Publication Date


Document Type

Working Paper


Professor John Hall

Journal of Economic Literature Classification Codes

I110, I120, I140, Z1

Key Words

Commodification, Germ Theory of Disease, Herbalism, Holistic, Indigenous, Infectious Disease, Patent Medicine, Small Pox, Socio-cultural


This inquiry seeks to establish that we can track the development and evolution of herbalism as the initial form of medicine in American economic history. Upon colonization of North America, the indigenous people generously shared their knowledge of plant medicine with the settlers from Europe. The indigenous knowledge combined with the translation of ancient herbal texts created a synthesis of understanding and an important form of cultural exchange. People then began making attempts to standardize the medicine and its potency was compromised with the rise of the industry in patent medicine, or what I have named pseudo herbalism. It was soon revealed that harmful compounds such as cocaine and opium were previously being labeled as cure-alls and marketed under the guise of natural medicine. This created a distrust between people and their own knowing, and as the germ theory began to rise in popularity, people relinquished their self-sufficiency in terms of their health to become completely reliant on modern medical practices.


© Julia Schweid

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