American Presidents were early adopters of “natural medicine”

Today, on July 4th, we celebrate America’s determination to break free from Great Britain’s reign and live as an independent, self-governed country.

It’s also a good time to celebrate natural medicine—and the freedom we still have (for now) to choose it.

Indeed, many of our forefathers had a keen interest in pursuing natural approaches to good health.

Let me explain…

The founding fathers led the way

Let’s start with the founder of them all—Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin was an 18th-century natural philosopher fascinated by the forces of Nature. He famously experimented with kites in lightning storms because he wanted to understand the forces that animate life and the universe. (He actually sent his son out into the storms!)

Franklin also represented the fledging United States in the court of Louis XVI after the American Revolution and just before the French Revolution. During that brief period of time, he studied the “magnetic healing” of Franz Anton Mesmer in Paris.

Franklin and Mesmer’s work inspired the development of “magnetic therapies” to treat pain and other conditions that became popular in the 19th to early 20th centuries. In fact, many effective magnetic therapies and electro-magnetic devices used today still draw on their early research in the field.

Next up—George Washington.

During the long winter at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War, Washington famously practiced the art of what we today call “mindfulness” meditation. He believed in “being mindful” during the “times that tried men’s souls.”

He also believed in the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. As such, he made his own wine and whiskey at Mt. Vernon—his estate in Virginia.

Ironically, Washington died on his estate in 1799 because his own physicians didn’t want to be accused of “experimenting”—and wouldn’t use newer medical techniques to help treat a severe infection of the larynx (voice box).

John Adams went further as a student of mindfulness meditation. In fact, he subscribed to the publications of the “Asiatik” and “Hindoo” Societies, which were already translating the formative works of Buddhist and Hindu medicine and meditation into English.

And Thomas Jefferson subscribed to these same translations. In fact, they were in his personal library when he later donated them to start the Library of Congress.

In addition, Jefferson was an agronomist who grew healthy plant crops and developed healthy, new food sources for North America. He firmly believed in growing your own foods (and medicines), and getting regular physical activity and recreation in Nature.

He also encouraged his fellow citizens to stay close to the land as part of his vision for an “agrarian democracy” in America.

President Zachary Taylor was an early adopter of natural medicine to help with his aches and pains. In fact, on July 4, 1850, it is said Taylor ate an entire bowl of cherries, arguably for his rheumatism, before collapsing at the dedication of the new Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. (Indeed, cherries are an effective, natural remedy for certain kinds of joint pain.)

In 1860, just 10 years after Taylor’s death, Abraham Lincoln was elected President. As a frontiersman who had lived in an area with few doctors, Lincoln was quite familiar with the use of herbal remedies.

He also made use of homeopathy, which he once wryly described as “soup made from the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.” Of course, homeopathy, with its emphasis on the condition of the host patient, worked well to treat cholera and typhus and typhoid fever, which were common in the Civil War era.

Theodore Roosevelt was a strong believer in the “Nature cure” (or the “rest cure,” also known as the “west cure”). And he famously spent a lot of time in the natural wilderness of the Dakotas, where he cured himself of childhood asthma and other respiratory and physical disabilities.

Ultimately, Roosevelt became one of our most vigorous presidents and continued to focus on the importance of Nature to human well-being. In fact, he helped establish America’s national parks and forests, so others would have access to all the physical and mental benefits of natural wilderness.

Finally today, let’s talk about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Although he kept the seriousness of his disability hidden from the American public for his entire career, he famously suffered from polio. And as a key part of his therapy, he regularly “took the waters” at Warm Springs, Georgia—one of the country’s most famous therapeutic spas.

Washington, Jefferson, and others had also taken the “Water Cure” at other natural springs and spas in western Virginia, some of which remain popular health resorts to this day.

Of course, these are just some of the stories showing how our founding fathers encouraged and embraced the use of natural medicine. I hope you take a moment today to think about how you, too, can make use of these approaches — instead of drugs — to achieve optimal health.

I also urge you to take some time to explore Nature, as spending time outdoors has always been a quintessential part of the American tradition. And it has a powerful effect not just on your physical health…but on your mental health, too.

Lastly, at the end (or beginning) of each day, I encourage you to find some time to practice mindfulness meditation, as many of our founders did. It will help you clear the mind and help heal the body.

To learn more about how to make mindfulness meditation a regular part of your day, check out my book New World Mindfulness with Don McCown.