A lthough he never trained as a medical doctor, Thom- tice" (Thomson 1825: 26). He followed a local physician son claimed to have "had a natural turn for medical prac- in late-eighteenth-century rural New Hampshire who
"used chiefly roots and herbs, and his success was very great in curing canker and old complaints; but he afterwards got into the fashionable mode of treating his patients by giving them apothecary drugs, which made him more popular with the faculty, but less useful to his fellow creatures" (Thomson 1825: 26). This early formulation of the difference between allopathic—"medical poisons" (Thomson 1825: 41)—and complementary, if not alternative medicine, indicates why Thomson is still revered as a pioneer in the botanical pharmaceutical movement.
"Thomsonian Herbalism" later influenced and evolved into the "Eclectic Medical System and Physio-Medicalism," two major alternative medical systems of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Moore 2003: 9). Thus, in John Comfort's handbook of "Thom-sonian" medicine (1876), the basic herbal remedies of purging, especially lobelia, are augmented by healthy foods such as "milk porridge" and that perennial favorite "chicken tea," chicken soup by another name (Comfort 1876: 573). Food comes to be therapy in addition to the herbal regimen for a wide range of diseases from earache to mania.
In 1822, Thomson authored the New Guide of Health, which outlined this system of preventative medicine for the public. Specifically, he urged the use of herbs and botanicals as medicine to control the body's "natural heat." In particular, he used the lobelia plant, which he called the "Emetic Herb" to induce vomiting in order to counteract the effect of cold. In his autobiography, he explains how he first used it to purge the lungs of his young son who had had the "meazles" (Thomson 1822: 36). There is nothing in Thomson's "material medica," his repertoire of medical materials that produces any side effects more serious than nausea, vomiting, or purging. Thus, his opposition to the quacks or ignorant pretenders, which he thought a large proportion of the medical faculty throughout the country were, was a relatively benign response to the "heroic" medicine of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. He was insistent upon botanical, natural elements as his form of treatment rather than the often-fatal interventions of the professional medical practitioner (Thomson 1822).
It is bad diet that provides the "cold," which, in turn, creates the need for herbal remedy. For Thomson, it was the stomach . . . from which the whole body is supported. The heat is maintained in the stomach by consuming food; and all the body and limbs receive their proportion of nourishment and heat from that source; as the whole room is warmed by the fire which is consumed in the fire place . . . The more food, well digested, the more heat and support through the whole man.
(Thomson 1825: 196)
But the body can receive poor food, which causes the stomach to be come "foul ... then the appetite fails; the bones ache, and the man is sick in every part of the whole frame" (Thomson 1825: 196). Only then is there need for treatment. A good diet would have precluded any illness.
Thomson sold patents to use his methods of healing for 20 dollars, and by 1840 he had sold 100,000 of them. The spread of this lucrative practice led to a charge of witchcraft and then of murder by "real" doctors. He was acquitted of having killed a patient through the use of emetics in 1809. However, Thomson's success proved to be a disservice because he became "his own worst enemy, growing increasingly rigid and paranoid about protecting his proprietary interests" (Appel 2002: 359).
Thomson promoted a "uniquely American form of self-help health care" (Flannery 2002) in the early nineteenth century, which was revolutionary for this era. In it, he stressed personal responsibility for one's health in accordance with American notions of individualism.
SLG/Jessica Elyse Rissman
Appel, Toby A. (2002) "Book Review: The People's Doctors: Samuel Thomson and the American Botanical Movement 1790-1860," Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 57 (3): 359-60.
Comfort, J.W. (1876) The Practice of Medicine on Thomsonian Principles, Philadelphia, Pa.: Charles L. Comfort.
Flannery, Michael A. (2002) "The Early Botanical Movement as a Reflection of Life, Liberty, and Literacy in Jacksonian America," Journal of the Medical Library Association 90 (4): 442-54. Moore, Les (2003) "Natural Medicine: Reclaiming Our
Heritage," New Health Digest i: 9. Thomson, Samuel (1822) New Guide of Health, or, Botanic Family Physician, Containing a Complete
System of Practice, Upon a Plan Entirely New, with a Description of the Vegetables Made Use of, and Directions for Preparing and Administering Them to Cure Disease, Boston, Mass.: by the Author. — (1825) A Narrative of the Life and Medical
Discoveries of Samuel Thomson; Containing an Account of His System of Practice and the Manner of Curing Disease with Vegetable Medicine, Boston, Mass.: By the Author.
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