(From vol. v, 2nd edit., 1826.)
(The freshly expressed juice of the whole plant just coming into flower, mixed with equal parts of alcohol.)
Ordinary medicine has hitherto known no single true way of investigating the peculiar powers of each individual medicinal substance, in order to discover what each is capable of curing. In her want of resources she knew of nothing to rely upon for this purpose, except external resemblance. She even imagined that the taste would reveal the inner medicinal power.
Accordingly all plants that had a bitter taste were considered as identical in action, and were mixed together in one mess. They were all held to possesses one quality in common, which was this sole one: they were mild tonics and strengthened the stomach (in all the innumerable and heterogeneous morbid states). So for this purpose modern doctors (a more enlightened posterity will scarcely believe it) prescribed right away extraction amarum, without indicating any bitter plant in particular of which it should be made, so that it was left to the goodwill and pleasure of the apothecary to determine what plants (they might differ as much as they pleased in respect to medicinal powers, provided only they had a bitter taste) he chose to boil down, in order to make the decoction for such an extract, in order to fulfil the imaginary intention of the doctor to affect God knows what sort of strengthening with these unknown vegetable juices.
More thoughtlessly it would be impossible to act, more contemptuously it would be impossible to treat the noble human life. For as every plant differs so strikingly in its external characters from every other plant, that botanists think they cannot too carefully enumerate their visible differences, so must they differ in their inner nature and consequently in their medicinal properties. Hence it is impossible that such an obscure expression of their internal character as a (bitter) taste can be intended to indicate the remarkable differences of the inner medicinal spirit of each of them. Consequently, we must not from the mere bitter taste determine anything either in respect to their general or their special medicinal actions, or their identity; nor must we assume the unconditional tonic action of all bitter plants without distinction as their sole medicinal power – not to mention that each of these plants always has its own peculiar bitterness, besides some other collateral taste, which cannot fail to indicate an inner difference of medicinal action, that no human reason can discern from the mere taste.
Such being the case, it follows that it would be absurd and nonsensical if we should be so foolish as to infer a stomach-strengthening action from the quality of bitterness. If not, then why should not ear-wax, the bile of animals, squills, agaric staphisagria, nux-vomica, ignatia, colocynth, elaterium, &c, be tonic, stomach-strengthening remedies? – they are surely all bitter enough! – ant yet several of them in moderate doses are capable of destroying human life.
So utterly has ordinary medicine misunderstood, so completely identical with other bitter plants has she regarded the buckbean, a plant that differs from all other bitter plants in nature, in respect to its singular appearance, its habitat, and its peculiar bitter taste. Hence it is a fact that its true, pure, peculiar medicinal effects and the morbid symptoms it produces in the healthy human body, owing to which it can cure (homoeopathically) similar natural morbid states, is so remarkably and so decidedly different from those of every other bitter plant, that it would be absurd to consider this plant as identical with other bitter plants.
Physicians of the ordinary school maunder about the gout-curing power of buckbean, just as they have done about that of other bitter plants, without concerning themselves with the injuries and the fatal effects (See W. CULLEN’s Materia Medica, ii, p. 79 (Leipzig: Schwickert, 1790). That have ensued from the persistent employment of such unsuitable medicines in cases of this sort. We do not even know unsuitable medicines in cases of this sort. We do not even know precisely what they mean by that word of many meanings, “gout,” for a number of very different painful diseases of the limbs and joints, attended by many accessory symptoms, are called by one and the same name.
And so undiscriminating ordinary medicine idly asserts buckbean has cured a number of other pathological affections (which in nature never occur in the same manner), yet when we examine for ourselves the so-called observations, some twenty, thirty, or fifty other powerful remedies were employed at the same time, or mixed up together, showing in the most palpable manner the incorrectness of the assertion that buckbean did good. Even when as very rarely happened, it was used by itself in some cases of disease, and seemed to be of use all by itself in some cases of disease, and seemed to of use all by itself, there is seldom anything worthy of imitation to be learned from these instances, because it was not administered on intelligible grounds but in a sort of random way, and the case of disease said to have been cured stands, like every other case, all alone by itself in nature, and exactly identical case never occurs, consequently it never comes under our treatment.