Herbs Versus Drugs

By Dirk Anderson, May, 2024

In 1849, Mrs. White reported from a vision: "I also saw that God was displeased when we trusted in or called on earthly physicians."1

One must wonder how many SDAs died or suffered permanent disability trying to please God by avoiding an earthly physician who could have saved their life? Within a few years, Mrs. White abandoned this vision and began seeing earthly physicians and taking her children to earthly physicians with some regularity. However, she proposed that doctors could be avoided if people learned how to use the Lord's simple herbs to cure their illnesses. In 1897, she wrote:

The Lord has given some simple herbs of the field that at times are beneficial; and if every family were educated in how to use these herbs in case of sickness, much suffering might be prevented, and no doctor need be called.2

Mrs. White said "much suffering" might be prevented by herbs. What are those herbs? What suffering have they prevented? Mrs. White, in her voluminous writings, never tells us what herbal remedies would prevent a sick person from needing to see a physician. I grew up in an SDA family and the SDAs never educated us on herbs. When we got sick, we went to see SDA doctors. They never gave us herbs or even talked about herbs. The reason is that there is no solid scientific evidence that most herbal remedies work.

The United States spent 2.5 billion dollars testing herbal remedies with high-quality scientific studies. They tested the most popular herbal remedies. In nearly every case, the herbal remedies failed to work.3

  • Ginkgo Biloba had no effect on Alzheimer’s disease.
  • St. John's Wort had no effect on depression.
  • Garlic had no effect on reducing cholesterol.
  • Saw Palmetto had no effect on prostate problems.
  • Milk Thistle had no effect on liver problems.
  • For joint pain, Celebrex (an FDA-licensed anti-inflammatory drug) helped more people than chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine.
  • Echinacea had no effect on the duration of colds but children who took it were more likely to develop a rash.

In addition, a Congressional investigation found that nearly all of the herbal dietary supplements they tested contained trace amounts of lead and other contaminants, and some contained pesticide residues that appeared to exceed legal limits.4 These are some of the reasons doctors prescribe medicines that have been scientifically proven to be safe and effective.

Ellen White Advocates Herbal Medicine

There were many herbalists in the nineteenth century advocating natural and herbal remedies as alternatives to the conventional medical practices of the time. Samuel Thomson (1769-1843) was perhaps the most prominent example. He claimed to have helped some people with herbs. The sad reality is that historical accounts indicate that some of his patients with serious illnesses often suffered or died because they were treated with ineffective or harmful herbal remedies instead of seeking conventional medical care. Hopefully none of Ellen White's followers suffered harm by self-treating with herbs instead of calling a doctor.

Once the Whites realized there was enormous profit in medicine, they opened their own medical clinics and trained their own doctors. Apparently God was no longer "displeased" when people called upon earthly physicians. After all, avoiding SDA physicians would be bad for business. So, she adopted a new mantra, which was that natural remedies worked better than drug medicines. She advised SDA doctors that herbal remedies were better than drugs:

It would have been better if, from the first, all drugs had been kept out of our sanitariums and use had been made of such simple remedies as are found in pure water, pure air, sunlight, and some of the simple herbs growing in the field. These would be just as efficacious as the drugs used under mysterious names and concocted by human science. And they would leave no injurious effects in the system. Thousands who are afflicted might recover their health if, instead of depending upon the drugstore for their life, they would discard all drugs.5

Notice this prohibition was against "all" drugs, regardless of whether they worked or not. One must wonder why SDA hospitals today do not treat patients with simply water, air, sunlight, and herbs? Don't they believe these to be "just as efficacious" as drugs? Apparently, a few followers of Ellen White actually took her words seriously. In the late 1800s, when SDA "missionaries" went to Africa to try and convert Christian Africans to adopt SDA doctrines, a number of them and their family members ended up getting malaria. Some even died because they believed natural remedies to be "just as efficacious" as drugs with mysterious names, like Quinine.

Granted, some medical remedies contained harmful ingredients in the nineteenth century. Some contained mercury, opium, and even cocaine. What was Mrs. White's solution? Find safer drugs? No, her solution was to ban all drugs and advocate water treatments and herbs:

The Lord has taught us that great efficacy for healing lies in a proper use of water. These treatments should be given skillfully. We have been instructed that in our treatment of the sick we should discard the use of drugs. There are simple herbs that can be used for the recovery of the sick, whose effect upon the system is very different from that of those drugs that poison the blood and endanger life.6

Which SDA hospitals today treat patients with "water treatments" and herbs? I worked at an SDA hospital for years, and nearly every remedy involved drugs, surgery or radiation. There were a multitude of people cured with drugs, surgery, and radiation. However, I never heard of a single patient prescribed "water treatments" and herbs. Why don't SDA hospitals follow Ellen White's counsel to discard all drugs in favor of water treatments and herbs?

Regular Consumption of Drugs is Sinful

Once again, while putting down non-SDA physicians, Mrs. White writes that the regular consumption of drug medicines is sinful:

Were I sick, I would just as soon call in a lawyer as a physician from among general practitioners. I would not touch their nostrums, to which they give Latin names. I am determined to know, in straight English, the name of everything that I introduce into my system. Those who make a practice of taking drugs sin against their intelligence and endanger their whole after life. There are herbs that are harmless, the use of which will tide over many apparently serious difficulties.7

How many SDAs know that using drugs regularly is a sin that will "endanger their whole after life?" How many actually followed this advice and stopped taking their medicines and ended up with a permanent disability or died?

Are Herbs More Efficacious Than Drugs?

In 1906, Sister White implied that God did not want drugs to be used in SDA hospitals:

Instruction was also given me that drug medication must not come into our sanitariums. There were simple herbs that could be used, which would not leave any injurious aftereffects on the system.8

In 1910, Mrs. White advised nurses:

There are many simple herbs which, if our nurses would learn the value of, they could use in the place of drugs, and find very effective.9

She assured SDA physicians that drugs were "contrary to the light which the Lord" gave her, and that herbs could be "tenfold, yes, one hundred-fold better...than all the drugs hidden under mysterious names and dealt out to the sick."10 Are herbs really ten times or one hundred times more effective than drugs?

In 1848, Ellen used "simple herbs" to treat her baby Henry when he was sick but they had "no effect."11 That does not sound effective. This illustrates the whole problem with herbs. They do not always work. If they had worked, then drugs would never have been developed! People would have just used herbs if herbs had worked for them. The truth is, for a lot of diseases, herbs either do not work, or they are not as effective as drugs.

Here are some of the amazing drug medicines (some with Latin names) used during Ellen White's era that saved millions of lives and helped people to live happier, healthier lives:

  • Quinine (1820s): Derived from the bark of the cinchona tree, quinine was used to treat malaria, a widespread and deadly disease prevalent in tropical regions. Quinine's anti-malarial properties made it a lifesaving medication for millions of people.

  • Chloral Hydrate (1832): Chloral hydrate, synthesized by German chemist Justus von Liebig, was one of the first effective drugs used to treat insomnia and induce sleep. It was widely prescribed in the 19th century and early 20th century for its sedative properties.

  • Salicylic Acid (late 19th century): Derived from willow bark, salicylic acid was used to alleviate pain and reduce fever. Its derivative, acetylsalicylic acid, better known as aspirin, was synthesized in the late 19th century and became one of the most widely used drugs for pain relief and fever reduction. Low dose aspirin has been shown by multiple studies to reduce risk of stroke in patients who take it regularly. According to Ellen White, long-term use of a drug is "sin."

  • Digitalin (19th century): A purified form of digitalis derived from the foxglove plant, was used in the 19th century to treat heart conditions such as congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation. Its cardiac stimulant properties made it an important medication for regulating heart function and improving circulation.

  • Atropine (19th century): Atropine, derived from the belladonna plant, was used as a medication to dilate the pupils, treat certain types of eye conditions, and alleviate symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders. It also found use as an antidote for certain types of poisoning and as a pre-anesthetic medication.

  • Lithium Carbonate (19th century): Lithium carbonate, derived from lithium salts, was used in the 19th century to treat various psychiatric disorders, including mania and bipolar disorder. Lithium was recognized for its mood-stabilizing effects and remains an important medication in the treatment of mood disorders today.

  • Antimony Compounds: Antimony-based drugs were used in the 19th century to treat various ailments, including fevers, parasites, and gastrointestinal disorders. Antimony compounds such as tartar emetic and antimony potassium tartrate were used as emetics, expectorants, and anti-parasitic agents.

One must wonder how many SDAs in the nineteenth and early twentieth century suffered because they refused to avail themselves of these remedies due to Ellen White's "inspired" testimonies about drugs.

The truth is that in many cases, herbal remedies have not proven to be ten times or a hundred times better than modern drug medicines. Modern drugs have often proven to be ten times or one hundred times more effective than herbs for a variety of medical problems:

  • Antibiotics (e.g., Penicillin): These are used to treat bacterial infections. While some herbs may have antibacterial properties, antibiotics are often more effective at targeting specific bacteria and treating infections quickly and efficiently. Many people's lives have been saved by antibiotics who would have died if they had used herbs.

  • Insulin: This hormone is used to treat diabetes by regulating blood sugar levels. While certain herbs may have blood sugar-lowering properties, insulin therapy is essential for managing diabetes, especially in cases of type 1 diabetes where the body does not produce insulin.

  • Antiviral Medications (e.g., Acyclovir): These are used to treat viral infections such as herpes, influenza, and HIV. While some herbs may have antiviral properties, antiviral medications are often more effective at inhibiting viral replication and reducing symptoms of infection.

  • Immunosuppressants (e.g., Tacrolimus): These are used to suppress the immune system and prevent organ rejection in transplant recipients or treat autoimmune diseases. While some herbs may have immunomodulatory effects, immunosuppressant drugs are often more targeted and effective in managing immune-related conditions.

  • Antidepressants (e.g., Sertraline): These are used to treat depression and other mood disorders by altering neurotransmitter levels in the brain. While certain herbs may have mood-enhancing properties, antidepressant medications are often more effective at alleviating symptoms of depression and improving overall mental health.

  • Anticoagulants (e.g., Warfarin): These are used to prevent blood clots and reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. While some herbs may have blood-thinning properties, anticoagulant medications are often more potent and reliable in preventing clot formation.

  • Bronchodilators (e.g., Albuterol): These are used to treat respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by relaxing the muscles in the airways and improving airflow. While certain herbs may have bronchodilating effects, bronchodilator medications are often more effective at providing rapid relief of symptoms during an acute attack.

  • Antipsychotics (e.g., Risperidone): These are used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychotic disorders by altering brain chemistry. While some herbs may have calming or sedative effects, antipsychotic medications are often more effective at managing severe psychiatric symptoms and stabilizing mood.

  • Antihypertensive Medications (e.g., Lisinopril): These are used to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. While certain herbs may have blood pressure-lowering effects, antihypertensive medications are often more effective at controlling hypertension and preventing complications associated with high blood pressure.

  • Anti-parasitics (e.g. Ivermectin): These play a crucial role in reducing the burden of certain tropical diseases and preventing millions of cases of parasitic infections each year. For example, Ivermectin has been highly effective in controlling and eliminating river blindness and lymphatic filariasis in endemic regions, preventing blindness and disability in millions of people.


While the debate about herbs versus drugs will continue on, the SDA sect has already voted. Ellen White's heavenly instruction about avoiding all drug medicines and using "water treatments" and herbs" was abandoned by SDA hospitals within a few decades after her death. Dr. Kellogg's Battle Creek Sanitarium, which used hydrotherapy and herbs, was one of the last major unorthodox health facilities to shut down in the 1940s. People had stopped coming because modern medicine was simply much more effective than hydropathic treatments and herbs. Today, if you went into an SDA hospital and asked for herbs and water treatments, they would send you for a mental evaluation.

Drugs were already saving millions of lives when Ellen White was living, and they have saved many more lives since then. While herbs can be effective in certain situations, and drugs can be over-prescribed and sometimes have negative side-effects, the fact remains that drug medicines have gotten safer and have proven to be ten times or one hundred times more effective than herbs in many cases. Mrs. White's advice was not entirely wrong at the time, because some drug medicines were harmful to health in the nineteenth century. However, her blanket statements against "all" drugs led her followers astray. Some who trusted that her messages came from God and put their faith in herbs and water treatments instead of drugs like Quinine, ended up needlessly dying.

Today Ellen White's testimonies on drugs are antiquated and are not even followed by the medical institutions she helped to establish. This shows that SDAs themselves regard many of her testimonies as faulty or no longer relevant. Unfortunately, some followers of Ellen White read her writings and, believing them to be inspired words from God, they take actions like avoiding doctors and drugs. This could harm their health or even threaten their life. This is one of the bad fruits of believing Ellen White's testimonies.

See also


1. Ellen White, Letter 8, 1849.

2. Ellen White, Letter 82, 1897.

3. "$2.5 Billion Spent, No Alternative Cures Found," NBC News, June 10, 2009, https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna31190909. Paul Offit, "Alternative Medicines Are Popular, But Do Any of Them Really Work?" The Washington Post, November 11, 2013.

4. Gardiner Harris, "Study Finds Supplements Contain Contaminants," New York Times, May 25, 2010.

5. Ellen White, Manuscript 115, 1903. She advised physicians: "Therefore personal religion for all physicians in the sick room is essential to success in giving the simple treatment without drugs." (Letter 69, 1898).

6. Ellen White, Manuscript 73, 1908.

7. Ellen White, Manuscript 86, 1897.

8. Ellen White, Manuscript 135 1906.

9. Ellen White, The Medical Evangelist, Jan. 1, 1910.

10. Ellen White, The Paulson Collection of Ellen G. White Letters (Payson, AZ: Leaves-Of-Autumn Books, 1985), 31.

11. Ellen White, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1860), 104.

Category: Health Teachings
Please SHARE this using the social media icons below