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Treating fire with fire - Homeopathy for burns

As you know, in homeopathy we give a person a substance that can cause symptoms similar to those that person is experiencing in their illness. This is the underlying principle of homeopathy, known as "the law of similars." For example, if a patient with nausea and vomiting is experiencing a relentless kind of nausea that is not relieved by vomiting, then we might get good results giving them a tiny dose of Ipecac, which can cause just this type of symptom.
     But what about something like burns? Can you give something that could cause burns to a patient who has been burned and help them? How about using fire? Is it possible?
     The answer is, for most patients, yes. You can use substances that can cause burns, including fire itself, to help these patients. The trick is to know how to apply the method and how to know which patients it may not help.

Treat fire with fire
In the class on emergency medicine that I teach at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, I hear a lot of interesting stories from my students. A few years ago one of my students, Louise, told of her experience in a culinary school in New York. This was long before she knew anything of homeopathy. The instructors in this cooking school told the students that if they got small burns in the course of their work they should "tease" the burnt part with a flame. She tried it by bringing a burn close to the flame (but not touching the flame) and found that it worked; the burns would at first seem aggravated by the heat, but would soon be forgotten. They rarely blistered after this treatment and often seemed to just disappear.
     I heard of this kind of treatment for small burns many years ago and have used it with success many times myself. But I didn't know that it was taught in a cooking school and had always been under the impression that it was applicable only with small burns. Last year I heard from another student, the son of a welder, that as a boy he heard dramatic stories from his father who witnessed old-timers using a welding torch to treat larger burns with great success. I have no personal experience with treating larger burns with such direct heat, but this story suggests that it is possible.
     It is not necessary, however, to use direct flame to homeopathically help patients who have been burned. There are plenty of well-known homeopathic remedies made from substances that can cause, and therefore cure, burning to the skin.

Three remedies for burns
For all of the remedies discussed below, use any available homeopathic potency, the sixth and thirtieth being most commonly available in stores. Take a few pellets under the tongue frequently (perhaps every ten minutes) for acute burns, decreasing the dosing to every few hours as the patient responds.
     Cantharis. This is the homeopathic preparation of the Spanish fly, Cantharis vesicatoria. This "blister beetle" is a European insect about 3/4 of an inch long, found commonly in Spain. A preparation of this beetle is extremely irritating to the skin, if applied topically, and to the urinary tract, if taken internally. Hence, its homeopathic use is most common for similar skin irritations (burns) and urinary problems (some types of bladder infections).
     On the skin Cantharis causes vesicular eruptions (i.e., blisters) with burning, rawness, and smarting. These symptoms are temporarily relieved by cold applications. These symptoms are so characteristic for most burns that, just as Arnica is the main remedy for bruises, Cantharis is the main remedy used in first aid for burns.
     As an aside, perhaps you have heard of the purported aphrodisiac properties of Spanish fly. When I was in high school, the extraordinary stories that were passed along regarding the properties of this substance proved over time to be little more than ridiculous urban legends. Spanish fly can, however, cause a sense of sexual stimulation due to its genito-urinary irritation and these symptoms are sometimes guides to its homeopathic use. It is not safe for use as an aphrodisiac.
     Urtica urens. Nearly everyone has had experience with this, the common stinging nettle. Unwittingly brushing up against this plant in a meadow causes redness and burning heat often with stinging or itching. In my experience its homeopathic use in burns is for more superficial burns (such as sunburn) especially if associated with a stinging quality.
     Causticum. Causticum, as its name implies, is caustic which means, by definition, that it is capable of burning living tissue. Its homeopathic preparation is known for helping patients with more serious burns and for the ill effects of old burns.

Other remedies
There are many remedies known for causing, and therefore curing, burning of the skin. Since in first aid I rarely use other than the three remedies listed above, I mention some of these other remedies here as considerations. They include the acids (such as Acetic acid, Picric acid, or Carbolic acid), other chemical irritants (such as Kreosotum, Terebintha, Hepar sulph, Kali bichromicum), and other plant irritants (such as Rhus tox or Grindelia). You should remember that injured patients will usually respond to many remedies and that if your first choice in remedies is not available, a substitute may work equally well.

Topical applications

No mention of burns is complete without mention of Aloe Vera. If you have access to an Aloe Vera plant, just trim off part of a leaf, peel off the outer thin layer, and apply the gelatinous interior directly to the burn. It both soothes and promotes healing. If no Aloe Vera is available, other members of the succulent family of plants (such as ice plant) will suffice.
     And don't forget the Calendula. An ointment made from the tincture of this, the common marigold, can be applied before dressings are placed. It is famous for preventing infections and aiding healing.

Putting it together
Here is what I do for myself or family members if a minor burn occurs at home. First, if possible, I tease the burn with direct flame, perhaps by holding the part near a burner on the stove. Be careful if you try this, you don't want to cause more burning. The sensation from the surrounding, non-burnt skin, should tell you when the heat feels too intense. I may continue this teasing off and on for a minute or two, removing and reapplying the heat as comfort allows.
     At the same time, homeopathic Cantharis is melting under the tongue. This (the heat and remedy) may be all the treatment that many burns require. If the burn is still raw, I generally start to apply the gelatinous insides of an Aloe Vera leaf, re-applying as it dries. If a dressing is needed, I generally apply Calendula, or other herbal ointment, to the burn under the bandage.
     If a burn is caused by a hot liquid, be sure and first wash the liquid off the skin immediately before doing anything else. This will prevent the burn from extending more deeply into the tissue as the hot liquid will continue to burn as long as it is in contact with the skin. Likewise, burns caused by caustic substances need to be copiously irrigated with water before other steps are taken.
     Extensive burns or burns involving vital organs (e.g., extensive hand burns, burns to the face) may require a medical specialist. But even here, give the patient an indicated remedy (usually either Cantharis or Causticum) in addition to the treatment recommended.

About the author:
Dr. Timothy R. Dooley is a graduate of National College of Naturopathic Medicine as well as Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine. He practices homeopathy in San Diego, California, and teaches at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences. He is the author of the easy-to-read introductory book, Homeopathy: Beyond Flat Earth Medicine. The complete text can be read on-line at For more information, visit He can be reached at (619) 297-8641 or