For quite a while now a movement has been building to bring more natural choices into the mainstream. You can see this is true in just about every grocery store in the country. Where before there may have been just a small aisle dedicated to vitamins and supplements, now there is usually a separate area comprised of many aisles
This movement is often labeled as “New Age” with the emphasis on the word new. If you’re a history buff, you may know of a battlefield site near you. Or perhaps there is a historical village in operation. Because we assume that using herbal supplements is new I think most people would be surprised to hear that we also have historical sites for herbal medicine.
One of the most famous is Bartram’s Garden in Pennsylvania. This site has been a place to collect medicinals since 1728. Its owner, John Bartram, was a contemporary of Ben Franklin and Carl Linnaeus and had a special interest in collecting plants with medicinal potential throughout the United States.
In Ohio there is an important historic site that most people pass by without notice. Ohio was the center of the Eclectic medicine movement. Cincinnati was home to the Eclectic Medical Institute from 1842 until its doors finally closed in 1939. The Eclectic philosophy was one focused on botanically based treatments that treated the patient not the disease. Today all that remains of this great moment in our medical history is the Lloyd Library which houses all the research, writings and accumulated medical texts of various Eclectic schools around the country.
This week I finally had the opportunity to visit this living house of history. It’s been right here in my own state all along. It’s embarrassing that I have never made time to go before. While there, I had the opportunity to speak a bit with John Haller who has written extensively on the history of the eclectics, including such titles as Medical Protestants: The Eclectics in American Medicine, 1825-1939 and Kindly Medicines: A History of the Physio-medicals in American Medicine. We discussed the toxic state of Western medicine that contributed to the rise of the Eclectics. I believe we are at a similar bend in the road again and it is time for a return to some of the Eclectic tenets. Mr. Haller chuckled and shared that ironically, just as the Western medical practitioners before them, the Eclectics did themselves in by becoming too dogmatic. Time and time again in our part of the world, we see a system of medicine or natural health movement rise in popularity only to succumb to rigid adherence to their own original ideology. How is it that Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine have endured without the same problem? Perhaps we in the West are too mired in our ego to admit that our positions can change and allow our medical treatments to grow with time and new information. Perhaps we are still so young in our cultural “knowing” of health that we need this natural renewal of growth, change, rigidity and revolt to ensure that new ideas wash into our health systems from time to time. Whatever the reason, the process is exhausting, frightening and confusing for those in the generation that must live through the death and rebirth period that ushers in a new way of thinking about health. Places like the Lloyd Library are precious links to the past. It may be that in amongst the texts on early surgery, anatomy and botanical applications, there are clues to help us avoid the pitfalls that the Eclectic movement encountered as they began to dissolve into our current medical system.
Is there a piece of our medical or natural health history in your state that you haven’t visited? Perhaps this is the year to go and explore. So many times the way forward requires a visit to the past. When you do, remember that while we glean the recorded wisdom, we must not forget to heed the cautionary tales that are there as well.