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The origins of Naturopathy

‘Naturopathy’, ‘The Natural Method’, ‘Nature Cure’, and ‘Herbalism’ are all words that describe the natural healthcare system that has evolved since the 5th or early 4th century BCE. One of the most well-known physicians of this time was Hippocrates, labelled the ‘Father of Medicine.’ Hippocrates was an ancient Greek healer who was revered for his ethical standards in medical practice, contributing to the formation of the Hippocrates Corpus.

Dried herbs used to make herbal medicine
Herbal medicine


Hippocrates

The Hippocrates Corpus is a compilation of sixty medical texts that were written over 700 years ago, containing 380 plant species and their traditional uses to treat conditions. Hippocrates proposed that illness could be explained by looking at the body as a whole. He explains the importance of nourishing the whole body through diet and exercise. Hippocrates proposed that disease was due to an unbalanced state interrupted by internal (humours) or external factors. He described the body as being governed by the existence of four internal humours (phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic and sanguine), alongside the four elements (earth, water, fire and air). Healing through nature was thus brought about by using herbs and diet to restore the balance of the inner humours. He declared, ‘nature cures, not the physician.’


Dioscorides

During the 1st century, a Greek physician called Dioscorides wrote a number of important botanical and pharmacological texts called De Materia Medica. He described over 600 plants in detail with their features, medicinal properties and distribution. These texts were revered as a primary pharmacological texts until the 15th century, describing the qualities of simple herb extracts such as astringent, warming, cool and bitter.


Nature Cure

Nature Cure was a movement pioneered by Vincenz Priessnitz and Sebastian Kneipp in 1700 to 1800s throughout Europe. Nature Cure includes methods such as diet, exercise, hydrotherapy, fresh air, deep breathing, manipulation of the spine and massage. Kneipp used cold water therapy to cure his debilitating tuberculosis which sparked the teachings of hydrotherapy as a healing system.


Naturopathy in Australia

In the 1900s, in Australia, Chinese herbalists and English migrants who trained at Naturopathic Colleges’ overseas pioneered what we see today. Traditional knowledge of plants and their uses remains a fundamental framework of Naturopathy. However, clinical research in the past 30-40 years has defined how clinical nutrition and herbal medicine is used today. As with most modalities, science has shaped modern Naturopathy with a focus on healing the body from the inside out; using herbal medicine, nutritional supplementation, and dietary and lifestyle changes to promote inner healing.


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Reference list

  1. Lust, B. (1918). Universal naturopathic encyclopaedia directory and buyers guide: Year book of drugless therapy 1918-19. New York. https://archive.org/details/universalnaturop00lust/page/54/mode/2up?ref=ol&view=theater

  2. Smith, W. (2022). Hippocrates: Greek physician. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hippocrates

  3. Totelin, L. (2021). Hippocrates corpus. Oxford Classical Dictionary. https://oxfordre.com/classics/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.001.0001/acrefore-9780199381135-e-8525

  4. Touwaide, A., & Appetiti, E. (2015). Food and medicines in the Mediterranean tradition. A systematic analysis of the earliest extant body of textual evidence.. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 167, 11-29. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378874114007454?via%3Dihub

  5. Vivian, N. (2012). Ancient Medicine. Taylor & Francis Group. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.endeavour.edu.au/lib/endeavour/reader.action?docID=1104782&ppg=69 Vivian Nutton ancient medicine


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