMJ articles are sometimes of variable quality, but this day I found a series of particularly astute articles on materia medica. By about the fourth one, from a series during 1896 and 1897, I noticed that the same initials — W.E.B. — appeared after each materia medica article that I particularly enjoyed. I checked some other materials on the history of the Eclectic Institute in Cincinnati and found that W.E.B. was William E Bloyer, Professor of Clinical Medicine at the institute from 1887 until at least 1902. He was also a regular contributor to the EMJ during this period. This was a critical time of transition in Eclectic medicine. The giants King and Scudder had died. The Eclectic materia medica and principles had been largely formed. During this period, which saw the emergence of the coming giants of the profession — Felter, Ellingwood, and Jones -the profession entered a period of critical thinking, sorting out extravagant claims and testing the anecdotal reports of individual doctors. This is the tone of Bloyer’s articles, and we can speculate that, as a chief instructor at the Eclectic institute, he helped to initiate or at least propagate this new critical thinking in his students. Bloyer, like Eli Jones, is quick to admit when he is reporting others peoples work and when he is reporting his own experience. It appears from his dates of employment that he was Felter’s instructor in materia medica at the Cincinnati school.

Bloyer is not famous as an Eclectic, but his series on materia medica, which we will partially reprint in Medical Herbalism, is especially clear and succinct on the matter of specific indications for the herbs. Today I see some excellent contemporary clinical herbalists who have attracted no fame or attention (I hope to bring as many as I can discover forward in the pages of this newsletter), and do not regularly lecture or write. I assume this same state of affairs existed among the Eclectics. We known about King, Scudder, Felter, Ellingwood, and Jones because they all wrote text books. How many unsung Eclectics had mastered their materia medica, but did not write, whose names are now lost to us? Bloyer, fortunately was a writer, even if only of articles. He was well enough respected in his field to be principal lecturer on materia medica at the leading Eclectic medical school.

Forthcoming reprints: Serenoa repens, Aesculus hippocastanum, Zingiber officinalis, Helonias dioica, Chionanthus virginicus

Baptisia tinctoria — wild Indigo

This is an old, old eclectic remedy that has had a most excellent reputation for many years. And strange as it may seem, the allopathic school has never learned anything about its general or its specific use. Their best works on materia medica either do not speak of it at all, or speak of it lightly, or recommend baptisin as a cholagogue, etc. None are so blind as those who will not see. As a remedy baptisia has been variously classified as an alterative, a stimulant, an astringent, a purgative, an emetic, and as an antiseptic. Within our experience it has been all of these, and much more. In overdoses it is an emeto-cathartic and should not be so used. In medicinal doses its most praiseworthy action is as an antiseptic, and through this property, when Indicated as a remedy, almost any other end may be attained. As an antiseptic it will act as an antipyretic, as an astringent, as a stimulant, and as an alterative; as a laxative and as a diuretic.

It is a dynamic antizymotic, and like echinacea, its effects are not in any respect of a chemical nature. That it does produce, under certain conditions, most marked effects cannot be controverted. And, it is just as true, that when these conditions or indications are not present, it has absolutely no effect upon the disease conditions. The point we desire to emphasize is this: In one case of diphtheria, for instance, baptisia is a most excellent remedy, and no other medicine known, even the vaunted antitoxin, will encompass half the good that baptisia will, while in the next case of diphtheria, when given in the same sized doses and with the same regularity, but without the presence of the indications, its effects are entirely nil. We believe that this latter applies as well to the healthy body, when medicinal doses are taken. Those intimately acquainted with Professor Howe know full well what confidence he had in a few remedies. HIS materia medica was very limited, however. One day we happened into his office when he was taking half-teaspoonful doses of baptism (it was not an active preparation) hourly, not because he was sick but because he wanted to know its effects, and then refute the arguments made in its favor by offering his own experience with the drug when tried upon himself. He experienced no good or bad effects, and as a consequence baptisia was continually defamed by him. He was a man of very positive convictions. But such a trial is unfair to the drug and unfair to the science of medicine. Baptisia is the indicated remedy when there is fullness of tissues, with a dusky, purplish-red discoloration of the tongue, mucous membrane, or general tissues of the body; an appearance resembling an exposure to severe cold. This color varies with the severity of malignancy of the disease to a deeper color, even to a red violet, brown, or black, and can be observed in the fauces and pharynx, and as well upon the part or organ affected, when it is within view; the breath is peculiarly fetid or foul; there is an unpleasant moistness or pasty nastiness about the mouth with a tendency to sordes on the teeth, gums, and lips; there is a fullness of tissues, and an expressionless face, that show an enfeebled circulation; the pulse is full and oppressed; there is an unpleasant pungent heat of the surface when the open hand is placed upon it; the urine if frothy and bad looking and of a bad odor; the stools are fetid and foul; everything about the patient is disagreeable, and everything points to one word - sepsis. There is a tendency to ulceration, to decomposition, to molecular death!

The only other remedies that have the blueness of tissues as indications for their use are common salt, nitric acid, and iron. But in non of these is there present the tendency to ulceration and the noticeable septicemia. Older eclectics have frequently given prominence to the fact that baptisia is many times an “epidemic remedy,” that is, that many, very many cases of severe illness of a neighborhood, or of a season, are notably impressed by the presentation of “baptisia symptoms” or indications. There is something unknown that touches or leaves its imprint on every case. The epidemic remedy, if not baptisia, may be something else. But many physicians have observed that in some measle epidemics all cases are malignant, and in some epidemics all are mild. The same may be as justly said of diphtheria, of typhoid fever, or al almost any other disease. It is well, therefore to keep in mind this epidemic remedy idea at all times.

Baptisia is often a remedy in typhus and especially in typhoid fever. In the cases calling for it there is marked atony and depression, “prune juice” or “meat washings” discharge, a tendency to ulceration of the bowels, together with the baptisia indications above set forth. The same may be said of its use in severe cases of so-called typho-malarial fever. In this, besides the malarial impression, we have the well-known typhoid symptoms quite prominent. In diphtheria, bad cases, with a livid, blanched, purplish surface and expressionless face, the throat ulceration tending toward sloughing, and baptisia expressions predominating, baptisia is a most excellent and active remedy. However, don’t stretch this into our saying that baptisia cures all cases of diphtheria, for in many, the hand of death is placed upon the victim before the initial chill is experienced and no medication known to man will save.

In dysentery, after the bloody stool and tenesmus stage has passed, and atony and typhoid prevail, and prune-juice, purulent, disagreeable, discharges are the order, and the symptoms above enumerated are dominant, there is sepsis — baptisia is the remedy. In scarlet fever with bad blood, bad throat, and bad everything, try baptisia. The same may be said of cynache maligna, of stomatitis and of aphthous sore mouth.

Many times “typhoid” symptoms prevail in cases of mania, melancholia, dementia, stupor, etc. when they do, and sepsis threatens, use baptisia with confidence. Use it in any disease, in which it is specifically indicated. Generally, it is not called for in the acute stage, or the stage of active inflammation, but later, when there is a waning of the life’s forces. The earlier you can see your baptisia indications and give it, the better. Many times you will see them from the beginning. But do not five baptism because at times it is a good remedy, when at this particular time a much better remedy might be given.

Baptisia has been highly recommended as a local application, in the shape of a decoction or wash, or when incorporated in an ointment base, in putrid and gangrenous ulcers, when there is a tendency to soughing, etc, and the baptisia indications prevail. As a gargle or wash it is to be applied to mouth and throat affections; it may be used as a wash for ulceration of the uterus, or for foul leucorrhea. The friend of poultices may incorporate in them baptisia herb, or a decoction of it.

An infusion of baptisia, one ounce to a pint, in wine-glassful doses, may be taken internally every hour or two. The specific medicine, which is made from the bark of the root, may be given in a mixture of five to ten drops to four ounces of water, and a teaspoonful every half-hour to two hours. Or, it can be diluted in the proportion of from one part of the specific medicine to six or ten of water, and used as a local application. — W.E.B.


Today, we are likely to hear that a specific indication for baptisia is a bluish color to the tissues. Notes that Bloyer give a broader range of color than this: “dusky, purplish-red discoloration of the tongue, mucous membrane, or general tissues of the body; an appearance resembling an exposure to severe cold...this color varies with the severity of malignancy of the disease to a deeper color, even to a red violet, brown, or black.” The key to its use, then, is not just color, but the septic state of the tissues after an infection has overwhelmed the local or systemic defenses. We do not have the prevalence of typhoid and other diseases of the last century today, but we still have sepsis, which is the leading cause of death in hospitals in the U.S. today (the infection is usually acquired in the hospital.) With growing concern about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, we may see a resurgence of usefulness for baptisia. It should certainly be present on our shelves, if only for first aid while sending the seriously infected patient to the hospital. Bloyer mentions the emetic effects of baptisia in large doses. I have received a two case reports of patients who vomited in the doctors office a few minutes after takings a single dropper dose of baptisia.
  Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner

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