Echinacea is not a homeopathic remedy. Neither are essential oils, neti pots or visits to the chiropractor. If you have a vague sense that homeopathy is outside the mainstream and that I’m about to pooh-pooh it, you’re right, but the weirdness goes farther than most people realise.
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Homeopathy does not mean home remedies, or alternative medicine, or some vague term like that. Homeopathy is a specific, antiquated way of making medicines.
Here’s the theory. You take a look at your symptoms, and flip through Ye Olde Homeopathy Booke for a substance that can cause those same symptoms. For example, if my allergies are acting up and my eyes are itchy, I might settle on onion extract, since onions irritate the eyes.
Then I (assuming for the moment that I am a trained homeopathic practitioner) will buy or create the remedy that will treat my itchy eyes. I put a drop of onion extract into water, then succuse the mixture — in other words, I shake it in a very scientific way. This transfers some sort of healing vibrations from the onion extract into the water. Then I take a drop of that mixture, and repeat the process. By the time I’m done, the resulting “medicine” is full of the onion’s healing vibrations. To be totally clear, the healing vibrations are imaginary.
The finished medicine probably doesn’t contain any of the onion extract, either. Homeopaths say this is great because it means the medicine is very safe. It can’t make your eyes water, after all. And some homeopathic medicines start with some really nasty poisons, so it’s a good thing that they don’t contain the active ingredient.
Well, usually. Some homeopathic teething tablets contained lethal doses of their active ingredient, belladonna, and allegedly killed 10 babies.
Some drugs labelled as “homeopathic” also purposely leave in their active ingredient: For example, homeopathic arnica gel, sold for bruises and soreness, does contain a significant amount of extract from the plant Arnica montana. But the arnica tablets on the same shelf do not.
I Swear I am Not Making Any of This Up
Yes, this is all legal. Yes, you will find homeopathic “medicines” in your pharmacy, and I don’t mean some witchcraft apothecary shop in the hipster district, but right there in the local shops next to the cold medicines. In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) controls medicine, however homeopathic remedies do not typically fall under its purview.
But the homeopathy business is booming today, because makers can claim their “drugs” are safe, and they can slap on claims about treating diseases. Regular cold medicines aren’t safe for toddlers, for example, so homeopathic brands stepped in to fill that gap. These homeopathic remedies don’t help sick kids at all, but they’re safe (in theory) and provide a convenient way of separating parents from their money.
So, if you’re trying out a neti pot to deal with allergies, or echinacea because you hope it might help your cold, enjoy — they might work, they might not — but don’t call them homeopathic remedies. The actual homeopathic remedies are far more useless.