One of my part time jobs this summer is as a cook at a mental rehab facility. I like to think that the food I prepare and serve is a healing force. There is a specific diet, which is based on a whole grain rotation and an incorporation of as many vegetables as possible. The basic philosophy of this diet stems from the connection between chemical and nutrient imbalance as a cause for mental disabilities. Each patient is also prescribed a vitamin regiment. Furthermore, the programming at the facility is based in a holistic approach to self-care through diet, exercise, and spirituality. Several teachers come to host classes and outings where the patients, called students, participate in doing art, tai chi, drama, exercise. Rather than writing about the food or the program, I am most intrigued by a book and a system of medicine that came to me through the director of the facility.
The Thomsonian System is a course of herbal-medical treatment designed and taught by Samuel Thomson in the late nineteenth century. Samuel Thomson wrote a book (several volumes) called the New Guide to Health, in 1822. This is not the book to which I was introduced but rather a book about the Thomsonian System, written by Doctor R. Swinburne Clymer, called The Medicines of Nature. The book contains a sampling of Materia Medica of Thomson’s System as well as his main formulas. I have been reading an original copy of this book from 1926 with it’s stained yellow pages and musty smell.
I think it is important to look at the history of botanical medicine, from early indigenous peoples and ethno-botanical studies to pioneers in clinical herbalism and naturopathy in western civilization. In the 1800’s, Samuel Thomsan was an outspoken herbalist. It is clear that the rift between natural medicine and the allopathic model is endemic throughout most of western civilization, especially in America.
There are modern practitioners of all sorts who maintain that natural medicine is the best mode of treatment, but in this age, most people are skeptical of this position! Dr. Thomson’s philosophy is that, “Nature and Nature alone, will be the basis of all curative activity.” He notes that disease is dis-ease (an un-ease) or an imbalance due to a lack of certain elements or minerals.
Of course modern medical research has disproved this blanket statement. For example, a common disease in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was dysentery. We now know this is caused by different types of microorganisms (Shigella sp. and Entamoeba histolytica). Nonetheless, his book contains herbal remedies to treat this serious disease.
The basis of this thought, however, is rooted in science. The human body’s natural state is that of homeostasis or equilibrium of functioning, and its inability to do that results in disease. In this example, Dr. Thomson’s system selects healing plant-life according to the organic mineral element content. This method of treatment is to enhance cellular activity for the body to achieve homeostasis on its own. The practitioner merely supplies the body with food.