Homeopathy versus Herbal Medicine: What my experiences told me
My first experience
When I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I had been under the care of a naturopathic doctor for a few months already. I received from him nutritional supplements to heal leaky gut and numerous food allergies. However, because of the pregnancy, he also referred me to the in-house homeopathic doctor.
Curiosity filled me. I had heard about homeopathic remedies, but had never tried them. My research told me that they contained microscopic amounts of active ingredients and this fact made me skeptical of their effectiveness. But, I thought, if the doctor is recommending it, maybe the homeopath will surprise me.
Will they work?
She prepared three different remedies for me and gave me instructions on when to take each. She told me that they would prepare my body for childbirth, make the process easier, and help my body heal afterward. I left in high spirits.
Well, whatever effect they were supposed to have on me didn’t work. Maybe I expected too much. My water broke early and my labor didn’t progress. Against my wishes, I ended up with an epidural and, they pumped the Pitocin so high that my daughter was born with a hematoma on her skull. I felt like I had been hit by a truck and my new baby girl cried and cried and cried. I stopped taking the homeopathic remedies.
Not for a cold
After that disappointment, I steered clear of homeopathic remedies. I went straight for the nutritional supplements and herbal preparations. My herbalist training began soon after my daughter was born, so my confidence in and knowledge of plants grew. But, once when I had a cold, I couldn’t get to a store where I could buy my favorite herbs. Now, when I have a cold and don’t have time to prepare my own remedies, the products I use include grapefruit seed extract (always dilute in water!), Immune Strength essential oil blend in a diffuser at night, and Traditional Medicinals Cold Care. My choices at that time were limited, so I thought I’d give the homeopathic cold formula a try. Nothing. I still had the cold for a week.
Not for sore gums
When my daughter started teething, I didn’t have enough herbal knowledge yet to know what I could do. I didn’t want to use conventional helps or the old-time favorite—brandy. I reached for the homeopathic remedy for teething babies. The first brand I bought actually worked! But, then the store stopped carrying that brand and none of the other brands helped her.
It’s for the bees
The last time I tried a homeopathic remedy was for a bee sting. I thought surely it would work for something that specific, and it did! However, now that I am a fully trained Master Herbalist, I wouldn’t use homeopathy for bee stings. Bee stings can happen anywhere, not just in your backyard when your medicine cabinet is close by. I prefer to use plants that are readily available in an emergency.
Homeopathy versus Herbal Medicine: What the Science Told Me
What is homeopathy?
Homeopathy is a 200-year-old system of alternative medicine based on the premise of “like cures like.” It uses very highly diluted solutions containing animal, plant, or mineral that, in higher doses, would cause the very symptoms that it “treats.” For example, a highly diluted solution of bee venom is used to alleviate the symptoms of a bee sting. The interesting thing about this system is that they contend that the more diluted it is, the more potent it is. In fact, the most potent remedies have no measurable molecules of the substance they claim to contain! Many critics point this out and call homeopathy quackery. I won’t go that far. After all, I did find a couple of instances of effectiveness. Although, that could’ve been a placebo effect.
Another interesting aspect of this system is that each remedy is highly specific. If your stuffy nose is actually caused by a new allergy and not by a virus, the remedy won’t work. If you were bit by a spider, not a bee, you can’t take Apis mellifica (bee venom). When homeopathy works, it works very well. When it doesn’t work, well, you know the answer to that one.
Lastly, you cannot really make your own homeopathic remedies. You might try, but it’s so much easier to just make an herbal tincture! So, you pretty much have to trust product claims. While it tends to be inexpensive in the United States, if you have to depend on a drugstore to carry it on their product shelves, it’s not a medicine for the people. Furthermore, no one knows how it works, not even the homeopaths who recommend it!
What is herbal medicine?
A long history of use
Unlike homeopathy, people around the world have used herbs as medicine for thousands of years. The Bible, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Babylonian tablets, Greek and Roman texts—every culture throughout history—wrote about using plants for medicine. The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of the world still uses traditional herbal medicine for their healthcare needs. Some highly developed systems of herbal medicine include Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)—which includes acupuncture—and Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of healthcare.
Uses the whole plant
Herbal medicine involves the use of plant parts—flowers, stems, leaves, roots, seeds, pods—for medical care. These plant parts are made into teas, syrups, pills, lozenges, tinctures, and other preparations, sometimes by adding water, glycerin, honey, wine, or grain alcohol. Herbalists also use distilled essential oils from plants which, in contrast to homeopathy, contain measurable, highly concentrated, amounts of potent plant chemicals.
Health care for the people
Anyone with some knowledge of local plants can go out to the field or forest and pick the plant they need or, grow it in their home garden. Where I live, I can easily find dandelion, chickweed, chicory, plantain, shepherd’s purse, purslane, white oak, sarsaparilla, horsetail, and many more (yes, even though I live near one of the largest cities in the world). After finding the plant they need, anyone can make a tea. Herbal medicine is truly healthcare for the people.
Homeopathy versus Herbal Medicine: Reasons Why I Choose Herbs
Well, obviously I’m biased because I am a Master Herbalist and an aromatherapist-in-training. But, many herbal practitioners use a variety of tools, including homeopathy. I do not and I don’t generally recommend homeopathic products. It’s not just because of my own experiences with failed remedies. While a contributing factor, it is not because people can’t make their own remedies. After all, it is also difficult for the average person to distill their own essential oils.
My reasons for choosing herbal medicine versus homeopathy
Plant medicine offers greater flexibility.
One of my favorite aspects of plants is how one plant acts in multiple ways. If I have the sniffles, I don’t have to try to figure out whether my symptoms are caused by an irritant, a bacteria, a virus, or an allergy. Sure, getting to the root issue helps. But, I can choose a plant that generally targets the immune system and still get some relief. Plus, each plant contains multiple chemicals that work on different levels in the body. With homeopathy, if you get it wrong, you get nothing.
Plants live everywhere.
No matter where you are on the globe, plants live alongside you. You cannot exist without them. Even a little knowledge of the plants in your area might help you someday. For example, my son and I were in the parking lot of a campground retreat when a bee stung him. It started swelling, but I looked around and found some plantain growing nearby. I quickly chewed it up (effectively making a poultice) and put it on the area. Within a short time, the swelling subsided. Homeopathy cannot offer such immediate availability.
Herbs have a long history of use and research.
Volumes of research attest to the effectiveness of plants. At least 25% of modern pharmaceutical drugs contain active constituents derived from plants. As I mentioned earlier, 80% of the world still uses herbs as their primary health care. Scientists can see and measure the active chemical compounds in plants. You can taste them, smell them, and sometimes feel and see them. Since we need plants to survive (everyone eats, right?), these facts should not surprise us. Homeopathy cannot make such claims and as I said, even homeopaths cannot tell you exactly how their remedies work.
This herbalist doesn’t use homeopathy
While some people might argue that homeopathy works for them, it didn’t work for me. Perhaps their experience involves a placebo effect. Maybe not. I simply feel that when it comes to homeopathy versus herbal medicine, herbal medicine wins.