Mountain and stream

History of Naturopathy

By Steve Parcell, ND
The predecessor of naturopathy may have been the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1135-1204) who, in contrast to many of his medical colleagues, downplayed the importance of drugs and surgery and argued that diet, exercise, and mental outlook were the keys to vibrant health.
A court physician to the royal family in Cairo, Egypt, his book Preservation of Youth, espoused completely natural healing methods. Written for a dissolute young prince who suffered everything from depression to indigestion, he warned, “overeating is like a deadly poison to any constitution and the principle cause of all diseases.”The German Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (1762-1836), who served as royal physician to the King of Prussia, is regarded as one of the founders of holistic medicine. A prolific author and proponent of “Nature Cure,” which consisted of hydrotherapy (cleansing the colon with a water flush), air and light baths, vegetarian diet and herbal remedies, Hufeland was also a great fan of mineral springs and “Water Cure” (popularized by Sebastian Kneipp). His most successful written work, The Art of Prolonging Human Life (1796), became one the most widely read books on preventive medicine and was the first natural health best-seller. Hufeland coined the phrase “macrobiotics,” later adopted by George Oshawa, an admirer of Hufeland and founder of the modern macrobiotic movement. Macrobiotics is based on an understanding of the rhythm, the ebb and flow of nature. Only whole pure foods are eaten in accordance with one’s constitution and the season. Hufeland was deeply influenced by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), whose ideology fueled the philosophy of naturism and the nature cure movement, which became popular throughout Europe and was characterized by three essential elements:

1. A strongly emotional attitude towards nature, defined as naturism
2. A theory of health, disease treatment and cure (known as nature cure or naturopathy)
3. A preference for certain treatment methods, which are considered natural (such as the application of water, air, movement, dietary change, etc.)

Naturopathy On The Rise
Naturopathy, which combined nature cure with homeopathy, massage, spinal manipulation, and therapeutic electricity, was developed in America largely through the work of Benedict Lust (pronounced loost; 1872-1945). From 1900-1938, naturopathic medicine flourished in America. Interest then declined, due to the emergence of “miracle medicine” (drugs), surgical advances during WWII, and the growing political sophistication of the American Medical Association (AMA). Chiropractic and naturopathy were taught together until about 1955 when the National Chiropractic Association stopped granting accreditation to schools that also taught naturopathy. In 1956, a group of naturopathic doctors founded the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in an attempt to keep the profession alive. Dr. John Bastyr, considered the father of naturopathy, served as executive director. A chiropractor, naturopath and obstetrician, he began his practice in Seattle in the depths of the Great Depression; Bastyr was so revered as a physician and teacher that the Seattle naturopathic school Bastyr University was named in his honor. The key to Bastyr’s legendary clinical successes lay in his basic philosophy. In a 1985 interview, asked to distinguish between naturopathy and conventional medicine, he said, “The basic difference is that in naturopathy it’s not the doctor who does the curing, it’s the patient.”

That idea appealed to many Americans in the 1970’s, when the public’s growing awareness of the importance of nutrition and the environment, along with disenchantment with organized institutional medicine, brought new waves of students to Naturopathy. There are currently four accredited naturopathic schools in the US and one in Canada. For more information, go to