“Homeopathic.” It is, perhaps, the most incorrectly used word in all of “natural” medicine. It has long been a catch-all term to describe anything that falls outside the margins of mainstream medicine–especially herbal medicine.
So What Is Homeopathy, Exactly?
Homeopathy, or homeopathic medicine, is a system of healing that was developed in Germany by a physician named Samuel Hahnemann. Hahnemann reportedly came to believe that certain common practices, like bloodletting, did more harm than good. He left medicine after only a few years and began working as a translator specializing in medical texts.
Through this work he began to study herbs and other substances that were capable of producing dramatic symptoms in the body. He theorized that if a substance produced a certain set of symptoms in a healthy person, that same substance might be used to treat a disease that also caused those symptoms. One of Hahnemann’s earliest “discoveries” was cinchona bark, which made Hahnemann felel feverish, as though he was suffering from malaria. That meant, Hahnemann taught, that cinchona could be used to treat malaria. He described his theory as, “Like cures like,” and based his new medical system around it.
To get around the problem of toxicity, Hahnemann began to experiment with extremely dilute remedies and settled on the idea that the more dilute a substance was, the more effective it would become. Today, we know that some of those dilutions are actually so dilute that some doses of the remedy cannot contain even a single molecule of the active ingredient.
So What’s Wrong With Calling Herbs “Homeopathic”?
The point of Hahnemann’s work was to use the smallest dose possible. Yet the point of most herbal remedies is to extract the most out of every plant. Herbal “teas”, for example, are covered while they’re steeped to capture the precious volatile organic compounds that would otherwise be lost as the steam carried them away. And while you may sweeten a bitter herbal tea to get it down, you probably won’t be diluting a hundred or a thousand times.
Also, some “natural” therapies have no herbs in them at all. Massage, acupuncture, reflexology, iridology, reiki, crystal healing . . . those modalities work just fine without any plant materials.
That’s why lumping all “alternative” medicines together as “homeopathic” is wrong.
Some “natural” words, like “holistic” and “natural” can be (and frequently are) used loosely but “homeopathic medicine” means something very specific.
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