People who believe in the curative power of herbs seem to think that they grow only to be steeped, compounded, desiccated, extracted, inspissated, concentrated and swallowed as medicine. Each herb is supposed to possess its own virtues and to carry healing potencies that are significantly different from those of other herbs.

Let us consider a few of the herbal medicines that have been and are used in the treatment of the sick. In an old medical work I find a prescription for making what its author called a peristaltic persuader (a laxative ) in which two drachma of finely pulverized rhubarb was the chief active ingredient. The formula was to be made into pills, each of which would contain three grams of rhubarb. These rhubarb pills were especially recommended for "delicate females" and for children. Their agreeable flavor was supposed to make them easy for the children to take.

Said a famous British physician of the last century: "If the bowels are constipated, they should be kept regular by a pill of rhubarb of five grains every morning." Both physicians and herbalists prescribed rhubarb as a laxative. It was also employed as a domestic remedy. A tincture was made of rhubarb and it was employed as a purgative. As a pill, rhubarb was declared to be "the most gentle and gradually operating form of the drug," while the tincture was said to be "the most immediate in its action." With all the virtues with which they invested rhubarb, it was commonly observed that the employment of both rhubarb pills and tinctures for constipation aggravated the constipation, as did all other laxatives and cathartics. For example, podophyllum, which is still employed as a laxative and which occasions griping and purging, is well known to aggravate constipation. Indeed, it should be common knowledge today that all means of coercing bowel action aggravates the condition of the bowels. Only the removal of the cause of constipation may increase bowel action without doing harm.

Returning to rhubarb, although this was classed as a form of "mild medication," it should not be forgotten that the employment of rhubarb as a laxative was observed to occasion, even from a single dose, what was called a violent bloody flux, that is, dysentery with blood. It would surprise us to know all the evils that can and did flow from drugging with what we now regard as relatively harmless herbs. Still greater evils flow from drugging with the more virulent toxins that are used as medicines today, but we are not reduced to the necessity of choosing between the two evils. We do not have to choose the lesser of these two forms of poisoning the sick.

It was declared to be not always easy to force physic upon a "spoiled" child. But it was said that if a rhubarb pill was pounded into a powder and then mixed with currant jelly, honey or treacle, infants and young children would take it. Certain laxatives were made "to taste exactly like ginger bread" in order to induce children to take them. Every means was employed to slip their poisons past the faithful sentinels that guard the entrance to the alimentary canal. When a thing is nauseous, disgusting and poisonous, we should have enough sense to keep it out of our body. We must learn to respect that which saves life, not that which destroys it. It is a mistake to suppose that a vegetable poison may not be as great an evil as a mineral poison. Indeed, several of them are more virulent than any known mineral. Rhubarb is not a virulent poison, but it is sufficiently toxic to occasion much sufferingnausea, vomiting, griping and violent diarrhea.

Another example of the herbal remedies that have been popular, one that is still in use, is mandrake (podophyllum peltaturn or may apple), the roots and leaves of which are poisonous. Long employed to cure disease and thought to be especially valuable in diseases of the liver, it occasioned much griping and purging. It is an extremely bitter substance. It would appear that all bitters (among which should be listed quinine, morphine, dandelion, chocolate or cocoa, etc.) are poisonous--hence our advice not to eat "foods" that are bitter.

As all healing power resides in the tissues of the sick individual, mandrake can cure nothing. It is simply an evil when introduced into the body of the sick, one that must be expelled. This is the meaning of the griping and purging that follow taking it. This is the means of expelling it from the domain of life. In the days of ignorance the actions of the body in expelling poisons were mistaken for the beneficial actions of the poisons. Now that we know that poisons are inert substances and do not perform these actions, there is no longer any excuse for us to make this mistake.

We may employ mandrake as an example of the herbs that are employed to cure disease. Only poisonous herbs are thought to have medicinal qualities. If an herbal substance does not occasion actions of expulsion and resistance when taken into the body or applied to it, it is not vested with any power to cure. If the body ejects it by vomiting, expels it by diarrhea, casts it out by diuresis, excretes it by diaphoresis or in some other manner speedily expels it and, if in doing this, pain or griping or vertigo or other discomfort and physiological disturbance is caused, this is regarded as sure evidence that the herb is beneficial. If the patient that has thus been abused recovers health in spite of it, credit for the recovery is given to the herb; the self-healing power of the body is completely ignored. There is no difference in this practice from that of the regular or scientific physician who credits his patient's recovery to the curative work of his drug and ignores the body's power to heal itself.

The obvious fact is that the regular medical practice and the irregular herbal practice are but two parts of the same system of fallacy. Herbs are not natural medicines. That herbs are as natural as stones or rattlesnakes is certain, but that they are medicines (healing agents) is a fallacy. Gather up a whole armful of herbs from the fields and creek bottoms and give them to the sick with a liberal hand and they will no more remove the cause of the patient's suffering than will the pills or bottled potions that are sold in drug stores. They no more supply any of the normal and necessary elements of health than do the drugs of the corner apothecary shop. The herbal practice is no more based on physiology and biology than is the regular drugging practice.

Many common plants have been employed as herbal medicines and many of them are still employed from which to extract their so called medicinal qualities. The common jimson-weed, for example, is the source of stramonium. Fox glove is the source of digitalis.The medical profession borrowed this remedy from an English countrywoman herbalist who brewed fox glove and gave the tea to her patients. Members of the physio-medical school, which was almost exclusively an herbal school, spent much of their strength in bolstering the self-evident absurdity that while the drugs of all the other medical schools were poisonous, their drugs were not. The simple fact is that the drugs of all the medical schools of that time (as of the present) were and are poisons. Their pharmacopeias were catalogues of poisons. Even so mild an herb as peppermint has been known to kill and side effects have been reported to flow from its administration.