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What are polychrests?

Will Taylor, MDQuestion

My study group is studying constitutional remedies, and the concept of polychrest remedies came up at our last session. Where can I get a list of them as well as more general info?

Answer

The term "polychrest "denotes remedies of "many uses." The term is used to loosely describe "large," well-known/well-characterized homeopathic remedies with broad-based pathogeneses that bear similarity to common disturbances of health, and are very frequently employed in practice in a wide variety of settings. These are our "broad-spectrum" remedies.

It is easy to conclude that Sulphur is a polychrest, and that Ceanothus is not, but in between somewhere, the line between "polychrest" and "non-polychrest" is blurry, and drawn to an arbitrary standard. I suppose most homeopaths would describe about 15--25 remedies as polychrests, but I am not aware of any definitive criteria that would include or exclude remedies or inspire argument regarding this designation for remedies close to that cut-off line.

The 20 most commonly-mentioned remedies in Kent's Repertory (in descending order, based on the number of rubrics in which they appear) are:

     Sulphur
     Phosphorus
     Lycopodium
     Sepia
     Calcarea carbonica
     Pulsatilla
     Natrum muriaticum
     Arsenicum album
     Nux vomica
     Mercurius
     Rhus toxicodendron
     Silica
     Belladonna
     Lachesis
     Thuja
     Causticum
     Bryonia
     Kali carbonicum
     Zincum
     Nitricum acidum

And this might be a list to begin with.

Frequency of mention in the repertory is not really an objective litmus-test of the "polychrestishness" of a remedy though; I suspect some homeopaths might hem and haw about whether to describe Zincum as a polychrest, and many might wish to include some remedies from further down the list, such as Natrum sulphuricum, which is way down at #58, between Spigelia and Dulcamara. This list does, however, identify those remedies with more broadly-based pathogeneses, that are well-characterized in our literature.

Clearly, we have many "small" remedies that are "small" only in that they have received little attention in proving and/or in the clinic; some of these may well be potential polychrests, pending their more full appreciation in the future.

Don't equate "polychrest" with "constitutional remedy"—a term that I struggle with and don't use—it has acquired too much unfortunate baggage (though that is a subject for another article). I have seen deep and lasting cures of chronic cases with remedies such as Mezereum, Abies nigra, Trillium, Viola tricolor, Arundo mauritanica, etc., which most certainly could not be termed "polychrests" in anyone's interpretation of the term.

About the author:


Will Taylor has a practice devoted to classical homeopathy in a small coastal community in downeast Maine. Initially trained in conventional medicine, he received his MD from the University of Vermont, did a residency in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and returned to rural Maine to practice as a family physician. His own intractable case of shingles led him in desperation to homeopathy and to the discovery of his own "true and highest calling" as a homeopathic practitioner.