Homeopathy Papers

Understanding Nature to Learn Materia Medica

Homeopath Dana Ullman discusses the relationship between characteristics of various substances and the people who need remedies made from them.

The original way that homeopaths learned about the specific curative powers of a medicine was by studying toxicology and conducting and reviewing experiments called “drug provings.”

The early homeopaths added to this knowledge their own clinical experiences, making careful note of what symptoms medicines were effective in curing. Dr. James Tyler Kent further expanded the information on which we base our prescriptions by elaborating his clinical successes in treating certain types of people with specific medicines. The “constitutional types” that Kent described play an important role in the practice of professional homeopaths today. These constitutional types do not simply describe various physical symptoms, but rather emphasize physical and psychological general symptoms which are considered the underlying pattern of the person’s illness.

Dr. Edward C. Whitmont, a homeopath and Jungian psychiatrist, further expanded the information on which some homeopaths base their prescriptions by integrating symbolic, archetypal, and mythic understandings of a substance in order to get a sense of the person whom it may help.(1)  The shape of the substance, its uses throughout history, its symbolism, and the various stories about it provide additional insight into its application.

Catherine Coulter also expanded our knowledge of medicines by integrating her clinical experience and linking bodymind personality types to famous people or literary figures.(2)

Whitmont and Coulter also briefly described how the specific substance that we use in homeopathy acts in nature. This is what the focus of this talk will be: how does a substance exist and act in nature and what does that say for the type of symptoms and type of person that it will help to cure.

Studying Materia Medica

Our materia medica and our repertories provide exceedingly detailed information about hundreds, even thousands, of medicines. How can we remember even a portion of this information? Despite this incredible detail, there are still vast gapping holes of information about our medicines. There is so much that we don’t know about most medicines, about their general and local symptoms, and about their relationships with other medicines.

One way to discover more about a medicine is to do a proving yourself, though there are numerous limitations to this strategy. First of all, provings are time-consuming (Hahnemann was thought to have proven only 90 medicines himself). Also, provings are only supposed to be done by people who are considered relatively healthy–probably making provings inappropriate for the majority of people today. Another strategy is investigating the chemical constituents of a substance as a way to predict how it may act. Although various strategies may seem intriguing, each is not without its own flaws, since whatever information one gathers has to be double-checked through clinical results.

Another important strategy is to learn something about the substance being prescribed. Many substances that we use have helpful and insightful clues about their nature which are instructive in prescribing them. Not only is this information valuable in helping us remember the depth and breadth of informa- tion about each medicine, new insights come forward about the therapeutic uses of the substance. This information ultimately encourages physicians and anyone interested in healing to become a naturalist. Such was the specialty of most physicians up to the nineteenth century, and this presentation will lend further support to its wisdom and value.

The Doctrine of Signatures and Homeopathic Provings

The Doctrine of Signatures is an ancient concept which assumed that a plant was good for healing that which it looked like. The plant, Great Celandine, was yellow, and thus it was good for the liver and for the yellow bile it created. The mandrake, with its forked root, looked like a man and even has what looks like male genitals, thus suggesting that it was good for male sexual function and potency. It assumed that walnuts looked like the brain and thus it was good brain food. This precursor to homeopathy was very crude, but it contains in it a wisdom that endures, for it contains in it the seeds of the law of similars. Still, it really wasn’t until Dr. Samuel Hahnemann developed the concept of provings–actually testing a substance on humans–that he created a more detailed and exacting system of finding what a substance causes and thus what it cures in microdoses.

Hahnemann’s introduction of provings provided an important contribution that created a verifable and precise system linking the law of similars with the clinical practice of medicine.  However, as valuable as provings are, they are not easy to conduct, nor is all the information accrued reliable. Symptoms that a person thinks are caused by the substance may simply be a part of that person’s disease, or the symptoms may be the effect of a norcebo (the opposite of a placebo: a substance that causes, rather than cures, symptoms by suggestion).

This article seeks to make a case for studying how the substances we use in homeopathy exist and act in nature as a way to get reliable and insightful information about when to prescribe them.


When the bushmaster strikes its prey, it drops its jaw which then rotates from the left to the right. When it swallows its prey, the snake’s 400 or more ribs move in a left to right rotation.(3) All of the bushmaster’s organs are on its left side. Those of us involved in homeopathy know that people who need Lachesis tend to have symptoms on the left side or that begin on the left side and then move to the right.

This powerful snake swallows its meals whole. The equivalent human meal to that of the bushmaster would be if an adult swallowed a 150 pound hamburger in a single gulp…without a coke or any drink to help it go down … and without any hands. Similarly, the person who needs Lachesis experiences pain and has difficulty swallowing empty but is ameliorated swallowing food.

The bushmaster is warm-blooded and avoids sunlight and heat, going underground or to higher elevations where it is cooler. Likewise, Lachesis people are warm-blooded, especially during illnesses, and are aggravated in the heat.

The bushmaster is nocturnal and therefore hunts and feeds during the night. Similarly, Lachesis people can stay up throughout the night without feeling tired. They even do their best mental labor at night. Catherine Coulter notes that Dostoyevskii, a Lachesis, was known to write in furious spurts late at night.

The bushmaster has a heavy musculature, making it almost resistant to predators. Its only vulnerable place is its jaw and neck area. When it is grabbed by the neck, the snake will thrash around trying to get loose. In the process, however, he may break his neck. The Lachesis person is also vulnerable in the neck, jaw, and throat area. They get many throat symptoms, and they are so sensitive in this region that they cannot stand to have anything around their neck, even light clothing.

The bushmaster is extremely fast. It can strike so fast that what may appear as only a single strike will actually be three or more strikes. The Lachesis person is likewise known to walk and talk fast and have rapid thoughts and quick comprehension.

The bushmaster’s tongue constantly waggles as it moves, and similarly, the Lachesis person is known to have one of the most loquacious tongues in our materia medica. At the same time, their waggling tongue sometimes causes them to be tongue-tied, leading them to stammer or stutter.

The bushmaster is also known for its high sexual energy. An eastern zoo has recorded two bushmasters copulating for twenty two continuous hours. Surprisingly enough, homosexuality among bushmasters has been documented. It is therefore no surprise that Lachesis is one of the few homeopathic remedies known for its homosexuality. Kent lists it as “aversion of men to women” and “falls in love with member of her own sex.”


Roger Morrison has eloquently compared the bee to the body-mind personality that Apis treats.(4)  He notes that bees are busy and industrious, always moving from flower to flower. They are easily crossed, and they are very protective of their hive. Likewise, people who need Apis are extroverts, though not in the way that people who need Phosphorus are. Their primary attention is on their day-to-day life: the domestic situation, work, and practical matters. They rarely focus on their own inner issues, or if they do, it will only be in a superficial way. The Apis person is intensely loyal to their friends and family. These people say, “I will do anything for my friends or family.” If anything threatens the security or harmony of their community (or hive), they will react with much hostility. One of their most well known defenses is jealousy. Also, like a bee that has a thousand eyes, these people are mentally sharp, noticing everything around them. They have a quick temper which may burst out like a sting.

Their industriousness may be exhibited in their profession or housework. They don’t do things for egoistic benefits, as would people who need Nux , Aurum, or Sulphur . They prefer to do things just for their own sake, though they also like the financial security and thus domestic security that work provides. Beekeepers have noticed that bees do not allow their hive to get too cold. Bees in the center of the hive are warm, but when those on the outer layers get cold, they all begin to kick their feet and flap their wings rapidly, just in the same way that humans shiver as a way to keep warm. Ultimately, the concerted agitation generates heat, and once enough heat is created, the flapping stops, though it starts again when the temperature drops. Perhaps this group mind is like the person who needs Apis : they cannot bear to be left alone (Clarke), are aggravated when alone (2/Synthetic Repertory), and they desire company (2).

Due to its strong instincts, a bee’s behavior is usually predictable, though it can also learn new things. Scientists consider them “intelligent,” though this must be understood in their conformity with other bees in the hive and their complete subordination for the good of the community. The average honeybee has no sex life of its own. Although it plays a major role in spreading the male seed of a flower to a female, the worker bee is sterile. The Synthetic Repertory lists Apis as a (1) under Diminished Sexual Desire. Although it is also a (1) under Increased Sexual Desire for men and a (2) for women, it is a (3) under Ailment from Suppressed Sexual Desires (others: CAMPH, CONIUM, LYSSIN). Of some interest, it is a (1) under Increased Sexual Desire When Driving and a (3) under Increased Sexual Desire in Widows. This information suggests that they may have a heightened sexual desire but that they tend to suppress it. Apis is also a (1) under Sterility. Their industriousness is also evidenced by their tendency to keep busy, even when ill.

In the Synthetic Repertory Apis is one of only two remedies in italic for Dreams of Flying. People who need Apis are also known to be awkward, with a tendency to drop things easily, just like bees who commonly drop their pollen.

The fact that the bee has a sharp stinger suggests that people who need this medicine experience sharp and stinging pains. And just as bees are able to inject a venom into a person, Apis is one of the medicines to help antidote the venom of a vaccination. It is one of the medicines for people who suffer side effects of a vaccine. Bees belong to the same insect family as ants and wasps, called Hymenoptera. This family of insect is distinguished by their constricted first abdominal segment. It is therefore not suprising that people who need Apis are known for their hypersensitivity to touch of the abdomen.


The cuttlefish is in the mollusk family, which includes clams, oysters, mussels, and snails. More than any other homeo- pathic author to date, Whitmont has related their life to that of a person who will benefit from homeopathic doses of it.(5)  In comparing it with the oyster which has no arms or legs to propel it, Whitmont notes, “The cuttlefish goes to the opposite extreme of emancipating itself from the passive immobility of the oyster. Its life activity centers in the relatively overdeveloped limbs, which cannot even be withdrawn into the shell at all. It has a pair of fins which allow it rapid locomotion; eight arms and two tentacles are attached directly to the oral opening upon the head. The tentacles are shot out together with lightening speed, acting like a pair of tongs when prey is to be caught.” Whitmont goes on to eloquently describe the morphology of the cuttlefish and the symbolic and archetypal images that are expressed by it. For our discussion, however, it is more fruitful to describe the life of the cuttlefish and how it relates to the person who will benefit from Sepia .

The cuttlefish does not have sedentary habits; it remains in constant motion, except as a defense, it can and will remain completely motionless. It swims forward slowly, but has the ability for very rapid backward motion. Likewise, the Sepia person is not sedentary. He/she likes to move and is better from exercising. As for the cuttlefish’s ability to move backward rapidly, Sepia people are known to be unsocial and averse to company. These people will rapidly retreat from people or circumstances that want or demand something of them. They seek to escape from close emotional ties and the various obligations that accompany them. Such people may be there at one moment and literally gone the next. Perhaps one of the classic examples of the Doctrine of Signatures manifests in Kent’s Repertory which lists Sepia as having Dreams, Chased, Had to Run Backwards.

The indifference to children and to loved ones is a keynote Sepia mothers are known to have, and this is what is observed in nature. The cuttlefish is considered a bad mother. They don’t watch their eggs nor defend them against predators or even show any interest in the fate of their young.

One of the most remarkable traits of the cuttlefish is its ability to change colors to reproduce whatever environment they are swimming in. They mimic numerous colors and shapes as a way they can blend in and remain disguised. If they are frightened or attacked, they emit a dark jet of ink into the water. The ink doesn’t diffuse immediately and tends to take the shape of an object, ultimately fooling its predator as the cuttlefish changes its own color and darts off in another direction.

The Sepia person’s ability to change colors is typified by his or her tendency to seem kind and friendly but change into being argumentative, obstinate, and narrow-minded. Many women who need Sepia develop male traits in the business world, changing their own colors by suppressing their femininity. Other ways that they change color are described in Kent’s Repertory under Irritability, Alternating with Indifference (1), Mirth, Alternating with Sadness (1), Mood, Changeable (2), and Weeping, Alter- nating with Laughter (1).

The cuttlefish’s body is slightly flat with a supple fin. Similarly, the Sepia woman has a tendency to have masculine features, including flat-chestedness, and with their supple legs, they love to exercise, especially dancing and aerobics.

Their mating habits are also interesting. The male takes on special colors in various stripes and waves when the female is nearby. The female, on the other hand, doesn’t change colors. It is theorized that the male doesn’t change colors to attract the female but to scare off other males. If another male does come onto the scene, they do not fight, but simply swim side-by-side until the smaller and weaker one withdraws from the competition. During intercourse, the male and female adopt a head-to-head position.

The female’s lack of changing colors is manifested in Sepia women who are known to have a low sex drive, who may even be indifferent to sex, and who tend to be irritable, anxious, and sad after coition. Perhaps the head-to-head mating is a reflection on the mental and intellectual tendencies of Sepia people, even during normally emotional or passionate moments. One might remember the classic Sepia character portrayed by Faye Dunaway in the movie “Network,” in which she has an involved intellectual and business conversation with a fellow network executive while making love to him.

Besides their low sex drive, people who need Sepia are known to be aggravated from touch. Likewise, the cuttlefish is known for squirting its black ink when  touched or simply startled.


Over one-quarter (25.7%) of the earth’s crust, oceans, and atmosphere is composed of silicon, second only to oxygen which is 49.5%. Also known as silicon dioxide, silica appears in nature in quartz, flint, sandstone, sand, and numerous other minerals. It is a primary ingredient in cement and glass. Silica is also the ingredient in a blade of grass or a stalk of grain that helps it stand erect.

Silicon is quite similar to carbon in that it can form long, complex molecules. However, the bond between silicon atoms is stronger than it is between carbon atoms, making molecules that contain silicon relatively stable and strong. Because of this, silicon is a part of the structurally strong parts of our bodies, including arteries, tendons, skin, connective tissue, and the cornea and sclera. People who have atherosclerosis have 14 times less silicon in their arteries than people who do not have atherosclerosis. Although there are only relatively small amounts of it in the body, the substance that holds tissue together, called collagen, is high in silica.

Various forms of silica are used in modern technology in radio transmitters, computer chips, and body implants. Silica’s inert and non-reactive nature is exhibited by its water repellence and its resistance to heat and oxidation, characteristics that make it invaluable in today’s technological world.

People who benefit from Silicea are those who may, like a computer chip, store information (they are usually quite bright), but do not have the self-confidence, the “psychological collagen,” to stand up for themselves to impart it. The Silicea person may be strong but can also be brittle and crack easily under pressure, just like glass. And like the wilting blade of grass or the stalk of grain that is deficient in silica, people who need Silicea lack grit or a backbone. The non-reactive nature of the mineral silica is exhibited by the Silicea person’s tendency to complacently vegetate as the world moves around them.

Like graphite and diamond, the mineral silica has a high melting point (1700 degree C). Similarly, people who need Silicea have great difficulty getting and keeping warm. They have a loss of vital heat.

The Silicea person’s obsession with pins and little things may be like the substance itself which becomes more dangerous when it is broken down into smaller and finer pieces or particles, leading to silicosis.

Just as the mineral silica cannot be assimiliated well by the human digestive tract, people who need Silicea have a poor assimiliation of food. Ironically (or predictably) enough, these people crave objects which are high in silica: dirt, sand, and hair.


Poison ivy and oak are restless plants that spread over countryside. They do not simply stay in one place but cover increasingly more and more territory, either trailing along the ground or climbing up trees or other plants. People who need Rhus tox are similarly restless, always on the go, both during waking hours and while tossing and turning during sleep. The poison ivy or poison oak vine climbs on various trees or other plants for better exposure to the sun, but unlike some vines that strangle their prey, it may slightly stunt the other’s growth, but it won’t kill it. Likewise, people who need Rhus tox may suffer from various symptoms, but rarely will they have symptoms that will lead to death.

Although this plant is (im)famous for causing irritating skin rashes in most humans who make contact with it, other animals do not have a similar sensitivity. Horses, mules, and goats eat the plant, and birds feast on its berries.

A pecularity of this plant is that the active agent that causes skin irritation, toxicodendric acid, increases in potency at night, during damp or cloudy weather, and in June and July. Some of these unique characteristics are mimicked in those people who need homeopathic doses of this plant: their symptoms are noticeably worse at night and in cold, damp weather. One can thus wonder if it should also be indicated more often during June and July (it is not listed in Kent’s Repertory under “worse in summer”). Rhododendron , which is so similar to Rhus tox , is listed in the Synthetic Repertory under Worse in Summer.

Poison ivy and poison oak are known to have berries that numerous birds eat. Surpriingly (or perhaps not surprisingly enough), people who need Rhus tox experience chirping sounds in the ears.


The pulsatilla plant has characteristics in nature that are impressively similar to the type of person for whom the medicine Pulsatilla is prescribed. The pulsatilla plant grows in clusters, never alone. Likewise, the Pulsatilla person is averse to solitude and strongly prefers being in the company of others. The Pulsatilla plant grows in dry, calcium-rich soil; the Pulsatilla person similarly needs very little water and is described as being thirstless. The windflower does not grow in the damp woods but prefers fields and open situations or under shade. The plant, like the person, seems to need open air, wind, room to move, and shade. The Pulsatilla plant has a small, delicate and flexible stem that bends in the wind, and it gets its name because its pollen are easily carried by the wind. The Pulsatilla person is similarly gentle, mild, and yielding. The person is flexible and adaptable to her environment, and like the wind, this emotionally-laden person is changeable and moody.

The pulsatilla’s flower is bell-shaped, like a vase which is the quintessential Jungian symbol for the feminine principle. The use of Pulsatilla for women considerably more than men is predictable from its form. The flower points down, away from the sun. Similarly, Pulsatilla people tend to be demure.


Commonly called “marsh tea” and “wild rosemary,” this plant is an evergreen shrub that grows to five feet. It is called marsh tea because it prefers to grow in swamps, cold, wet places, and in the mountains. People who benefit from Ledum likewise prefer cold and wet applications. The fact that no materia medica or repertory lists these people as better in the mountains is probably just a deficiency and oversight. Its leaves are narrow and lance-shaped, suggesting that its homeopathic dose is good for puncture wounds.

The leaves of this plant are covered with soft downy hairs which enable it to conserve heat, further suggesting its ability to tolerate cold, just like its homeopathic symptoms. The flowers are large, white, five-petalled and grow in flattened clusters, opening in June and July. Bees are attracted to the flowers, and predictably enough, Ledum is one of the major remedies for beestings.

It is also interesting to note that calcium-rich soil is harmful to the growth of marsh tea. Although no repertory lists Ledum as either averse to or worse by milk or milk products, we must investigate if this is an omission. Other homeopathic medicines which are plants and which are averse to calcium-rich soils include Rhododendron , Kalmia , and Uva ursi .


The herb camomile is so common that some people consider it a weed. It grows in small strips of land and even in cracks in the sidewalk. Whereas most plants would be stifled or die from the trampling that chamomile experiences, it actually thrives on it. An old poem highlights this unusual ability of camomile:

“like a camomile bed –

the more it is trodden

the more it will spread.”

The person who needs Chamomilla is in some ways like the flower. While the flower grows irrepressibly wherever and whenever it can, the Chamomilla person is irrepressibly irritable. Like the flower that thrives on being trampled, the Chamomilla child’s irritability is simply inflamed by any attention he gets. Nothing provides relief, with the only exception being rocked or passively carried.

The chamomile flower is a perennial, suggesting that people who need Chamomilla are persistent, perhaps neverending in their energy. Perhaps even more interesting about the Chamomile plant is that the time from germination to flowering is only two months. This speed suggests a high energy that is all too clearly evidenced in the energetic, frenzied Chamomilla infant, child, or adult.

The chamomile flower may smell sweet, but its flower and foliage actually contains a bitter medicinal principle that is used in aromatic bitters. Its featherly leaves suggest a delicate and sensitive state, a state which the Chamomilla person manifests. This sensitivity, however, is easily upset, and when it is, the bitter principle manifests.

The chamomile flower prefers sun and sandy or clay soil and being averse to shady or damp places. No materia medica or repertory makes reference to people who need Chamomilla as preferring sun, though Kent’s Repertory lists it in plain type as worse from wet weather (it’s in bold face in The Synthetic Reper- tory ). Chamomile is also known to thrive in salt-impregnated soil. Although there is no reference to Chamomilla people desiring salt, this is probably an oversight.

Quite distinct from other weeds which take over an area and make it difficult for other plants to grow, drooping or sickly plants tend to become invigorated when Chamomile grows around them. Because of these beneficial effects, chamomile is sometimes called the “plant’s physician.” One might erroneously think that this helpful feature represents a positive and helpful side of the chamomile plant and perhaps the Chamomilla person. However, the herb gardener‘s’ use of chamomile leaves and flowers in insect repellent sprays suggests that its benefit comes from its bitter aromatic odors. Like the chamomile herb, the Chamomil- la person is offensive.


The poison nut tree is an evergreen of the Loganiaceae family, similar to the family to which St. Ignatius’ Bean ( Igna- tia ) belongs. Homeopaths use the seeds from this tree which, like St. Ignatius’ Bean, contain strychnine, a poisonous alkaloid that has powerful effects upon the nervous system. It is poisonous to virtually every animal and bird except cats and snails. It causes initial excessive excitability of the nervous system and all the senses, and creates muscle spasms that later lead to exhaustion and paralysis.

The poison nut tree has a crooked trunk and irregular, awkward-looking branches. Its flowers bloom in the cold season and have a disagreeable odor, characteristics contrary to most flowers which bloom in the warm season and have a pleasant odor. These contrary features are characteristic of people who need Nux vomica as well. They are chilly, both physically and psychologi- cally. They are disagreeable, irritable, and quarrelsome. The poison nut tree’s wood is close grained and hard. The Nux person is similarly coarse, closeminded, and hard-headed.


Ruta is made from rue, a plant with light blue-green foliage and four-petal bright yellow flowers in cup-shaped chalices. The plant prefers dry soil and shade, definitely disliking cold and wet weather. Most of the symptoms that people who benefit from Ruta experience are worse in cold, wet weather.

About the author

Dana Ullman

Dana Ullman

DANA ULLMAN, MPH, CCH, is one of America's leading advocates for homeopathy. He has authored 10 books, including The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy, Homeopathy A-Z, Homeopathic Medicines for Children and Infants, Discovering Homeopathy, and (the best-selling) Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicines (with Stephen Cummings, MD). Dana also created an e-course How to Use a Homeopathic Medicine Kit (http://www.HomeopathicFamilyMedicine.com) which integrates 80 short videos (averaging 15 minutes) with his famous ebook that is a continually growing resource to 300+ clinical studies published in peer-review medical journals testing homeopathic medicines. This ebook combines the descriptions of these studies with practical clinical information on how to use homeopathic medicines for 100+ common ailments. This ebook is entitled Evidence Based Homeopathic Family Medicine, and it is an invaluable resource. Dana has been certified in classical homeopathy by the leading organization in the U.S. for professional homeopaths.
He is the founder of Homeopathic Educational Services, America's leading resource center for homeopathic books, tapes, medicines, software, and correspondence courses. Homeopathic Educational Services ( http://www.homeopathic.com ) has co-published over 35 books on homeopathy with North Atlantic Books.

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