In another recent article, we learned how people discovered the healing potential of
naturally occurring substances by a combination of 'trial and error'. By observing and recording the effect these substances had upon individuals, (including poisonings!), we were able to establish a database of knowledge that is still relevant today.
In homeopathy, we go one step further. We learn about the finer details of our remedies by running what is called a 'proving'. A proving is where a group of healthy volunteers take a homeopathically prepared substance over a period of time. Not everyone will react but if a prover is sensitive to the substance, they will eventually exhibit symptoms.
All the symptoms experienced, physical, emotional and mental, are gathered and recorded in detail. The 'provers' are not told anything about the substance they are taking, so they cannot be influenced by any pre knowledge. Also, the person supervising the proving does not know what substance is being tested.
Finally, all the symptoms experienced by the 'reactive' provers are collated and organised systematically. This information forms the basis of our 'Materia Medica', a vast and rapidly expanding database which describes the curative properties of our remedies. Once a newly proved remedy starts to be used in clinical practice we can fine tune some of the prescribing details as we learn more about the substance's healing potential.
So, unlike conventional medicine, which is first tested on laboratory animals such as mice, rats and monkeys, homeopathic remedies are only trialled on healthy human volunteers. Because of the special way homeopathic remedies are prepared they are safe and non toxic, so, even if a prover experiences unpleasant symptoms whilst participating in a proving, they know the symptoms will pass once they stop taking
The first proving was undertaken by the founder of homeopathy, a medical doctor called Samuel Hahnemann. He had been reading about the toxicological effects of Peruvian bark (Cinchona, known by homeopaths as China) and noted the poisoning symptoms sounded remarkably similar to the symptoms of malaria.
So, by way of an experiment, he took some doses of crude China, and recorded his
reactions. He describes his experience in great detail:
'My feet and finger ends at first became quite cold. I grew languid and drowsy, then my heart began to palpitate….intolerable anxiety, trembling, prostration throughout all my limbs, then pulsation in the head, redness of my cheeks, thirst, and in short, all these symptoms which are characteristic of intermittent fever.'
All the symptoms ceased when he stopped taking the China but returned as soon as he took it again. Hahnemann had discovered that, when China was taken by a healthy person, it could produce a symptom picture very similar to that of malaria. He went on to use China to successfully treat thousands of cases of malaria.
Hahnemann also undertook similar experiments with many other substances, thereby establishing the 'proving' as a basis upon which we can learn about the healing properties of different substances with great accuracy.