Homeopathy, is a system of medical practice based on the attempt to "let like cure like." According to homeopathic physicians, a substance that produces certain symptoms in a healthy individual will cure those symptoms in a sick individual. Poison ivy, for example, causes rashes. Homeopathic physicians thus treat rashes with poison ivy. Onions cause crying and a watery discharge from the nose. Therefore, onions are used to treat colds. Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, developed homeopathy in the late 1700's .

Homeopathic remedies are discovered through a process called proving. In proving, various substances are administered to healthy people and their effects carefully observed. Homeopathic physicians give patients only one remedy at a time. They believe that using combinations of remedies interferes with the effectiveness of each particular remedy. Remedies are diluted so that the patient receives the minimum effective dose. This procedure is thought to maximize the benefits of the treatment. It also helps prevent harmful side effects.


Many homeopathic remedies contain substances that could be toxic or hazardous to people if given in larger doses. In addition, the medical effectiveness of homeopathic treatments has not been scientifically proven. For these reasons, homeopathy has been criticized by many physicians.


Herbal medicine refers to plants or plant ingredients that are used to maintain or improve health. The plants and the plant products are called herbs, herbal remedies, herbal medicinals, medicinal herbs, medicinal plants, and phytomedicinals. The most popular herbal medicines include echinacea, thought to relieve cold symptoms; ginkgo and ginseng, sold to improve memory and alertness; and St.-John's-wort, which may relieve mild depression. Some herbs used to flavor food in cooking may have medical uses. For example, garlic may reduce the risk of heart disease. Hundreds of herbal medicines are sold in a variety of forms. They are sold as bulk (loose or unpackaged) plants, as parts of those plants, and as powders, capsules, tablets, liquids, and extracts. Bulk plants are used to prepare the other dosage forms. In some products, herbs are combined with nonherbal ingredients. Extracts contain a strong solution of some of the ingredients. Liquid extracts and pills are the most popular forms. Many people view herbal medicines as milder or safer than other drugs, but some plants contain chemicals that are powerful drugs. In fact, about one-fourth of all prescription medicines come from plants.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies herbal medicines as separate from nonprescription and prescription medicines. An herbal remedy is considered a dietary supplement, a product that is taken in addition to a normal balanced diet but is not a food or drug. Dietary supplements do not have to meet FDA rules for safety, effectiveness, and quality. Scientists continue to research the safety and effectiveness of herbs. Even though herbal medicines are natural, they may cause side effects. Because herbal medicines act differently in different people, it is important to consult a doctor or pharmacist when taking them. The strength of the active ingredients in an herbal remedy may vary depending on how the plant is grown, harvested, stored, and prepared. Unwanted effects may result from an allergy, an impurity in the product, an interaction with other drugs, a misidentification of the plant, or a wrong dose. While the benefit of some herbal medicines may outweigh the risks, for some people the risks may be too high or unknown. Scientists are investigating the active substances, best doses, and right ingredients of herbal medicines as well as the effects that other medicines or food may have on them.

Thomas H. Maugh, II, Ph.D., Medical Writer.
Joseph I. Boullata, Pharm.D., Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice, Temple University.
Source : World Book 2005

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