History of Naturopathy

Choice is always yoursNaturopathy has evolved and developed through direct observation of nature and apprenticeships under many practitioners. These practitioners had little formal education, and entered naturopathy through personal health problems. In this article, we will look at the development and evolution of Naturopathy through the study of issues of personal health of different practitioners.

Vincent Priessnitz was born in 1799 now the Czech Republic. His initial observation of a stag in the mountain pasture that cured itself using the cold water stream of the river initiated a curiosity in nature care. However, after spraining his wrist and later being run over by a horse-drawn carriage and curing himself using cold water is what developed real interests in cold water applications and subsequently the “Priessnitz compress” (cold water bandage).  This set in motion the birth of hydrotherapy which is still used today in naturopathy. Priessnitz decided to share his experiences with others and his success grew. At only nineteen, he was invited to Bohemia to give treatments and cured the most stubborn cases. He opened his own hydrotherapeutic institution in 1829 and his patients grew rapidly. His typical therapy would include only cold water application using tubs, showers, sitz and foot baths, bandages or sponges were used, and lots of cold water drinking (Kirchfeld & Boyle, pg 13). He also promoted a hearty diet with lots meat and milk. He said that “nothing is impossible to nature, diet and cold water” (Kirchfeld & Boyle, pg 22).

Joann Schroth was born in 1798 in Lindewiese. He was kicked by a horse and had the right knee cap was broken. Medical treatment left bad inflammation and he could not walk. This led him to a monk who recommended cold water to him. Cold water removed the inflammation and after ten weeks he was fine again. However, through nature observation he discovered that seeds needed warm water or environment to grow just like an infant in a mother’s womb. That gave a start to his warm water treatment that opposed Priessnitz´ cold water treatment.  He promoted a meat and milk free diet opposing Priessnitz. It was his efforts that rediscovered the benefits of fastening, as he discovered that animals recovered faster by fasting and resting.

J.H. Rausse was born in 1805 in Gustow. Afflicted with diarrhea and treated with constipating drugs that made him very ill. From this experience he never fully recovered. He ended up working as a forest superintendent then spent almost a year with the Osage Indians which helped him make conclusion about the nature. After using Priessnitz methods to improve his health successfully, he drew his own judgments based on his experience to modify Priessnitz methods and wrote a book called “The Spirit of the Graefenberg Water Cure“, which caused a sensation and raised popularity of the water cure even further. Strauss` contribution to the naturopathy was his understanding of the nature care which he conveyed with force and clarity.

Day 99--Asthma SucksTheodor Hahn was born in 1824 in Germany. Early asthma and unsuccessful treatment forced him to see Rausse for cure. After successfully recovering, he became a follower and promoter of water cure. After Rausse´s death he changed the name of water cure to Nature Cure which is still widely used today. His contribution was that he carried on Rausse´s clinical and theoretical work (Kirchfeld & Boyle, pg 49).

Arnold Rikli was born in 1823 in the canton of Bern. His contribution to the naturopathy was that he was the great sun doctor and the father of atmospheric cure (Kirchfeld & Boyle, pg 55). He also invented the bed steam bath in 1847. He cured himself from insomnia and pleurisy using natural methods, and discovered the importance of contrast depending on the condition and the weather cycles. He showed the value of light, air and sunbaths was more efficient than water and stated that “water is good, air is better, but light is best of all”. He also emphasised the importance of walking barefoot.

Father Sebastian Kneipp was born in 1824 in Germany and was considered as the founder of naturopathy. He treated thousands of people using pure water, fresh air, exercise and herbs (Kirchfeld & Boyle, pg 73). Early problems with tuberculosis due to overwork, directed him to read more on fresh water treatments, which he applied with success with himself. He used these methods during an epidemic and gained incredible success. He believed that the colder the water the better. Other influence in his therapy was his mother who was a herbalist and she introduced him to herbs. This was one of the greatest contributions to nature care (Kirchfeld & Boyle, pg 80). He also promoted barefoot walking.

Louise Kuhne was born in 1835, in Saxony. His inability to find answers for his stomach, lung and head problems led him to nature cure.  He started using existing hydrotherapy methods on himself and invented systems. He used a new system of facial diagnosis that proved successful. He then published the New Science of Healing, which was as popular as Kneipp´s books and impressed other pioneers Lindlahr and Lust greatly. Mahatma Gandhi even was influenced by his book. He also invented friction hip and sitz bath.

Adolf Just was born in 1859 in Germany. He was a follower of naturism and had love for nature. Early attacks of neurasthenia, psychosis and hallucinations forced to turn to nature care. With the help of wet packs, barefoot walking, Rikli´s light and air cures, he was able to help himself. His recovery inspired him to write a very successful book called “Return to Nature”. This book was translated into many languages and made an impact on millions of people. Just´s most original contribution to nature care was the discovery of the healing power of the earth or geotherapy. He recommended sleeping on the ground, and used earth in bandages for cure.

Emanuel Felke was born in 1856 in Kladen.  Early exposure to nature cure in his family, created an interest in natural remedies. During a severe diphtheria epidemic he helped many children, and created a reputation. He became a master of facial and iris diagnosis. He saw that not just one therapy was sufficient so he combined many methods. He gained fame for his loam bath.

Heinrich Lahmann was born in 1860 in Germany. He developed interest in health articles and completed medical training. He published many articles on nutrition, promoting the vegetarian diet. He invented plant milk that was close to mother’s milk and since he suffered from obesity he invented cotton/woolen underwear which helped him. Being scientifically trained brought scientific nature into nature care. He established sanatoriums and published books. In one of the books called Natural Hygiene, he stated that disease is caused “dysemia“ and the future doctor will use no medicine, but will interest his clients in nature cure.

Prof. Dr. Ernst Schweninger (LOC)Ernst Schweninger was born in 1850 and at twenty became a doctor. He saw the failure of medical theories and became convinced that real cure is found in nature cure through studying the work of Hippocrates and Paracelsus, and evaluating of the process of disease and cure. He cured the Otto von Bismarck’s Chancellor and his son and became his personal physician. This is when he was appointed to important posts within hospital and he advocated a generalized natural treatment which focused on the vital force. He did not like the use of medication, and believed the “inner doctor” was able to cure many diseases. He wrote an important book called The Physician that criticized the allopathic doctor and stating that the science of a physician destroys humanity. His contribution was that nature cure was used in hospitals on a big scale.

Franz Schonenberger, M.D. was born in 1865 and he was the first doctor to introduce nature care into a hospital near Berlin. Early on, he was given some writings on nature cure and he used these methods to cure many of school children and parents. He decided to study medicine and eventually opened general practice where he cured using nature cure. His contribution was that he was the first University professor to use nature cure and he became the director of the Priessnitz Hospital. (Kirchfeld & Boyle, pg 165)

Alfred Brauchle M.D. was born in 1898 in Baden. He worked with Schonenberger at the Priessnitz hospital and was exposed to nature cure. He was considered as an outstanding doctor, teacher and writer.  He defended medical doctors who converted to nature cure with great success. He included hypnotic suggestion which he believed could help in curing. He wrote a book called Nature Cure on a scientific basis, which was the first nature cure book for physicians. He reached many people through his writing which integrated orthodox and nature medicine. His dream was to have a nature cure hospital in every large city. (Kirchfeld & Boyle, pg 182)

Benedict Lust was born in 1872 and was considered as the Father of Naturopathy. Due to his weak health caused by various operations and vaccinations, he developed tuberculosis. Unsuccessful treatments in America forced him to return to Germany to seek help from Father Kneipp who completely cured him in eight months. This experience made him study Kneipp´s work and he became Kneipp´s first official representative to share his work upon his return to America in 1896.

Upon his return to America, he perfected the Kneipp´s cure and could apply water in 1000 different ways. He distanced himself from some methods that did not appeal to the public and included other methods such as homeopathy, massage, spinal manipulation and therapeutic electricity in what he decided to call Naturopathy (Kirchfeld & Boyle, pg 185). These included the use of water, air, sunlight, earth power, electricity, magnetism, exercise, rest, diet, mechanical manipulation, and mental and moral science.

He established Naturopathy and popularized it in the United States, he founded the American School of Naturopathy located in New York, established the New York School of Massage, Training School for Physiotherapy, and offered Naturopathic Home Study and Post Graduate courses through his journal. He also founded American Naturopathic Association (ANA) which was the first professional organization of naturopathic physicians.  This organization was used to advance and provide legal protection for the naturopathic profession.

Louisa Lust was born in 1868 and became known as the greatest woman doctor in the naturopathic area. She employed hydrotherapy, vegetarian diet, air, light, and healthy lifestyle. She was introduced to nature cure by meeting Benedict Lust in 1898 and they established health resort together, and married. She was also a great preparer of healthful foods. She believed that you can lengthen your life by eating well and less. She was the right arm of Benedict Lust.

Henry Lindlahr was born in 1862 in Germany. He was already a successful business man who turned to nature cure because he discovered that he had diabetes with no cure and a sympathetic friend gave him a copy of the Luis Kuhne´s book. This is where he discovered that health was regulated by natural laws and cured himself (Kirchfeld & Boyle, pg 229). Lindlahr practiced the principles of Nature Cure through non deviation from nature’s laws which include the diet, exercise and emotions. His success in treating people was incredible. He claimed to have never lost a patient using nature cure. His contribution made an incredible impact on naturopathy. His writings including Nature Care which went through over twenty editions and was considered as the best work ever published on the nature cure.

Otis Carroll was born in 1879 in Illinois. His introduction to nature cure was through the fact that he suffered from rheumatic fever and juvenile arthritis, and he was cured by Alex LeDoux who studied with Father Kneipp. His contribution was the invention of Constitutional Hydrotherapy, a series of hot and cold compress to the chest, abdominal and back. Also, he was a pioneer in food intolerance study, which gave naturopathy an important insight (F. Kirchfeld & W. Boyle, pg 264).

To conclude, the above traces of naturopathy through the lives of its pioneers show the progress and development.



Kirchfeld, F. & Boyle, W. (1994). Nature Doctors – Pioneers in Naturopathic Medicine. Portland, OR: Buckeye Naturopathic Press.

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