Defunct medical traditions, and the herbal remedies contained therein, can be seen as a source of
new drugs. As an example, various members of the Polyporaceae family of mushrooms have
been used, by various cultures around the world, to combat infection and fight cancer. This fact
led researchers to examine the family of mushrooms for immune stimulating capacity. Over time,
researchers have determined that many members of Polyporaceae act as immune stimulants
(Grifola frondosa, Trametes versicolor). In addition, researchers have identified compounds
within these mushrooms (Beta?d?Glucans) that act as immune stimulants. Anti?cancer drugs are
now being developed based on this research.
The question is, how does one reach into a defunct medical tradition and extract potentially
interesting remedies that warrant further investigation? I have, over the last twenty years,
extracted data from defunct medical traditions and brought that information into the modern age
and contemporary usage. A methodology has developed for doing this and it is the one I applied
to this project.
Define the universe
First, it is important to define the universe from which you are going to be extracting
information. It is essential to familiarize oneself with the history of the defunct medical tradition
and the culture from whence it sprung, as well as the key players and the key texts, before
beginning the extraction process.
The Eclectic medical books are filled with innovative uses of Native American herbal remedies.
Because the Eclectics were practicing in places where they had no access to the long used
remedies of their European heritage, they had to make due with the drugs that could be found in
their immediate midst. Indeed, the frontier environment demanded innovation from all people,
be they farmers, ranchers or doctors.
As a researcher looking for drugs worthy of study, a single mention of a drug by one Eclectic
physician is not that significant. The physician’s success could have been based on the water he
used to make the medicine or some other extraneous fact. However, when ten Eclectics come to
the same conclusion about the same drug, then there is a significant piece of information. This
medical movement was so much about discovery that the notable drugs are the ones many
doctors found useful.
Clearly, the historical setting of the Eclectic movement informs the use of their texts. This is but
one example of the importance of knowing the history of the defunct medical tradition and how
it facilitates the research process and reading of texts.
Conducting research in a library with a concentration of historical documents from the defunct
medical tradition greatly facilitates the research process. This project was conducted in two such
locations, the American Library of Congress and the Lloyd Library in Cincinnati, Ohio. The
Eclectics were very good about sending all the books they wrote to the Library of Congress. At
one time, the Library of Congress collection was quite complete. However, do to increased
interest in the Eclectics, and lax security policies, many of the Eclectic books listed in the Library
of Congress catalogue are now missing from the collection. The better source is the Lloyd Library
in Cincinnati, Ohio where much of the research presented here was collected. The Lloyd Library
is a treasure trove; it contains the Eclectic medical books, Eclectic pharmaceutical texts, and
personal notes and correspondence of the Eclectic physicians. It is a nearly complete repository of
a dead medical tradition.
Eclectic physicians and pharmacists, recognizing their movement and ideas were doomed, also
recognized the value of their knowledge and knew it warranted preservation. Thus, the Lloyd
Library came into existence. Working at the Lloyd Library, I was able to compile a chronological
list of Eclectic physicians? use of each of the 199 herbal remedies studied in this project. Having
the opportunity to go through the Eclectic medical books, chronologically, and discover the
applications and comments applied to each drug were incredibly useful. Such a reading allowed
a sense of flow to develop and themes were revealed that helped better identify useful drugs for
An example of this type of chronology for one of the drugs, Alnus rubra, follows.
Alnus rubra, bark.
Properties and Uses ? Tag Alder Bark is alterative, emetic, and astringent. A decoction or extract of it is useful
in scrofula, secondary syphilis, and several forms of cutaneous disease. The inner bark of the root is emetic; and
a decoction of the cones is said to be astringent and useful in hematuria, and other hemorrhages. An excellent
opthalmic powder is made by boring a hole from half an inch to an inch in diameter, lengthwise, through a stout
piece of a limb of a tag alder. Put it into hot ashes, and let it remain till the tag is almost all charred (three or
four days), then split it open, take out the salt, powder, and keep it in a vial. To use it, blow some of the powder
in the eye, through a quill. An article named Alnuine is said to have been obtained from this plant, which
possesses alterative, tonic and astringent properties , and is recommended in herpes, syphilis, scorbutus,
scrofula, impetigo, etc, in doses of one to three grains, three or four times a day. Likewise an essential agent,
Alunin, for the same purpose. We have not been advised of the manner in which these agents are prepared, and
therefore can say but little concerning them.
Preparation ? Prepare a tincture from the recent bark 3viij. to Alcohol 50 degree Oj. Dose gtts. j. to xx. We may
employ the Alnus in infusion, or in the form of tincture with dilute alcohol; the first being preferable if we wish
its greatest influence.
It exerts a specific influence upon the processes of waste and nutrition, increasing the one and stimulating the
other. It is thus a fair example of the ideal alterative, and is one of the most valuable of our indigenous remedies.
Its special use seems to be in those cases in which there is superficial disease of the skin or mucous membranes,
taking the form of eczema or pustular eruption. In these cases I have employed it as a general remedy, and as a
local application with the best results. It does not seem to make much difference whether it is a conjunctivitis,
an ulcerated sore mouth or throat, chronic eczema, or secondary syphilis presenting these characteristics, it is