A Short "Course" in Thomsonian Medicine

Anyone who has heard me lecture over the years has probably heard me refer to an herbalist named Samuel Thomson, because many of my ideas came from his writings.  Thomson, who lived in the early 1800s had six basic remedies that he used to treat just about everything, following a systematic procedure. Here's a brief description of what Thomsonian medicine entailed, along with a description of Thomson's six basic remedies.

Thomson's number one, lobelia, was used to clear obstructions from the system. It was used in frequently repeated doses along with his number two remedy, capsicum, which was used to “raise the heat.” Thomson believed that disease was caused by cold (loss of vital energy) and obstruction in the system. Lobelia was often given until it induced vomiting to “clear the stomach,” but was always administered with capsicum, ginger or another stimulant to raise vital energy.

This was followed or in some cases preceded by frequent doses of Thomson's number three, composition powder, a combination of bayberry rootbark, hemlock spruce or white pine, ginger, cayenne and cloves. Nature's Sunshine Products sells composition under the trade name HCP-X. The HCP is short for Herbal Composition Powder and the X indicates it was a John Christopher formula.  Doses of this composition tea were given orally throughout the course of treatment. It was often administered rectally in an enema to open the bowel or to arrest diarrhea. Composition tea was supposed to “scour the bowels to remove the canker” (mucus).

When the patient was not feeble, he or she was “steamed” next. To create a mini-sauna, the patient was placed on a chair and wrapped in a blanket. A pan of water was placed at their feet into which a hot stone was dropped to create the steam. The stone was changed as soon as it was cool and more cayenne and composition were administered until the patient was perspiring freely. If the patient was weak, he or she was fed mild food for several days before undergoing this procedure.

These three procedures cleansed the body by emptying the stomach, cleansing the bowel and opening the sweat glands. After being “cleansed” in this manner, the patient was put to bed and permitted to rest.

The final step was the administration of number four, a bitter digestive tonic, consisting of herbs such as golden seal and poplar bark. This was drunk for several days before meals “to correct the bile and restore digestion.”

In cases of diarrhea, a syrup, Thompson formula number five, was used. A tincture of myrrh and cayenne was number six. There were a few other formulas which might be added to the treatment for special purposes such as a nerve powder, but the above six were the basic remedies, and the first four were the most important. There were substitutes for each of the basic six, because Thomson recognized that different herbs could be used in the procedure as long as they produced the desired effect.

The above was considered a “course” in Thomsonian treatment. Usually, it took only one “course” of treatment to relieve the condition, but sometimes the procedure was repeated several times. (I sometimes think that by the third course you'd want to get well just to avoid having to go through all that again.)

Thomsonian Medicine in Poetic Form
The following is a poem taken from Samuel Thomson's book, A New Guide to Health.  I've added some annotations in brackets to clarify what he means in certain cases.  I got my idea for the Disease Tree model from this poem.

Th'Emetic number ONE's design'd [#1 = lobelia]
A gen'ral med'cine for mankind,
Of every country, clime, or place,
Wide as the circle of our race.

In every case, and state, and stage,
Whatever malady may rage;
For male or female, young or old,
Nor can its value half be told.

To use this med'cine do not cease,
Till you are helped of your disease;
For NATURE'S FRIEND, this sure will be,
When you are taken sick at sea.

Let number TWO be used as bold, [#2 = composition]
To clear the stomach of the cold;
Next steep the coffee, number THREE, [#3 = capsicum]
And keep as warm as you can be.

A hot stone at the feet now keep,
As well as inward warmth repeat,
The fountain 'bove the stream keep clear,
And perspiration will appear.

When sweat enough, as you suppose,
In spirit wash, and change your clothes;
Again to bed, both clean and white,
And sleep in comfort all the night.

Should the disorder reinforce,
Then follow up the former course;
The second time I think will do,
The third to fail I seldom knew.

Now take your bitters by the way, [#4 = digestive bitters]
Two, three, or four times in a day;
Your appetite, if it be good,
You may eat any kind of food.

Physic, I would by no means choose [physics are herbal laxatives like cascara]
To have you first or last to use;
For if you take it much in course,
It will disorder reinforce.

If anyone should be much bruis'd,
Where bleeding frequently is used,
A lively sweat upon that day,
Will start the blood a better way.

Let names of all disorders be
Like to the limbs, join'd on a tree;
Work on the root, and that subdue,
Then all the limbs will bow to you.

So as the body is the tree,
The limbs are colic, pleurisy,
Worms and gravel, gout and stone,
Remove the cause, and they are gone.

My system's founded on this truth,
Man's Air and Water, Fire and Earth,
And death is cold, and life is heat,
These temper'd well, your health's complete.