More years than I’ll admit to have passed since I sat in on a college class with a friend of mine. The subject was folk medicine.
The professor blithely dismissed the use of plants to cure disease as a possibility. The Russian peasants he was talking about were superstitious, ill educated, and no better than witch doctors.
I wasn’t a member of the class, but what the lecturer said bothered me. At the time, I had no prejudice against modern medicine. In fact, access to the campus health center was one of my favorite things about college.
Still, why would people keep drinking teas and eating things for their medicinal value if none of it worked? The odds of every herbal treatment administered any time, any place, by any practitioner having just placebo value is – well – absurd, if not impossible.
I proposed that theory to the professor, and he admitted I had a point. He suggested that if I wore a hat, no one would notice.
This isn’t to say that our ancestors didn’t have some weird notions. I’m just suggesting the possibility that not everything they believed was absurd.
The eBook linked to above was written in the late 17th century. This is one of those things that you probably shouldn’t try at home, unless you have enough personal knowledge and experience to know if a given recipe makes sense. This is to say that you shouldn’t include newt’s eye and bat’s wing in your party punch unless you know for a fact that they won’t have bad side effects, and that they will benefit you, at least culinarily.
Plants have active properties that can mingle with other supplements or medicines you are already taking. Any time you introduce two active ingredients to each other, there’s a risk they won’t play well together.
Nevertheless, it occurs to me that if we are talking about ancient cures, who better than an ancient herbalist to teach us. Much of what he writes makes sense and may be useful.
But, I wouldn’t count on it. It just ain’t worth the risk. We have no way of knowing how many of his patients bit the dust because of something he recommended. I, for one would prefer to see another bright, sunny day.
Still, his book is fun to read, and I am neutral on the issue of whether his cures are effective. I hope you enjoy reading them, too. Just study modern natural remedies before you experiment on yourself, friends or family, unless they’ve really honked you off lately.
Better yet, take Dr. Colepepper’s own warning to heart:
I cannot build my faith upon Authors’ words, nor believe a thing because they say it, and could wish every body were of my mind in this,—to labour to be able to give a reason for every thing they say or do. They say Reason makes a man differ from a Beast; if that be true, pray what are they that, instead of reason for their judgment, quote old Authors? Perhaps their authors knew a reason for what they wrote, perhaps they did not; what is that to us? Do we know it? Truly in writing this work first, to satisfy myself, I drew out all the virtues of the vulgar or common[iv] Herbs, Plants, and Trees, &c., out of the best or most approved authors I had, or could get; and having done so, I set myself to study the reason of them. I knew well enough the whole world, and every thing in it, was formed of a composition of contrary elements, and in such a harmony as must needs show the wisdom and power of a great God. I knew as well this Creation, though thus composed of contraries, was one united body, and man an epitome of it: I knew those various affections in man, in respect of sickness and health, were caused naturally (though God may have other ends best known to himself) by the various operations of the Microcosm; and I could not be ignorant, that as the cause is, so must the cure be; and therefore he that would know the reason of the operation of the Herbs, must look up as high as the Stars, astrologically. I always found the disease vary according to the various motions of the Stars; and this is enough, one would think, to teach a man by the effect where the cause lies. Then to find out the reason of the operation of Herbs, Plants, &c., by the Stars went I; and herein I could find but few authors, but those as full of nonsense and contradiction as an egg is full of meat. This not being pleasing, and less profitable to me, I consulted with my two brothers, Dr. Reason and Dr. Experience, and took a voyage to visit my mother Nature, by whose advice, together with the help of Dr. Diligence, I at last obtained my desire; and, being warned by Mr. Honesty, a stranger in our days, to publish it to the world, I have done it.
Or, take the easy way out and take your caution from Grace Slick: