A Little History
Dr. Samuel Hahnemann
This story goes back to 1796 when Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), a celebrated German physician with a deeply inquiring mind, realised this fundamental fact regarding the treatment and cure of disease.
In those days medicine was a haphazard affair where disease was believed to be caused by all manner of imaginary phenomena. Hahnemann, unhappy with this state of affairs, and also despondent that his own treatments too often failed, had taken up translating medical and scientific literature as a means of earning a living.
Whilst translating A treatise of the Materia Medica (William Cullen, 1789), from English into German, Hahnemann was unhappy with Cullen’s reasoning on the drug Cinchona (“China bark” from which quinine, used in the treatment of Malaria, is derived). Cullen highlighted that Cinchona contained both bitter and astringent properties, both of which acted together to form a potent tonic to the stomach, and that it was this property which he argued, gave it the specific virtue in healing malaria.
However, Hahnemann was also a brilliant chemist (as acknowledged by Lavoisier) and well aware he could combine many drugs into a medicine much more bitter and astringent, yet which would have no effect on malarial fever. He therefore decided to try and find out more about Cinchona by taking it himself and recording the results. He found, on taking this substance, he actually developed symptoms similar to those present in malarial fever, for which he would commonly prescribe the drug.
No doubt Hahnemann was excited by this finding. He didn’t rush to conclusions however, instead setting about testing a whole range of substances in the same manner. The results of these drug tests (called “provings”) were consistent. He found in each case that a drug which produced certain symptoms in the healthy was capable of removing similar symptoms in disease.
His experiments validated the theory previously hinted at through the ages by others, including Hippocrates and Paracelsus. This principle, similia similibus curantur (likes cure likes), known in English as the law of similars, is as true and effective today as it was back in 1796 when Hahnemann first put it to the test.
Today we have at hand an even more comprehensive and complete record of drug provings, of a large range of substances from the animal, plant and mineral kingdoms. These medicines together make up our homœopathic materia medica.
Memorial to Samuel Hahnemann in Washington D.C.