A theory of disease and healing

Künzle recognized that there were numerous causes of disease, and among the concerns he expressed were the inappropriate diets that many people had. But, he also had a concept of disease causation that involved the adverse influence of cold. In his book Comprehensive Guide to Herbal Healing, there was a chapter entitled "The healing method of the herbal priest J. Künzle: the development and simple healing of disease." Its first section was entitled: "Most of the problems develop after a cold." He actually referred both to the common cold and exposure to cold.

He explained it this way:

Most of the disorders develop through the common cold. The cold develops rarely through cold air as many people think, but in a totally different way. In the winter, imagine you have the room heated to 15°C [note: just 59°F, but this is in the mountains in Switzerland, without central heating], while outside it is cold, at -15°C If you let the window open the warmth will go out and the cold will come in. This will take as long as it takes for the inside to become the exact same temperature as the outside. This is what happens when you suffer a cold. The blood has a temperature of 37°C, but the soil has a temperature of 10-20°C: colder than the soil is the stone, colder than the stone is cement, and colder than the cement is the ice. When you stay for a long time with 37 degrees of body temperature on the cold ground, stone, cement, or ice, then the warmth of the body comes down and the cold comes up. The warmth will disappear first from the kidneys, but the kidneys have the work of secreting urine to the bladder which then gets rid of it. Now, if the warmth disappears the kidneys can't work properly anymore, just like the water in the pot can't boil when the fire underneath is too weak. The urine is not produced correctly and too little is excreted. What is supposed to be secreted goes into the blood, where it doesn't belong; the blood wants to get rid of this material and deposits the bad stuff somewhere. These bad substances, mostly uric acids, are usually deposited where the weakest places of the body are.

If the lungs are weak, the uric acid deposits happen there; if there is only a little deposit in the lungs, then there will be phlegm, catarrh, coughing, tightness, asthmatic breathing; or, if there is a lot of deposit, there will be pneumonia, during which there will be almost no urine flow. If those bad substances go into the stomach, then there will be phlegm development in the stomach, causing inflammation and pain in the stomach. If the substances go into the intestines, there will be colon inflammation and tumors. It should be mentioned right away that all inner tumors despite operation will come back again and again necessarily, as long as the kidneys, the bladder, and the stool production are not functioning correctly. All tumors will shrink down as soon as these three will work well. This shows the way to healing inner tumors. If the bad substances go into the head, then there will be inflammation of the eyes or the ears, headaches, nervousness, sleeplessness, or encephalitis. Often the blood is secreting the substances through the skin, causing furuncles, lichen planas, blisters, etc. And this type of deposit can produce many pain disorders of the joints when it is deposited there.

When smoke comes out of the fire place, and you want to stop the smoke, the method for resolving the problem is not to climb on the roof and catch the smoke coming out at the top. No. You know that the smoke comes from the fire in the hearth, so you need to get rid of the fire in the hearth to stop the smoke. Now, in natural medicine, you want to get rid of the fire-you're not jumping after the smoke, namely the diseases of the eyes, ears, teeth, nerves, lungs, or chest, not the manifestations as catarrh, skin disorders, rheumatism, tumors, infections, and so on. You are not just treating the parts of the body in which the disease is expressed, but you go to find the cause of the disorders and you try to get rid of the root of this. The cause, however, is not in the organs and tissues where the disease is expressed acutely, but in the deficient activity of the organs that are intended to get rid of the bad materials, mainly the kidneys, bladder, and intestines. If you want to get rid of this type of disorder thoroughly, you need to first regulate these three organs of excretion. Only then will the increasing additions of bad substances to the weak tissues stop. The old accumulations need to be cleared up. For this there are external and internal remedies.

He then went on to explain the methods of stimulating elimination of the uric acid and other bad substances, which included taking herbal baths and consuming herbal teas. Sweating was considered one of the methods of getting rid of the build-up of uric acid and other substances that were not being adequately secreted by the kidneys. In Herbs and Weeds, he mentioned this in his brief explanation of treating "perspiration of the feet:"

This is the healthiest illness that exists because all unhealthy substances are eliminated through the soles of the feet. Therefore, it should never be entirely suppressed because this may result in serious, and even incurable, illnesses. These illnesses will continue until the feet perspire again. This will only be achieved with difficulty by many foot-baths with hay blossoms. You may alleviate such perspiration, but never, never, never by cold footbaths, but by purifying the kidneys. This is attained by drinking a tea prepared from diuretic herbs.

This recommendation to avoid cold footbaths belongs to the concept of not introducing cold when the kidneys are not working well, one sign of which is excessive foot perspiration. However, he was not recommending simply having lots of sweat pouring out of the body. He considered that night sweating, for example, was very debilitating. Night sweating, according to his thinking, would also reflect the body's attempt to dump its excess toxins. He was not completely opposed to treatments by cold. He considered mild fevers a healthy body response to infections, but that high fevers might turn into a dangerous condition, which could be treated, in part, by cold compresses. Thus, for example, he cautioned that when a child is sick and hot feverish, warm baths and heavy blankets, which simply increase the heat, should be avoided. "You must wash the child every hour and even more frequently with cold water until the heat has disappeared." But, he did not want to have the body cooled below normal temperature.

The importance of diuresis is also revealed in his explanation of pneumonia:

What causes pneumonia? It is the result of heavy colds; the water stagnates, cannot be expelled and consequently passes into the lungs where it causes immediate inflammation. If you want to avoid pneumonia, drink a tea of either holly leaves, quickgrass, or cat's tail as soon as you notice that you cannot pass sufficient water. If the water is not expelled in spite of this treatment, then your bladder is inflamed. In this case, take a hip-bath in warm cat's tail decoction for half an hour, which will help to prevent pneumonia. Pleurisy and costal pleura originate from the same source: therefore, recovery will also be achieved as soon as sufficient water is passed.

He recommended, for example, sage to strengthen the kidneys and eliminate large quantities of retained water.

Similarly, for influenza, he pointed out that the tea designed for treating this condition (which is now called Tea for Colds and a slightly different version is now Tea for Influenza), should be taken throughout the day, and that: "It is most essential that a lot of water is passed. If urination does not work in spite of drinking a lot of influenza tea, one has to be on the alert. It means the kidneys are not working as they should." He recommended, as a therapy, to place cut garlic or onions over the kidneys and keep them there for several hours, saying that "The kidneys will start to work again and a lot of water will be passed and inflammation of the lungs will certainly be prevented."

In sum, his theory regarding the development of certain diseases (e.g., infections, inflammation, swellings) follows this course:

cold → weakens kidney function → the body accumulates water, uric acid, and toxins →
weaker organs are affected → fluid and uric acid accumulates in weak organs →
inflammation develops in those organs → full disease symptoms are manifest

The corresponding therapies are:

If, instead of the problem of kidney weakness there is a problem of intestinal stagnation with constipation due to eating too much meat, too much chocolate, not enough fiber, etc., he especially recommended the "fig cure:"

Many diseases originate from constipation and no medicine whatever will cure them unless constipation has been cured first. Even if the ailment seems to be temporarily cured it will surely break out again.

People suffer from constipation when they have a hard and forced stool and no bowel movement for at least one day. The winds which are usually released with the bowel movement rise to the head and cause headaches, ailing eyes, etc. Such people also complain about pressure on the chest, stomach, and abdomen, and a full and anxious feeling. Obstinate constipations will causes ulcers of the stomach and intestines, hemorrhoids, appendicitis, and, in the end often even closing of the stomach and cancer. Stomach and intestinal troubles are often only curable after a good evacuation and after normal bowel movement is achieved.

The simplest, safest, and most efficacious way to have a good bowel movement is a fig cure carried out for a month or two. How do you make this fig cure? Wash five to six common figs in lukewarm water every evening, put them in a glass and cover them with cold water. Eat the figs and drink the water on an empty stomach the next morning. The cure is even more effective when you cut up the figs and leave them in olive oil for a day. Instead of figs you can also take dried pears or prunes in the same way. As is commonly known, figs are full of small seeds. These gradually eliminate all mucus from the stomach and intestines, i.e., the respective membranes are cleaned and thus free again to do their regular task. In case your bowels should move too often after a while, i.e., more than three times daily, stop the fig cure temporarily. For little children, the figs may be chopped finely. People suffering from constipation should avoid chocolate and cocoa like the plague.

In this description, Künzle mentions headaches. He noted several potential types of headaches and treatments. For one type, he had a true nature cure:

Persons who have formed a habit of working far into the night, like students learning to excess, scholars, or railway officials who are always surrounded by uproar and turmoil, who can find but very little sleep and remain in this condition for months, often are subject to nervous headaches. Speedwell (Veronica officinalis) is sometimes very good for such complaints. But above all, now is the time to take the bull by the horns! Forget all intellectual work. Get away from noise and turmoil, from the office and the town. Go out to the country-as high as possible-and take a great deal of exercise in the fresh air. Do this long enough and until you can sleep soundly again. Choose a restful climatic health resort where you find neither many tourists nor pianos nor dogs but many pine trees and murmuring brooks instead. Only such a cure will help to heal this ailment.

Sometimes, remedies for disease are thrust at us, even though we don't realize it. They stand in our way, not like the herbs we normally seek out. Künzle gave an explanation of why one would use both healing herbs and weeds, the basis for his book title. Healing herbs refer mainly to what are normally considered desirable plants, ones that you would purposefully grow in your backyard garden so as to be able to enjoy them, or plants that are routinely collected for medicine. As to weeds, those seemingly unwelcome invaders of the garden, foot path, farm, and grassy yard:

Why has God created this large number of weeds which give us all the trouble of pulling them out? Certainly not to annoy us but because all weeds are healing herbs too. God has strewn them in our paths so that, for better or worse, we shall always have them on hand.

Even cats and dogs know this and eat grass from time to time. An old woman, who looked poorly and miserable and was always ailing but still did not die, was advised by an old blacksmith to ask her grey cat, who would certainly know a remedy, for help. The woman observed her cat carefully. She cut some of the same herbs it had eaten, boiled them and drank this tea for some time until she had recovered completely. Now, which is the grass in question? It is dog grass (Dactylis glomerata) and cough grass or quick grass (Agropyrum repens). Both are ordinary weeds but have been recognized by physicians for two thousand years as excellent remedies for cleaning the kidneys and the bladder and for all urinary affections….

The most detested weed is the bindweed (Convulvulus spp.). It is impossible to exterminate it. Its roots reach down to hell. It always grows anew, encircles all vegetables and presses them down to the earth. But, it is just the bindweed which serves as a wonderful febrifuge. Also, it calms all internal inflammations (for instance, enteritis).

In spring, many fields are literally covered with chickweed (Stellaria media) or starweed. In May, and sometimes already in April, these fields are covered with tiny white stellate blossoms. This herb prevents the moisture in the fields from evaporating. Crushed and applied to wounds, it soothes burning; prepared and taken as tea, it cures fevers.

Other fields are covered in field mint (Mentha arvensis), which has a strong and aromatic fragrance. This herb is of inestimable value for man and beast. It dissolves all internal tumors, persistent phlegm, etc….

The cat's tail-of the horsetail family (Equisetum spp.)-proliferates in many fields and is difficult to exterminate. How it has been cursed by enraged weeders who confounded it to hell. But numerous are those who have cursed it that have long since been laid to rest in the churchyard. Had they collected, dried, and used the cat's tail in time, they might still be alive and become as old as the ravens of Baschaer, who never make a will before having lived to see 90 springs and winters come and go. Father Kneipp named this weed 'pewter herb' and prescribed it externally….Taken internally, cat's tail will cure in a short time-even almost instantly-the most violent hemorrhages and vomiting of blood.

Mistletoe (Viscum album) is an importunate parasite weed which is legally pursued, officially eliminated, prosecuted by the government, and the county police. In spite of all this, it is still flourishing in all the 22 Swiss cantons. Father Kneipp said that he could not recommend this herb warmly enough to all women because a single cup of mistletoe tea stops hemorrhages and takes care of all disturbances of the circulation of the blood.

Thus God, in his love and providence for mankind, has put at our disposal the most wonderful and disdained weeds in our paths, in our hands, and under our feet.

Nothing in nature is left to chance
Everything comes from the Divine.
Never find fault in things
You do not really understand.
The enemy you wish to destroy
Often proves to be your truest friend.

Among Künzle's favored weeds was meadowsweet. Of it, he noted:

It is found in greatest abundance in all marshes, ditches, and stagnant water. This disdained parasite weed is a wonderful divine gift because its blossoms heal dropsy when they are prepared with wine and thus drunk, cure diarrhea and paralysis in calves, and alleviate rheumatic afflictions of all sorts.

Other favored herbs include wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), stinging nettles (Urtica dioica), male fern (Dropteris filix, to be used externally only), lady's mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris), St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), masterwort (Imperatoria osthruthium), Benedict's herb (Geum urbanum), crane's bill (Geranium robertianum), and plantain (Plantago spp.). These herbs were each explained in his small book as useful for a variety of ailments. For wormwood, he relayed four cases of remarkable effects: treating a little girl with pneumonia and also a 30-year-old man with that disease; a boy with liver disease that was expected to kill him; and a woman who suffered blood loss, weakness, loss of appetite, vomiting, and other serious conditions. All of these were said to be cured by the herbal remedies administered, with wormwood as the key ingredient.

He had learned that some people were already worrying that the herbs would be endangered by over collection, but he noted: "They forget that cattle graze the Alps year after year and still the herbs are not exterminated, but grow denser all the time. This fact is also proved by persistent roots like masterwort and St. Benedict's herb. As it is very rarely possible to take out the whole root, the remaining shoots will survive and the plant will break into leaf again and again." Indeed, herbalism has flourished in central Europe during these past decades.