Gemmotherapy and particularly oligotherapy play a prominent role in a book on European herbal medicine published in the USA more than ten years ago, but which has apparently escaped the attention of the wider gemmotherapy community.
Botanical Medicine: A European Professional Perspective, by Dan Kenner and Yves Requena, first appeared in 1998 and was re-issued by Redwing Books in 2001. It approaches the subject of herbal medicine through the concept of the ‘terrain’ as described in three different energetic models. It is phytotherapy from a European, particularly a French, perspective.
The concept that illness is largely due to the biological ‘terrain’ that allows micro-organisms to flourish was developed by two French doctors, Claude Bernard and Antoine Bechamp in the mid-19th century. It stands in contrast to the germ theory of disease, associated with the name of Pasteur. The validity of this approach is undisputed in conventional medicine, but does not fit well within a holistic model.
‘Terrain’ means the individual patient’s constitutional type – essentially their energetic make-up, as expressed through such factors as temperament, hereditary traits and physiological characteristics.
A book aimed at health care professionals rather than a self-help book for the public, Botanical Medicine proposes that practitioners need to consider the nature of the patient’s terrain. This is because herbal remedies themselves have precisely differentiated energetic qualities and will work best when correctly matched with the terrain.
As well as discussing three main systems in which a terrain is identified, the book classifies numerous remedies according to their ability to treat conditions arising in each kind of terrain, and provides guidelines for treatment within this framework.
The three’ models discussed are:
- the Western European neuroendocrine system, based on Hans Seyle’s work on the stress response, characterised by neurological control systems and their effect on endocrine gland secretion
- the traditional Chinese five-element model, known to practitioners of TCM but also widely adopted among Western herbalists
- the French whole system theory of terrain of constitutional oligotherapy, based on Jacques Menetrier’s five diastheses model
Gemmotherapy comes in here, because of its frequent association with oligotherapy in French practice, and also in the materia medica section, where a large number of plant-based remedies of all kinds (including aromatherapy oils) are comprehensively profiled and their therapeutic indications presented.
While not a book on gemmotherapy alone, Botanical Medicine serves to clarify the theoretical position of oligotherapy, and also gives some pointers towards a possible broader study of gemmotherapy remedies that would take into account the ‘terrain’ of the patient. This merits our attention at a time when we are going into more depth with our materia medica than ever before.