Herbal medicine (phytotherapy) and homeopathy are sometimes confused. Some people also include both under the term “naturopathy”. These are entirely different approaches. The only thing they have in common is that homeopathic remedies sometimes use plants (in addition to animal and mineral substances) as the starting material. Learn here what is the difference between naturopathy and homeopathy.
What is homeopathy?
The Leipzig physician Samuel Hahnemann is the founder of homeopathy. In 1805 he published his findings in writing for the first time. One of Hahnemann’s self-experiments is considered to be the birth of his idea. He took cinchona bark several times a day, which was used at the time to treat changeable fever (malaria). Some of the symptoms he experienced resembled malaria symptoms: palpitations, fatigue, trembling, reddening of the skin, and thirst.
This and other experiments led Hahnemann to conclude that “similar things can be cured with similar things”. This is still considered the basis of homeopathic teaching today. Plant extracts, animal products, metals or salts are selected which, undiluted, produce symptoms similar to those of the disease to be cured. Another basic homeopathic principle is potentization, i.e. the dilution of a substance. The starting substance is shaken in water or ethanol. The solvent is supposed to absorb the information of the contained substance. Hahnemann spoke of “its individual spirit-like essence” being transferred to the water. The more highly diluted (i.e., the higher the potency), the more effective the homeopathic remedy is said to be.
How does homeopathy work?
Hahnemann and other homeopaths often speak of a “retuning of the life energy” in the sick person. Opponents of the German school of homeopathy, on the other hand, tend to believe that there is a placebo effect and that the detailed discussion with the homeopath is healing. This could even explain the effect in animals and children. One speaks then of the “placebo by proxy” effect. The positive attitude of the parents or the master or mistress is transferred to the patient. However the effect comes about. It is said: He who heals is right. The fact is that homeopathy helps in some cases and usually does no harm (unless someone uses it to replace a necessary medical diagnosis or vital medicines).
However, the homeopathic approach has nothing to do with naturopathy, classical medicine (orthodox medicine) or herbal medicine. It is an entirely different concept, which does not assume an effect of proven medicinal plants or pharmacological principles. Instead, it is based on the entirely different principles of similarity and dilution.
What are naturopathy and herbal medicine (phytotherapy)?
Naturopathy refers to various therapies that do not use chemical medicines. These include treatments with baths, heat, cold or by changing the diet. Phytotherapy, i.e. the use of herbal medicines, also belongs to the procedures of naturopathy.
In phytotherapy, medicinal plants are used. In the past, only traditional knowledge and experience with various plants were used for this purpose. Almost all cultures have been using herbs, flowers, plant juices or teas as remedies for thousands of years. Many historical figures such as Hildegard von Bingen or Sebastian Kneipp dealt extensively with the effectiveness of plants for strengthening health and alleviating various symptoms and diseases.
Rational phytotherapy: standardized and proven effective
Today, phytotherapy looks somewhat different. In conventional medicine, the effectiveness of the herbal remedy must first be proven before it is approved as a drug. In the case of very many active plant substances, the effect could be confirmed by clinical studies. For some plants, it was even possible to find completely new areas of application, to optimize the dose and application, or to find out in studies which parts of the plant have the best effect.
Today, phytotherapy is considered the link between alternative and conventional medicine. It uses purely herbal raw materials and extracts and thus the power of nature. They are standardized and controlled medicines with a proven effect. Many herbal medicines are now part of the medical standard in the treatment of humans and animals.
What is the difference between naturopathy and homeopathy?
Herbal medicine uses centuries-old knowledge. This has now been verified with the methods of medicine available today. The effectiveness of herbal medicines for treating a disease can therefore be scientifically proven. Homeopathy, on the other hand, is not verifiable by scientific methods, because it is defined quite differently. A good example is the so-called dose-response relationship. According to conventional medicine, an active ingredient, whether chemical or in the form of a medicinal plant, has a stronger effect and more side effects the more of it you take. Homeopathy assumes the opposite: The more diluted the starting substance, the stronger its effect is supposed to be.
When using herbal remedies, it is known that certain ingredients such as essential oils, alkaloids, plant pigments or bitter substances have an effect against certain diseases or strengthen the immune system. Well-researched herbal medicines are nowadays a good alternative to chemical agents and usually have a lower potential for side effects.
For homeopathic remedies, there is still no proof or scientific substantiation of efficacy. However, since homeopathic remedies also have no side effects, there is nothing to be said against taking them. Even if the critics are right and “only” the placebo effect should work, this may be very helpful to stimulate self-healing.
However, one thing should always be kept in mind: Stronger or longer lasting complaints should always be discussed with a doctor or pharmacist and not treated yourself with conventional or homeopathic remedies.