Posted by: Footler PJ7 NOV 2012
Just over 100 years ago the British Medical Association investigated patent medicines it considered to be of dubious efficacy and published the results in two books, ‘Secret remedies’ (1909) and ‘More secret remedies’ (1912). One remedy of particular concern was Stevens’ Consumption Cure. Analysis suggested that its main ingredient was similar to krameria, an astringent used in herbal and homoeopathic remedies.
Charles Stevens was diagnosed with consumption (tuberculosis) at the age of 17. He emigrated to South Africa where a Basuto healer treated him with various remedies, including umckaloabo, named from the Zulu for “heavy cough”.
Apparently cured, Stevens developed a product that was initially sold in South Africa. But it was after he had returned to England to promote his “cure” with a money-back guarantee that the BMA published its findings.
The medical press was scathing about his remedy, but Stevens fought back. In a court case he proved that his product did not contain krameria. The BMA sought to discredit him by, among other things, citing that his umckaloabo ingredient was not described in the British Pharmacopoeia.
Further court cases followed and questions were asked in parliament. A select committee report vindicated ‘Secret remedies’ and recommended government action. But, despite medical and political opposition, Stevens’ Cure remained available until the early 1950s.
Umckaloabo received a boost in 1930 with the publication of ‘The treatment of tuberculosis with umckaloabo (Stevens’ Cure)’ by Adrien Sechehaye from Geneva. Dr Sechehaye concluded that, while not infallible, the ingredient was a definite advance in the treatment of tuberculosis. Umckaloabo remains a popular herbal remedy in parts of Europe.
In the mid-1970s umckaloabo was finally identified as the root of a South African geranium, Pelargonium sidoides, which has been shown to have significant antibacterial properties against multiresistant Staphylococcus aureus strains. It may exert a strong modulating influence on the immune response associated with the upper airway mucosa. In Germany the P sidoides extract EPs 7630 is an approved drug for the treatment of acute bronchitis.