Homeopathy, phytotherapy and regular medicines

Homeopathy and herbal medicine are both based on the use of plants for healing. This is also the case with an important part of Western, regular medicines. The question would then be better; what is the difference between homeopathy and regular medicines and phytotherapy?

What is the difference between homeopathy and herbal therapy?

Plants in medicine

Many people use homeopathic remedies. Others don’t believe in that at all, but do believe in the medicinal power of certain plants. Or don’t believe in that either.

The latter is strange, especially in a country like the Netherlands, where the medicinal use of cannabis is legal. Almost everyone knows that cannabis has an effect on the body. If it’s not a happy chill feeling, it will at least give you a craving. Medically, cannabis provides relief in MS patients and increases appetite in HIV patients. There are a lot of other plants or organisms that everyone knows have an effect in the body. Coffee and tea are the best known, but nettles, for example, also have a very clear effect on the body. Penicillin was initially discovered in a fungus (Penicillium) and the precursor of aspirin was also originally extracted from the bark of a willow tree. There are many more examples; statins the big cash cow of the pharmaceutical industry are originally natural substances, taxol one of our most successful ovarian cancer drugs, comes from the yew hedge and so on.

Homeopathy and phytotherapy

But then back to the difference between homeopathy and phytotherapy. Both are based on the use of plants or other substances from nature for healing.

An important principle on which homeopathy is based is the idea that if a plant can induce the symptoms of a disease in a healthy person, the same plant will provide healing in sick people. An extract is then made from these plants, which is diluted with water. It is shaken in a certain way (potentification) so that the activity from the plant extract is absorbed into the water. How exactly this happens is unknown and opinions are divided as to whether it does happen. After this, the solution is diluted. Sometimes even to the point that theoretically there can no longer be one molecule of the active plant in each bottle. Some bottles only contain (potentiated) water.

Phytotherapy also involves making an extract from plants with a specific effect. But unlike homeopathy, this effect is not opposite in the healthy and the sick; the effect of the plant is always aimed at curing the condition. The extract is not or hardly diluted, and there is no shaking to potentiate the water. In that sense, certain medicines from conventional medicine are quite similar to phytotherapeutics. In regular products, the active substance has been purified and the active substances have often been tinkered with a little chemically, but phytotherapeutics can just as easily contain the same active substance as in regular products. This is not the case with homeopathy, there are large dilutions and the effect of the plants in the healthy is opposite to the effect in the sick.

Everyone has to decide for themselves whether homeopathy works, but the fact that phytotherapeutics by definition do not work because they come from plants seems a bit too hasty.