Thomsonian Influences

As I understand it, the famous Utah herbalist John Christopher learned about capsicum, lobelia and composition from the journal of the Mormon pioneer, Priddy Meeks, who was a Thomsonian doctor in early Utah. Priddy Meeks lived in Leeds (where I currently reside) and also in a little town called Harrisburg, about 5 miles south of here. I drive past the remains of Meeks home in Harrisburg every day (which is easily spotted from the freeway).

 I have a copy of Priddy Meeks journal, along with a biography of a midwife, Mary S. Fowler, who also practiced Thomsonian medicine in nearby Orderville, Utah. Both of them sing the praises of lobelia, capsicum and herbal composition. Meeks has this to say about lobelia.

...Lobelia will act on the system in complete conformity with the laws of health, and when that law is obstructed and fails to fulfill the operations that nature intended it to fulfill while healthy, it will remove those obstructions wherever located. For lobelia will permeate the whole system till it finds where the obstruction is seated, and there it will spend its influence and powers by relaxing the parts obstructed. They should always accompany the lobelia with cayenne pepper, which is the purest and best stimulant that is known in the compass of medicine. It will increase the very life and vitality of the system and give the blood a greater velocity and power. Now the system being relaxed with lobelia and the blood being so stimulated with such power, it will act on the whole system. It will act on the whole system like an increased flow of water turned in to a muddy spring of water—it will soon run clear. And although lobelia is set at nought and persecuted for the way it is ordained of God to be used in wisdom.
He also had this to say about cayenne pepper.

Now the healing power of nature is in the blood, and to accelerate the blood is to accelerate the healing power of nature and I am convinced there is nothing that will do this like cayenne pepper. You will find it applicable in all cases of sickness.

Considering what Meeks had to say, it's little wonder that John Christopher added a little capsicum and lobelia to almost every one of his formulas. There were several other Thomsonian physicians who practiced in the pioneer days of Utah who had a strong influence on many of the people who founded the herbal renaissance that grew out of companies in Utah like Nature's Sunshine Products. In fact, without these pioneer herbalists and the Thomsonian system of practice, it is likely that many more of the pioneers would have perished.

Christopher wasn't the only one influenced directly or indirectly by Thomson's work. The herbs Thompson discovered or popularized include many of the most popular Western herbs sold today-—capsicum, lobelia, golden seal, bayberry rootbark, myrrh gum and red raspberry leaves. Many popular herb books use a neo-Thomsonian approach. For instance, one can clearly see the influence of Thomson in Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss, who emphasizes Thomsonian herbs, such as lobelia, capsicum and goldenseal, and Thomsonian therapies, including enemas and the emetic.

Herbal Crisis formula is a recipe my herb teacher and mentor, Edward Milo Millet made combining herbal composition with lobelia and goldenseal.  There is an article about this blend elsewhere on this website.

Naturopathic physician and author Stan Malstrom has stated. “Samuel Thompson has probably contributed more to the science of herbology than any other individual in the history of the United States.”1 Without any formal medical training, he devised a system of healing that not only swept frontier America like a storm, it also crossed the oceans to kindle a new botanical movement in Europe (particularly England). In fact, it is estimated that by 1840 three to five million Americans had adopted the Thomsonian method of treating illness.

Interestingly enough, Thomsonians weren't interested in obtaining legal monopoly on the medical profession. In fact, they wanted just the opposite. Thomson and his followers believed that “the people are certainly capable of judging for themselves whether what is done for them removes their complaint or increases it.”2 So, supporters of this “grass-roots” health movement aligned themselves with the Jeffersonian democrats, who considered monopolies to be undemocratic in a free society. They helped form a powerful political movement known as the Popular Health Movement and were amazingly successful in their efforts. By 1850, they had wiped the medical licensing laws off the books in every state.

The success of the Thomsonian movement opened the door for the Eclectic physicians, the homeopaths, the naturopaths and many other innovations in health care. As the Story of Medicine in America noted, Thompson “demonstrated to the satisfaction of many that the capacity of Americans to survive between 1630 and 1760 without a medical profession had not been an accident, that a separate class of medical men was a luxury incompatible with sound reasoning or democratic practice.”3

Thomsonian medicine still holds much for us to consider. If nothing more, it demonstrates that even in medicine, history repeats itself. The following statements from Thompson's works sound like they could have been written today, by a modern herbalist or naturopath.

...I think we never had more need to be on our guard than at the present time. The people are crammed with...poison drugs, and the laws say they shall not examine and judge for themselves. The effects are pains, lingering sickness, and death...poison given to the sick by a person of the greatest skill, will have exactly the same effect as it would if given by a fool.

Of course, Thomson's writings and approach have strongly influenced my own works such as Dr. Mom-Dr. Dad and the ABC+D Approach to Natural Health Consulting. Like Thomson, I want to see a “grass-roots” botanical movement where people are able to take greater responsibility for their own health and monopolistic restrictions on healing are removed. The success of the Thomsonian movement gives me hope that we do this by creating a second “botanical revolution.”

1 Dr. Samuel Thomson by Stan Malstrom, Herbalist, Vol 1, No. 7, 1976, p. 281.
2 New Guide to Health or Botanic Family Physician by Samuel Thomson, Boston: J.Q.Adams, Printer, 1835, Preface by a friend, 8
3 The Story of Medicine in America by Geoffrey Marks and William K. Beatty. Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, 1973, p. 131.