FAQ - Herbs and Homeopathy

For the record: herbal medicine is not homeopathy. It’s one of the most common misunderstandings, caused by the fact that plants feature in both systems. But that’s pretty much all they share. So here goes…

Herbal medicine uses extracts from plants, and only plants. These extracts contain measurable amounts of active ingredients, which have demonstrable effects on the human body. Some are very subtle, some are more pushy. You can combine them, and vary the dose, and take them over time or just once. So far, so simple. They’ve been used by humans and animals for millennia.

Homeopathy was thought up by Samuel Hahnemann in the 19th century. He argued that if a large dose of something would give you certain symptoms, then a very small dose could cure you. For example, the symptoms of arsenic poisoning could be treated with a homeopathic preparation of arsenicum. The smaller the dose, the more powerful the remedy; in fact, the most powerful remedies are so diluted that they contain no measurable remnant of the original substance at all. And the original substance can be anything, animal, vegetable or mineral.

The two systems are not rivals, and they are not incompatible, though some homeopaths say that strongly aromatic herbs (notably coffee and peppermint) can cancel out their remedies. Herbs come out better when you submit them to randomised double-blind trials, but as a measure of effectiveness these do have their limits. In the end, it comes down to whatever takes your fancy. Different tools can be useful at different times, but it is useful to understand the rationale behind what you’re taking.

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