Isn’t it absurd that we call the modalities of natural healing "alternative medicine"? Obviously, "alternative" refers to something other than the accepted or the standard. The opposite to "alternative medicine" is what we now call orthodox or allopathic medicine, which then makes it the standard.

This really irks me. For 2,200 years until 1805, medicine was practised exclusively according to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 BC), the founding father of natural medicine. He taught that the first and foremost principle of medicine must be to respect nature’s healing forces, which inhabit each living organism. Hippocrates considered illness a natural phenomenon that forced people to discover the imbalances in their health. He strongly believed in good food and related the course of any ailment to poor nutrition and bad eating habits. He stressed, "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food"–advice that, to this day, has not lost its validity.

I mention the year 1805 because in that year in the small town of Einbeck, where I went to school and enrolled in my apprenticeship, German pharmacist Friedrich Wilhelm Sert?r (1783-1841) discovered morphine, named after Morpheus, the god of dreams. Morphine is the bitter, white crystalline found in opium, the milky sap of the unripe poppy. This was the first time, and a significant moment in pharmaceutical history, that a single potent ingredient, an alkaloid, was isolated.

Sert?r was celebrated "freeman of the city," and to this day his pharmacy and discovery are subjects of school projects for students of Einbeck. Hence, the awakening of my desire to become a pharmacist, which, however, never materialized due to unfavorable circumstances during the war and thereafter. Instead, I chose natural health as my profession and my passion.

Ever since morphine was isolated, pharmacists and scientists all over the world turned their backs on the natural healing effects of the synergistic complex of herbs, instead concentrating on finding that magical single ingredient hidden within the plant.

Out of this initial success of isolating single active agents grew today’s mighty phytochemical and chemo-therapeutical industry. Scientists found it easier to work with chemicals, and inherent side-effects of administering single substances were ignored or downplayed. With its financial power, the pharmaceutical industry soon gained control over modern medicine. The use of drugs in treating ailments is taught at universities, and doctors must adhere to this doctrine once in practice. It is actually a crime for them to prescribe natural substances such as herbs or vitamins.

If they do, the College of Physicians and Surgeons will accuse them of unprofessional conduct and cancel their licences.

Meanwhile, we are observing a renaissance, a revival of herbal medicine. Scientists are discovering that not only herbs, but also foods contain synergistic groups of ingredients that provide medicinal benefit. These groups are referred to as "secondary ingredients" because previously we believed they were of lesser value. Their action couldn’t be explained, though considered to be important. These ingredients include, among many others, carotenoids, flavonoids, phenols, estrogens and enzyme inhibitors. The Europeans have coined a fancy name for them, phytochemicals, which means "plant-based."

Almost daily we hear of new miraculous benefits of one of those phytochemicals discovered in herbs and food. Pigments or colouring agents are now known to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer, especially lycopene from tomatoes and beets. Now we truly can relate to what Hippocrates proclaimed: Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.

About the Author

Siegfried Gursche is the founder of Alive Publishing Group Inc. Respected as a pioneer of the Canadian health food industry since 1954, he continues to educate and inspire people through book and magazine publishing.