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General - On the decline of specific medication

by Paul Bergner

Medical Herbalism 07-31-95 9(2/3): 3

I am very pleased to publish our cover story by Deborah Frances, ND, of Grant’s Pass, Oregon, on the use of black cohosh for depression. Dr. Frances’ approach to her article brings up a number of points of great relevance to the resurgence of medical herbalism in North America.

Picture an upside-down pyramid, with the base at the top, and tapering down to a point at the bottom. I think of the base as the number of herbs that were used in medical practice around the beginning of this century. That number has been declining even among herbalists as the clinical arts of medical herbalism have been taken out of the living medical tradition in the U.S. and relegated mostly to book learning. A similar pyramid exists for many individual herbs as well. At the turn of the century, the indications for herbs were known in great detail. Physicians didn’t just throw an herb at a condition. They matched the herb to the nuances of the patient and the illness, including subjective mental and emotional factors and unquantifiable “symptom pictures” like those that are the foundation of homeopathy. Picture the base of the inverted pyramid for black cohosh, for instance. to the physician-herbalists of the last century, depression, melancholy, and “hysteria” were important indicators for its use. Now these, and many other indications have been forgotten, and we give black cohosh for “female problems.” We are more likely to give hypericum for depression, which may certainly help (see page eight). But what if the depression is due to liver stagnation (see quote by James Kent on page twelve). The hypericum may well alter the brain chemistry, but it won’t do much for the sick liver. With remedy differentiation such as that on page twelve, we’d be more likely to get closer to the cause of the disease.

In my opinion, in place of a broad knowledge of the indications of a wide range of herbs, we now use larger and larger doses of fewer and fewer herbs, or more and more powerful extracts. Our materia medica is being shifted toward those herbs which have been “studied scientifically,” with all the political and economic factors that drive the dominant medical system subtly undermining and distorting our therapeutic armamentarium.

I lament this loss of knowledge of a wide variety of herbs, and of a wide variety of indications for them, and hope in these pages to encourage the resurrection of the art of specific medication. Dr. Frances’ article also suggests some ways to do this: through an examination and study of the literature of the Eclectics and homeopaths. I am reminded of Dr. John Bastyr, the namesake of Bastyr University in Seattle. For more than fifty years of his naturopathic medical practice, he has studied one homeopathic remedy each night before retiring. I would like to see myself and more of my contemporaries doing this with herbs.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    4


    Medical Herbalism: Clinical Articles and Case Studies    

In this issue

In this double issue, we have two areas of focus. The first is on the mental aspects of some herbs. We include articles on black cohosh, St Johnswort, passion flower, and a review of the mental indications for common herbs that the homeopaths used in patients with signs of depression. The other area of focus is on Garlic. I’ve just completed a book on the subject (The Healing Power of Garlic: the Enlightened Person’s Guide to Nature’s Most Versatile Herb forthcoming in Fall 1995 from Prima Press) I’ve adapted some of the clinically relevant material for our readers here.

You’ll also notice our new “Clinical Correspondence” section, with fine submissions from Christopher Hobbs, Michael Tierra, and Kerry Bone. We hope you’ll be inspired to share your own clinical insights with submissions of your own to this section.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    5