Homeopathic remedies are medicines that are formulated based on the principles of homeopathy and the Similia similibus curanter, or the Doctrine of Similarity. Considered a form of alternative medicine, the term homeopathy translates from Greek to mean “like the disease,” indicating a belief that like cures like. More specifically, homeopathic remedies are designed to invoke the properties of a substance to restore health, but which would otherwise generate symptoms of the same illness in a healthy person.
The 19th century physician Hans B. Gram first introduced homeopathic remedies to the U.S. in the mid-1800s. However, the German physician Samuel Hahnemann (Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann)is considered to be the Father of Homeopathy, since he is credited with formulating the Doctrine of Similarity in the late 1700s. The source of inspiration to devise his system of homeopathy stemmed from the observation that self-medication with a preparation made from the bark of Cinchona, a tree native to Peru, produced symptoms of malaria, even though he did not have the disease himself. From this experiment, Hahnemann concluded that the same substance could cure a person afflicted with similar symptoms. This led to the first set of principles established by Hahnemann that was based upon his original doctrine, which he called the Law of Similars.
Hahnemann further devised a second set of principles called the Law of Infinitesimals, which defines homeopathic remedies as substances that yield more therapeutic benefit when diluted. In other words, less is more. However, this theory was in stark contrast to the medical practice of the time, which maintained that more active substance meant greater healing power. It also went against the grain of the standard allopathic approach to treating disease, which was directed toward suppressing symptoms rather than focusing on correcting the underlying cause.
Since the majority of homeopathic remedies are botanically-based, many people liken them to herbal medicines. However, they are radically different. While most homeopathic remedies are indeed formulated from various herbs, they are also made from the bark of trees, roots, minerals, and fungi. In fact, some homeopathic remedies are made from substances that would be highly toxic if consumed in its natural state. This leads to another distinction between herbal medicines and homeopathic remedies — the latter undergo a series of "succussions" in which they are diluted 200 or more times until only the "essence" of the original substance remains.
Skeptics of this system of medicine assert that homeopathic remedies are so diluted that it’s impossible that they can contain any original properties to be of any benefit. Proponents, on the other hand, believe that the theories behind homeopathy are supported in modern medicine. In fact, a comparison is commonly drawn between homeopathic remedies and vaccinations since the latter also represents the hypothesis that “like cures like” when delivered in diluted dosages.