the doctrine of signatures
The emergence of Traditional Chinese Medicine’s Five Element Theory in 476 BCE “…marked the beginning of what one might call “scientific” medicine…” Healers began to depart from Shamanism and looking for supernatural causes of disease. “Instead they began to observe Nature and, with a combination of inductive and deductive method, they set out to find patterns within it and, by extension, apply these in the interpretation of disease.” (G. Macciocia)
Despite modern misunderstanding, they didn’t believe that everything was “made” of the Five Elements, fire, Earth, metal, water, and wood. They assigned each element to “symbolize five different inherent qualities and states of natural phenomena” including five movements and five phases in the cycle of the seasons.
One of the more interesting concepts to emerge from Five Element Theory is called “The Doctrine of Signatures”. Its premise is, if something contains a certain quality of one of the elements, it can be used to restore balance to something that is lacking or has lost that quality. The following are some examples of uncanny medicinal coincidences that have emerged from The Doctrine of Signatures.
Walnuts – If it looks like a brain, it must be good for the brain. Walnuts are one of the few nuts that are a significant source of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s become common knowledge in conventional medicine that omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain development, growth and function.
Ophiopogen – this herb is in the asparagus family and maintains lushness in dry climates. Because of this quality it was assumed that its roots would be especially effective for cooling and moistening. It’s traditionally used for conditions where inflammation has parched various tissues which often leads to consumptive disorders like COPD. It turns out ophiopogen contain nuatigenin-type steroids which ongoing research is revealing to suppress proinflammatory cytokines in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and COPD.
Earthworms were traditionally used to treat conditions where something was severely blocked such as paralysis from stroke or congestion from asthma. Applying the doctrine, earthworms can burrow and penetrate. Modern research has revealed the presence of an enzyme called lumbrokinase that is extremely effective in hydrolyzing fibrin, a clotting factor that can cause strokes. Lumbrokinase is widely available in supplement form and is used by naturopaths and some progressive physicians for the treatment and prevention of stroke.
*Being “modern” medicine there are efforts to genetically modify goats so that they can produce lumbrokinase in their milk. Perhaps the presence of health-giving chemicals is not a sign that we should isolate, concentrate or produce these molecules in a way that is inconsistent with Nature. Perhaps it’s more of an indication of how our diets evolved and what we should still be eating. By the way, earthworms would serve as a great protein source that is really low on the food chain. For expansion on the subject of insects as an evolutionary protein source see “Protein, Human Bodies and Missing Links in the Ecological Model”by