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Vitalism and Herbal Medicine  


Vitalism in healing is a clinical strategy based on the principle that Life, Nature, and the Great Spirit from which they arise are fully present in all the tissues of the body, and also in the psyche, the spiritual heart, and the soul, sustaining life and health, providing inspiration and momentum for personal evolution on all levels, and for the fulfillment of the highest purpose in social and spiritual life. Vitalist practitioners employ clinical strategies and methods which support this life power through encouragement of nourishment, digestion, rest, and appropriate activity, identification of purpose in personal life, connection with nature, an active spiritual life, identification and removal of obstacles to cure on all levels, and avoidance of methods which suppress or distort life processes. The Vitalist incorporates all aspects of science, especially physiology and pathophysiology, but equally values knowledge from traditional medicine, empirical observation, instinct and intuition, and is not confined to the narrow materialistic world view that dominates much of modern science, medicine, and social life. Vitalist herbal medicine is the use of herbs in support of this approach and these processes.

The North American Institute of Medical Herbalism curriculum is firmly based on vitalist principles throughout every course, and it is the basis of the clinical work in all our teaching clinics and seminars.


The Principles of Vitalist Medicine


Vitalism is an empirical strategy, not an abstract philosophy. It is the foundation of each of the great natural healing systems of the world, including Chinese, Greek/Arabic, Ayurveda, Homeopathy, North American and British Thomsonian/Physiomedical and many indigenous systems throughout the world. Here are the general common principles of vitalist therapeutics.


Principle #1

The power of healing comes from Life and Nature, which are functioning qualities

of a transcendent and all pervasive Unity.


Principle #2

Life Power acts as a Unity throughout the individual, on the physical, emotional,

psychological, and spiritual levels, and unites the individual and her Purpose to all living things. The Life Power is not in any way separate from the material constituents of the body.


Principle #3

Life Power acts on well-digested food to build, sustain, and restore the tissues and

functions of the organism. It requires a level of complete nutrition to express harmoniously.


Principle #4

Nutrients must be well-digested and the first target of Vitalist therapeutics is to explore and discover the composition, quantity, and timing of the diet most suitable to each individual. Herbal medicines to support healthy digestion are a foundation of Vitalist therapeutics.


Principle #5

Life Power and its circulation throughout the organism are intimately associated

with the breath, and full deep breathing, including that induced by moderate exercise, is essential to health.


Principle #6

A primary expression of Life Power is activity, on all levels, and a certain level of

activity is necessary for the Life Power to circulate and express.


Principle #7

Life expresses in rhythms of activity and rest. Promoting rest, recreation, and healthy sleep habits are an essential part of Vitalist therapeutics. Herbal medicines to support rest and sleep are foundational in all systems of Vitalist medicine.


Principle #8

Symptoms of disease are not an error of Nature, but are produced by the Life Power as the best attempt to restore balance.


Principle #9

In attempting to support the Life Power during health or crisis, supportive strategies

and methods should be selected and suppressive ones avoided.


Principle #10

Critical to Vitalist therapeutics is the examination, investigation, and removal of

obstacles to cure, in whatever sphere of life they may occur.


Principle #11

Life progresses in stages, characterized by phases of stability separated by

transitional crises. The Crisis results in a reorganization of the vital structures to express Life in a more harmonious and powerful way. The Crisis is evolutionary in nature. It is critical not to suppress symptoms during a period of crisis


Principle #12

Life Power manifests in the individual with the intent of a Greater Purpose,

experienced subjectively as a sense of “Calling.” Alignment with or alienation from the Calling can have profound influence on the vital health on all levels.

Some Resources

You can hear a lecture on Vitalism by Paul Bergner, Director of the NAIMH here: 


Listen Now:

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Case Studies in Vitalist Herbalism

A PDF file of a conference presentation by Paul Bergner.

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Vitalist Practices. Things you (or your patient) can do to raise the Vitality

Download now  

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