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A Brief History of Homeopathy

For over two hundred years, homeopathy has been practiced throughout the world. Originally from Europe, homeopathy is now very popular in India, South America, Australasia, Russia, North America as well as in Europe. Homeopathy is the most widely practiced form of alternative medicine in the world. In many countries, it is incorporated into the medical system and practiced by both physicians and other professionally trained homeopaths. Many other practitioners of various forms of alternative medicine will integrate some aspects of homeopathy into their practice as well and some physicians may choose to practice homeopathy exclusively or may include it as a specialty within a broader medical practice.


Homeopathy's roots emerge from the findings, teachings and writings of Dr. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), a German physician. Hahnemann graduated from medical school in Germany in 1779 and started his own medical practice. He soon began his first homeopathic experiments in 1790, partly as a result of his disillusionment with such common medical practices of the day as purging, bloodletting, and the use of toxic chemicals. At one point, he gave up his own daily practice to begin working as a chemist while translating medical texts. It was when Hahnemann began working on a project to translate a Scottish physician, William Cullen's Materia Medica into German that he began his quest for a better way of providing healthcare using the principles of "Similars." While working on this project, he became fascinated with a species of South American tree-bark (cinchona) which was being used to treat malaria-induced fever. This was quinine, the most widely used malaria treatment for hundreds of years. Hahnemann ingested some of the bark and discovered that it caused symptoms similar to malaria. This sparked his interest as he was well read in the annals of medical history and was looking for a scientific mechanism of cure. He continued his research into "cures" and the idea of "similar suffering," and began compiling his findings. “Similia similibus curantur”, the Latin phrase meaning "let likes be cured by likes," is the primary principle of homeopathy and this principle of cure came as a result of Hahnemann’s years of experimentation into finding a reliable mechanism of cure, a method that could be explained and replicated.


The basic principle of healing that homeopathy uses – let like be cured by like, or the Law of Similars, was first discussed by the original founder of Medicine, the Greek Physician Hippocrates, around 400BC, who discussed that there are two ways of using medicines, one through the action of “opposites” and the other, by the action of “similars”. An “anti” biotic or “anti” histamine is working directly on the body, supporting the body by doing the work for the body. It may be suppressing symptoms, therefore working against the disease symptoms. Homeopathy, using the Law of Similars is working not against but “with” the body’s own natural healing powers. It is working by directly supporting the ability of the body to do the work for itself, to strengthen the immune system and healing power of the body. It is doing so by using the “law of similars” which is simply a way of triggering the body’s own natural defences. The method of evaluating the healing potential of natural substances or medicines in homeopathy is achieved through a process termed a “proving.” This involves healthy people taking very small doses of possible medicines and evaluating the symptoms and sensations that medicine may “create” in them. Over a period of days and weeks, the “provers” or participants note down in detail all their experiences, both in mind and body. That information becomes the foundation of knowledge of knowing what a medicine can create, which will then “cure” when given to a person experiencing similar symptoms when sick. Again, like cures like. What can cause can cure. Therefore, the process of provings is the scientific, empirical and direct experiential methodology of evaluating the possible curative power of natural substances. This knowledge taken from “provings” is also combined with knowledge of accidental poisonings of certain substances, which if given in minute doses may have a curative action. The accidental poisonings can give more “gross” or serious symptoms that wouldn’t be seen in a proving. Also, it needs to be emphasized that the symptoms that guide to the choice of a homeopathic remedy are not simply the common diagnostic symptoms of a disease condition but the unique and individual expressions of disease as experienced by each person. As is often stated by homeopaths, “homeopathy treats the person, the individual, not just the disease.” It is a holistic form of medicine that looks at all aspects of a person, both mind and body, and which defines it as a “holistic” form of healing. Added to this is the direct evidence of thousands of physicians with the impact of cures and general benefits of medicines used over a 200 year period. This knowledge of the curative benefit of medicines gives the necessary proof of how homeopathic medicines are working and the conditions they can cure.


German doctors who immigrated to the USA founded the first homeopathic medical school in the United States in the mid 1800's in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Homeopathy had gained recognition in the preceding decades in the USA, because of its success in treating the many epidemics rampant at the time including scarlet fever, typhoid, cholera and yellow fever. Similarly, homeopathy spread to many other countries from Germany at the same time, including the rest of Europe, South America and later to India, Russia and other countries. Homeopathy became very popular in 2 nd half of the 19 th century and into the early 1900's, especially in North America. Homeopathic Medical Societies were established in most states in the USA. At the turn of the century, there were 22 homeopathic medical schools, 100 homeopathic hospitals and over 1,000 homeopathic pharmacies. Boston University, Stanford University and New York Medical College were among those educational institutions that were teaching homeopathy. Some of the most important homeopaths in the history of the science have come from the USA, in the 19 th and early 20 th century. In 1910 however, a report by Abraham Flexner (known as the Flexner Report) recommended the closing of many medical schools (ostensibly due to lack of standards and regulation) and as a result, many of the more alternative medical schools, including homeopathic ones, closed over the next 20 years. This report was funded by the Carnegie Foundation and was a turning point in the development of medical care in the USA. This was also around the time when modern drug companies began releasing drugs that were easy to administer to patients, a trend that also contributed to the decline of homeopathy, as well as the growing economic and political link between the growing pharmaceutical industry with what we see today as modern medicine. The advent of anti-biotics in the 1940s and their widening use since also consolidated the use and trust in modern medicines. A similar decline in the popularity of Homeopathy occurred in Europe, although it always remained a medical specialty within regular medical practice. Different countries in Europe had different laws regarding the practice of homeopathy and other alternative medicines. In South and Central America, its popularity remained fairly constant and homeopathy continued to be used in many countries throughout the world, both within mainstream medical practice and also as a stand alone form of natural medicine.


Although the United States experienced a decline of interest in homeopathy in the first half of the 20th century, other nations experienced a steady growth of interest especially after World War Two. In England in 1945, homeopathy was incorporated into the National Health Service established by the new Labour government after the war. Nearly all French pharmacies sold homeopathic medicines as over the counter medicines. Homeopathy developed a particularly strong following in Russia, India, Switzerland, Mexico, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, etc and many countries in South America, including Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Cuba continued to recognize homeopathy as a stand- alone specialty practiced by physicians. In particular, in India, Homeopathy is now firmly established as a legitimate and regulated form of medicine. There are many homeopathic medical schools, pharmacies and over 20,000 homeopathic physicians practicing homeopathy within a fully regulated and recognized framework. In fact, India has the largest and most established homeopathic profession anywhere in the world. It also has its own indigenous form of medicine, called Ayurveda and therefore, along with Western Medicine, it makes India one of the most medically diverse countries in the world. In Europe and North America, homeopathy also saw a resurgence of interest in the 1970s. Many homeopathic schools opened, training both physicians, other medical professionals and a growing number of people with no prior medical experience. A new profession evolved during this time, which carries on to this day and a huge body of research and knowledge has been created. The National Center of Homeopathy, in Virginia USA, stated that in 1996, 230 million dollars was spent on homeopathic remedies in the USA. Around the turn of the century, further research showed that Americans were spending about $4 billion on all forms of complementary and alternative medicines. However, unfortunately homeopathy and other forms of complementary and alternative medicine have come under attack in the last 10-15 years, as they have been seen as not conforming to a conventional scientific paradigm, in spite of a long history of experience and evidence. In fact, Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine has been practiced for more than a thousand years and Ayurveda and many other indigenous forms of medicine have a long and rich tradition in many cultures. These attacks are often funded via the drug industry and supported by political and other activist lobbying organizations. Media groups and other activist organizations accuse these professions of not conforming to a narrow idea of scientific credibility and practitioners are often labelled as “quacks” and worse. This development is reflective of a growing rigidity within science, what can be a called a “Cult of Scientism”, where science takes on some of same levels of rigidity and intolerance as religion. The word “Scientism” is expressive of an excessive belief in a narrow and inflated definition of science. This is also reflective of the huge influence that the pharmaceutical industry now has over scientific publications, research institutes, universities and the political lobbying of governments and individual politicians. This is in many ways creating a crisis in science and medicine today as has been well described in a book by Marcia Angell, Ex Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, called “The Truth About the Drug Companies – How they deceive us and what to do about it.” However, in spite of these attacks and the challenges facing medical systems the world over, the sheer popularity of natural medicines has continued and people are choosing for themselves the healthcare they want, which is their right. The fact is that in spite of many amazing advances in modern medicine, many people today are sicker than ever, with more chronic and metabolic diseases, drug dependencies and health systems are straining to cope. The financial implications for health systems in many countries is dire and while the blame cannot be laid at the door of modern medicine alone, the increasing dependence on drugs, and the large corporations that are encouraging bad eating habits and ingestion of poisons in the food supply and environment is not helping matters. This has only become even more clear since Covid-19 has impacted the world, with those already sick being far more susceptible to the chronic and more serious consequences of Covid-19 infection. The role of natural medicines and nutritional awareness in this time is taking on even greater importance and as health care challenges continue to ebb and flow, homeopathy and other complementary and alternative forms of health care can do their part in offering diverse and integrated forms of healthcare practices.