A good many people seem to be confused by this, and so I felt that it was necessary to get my opinions about the two down very clearly. It has been a source of irritation for many years that herbal medicine and homeopathy are often confused by people, so I will do my best to outline the differences between the two.
Herbal medicine has been the foundation of healthcare throughout recorded history. Even today, the World Health Organisation believes that around 80% of the world’s population still uses herbs and their properties as a primary source of medical care.
Herbal medicines, just like conventional medicines, have a direct effect on the body and need to be used with care because they can be potentially harmful if not used correctly. Therefore, they need to be used with the same care and respect as conventional medicines, and it is always a good idea to tell your doctor about any herbal medicines you’re taking before starting on a new prescription.
Homeopathy is a complementary or alternative medicine based on a series of ideas originally developed in the 1790s by a German doctor called Samuel Hahnemann. He believed that to successfully treat an illness, ‘like cures like’, and so that a substance which causes a headache should be used to treat a headache.
Very early on, this caused the deaths of a good many of Samuel Hahnemann’s patients, because a good many of the substances he was using in order to treat people were toxic. Instead of abandoning the idea, he decided that a process called succussion should be used. This process is based around diluting and shaking the original substance repeatedly.
Practitioners of homeopathy believe that the more a substance is diluted in this way, the greater its power to treat the symptoms becomes. In effect, this means that most homeopathic remedies have less than 0.00001% of the original substance available to them, the rest of the solution being water.
There has been extensive scientific investigation of the effectiveness of homeopathy, and there is no good quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition. The results consistently show that homeopathy works thanks to the placebo effect, nothing more.
Please don’t confuse herbal medicine with homeopathy. They are very different things, with very different results. I would never encourage people not to use something that they believe helps them, so if you like homeopathy treatments, by all means continue to use them. But please don’t suggest that a herbalist is a homeopath. It becomes very irritating very quickly.