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Clinical Cases

A Spike Through My Head Applying Plant Theory to a Case of Migraine

derris pinnata

Homeopath Doug Brown analyzes a case of migraine using Scholten’s periodic table schema.


This case of severe migraine was ultimately cured with a remedy that is not well-represented in the repertory. Nor did the expected sensation of the family to which this remedy belongs emerge in the case 1. It was only through ultimately recognizing a hidden keynote, understanding the dreams, and matching the pattern to that predicted by Scholten’s plant theory that I was able to catalyze a deep healing response.

The Case

Mary 2 is a married mother of two and a teacher in a low-income public school. She presented with a chief complaint of migraines, often associated with her menses.  She describes the pain as a spike going through her head, with twisting of the nerves, and sinus pressure. The headache is so severe she wishes she “could pop her head off.” She adds, “My brain is inside a box, and it’s trying to get out.” Associated symptoms included anxiety, particularly a fear of being approached. She says “My whole body tenses up.” She describes others at the school as over-reacting to stress; while she gets herself “calm and centered”. When not calm she feels sick to her stomach, not knowing what’s going to happen.

Significant past medical history of post-partum hemorrhage. “It took me a long time to recover from birth.”

Mary describes her childhood as good except for a humiliating event that happened during her high school teen years. “My Dad (who was a teacher in her high school) had an affair with my friend, who was telling me ‘Don’t have sex!, and was doing it with my Dad. I felt that people were watching, whispering.” In reaction she drank a lot of alcohol, had a lot of sex, and hated her Dad. “He never said ‘sorry’, never owned up to what he did. He thinks it never happened. I never even got an apology out of it.” But she also says of her father, “He was very good teacher…He was the only teacher who made me want to learn. In a fun way! I trusted him. But he shattered that trust. Once the respect is broken it’s hard to get it back again. The sensation is of emptiness, a big hole. It’s like somebody dying.”

Her marriage is excellent, with “tremendous (mutual) respect. We’re on the same page for everything. I knew after one month we’d be together for the rest of our lives. He’s very caring, aware of other peoples’ feelings. If I don’t want to talk he doesn’t keep pushing. He waits until I’m ready.”

Before she became a teacher Mary was in charge of setting up new retail outlets for a large company. “I was in charge of people at a quite young age. I had a lot of anger. I was very mean. I didn’t know how to be a supervisor. I yelled at people, degraded others.”

While she feels very protective of her students, work is currently her biggest stress. She confides “I don’t like the end of the school year. I don’t like letting them go home. I want to protect them, keep them safe, educated. In school I know where they are, what’s happening. I would like a one room schoolhouse, where the kids wouldn’t go to crappy teachers. The kids deserve better.”

I asked Mary about her worst moment:  “One day in school (at work as a teacher) I got so frustrated with a child. She was screaming because she didn’t get what she wanted.. I needed her to leave the classroom. I was mad at her. I felt so tense inside, and wanted to pick her up and move her. The principal couldn’t stay for long. I felt like punching her. She didn’t care about all the other kids who weren’t learning because of that one child.

When asked about fears, Mary reports a fear of spiders, of small spaces, of touch from people she doesn’t know. “When people get into my personal space my whole body tenses up, my jaws clench. I’m surprised I have any teeth left!”

She has had the following dreams:

  • My colleague/best friend & I are going to a gas chamber. We sat there with no emotion, waiting for this to happen. No, we were not going to be gassed; we were going to be burned to death. There was an incinerator to cremate bodies. There were all these ashes all around. The dying part was fine. I guess I’m done. Calm.
  • A weird guy with crazy bloodshot scary eyes appears at the classroom door. I yell “Run!”, and then I run and leave everyone behind. I hear shots fired, and I keep running, looking for a pace to hide. My feeling is that he’s going to kill us.
  • Of someone chopping off parts of a dog. There’s no blood, and the dog is still happy.
  • Of bombs, missiles, gangs, fights
  • Of an angry mother throwing her child to the ground. The child hit the ground head first.

Understanding the Case

After many remedies failed to permanently cure the patient, I decided to try to understand the case using the new plant theories of Scholten (and retrospectively, Yakir).

In Scholten’s system3, every plant remedy is given a 7 digit code in the format The first 3 “x’s” specify the level of development using the numbers 1-6 as representatives for the themes of the rows of the periodic table. The first of these is usually “6”, as most plant remedies have some of the introspective, self-determining qualities of the lanthanide remedies, which is in the 6th row of the periodic table. (The implicit theoretical assumption here is that development in both the world of plants as well as within the human psyche is teleologically oriented towards the goal of freedom and self-determination). Clearly our patient, who is a very self-aware teacher striving to raise healthy children and teach underserved children in the schools, has these lanthanide-like qualities.

The second number represents the patient’s inner aspirations, dreams, and inclinations. Does the patient aspire to greater personal autonomy (as in Row 6), higher artistic or creative achievement (as in Row 5), or greater success or ease at work (as in Row 4)? Perhaps it is primarily to feel greater love, intimacy, sense of identity (Row 3), or simply greater personal security and grounding (Row 2)?  In this case it is clear that the patient’s aspiration is very much relegated to the arena of work: to provide protection and good instruction to her student charges. Thus her remedy code so far is 3.64x.xx.xx

The third number in the code is provided by discerning the obvious row of the presenting problem, the current real-life, external world situation which stresses the patient. Once again, for our patient, this is the world of work in her vocation as a teacher. So far, then, we have the code: 3.644.xx.xx

The next two numbers of the code refer to the “Phase and Sub-phase” of the patient (or remedy). There are seven phases (and sub-phases), each describing a level of inclusion, exclusion, centrality, marginalization, and degree of adaptation to others. Mary feels confined by her situation. She wants to “pop off her head”. Her brain is trying to escape from its box. Similarly, Mary feels disruptive children limit the class’s ability to progress. This situation and experience of confinement and limitation leads to a “Nitrogen-like” expansive, explosive feeling, which in turn corresponds to Phase and Sub-phase 5.  Thus the remedy code so far would be  3.644.55.xx.

The final two numbers require no additional study if one is already familiar with the “stages” or columns of the periodic table. They have the same meaning here as they do for the elements. And in this case, the tubercular, column 15 theme of active destruction, plunging into bottomless darkness and death, is very clear from her dreams. So now we have the complete code: 3.644.55.15 for our patient’s remedy. According to Scholten’s plant theory, the remedy with this code is Derris pinnata, for which he uses the APG botanical name, Dalbergia pinnata.

Reading through the Materia Medica provided a rich confirmation of this choice. Robert’s repertory gives “DRIVEN: INTO HEAD, NAILS OR NEEDLES WERE BEING. (single remedy rubric).  Scholten describes the state as markedly aggressive, “as if they feel attacked directly and have to defend themselves. They feel attack is the best defense….Sensitive, oversensitive, pain…..impulse to kill, censorious, fear of killing someone with a knife.4

Boericke lists “Neuralgic headaches of rheumatic origin.” Clarke says “He is afraid of killing some one with a knife.” Both kinds of tic are noted, painful and convulsive. Desai says “Fancies he is sea-sick. Suicidal. Is afraid of killing some one with a knife. Disposed to strike, and inveighs against his dearest friends. Weeping and singing alternately, great flow of ideas. Both Desai and Roberts give the keynote I will now no longer forget: Sensation as if needles and nails were being driven into head5.

Using Mary’s case as well as the historical Materia Medica, one might suggest a “situational Materia Medica” of Derris pinnata as follows: It summons (and cures) the energy of a constellation or gestalt where there’s a violent threat, things feel out of control, and there’s an urgent need to get to safety. For example a hostage-situation with weapons, or a natural disaster such as a tornado. This out-of-control violence could lead to spikes literally going through one’s skull. The reaction is to clench muscles, strike out with violence, make an all-out effort to get to a protected space. There is a vital need for outside support, such as a SWAT team to disarm the hostage-takers, or EMTs and other emergency personnel to take care of casualties. A failure of back-up support leads to feelings of betrayal, bitter disappointment, and deflation. These feelings are so intense that there is a desire to kill the failing source of protection. When compensated or cured there is a feeling of calm, control, and success in providing safety to others.

This elaboration is supported by another published case of this remedy by Katharina Riedener in Interhomeopathy. Katharina’s patient suffering from burn-out and chronic fatigue, told Katharina:

“My Mom was good but my father was a very angry, violent man. The kind of guy you could sit at the table and he would all of a sudden slap you for no reason or throw chairs. My brother and I would get beaten up sometimes, half of the time for no reason, we were walking on eggshells a lot.”

Feelings about father?

“It came up a few times: I loaded up the 22 and I was going to go upstairs and shoot him, everything was ready to go and I just had to walk up the stairs, but I never had the courage. I was thinking about what would happen, we would end up in a foster home; I was looking at the bigger picture.” 6   

Course of Treatment

Mary was given Derris pinnata 200C on Oct. 13, 2015. After several repetitions the potency was increased to 1M in August 2016. Her headaches reduced in frequency and intensity and finally ended. She reported feeling calm and centered in the midst of the chaos of school, and began to feel supported by her school principal. She remains migraine free to this day.

The Substance

Vermulen tells us this species of the genus Derris contain the highest level of rotenone, an insecticide and fish poison mainly found in the roots. Rotenone is used against parasites on house pets and in domestic sprays against mosquitoes and the like. “The dust particles of the powder block the trachea of insects. The rotenone reaches the nerves, resulting in cramps and paralysis” 7

Two Systems of Classification; Two Homeopathic Plant Theories

Scholten uses the modern APG (Angiosperm Phylogeny Group II) system of plant classification, which classifies Dalbergia pinnata as part of the Papilionidae, a sub-family of the Fabidae or Leguminaceae. Of this sub-family Scholten says: “Central is the idea that there is more to life than work. They feel as if they are living for work but they would like to work to live.”8 The remedies in the Fabales order, according to Scholten, relate to themes of the interaction between life in the family and life in the village:

“As member of a family, one is also part of the village. The family has to keep its place and respect in the village and the members have to work for that. At the same time the members have to find a place in the family, have to give and receive their love and respect.” 9

As we reflect back on Mary’s case it becomes clear that this is exactly where the energy of the case lay: the humiliation she experienced as a result of her perception of the loss of her family’s reputation caused by her father’s actions as a teacher in the community.

More recently Michal Yakir has published an alternative or complementary plant theory using the older Cronquist botanical groupings; she has constructed a grid or table which places plant families along two axes of developmental evolution10. The six columns are based on Jungian ideas of Self integration of feminine and masculine aspects of the psyche, while the 9 rows reflect Eriksonian stages of growth (within each column).

For Yakir, the Fabales come early in her 5th Column, which marks the emergence of a dominant masculine energy. 5th Column remedies are engaged with the task of mediating the split between Me and Other. Father-child relationships, resentment, fanaticism, rigidity, the primacy of work and responsibility….all these come within the purview of the 5th column, and also relate strongly to Mary’s case. Fabales are placed in the 2nd row (the Oral Stage), where basic security and trust develop. Once again, as Mary clearly lacked this basic existential trust, Yakir’s assignment seems spot on. Although I did not use Yakir’s system for this case, I am beginning to use it frequently with excellent results. I find that using both Scholten’s and Yakir’s plant theories give complementary insights into the rich and deep dimensions of plant remedies and the evolution of consciousness.


  • According to the Sensation method, the expected inner experience of Leguminaceae remedies is splitting apart, scattering, and fragmenting.
  • Not her real name. The patient generously gave permission to share her story in this article.
  • Jan Scholten. Wonderful Plants. 2013, JC Scholten, Utrecht. The most up-to-date classification and description of remedies by Scholten and colleagues using his plant theory can be found at
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  • Reference Works.
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  • Michal Yakir. Wondrous Order: Systematic Table of Homeopathic Plant Remedies. Book One, Flowering Plants. 2017; Narayana Verlag. Kandern.

About the author

Doug Brown

Doug Brown, CCH, RSHom(NA) serves as a director for A Promise of Health. He is a former sociologist with Cornell University’s American Indian Studies Program, and a Family Nurse Practitioner educated at Yale University. He graduated from Hahnemann College of Homeopathy in 2001, and currently enjoys teaching and mentoring homeopathic students and practitioners. Many of his articles can be found in Hpathy, Homeopathic Links, Interhomeopathy, the American Homeopath, and on his website, Doug lives and practices homeopathy in Portland, Oregon.
His website is:

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