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the wheat from the chaff

Materia medica: these strange words come to us from Latin and mean simply, "medical
materials." The allopaths have their materia medica—in some ways the Physician's
Desk Reference (PDR)
is the ultimate. It lists all the drugs available to
the physician, the forms in which they are available, and their composition.
It includes indications for their use, a listing of their side-effects, and other
general information. It even provides pictures of them all.
     Long ago I was invited to a conference at a major
design center in the U.S. where I was wined and dined in the executive dining
room. After lunch, most of those present took out bottles and downed pills. It
seemed to be the thing to do. I noted the pills well, and when I returned home
I opened my PDR to the "illustrations" and found those pills (e.g., two-piece
capsule, gray and yellow, slightly pointed; small, pink tablet, scored in 4 quadrants;
yellow, triangular tablet, etc.). I discovered that most of these executives
were suffering from high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and heart problems.
     Well, just try that with a homeopathic granule!
Homeopathic medicines all look alike, but the indications in the homeopathic
materia medica are clearly spelled out. We do not have "conditions," and we certainly
don't have long lists of "side effects." All we have are "effects." All is grist
for the mill.
     To keep speculation at bay, Hahnemann's first materia
medica, Materia Medica Pura, was a "pure" one—a listing of symptoms
elicited when medicinal substances were ingested by healthy people. It was only
later, after practitioners began to use this information in clinical practice,
that more information began to be included in the materia medica. These "clinical" symptoms
come into the materia medica "by breech presentation," as Hering put it.
     This is how it works: If a practitioner gives a
person a remedy, and a symptom that the person had—a symptom not associated
with the remedy's proving—goes away, the practitioner may assume that it
was this remedy that cured that symptom. The practitioner may note this as a
possible "clinical" symptom for that remedy. The next task is to verify that
symptom through further clinical practice; that is, the practitioner will want
to determine whether the giving of this remedy eliminates that symptom with other
patients, and whether other practitioners also have found this to be true. Only
after repeated verification should the new symptom gain a place in the materia
medica. This substantiation requires the most accurate observation and complete
freedom from preconceptions. It has to be done at all times with great trepidation
and timidity—and with the most stringent ethical values one can bring to
the task.
     I was told of an elderly Indian practitioner who,
after almost 40 years of practice, decided he was sure enough of some clinical
symptoms that he finally felt OK about adding them to his repertory. In 40 years,
however, he made only eight additions.
     Adding anything to our repertories should be approached
with the greatest of caution. Otherwise we are in danger of finding our repertories
so encumbered with questionable symptoms from new provings and supposed clinical
observations, that the books will swell even more than they already have. The
rubrics in them will in time become useless, as every remedy will appear in every
rubric. Let us approach new provings with great care and attempt to separate
the wheat from the chaff, before both get included in our major reference works
and remain to be sorted out later.

How to study materia medica
Homeopathic medicines are the tools we use in the practice of homeopathy. Knowledge
of the homeopathic materia medica is vital if we are to use these tools well.
In this issue you will find some articles packed with tips on how to study materia
medica from homeopaths in the field both past and present.

About the author:
Julian Winston has been Editor of Homeopathy Today since 1984. He is currently
a Board Member Emeritus of the NCH, having been on the NCH Board since 1982.
He is the past-Dean of the NCH Summer School(1988--1992), as well as author of The
Faces of Homeopathy
(the book and the video) a homeopathic bibliography, The
Heritage of Homeopathic Literature
, and two instruction books concerning
pedal steel guitar. He moved to New Zealand in 1995 where he lives with his 2000+
volume homeopathic library and co directs the Wellington College of Homœopathy
with his wife, Gwyneth Evans. He can be reached at