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History of Naturopathy

– Stephen Langley, ND


15,000 BC Shamanic rituals on cave paintings in France (healing mind & soul).

Ayurveda Medicine (3000-1000 BC) ayur (life) and veda (science).

  • Sacred medicine from Ancient India.
  • Holistic philosophy embracing fasts, herbs, enemas, baths and cleansing diets

2700 BC Shen Nong discovers Chinese herbalism.

2600 BC Imhotep describes ancient Egyptian medicine.

c2000 BC The writings of the Nei Jing (Classics of Internal medicine) by Huang-Ti (Yellow Emperor).

c1700 BC Code of Hammurabi (King of Babylon) lays down laws for doctors.

1550 BC Ebers papyrus records Egyptian medical practice.

1200BC Asclepius (Greek physician) sets up a healing center in Greece.

HIPPOCRATES (468-377 BC) The father of medicine.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.

  • Greek physician from Cos.
  • Recognised that disease was a disturbance of the balance of harmony within the body.
  • A physician would restore this balance with the help of the patient.
  • He was the first healer to record medical experiences for future reference.
  • The Hippocratic oath was exacted by his students.

c300 BC The medical school and library of Alexandria is founded.

DIOSCORIDES (Ist century AD)

  • Greek physician who accompanied the Roman armies.
  • Wrote the first comprehensive illustrated book on herbal medicine (De Materia Medica).
  • He embraced Hippocrates teachings.


  • Noted Greek physician and medical writer.
  • Resided in Rome where he had a successful practice.
  • Surgeon to the gladiators.
  • Personal physician to Marcus Aurelius (circa AD 121-180).
  • Adopted Hippocratic teaching (ie medicine seeks to balance the mental, physical and emotional).
  • His influence lasted for centuries and he was recognised as the authority on medicine through the middle ages.
  • He mixed many herbs together as tonics.
  • He put great emphasis on the pulse as a diagnostic tool.
  • Advanced the understanding of the law similia similibus curentur (like cures like) that both Stahl (1738) and Hippocrates understood.

1760s John Hunter (British surgeon b.1728) revolutionises surgery.

1796 Edward Jenner vaccinates against smallpox using cowpox.

SAMUEL THOMSON (1769-1843)

  • Born in New Hampshire, USA, was club-footed and grew up sickly.
  • Doctors could not help him.
  • His father called in a herbalist and the 8 year old boy was fascinated with the green plant medicines.
  • He grew up with no faith in doctors after his mother died and his own daughter became ill.
  • Whenever his family was ill, he would purge them with lobelia (his favourite emetic herb).
  • He set up practice as a root and herb doctor, his only master-Hippocrates.
  • His trilogy of cure included lobelia (vomit), cayenne (restore body heat) and a vapour bath (sweat).
  • He eventually used 65 other herbs.
  • 1805-epidemic (probably yellow fever), people could compare both systems of medicine.
  • Thomson sweated patients and gave herbal tonics.
  • Doctors bled patients copiously and gave the medicine calomel (mercurous chloride).
  • Not one of Thomsons patients died, yet half the doctors patients died.
  • The doctors rose against him, denouncing him as an illiterate quack.
  • 1808 arrested on a formal charge of administering lobelia to a patient who had diedhe was framed by the medical profession.
  • Thomson acquitted.
  • 1835 the governor of Mississippi claimed that half the state depended on Thomsonian medicine.
  • 1839 he had 3 million faithful followers.

1819 Rene Laennec (French physician) introduces the first stethoscope.

1840 John Hoxsey (American physician) manufactures herbal cancer cure.

1847 Ignaz Semmelweiss (Hungarian doctor) demonstrates that infection is spread by unwashed hands.

1853 Queen Victoria uses chloroform as an anaesthetic during childbirth.

1854 John Snow (British surgeon) demonstrates that cholera is spread through contaminated drinking water.

1865 Joseph Lister (British surgeon) carries out the first operation using carbolic acid as an antiseptic.

1878 Louis Pasteur (French scientist) presents his case for the germ theory of infection.

1882 Robert Koch (German doctor) discovers the tubercle bacillus that causes TB.

1885 Louis Pasteur successfully tests his rabies vaccine.


  • Austrian scientist and founder of the Anthroposophical Society in 1913,which means the wisdom (sophia) of man (anthropos).
  • Philosopher, educator and spiritual teacher.
  • He sought to find the soul of plants.
  • Advocate of herbal medicine, re-incarnation and vegetarianism.
  • Believed that ill-health was an imbalance of the 4 planes of man – Physical, etheric, astral and consciousness of the personal ego. (In health they all work together in a harmonious, holistic way.)

EDWARD BACH(1886-1936)

  • English physician and pathologist.
  • He believed that there were 38 states of mind which, if corrected, could improve the physical condition.
  • Made remedies from the petals of wild flowers.
  • He maintained that the cause of most illness was housed in the mind.
  • He believed that destructive moods produce body toxins which lowers vitality.

1895 Wilheim Rontgen discovers X-rays.

1898 Marie Curie discovers the radioactive element radium.

Mid to late 1800s – The watercure clinics of Europe


  • Austrian farmer who lived in Grafenburg (Germany) in the Silesian mountains.
  • A sanitarium developed for his patients built on drugless healing.
  • Exercise: Fresh mountain air, Water treatments in the mountain streams, Diet consisting of black bread, fresh vegetables and unpasteurised milk.


  • Set up a clinic in Austria around same time as Priessnitz.
  • 1897 founded the Bircher-Benner clinic in Zurich.
  • Sunlight theory of nutritionhighest potential is in raw food and that potential is degraded by heat.
  • Advocated a 50/50 raw food diet with emphasis on fruit.
  • Bircher muesli.


  • Pupil of Priessnitz.
  • Elaborated the watercures, enlarged and enriched natural healing.
  • Claimed he cured his TB by bathing in the Danube.
  • His book My water cure.
  • His famous saying, Many people died while the herbs that could have saved them grow on their graves.

A number of American orthodox physicians came to study under Priessnitz et al and took the knowledge gained from the European watercures back to the USA.

Among them: –


  • Trained at the watercure clinic that Kneipp founded.
  • Arrived in the USA in the 1890s and began using the term naturopathy to describe an eclectic approach to natural healing.
  • 1902 founded the first U.S. College of Naturopathic medicine in New York.
  • His book The principles, Aims and Program of the Naturecure.


  • Treated many pneumonia cases successfully using a regime of cleansing the colon with enemas and colonics as well as using live, natural foods.


  • Maintained that 90% of the diseases of civilisation are due to improper functioning of the colon.
  • He ran the Adventist Battle Creek Sanitarium.
  • Kellogg brothers (with brother Will) produced shredded wheat and granola biscuits).


  • He termed Naturecure from which Naturopathy and Natural therapeutics have derived.
  • He wrote 4 books including Philosophy of Natural Therapeutics.
  • He considered Accumulation of morbid matter to be one of the primary causes of disease.
  • He formulated the idea of Healing Crisis (The ascending of Natures healing forces over disease conditions).
  • And Disease Crisis (Those acute disorders in which disease conditions gain ascendancy over the resistance of the organism).
  • The 3-fold nature of man. Physical body is dominated by mind. Mind is inspired through inner consciousness (soul).

Priessnitz influenced many, either directly or indirectly, and various systems of natural treatment developed from this fertile period.


  • Developed the first chart of the iris.
  • Became a surgeon and would observe changes in his patients iris in accordance with their condition.
  • He was influenced by Priessnitz later in his life and the value of iridology was incorporated into naturaltherapeutics.
  • Published his findings on iridology in 1866.


  • 1892 set up the first college of osteopathy in Kirkville, USA.


  • 1895 re-discovered chiropractic in Iowa, USA.

1901-2 Karl Landsteiner describes the blood groups making transfusions possible.

1902 Frederick Treves (Knighted British surgeon) makes removal of appendix a regular treatment.

1928 The researcher Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin.


  • Student of Kellogg.
  • He claimed a 40% success rate in treating leukaemia.
  • Advocated bowel cleansing as the most important aspect in maintaining health. Every tissue is fed by the blood which is supplied by the bowel.
  • Advanced iridology.
  • Wrote a number of books including Health magic through chlorophyll from living plant life.


  • Opened the first modern health food store in Los Angeles.
  • Wrote a number of books on nutrition and fasting including Water: The shocking truth.


  • Founder of the Natural Hygiene School.
  • Fasting, diet, exercise and rest.
  • His book: Fasting can save your life.


  • The chief exponent of naturopathy in Britain in the 1920s.
  • Hygienist school.
  • Neuro-muscular technique (NMT).


  • followed Stanley Lief.
  • His famous book: Better sight without glasses.


  • 1938 established the Kingston clinic in Edinburgh.
  • Emphasised the value of fibre in the diet to maintain intestinal function (eg. unrefined grains, raw vegetables and fruit).


  • 3rd generation herbalist.
  • His strength lay in simple remedies for common complaints.
  • Used many different poultices and compresses.
  • His message Trust in Nature.

1953 James Watson and Francis Crick discover the structure of DNA.

1954 The first successful kidney transplant is performed.

1955 Jonas Salk introduces the first polio vaccine.

1961 Thalidomide (a sedative) is withdrawn.

1964 Christiaan Barnard (Sth. African surgeon) carries out first heart transplant.


  • Carried on work at the Kneipp clinic during the 1970s.
  • Developed his famous Breuss cancer cure using juice fasts and herbs.
  • His book: The Breuss cancer cure.

Other Naturopaths who have contributed greatly in taking Naturopathic Medicine forward.

  • Dr John Christopher.
  • Maurice Blackmore.
  • Dr Max Gerson.

This excerpt was taken from The Naturopathy Workbook by Stephen Langley, MSc, ND, DipHom, DBM, DipAc, OMD.

The Naturopathy Workbook is available to purchase here.

Stephen Langley MSc, ND, DipHom, DBM, DipAc, OMD, is a registered Naturopath, Homoeopath, Acupuncturist and Medical Herbalist. He has appeared on a number of television and radio programs concerning a wide range of health issues as well as being a regular contributor in the press for articles on health and healing. Stephen has studied Holistic Medicine in China, India, Hawaii, Australia, Tibet and Japan and has given talks on Naturopathic Medicine in many countries around the world.

This article is listed on the College of Naturopathic Medicine website.






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Blog/Article content reflects the author's research and diverse opinions, not necessarily CNM's views. Items may not be regularly updated, so represent the best available understanding at the time of publication.

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