Homeopathy is often confused with herbal medicine or phytotherapy. These are two different systems of alternative medicine although there is some degree of overlap. In South Africa, homeopathy and herbal medicine (phytotherapy) often sit side by side with each other. Homeopaths may also prescribe herbal medicines in conjunction with homeopathic medicines. Despite the label ‘all natural’ being attached to both systems of medicine, the way in which a homeopathic medicine acts on the body is significantly different from the action of herbal medicines.

History and Composition

homeopathic remedyHomeopathy was founded by the German physician Dr. Samuel Hahnemann in the 1700s. Phytotherapy, which is the therapeutic application of herbs or simply herbal medicine, has been used for as long as recorded history can verify.

Although homeopathy does primarily use plant sources for homeopathic medicines, animal substances and even synthetic compounds may also be utilised. Herbal medicine only uses plant-based material, and sometimes fungi.

In homeopathy, the raw material is diluted successively until only a minute amount remains in the final preparation. In high dilutions (higher potencies), the trace substance may no longer be present in its chemical form.

Herbal medicines, when prepared in liquid forms, are not successively diluted in this way. The plant material may at times be immersed in water, alcohol or glycerin, but the final preparation uses the solution in its full strength.

Healing Action

Homeopathic medicines are utilised to stimulate the body’s innate healing ability. The minute doses of the original substance triggers the body to restore health through its own innate healing mechanisms. Herbal medicines have a direct chemical action, although traditional prescriptions may be used to revitalise the system and allow the body to heal itself.

However, herbal preparations contain a host of phytochemicals and active ingredients which have a direct chemical action on the body. Scientific investigations of herbs have indicated that these active ingredients can be used to treat specific diseases in much the same way as pharmaceutical drugs would have a chemical action in the body to treat a specific condition.

Prescription Methodology

The prescription of homeopathic medicines is based on the principle of ‘like cures like’. A substance that causes specific symptoms in a person can be used to treat disease when it is diluted successively as per homeopathic guidelines.

Herbal medicines are primarily prescribed for its chemical action and pharmacological benefit. Traditional prescriptions would depend on the similarity of plant characteristic to the disease presentation and empirical knowledge about the healing ability of the plant that is acquired over centuries.