Homeopathy was first discovered over 200 years ago by a German medical physician and apothecary, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann. Fueled by his knowledge of ancient medical principles and frustrated by the often dangerous methods of medical practice at this time, Dr. Hahnemann began experiments which led to the birth of homeopathy. In 1790, he first tested the effects of Cinchona officinalis bark by ingesting it himself and rediscovered the ancient principle, like heals like, after recognizing that the symptoms he experienced while taking the medicine–fever, chills and weakness–were the very symptoms it was treating, as Cinchona officinalis was a common treatment for malaria. With further experiments, he based the system of homeopathy upon three guiding principles, written in his book, The Organon of Medicine, published in 1810.
We know how homeopathic medicines work because they have been thoroughly tested in “Provings.” Instead of animal testing, homeopaths have historically volunteered to take a remedy for a period of time to experience and record the symptoms it produces. The recorded symptoms are gathered and published in books, alongside any additional information known about the substance as a medicine. Homeopaths then use these books, called Materia Medica, when customizing medicines, according to the like heals like principle.
- Like Heals Like: Homeopathy’s guiding principle. Somewhat like vaccines or conventional allergy treatments without the side effects, homeopathy sparks healing because of its similarity or likeness to the symptoms suffered. For instance, Coffea–made from the coffee bean and traditionally used as a stimulant–is a remedy for insomnia; Allium cepa–from the red onion, producing symptoms of a runny nose and eyes–is commonly used for hay fever; and Apis–bee venom–is an excellent anti-inflammatory for the swelling, redness and heat of a sting or injury.
- Customized medicine. While most people come to a homeopath for a specific health issue, homeopaths know that everything in the body is connected and the homeopathic medicine must restore the balance of the body as a whole—body, mind and spirit—meaning that it must be customized to suit the unique needs of the individual. For instance, sometimes an injury or a cold affects the mind and emotional state, causing irritability, anxiety or clinginess for instance—other times it only causes symptoms physically or locally. This depends on the nature of the injury or virus, but also on the nature of the person. As a result, there is not one flu medicine, one cough medicine or arthritis medicine in homeopathy. Dr. Hahnemann recognized this need to customize medicines according to the symptoms a person experienced through careful observation. It is in the very nature of homeopathy that each person is cared for individually.
When health problems recur or persist, addressing root imbalances with homeopathy helps the body restore its natural strength and vigour, creating resilience, so the body can bounce back from stress, injury and illness when they occur. To accurately choose a remedy that sparks healing at the root level, homeopaths must gather symptoms as clues. Because these clues are unique to each person, homeopaths must ask many questions about the exact nature of these symptoms, including when and how they appear, and then research time may be needed to find an accurate match.
- In homeopathy, less is more. Medicines are prepared in very small, but powerful doses, which are only taken on an as needed basis. In fact, homeopathic medicine should not be repeated unnecessarily. As a general rule of thumb, when you feel better, you should reduce or stop the remedy, so that the body can regain its natural balance and resilience.
Dr Hahnemann inspired a great many medical physicians to practice homeopathy and continued to refine ideas about medicine, to research, write books and treat patients throughout his life and into old age. Since this was before the age of modern medicine, he treated all kinds of illness with homeopathy, from chronic disease to acute epidemics. After the death of his first wife, he later moved to France after being inspired by Melanie D’Hervilly, whom he married in 1835. Melanie was the first woman homeopath in Europe and together they held a thriving practice until his death in 1843 at the age of 88. His grave lies at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.