Herbal medicine and humoral pathology

Herbal medicine has been linked for centuries to humoral pathology, the four humors: blood (sang), phlegm (phlegm), light bile (chol) and dark bile (melanchol). These humors are associated with the four temperaments and represent the conditions and constitutions in which one of the humors is dominant. There is then a dyscracy. If the body is healthy, there will be a balance between the different juices and temperaments. When these 4 humors are present in the correct proportion in the body, we speak of eukrasis (balance) and then the person is healthy. If there is a shortage or accumulation of one of these humors, a dyskrasis occurs and the person becomes ill. But even though all people have these 4 humors, one humor usually predominates and that explains the difference in character, talent and physique between people. One then speaks of different temperaments.

Such is a person,

  • he who has the most phlegm is a phlegmatic;
  • who has the most bile is a choleric;
  • he who has the most black bile is a melancholic;
  • who has the most blood is a sanguinicus.

The humoral model is a speculative model. Galen, Hyppocratus and others have asked themselves whether these humors can be traced back to observable bodily fluids. The phlegm was related to the mucous secretions that emerge from various body cavities, mainly from the nose and from the tracheae. The yellow bile was probably what is still called bile, and the blood (sanguine) was undoubtedly blood in its purest form. But whether the black bile can also be interpreted as blood from internal bleeding in the body is much less clear. Galen writes about this:
… the black bile is so much more vicious and also sharper in its action than the yellow bile ‘. In this context, one should not lose sight of the fact that the Greek word melas does not only mean the color ‘black’ or the property ‘dark’. It simultaneously evokes the image of ‘ evil’, of that which belongs to the night side of life and is at the same time terrifying.


Aristotle (384-322), for his part, thought that these theories were only useful if the stoic theory could be applied to them; ni. the four basic properties that determine our sense of touch: cold, heat, moisture and dryness. These stoicisms could be applied to both the microcosm and the macrocosm:

  • Water is cold and moist
  • Fire is warm and dry
  • Earth is dry and cold
  • Air is warm and moist


Homotoxin theory

The modern version of this humoral pathology is the homotoxin theory as adhered to by most natural physicians. Current herbal medicine is also often presented in this light.
Diseases are an expression of disturbed homeostasis in the body. The bodily fluids! extracellular volume) are poisoned with toxic products (waste products, food toxins). This ‘dyscrasia’ can be resolved by activating the body’s defense mechanism, which removes the toxic substances through the excretory organs. The herbs have the ability to initiate this removal of toxins and thus bring the body back into balance.
Now an herb is a combination of multiple chemical substances that can work synergistically and can also have a positive effect on various conditions. The non-specific effect is the result of the general stimulating effect on the body’s drainage functions. Herbs only influence specific organ function to a limited extent. There are herbs that have an increased effect on a certain excretory function.
That’s how it is known

  • diaphoretics (sweat absorbents), such as: lime blossom, elder blossom;
  • emmenagoga (menstrual inducers): mugwort, horehound, rue;
  • expectorants (expectorants): soapwort, ground ivy, thyme; etc..

Viewed from the homotoxin theory, medicinal plants mainly have a general cleansing and strengthening effect and can thus influence many different ailments at the same time and contribute to their healing.

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