Both homeopathy and "tissue salts" have the negative virtue of being practically incapable of real harm—almost a positive virtue by comparison with orthodox medication! But the same cannot be said of another method of treatment—one which is probably more often confused with N.C. than any other—the herbal remedies. Broadly, the claim made for these is that since they are all extracts and preparations of plant tissues they are, ipso facto, "natural", and hence—without question—"good for you". The fallacy of that claim is clearly enough exposed by the fact that nearly all the most potent and dangerous drugs in the materia medica are of vegetable origin. Almost invariably, the next argument comes up, and in general terms is: "Animals seek out particular herbs when they are ill—and animals are natural".

The answer to that is rather awkward, because one has to contradict the questioner. There is no evidence that wild animals seek out specific herbs when they are ill. The domestic cat or dog may chew grass when it wants to get rid of a troublesome stomachful. But the grass has no curative or drug effect, it is simply a violent irritant to the stomach of a carnivore or semi-carnivore. A dog eating grass is equivalent to a human sticking a finger down this throat.

The principles of herbalism are essentially those of any other drug system. Certain poisons will produce definite physiological results in the body. The patient has symptoms of some particular kind, and the herbalist prescribes something which will neutralise the symptom or produce a tolerable imitation of normal function. The drugs he uses may be slightly less effective than those used by the orthodox medico, but they still function by poisoning the body into defensive reaction—a process which, if sufficiently violent or often enough repeated, must inevitably exhaust the vital reserves of the body. Some herbal preparations, of course, are almost harmless and owe their efficacy to suggestive smells and flavours. The beneficial effects of coloured water—taken in the belief that it contains some magic elixir—are too well-known to need elaboration here. But it should be again stressed that just because a preparation of no real value is offered by a herbalist, or any other physician, that is insufficient reason for calling the man a fraud. The purely chemical effect on the tissues is less important than the patient’s general response. In this the nervous system is the principal agent, and is influenced by all manner of suggestion. If a remedy appears to give the results sought for, then it is justifiable for the practitioner to prescribe it with some confidence in any similar case.

This leads to a consideration which although not directly within the scope of the present discussion, is related to it, and should be stressed at every opportunity.