Mother Nature’s Medicine

Written by Sunaina Tandon Category: History Issue: April 2017
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Instead of the antiseptic medical smells of rubbing alcohol and rubber gloves, the aroma of herbs and essential oils fills the air. The naturopathic doctor enters the room and introduces himself. He’s more than a doctor, he says – he’s also a healer.

Dr. C.A. Call’s office on Central Avenue in Downtown Phoenix was known as “the finest equipped drugless office in Arizona,” according to a circa-1940s postcard advertising the physician’s services. Call’s patients enjoyed a variety of treatment options.

Chronic back pain would have been treated with chiropractic care. And for persistent stomach discomfort, Call would likely examine a patient’s diet, followed by a prescription of soothing herbs and spices like peppermint and ginger.

Naturopathic doctors – then and now – specialize in a range of therapies including botanical, homeopathic, physical and Chinese medicine. This type of earth-based medicine has been practiced since the dawn of humanity. Each early civilization had its own outlook on naturopathic medicine – the ancient Greeks espoused Hippocratic medicine (early scientific medicine) with a focus on natural healing, and early Indians practiced holistic Ayurvedic medicine.

These primitive forms of healthcare were largely lost in Western culture with the advent of highly developed scientific medicine, though some segments of the population – nature lovers, hippies, New Age devotees, etc. – have continued to use Mother Nature as a way to heal. The first American naturopathic college, Yungborn Health Institute, was established in New Jersey in 1896.

Questions of medical legitimacy have dogged naturopaths over the years, spurred by wildly varying licensing requirements. In the early days, and likely in Call’s time, anybody could claim to be a naturopathic doctor without having training or credentials.

Recent trends toward holistic healthcare have renewed the general public’s interest in “alternative” medicine. In the past seven years, approximately 80 percent more students have applied to naturopathic medical schools, according to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Currently, there are more than 20 naturopathic medical colleges in the United States, including the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences in Tempe.

Arizona is one of the few states that allows naturopathic doctors the full ability to prescribe medicine. In fact, it is a common misconception that these doctors use only plant-based remedies. They actually blend modern medicine with traditional holistic approaches, bridging the gap between earth-based healing traditions and Western medicine. So Dr. Call, like his modern cohorts, used modern technology like X-rays, but also prescribed herbs found in our Sonoran backyard. A little high-tech stuff, a little desert lavender – everything in moderation.

— Sunaina Tandon


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