The history of homeopathy is a fascinating and complex subject worthy of not only standard study but also deep contemplation. If you carefully analyze how the field of homeopathy unfolded in modern Europe and the United States, you’ll discover the enormous impact that homeopathy has had on the world at large and how it transformed the entire medical field. Companies like Hyland’s and it’s critically acclaimed products that were aimed to relieve pain in symptoms and illnesses such as teething, oral pain the common cold, and the flu.
In the broadest sense, homeopathy is a form of natural medicine that uses tiny amounts of various substances, such as botanicals and minerals highly diluted in a liquid solution, to stimulate the body to heal itself. Many homeopathic products, like Hyland’s Baby Oral Pain Relief Tablets, can be purchased at drug stores, grocery stores, health stores, or online. If you seek treatment from a homeopathic practitioner, he or she will spend significant time talking with you to fully understand your symptoms before they decide on a homeopathic medicine to administer.
The Origins of Homeopathy and its Fundamental Principles
When studying the history of anything, it is only natural to want a starting date, a point of origin from which you can start your timeline and build your knowledge. However, as you delve deeper into the history of homeopathy, the question of when homeopathy began becomes as complex a question as “Who discovered America?” Was it Christopher Columbus, the Vikings, or the ancient seafaring Phoenicians? How do we define “America?” For the purpose of this section, we will start with the legendary German physician Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, who coined the term “homeopathy” and was the impetus for the practice of homeopathy becoming so popular in the 1800s. He is also responsible for creating a system and methodology that has proven to have staying power.
Hahnemann received his medical degree from the University of Erlangen in Bavaria, Germany, in 1779. After graduating, he became the doctor on duty at a copper mine.
He was a dedicated doctor who was highly motivated to heal. However, he soon became disillusioned with the prevailing medical practices of the time. He found that “medicines” prescribed to patients often made them even sicker. He was also strongly opposed to the gruesome practice of bloodletting and saw no medical benefit. Soon after he married, he decided to stop practicing traditional medicine and go back to his previous vocation of translating scientific texts. To give you a better sense of how he felt about the medical practices of the late 1700s, he wrote:
“My sense of duty would not easily allow me to treat the unknown pathological state of my suffering brethren with these unknown medicines. The thought of becoming in this way a murderer or malefactor towards the life of my fellow human beings was most terrible to me, so terrible and disturbing that I wholly gave up my practice in the first years of my married life and occupied myself solely with chemistry and writing.”
One day, while translating to German Dr. William Cullen’s A Treatise on the Materia Medica, Hahnemann became interested in the use of cinchona, also known as Peruvian bark, for the treatment of malaria. Cullen’s explanation for why this treatment worked was that the bark was “bitter and astringent.” Hahnemann found this explanation very unsatisfactory because many other substances are bitter and astringent but did not cure malaria. He even added a footnote about his skepticism in the translation. If the Peruvian bark actually cured malaria, he felt there must be some other quality about this particular bark that did so. By the way, it was later proven that quinine in the bark killed the larvae of the parasite that caused malaria, so Hahnemann was correct. It was not simply that the bark was bitter and astringent.
Hahnemann had seen too many medicines that did not work as purported to do so, and even made matters worse for the patient, in his time as a practicing traditional doctor. Thus, the explanation of how Peruvian bark cured malaria really stuck in his craw, and he even openly questioned the efficacy of the medication for a while. He decided to start taking four drams of Peruvian bark twice a day himself to determine its effect on his body. He found that he started developing the symptoms of malaria-like nausea, fever, headache, and rapid heartbeat. Through this experimentation on himself, he concluded that useful treatments must produce the symptoms of the diseases that they are treating in unaffected healthy people. He eventually dubbed this “homeo,” meaning similar and “pathy,” meaning suffering – “homeopathy” or “similar suffering.” This became the first principle of homeopathy: “Like cures like.”
Hahnemann didn’t stop with Peruvian bark. He continued to test other substances on himself and, eventually, other people and meticulously recorded which symptoms were exhibited in response to each substance and the amount of the substance given. The problem with this technique was that many of these substances were poisonous at the amounts being taken, so he decided to start diluting them through serial dilutions until he got them just to the point where they would still produce symptoms but not enough to harm the individual taking them. In fact, sometimes the solutions would become so diluted after several serial dilutions that the amount of the original substance in the water or alcohol would become infinitesimally tiny. For insoluble substances like gold, he ground them into lactose to keep the particles in suspension.
Hahnemann compiled this copious data into a treatise called the Organon of Rational Therapeutics. The first edition was published in 1810. Five more updated editions have since been published, with the sixth edition published in 1921. The act of diluting and shaking the solutions became known as the second principle of homeopathy. The reason the shaking with each dilution became so important to Hahnemann is an interesting side story. He noticed that homeopathic solutions delivered by horseback, when the vials had been shaken vigorously as the rider galloped on the horse, did a better job of treating symptoms. Thus, he added vigorous shaking to the process and even had a saddle maker build him a special leather covered horsehair pad upon which to strike the vials as they were being shaken. Perhaps this is simply lore, but it sure makes a great story.
How Homeopathy Became Popular in the 1800s
One cannot properly understand how homeopathy became so popular in the 19th century without first understanding the context of the time in which homeopathic medicine evolved. This was a time before antibiotics. A doctor could not prescribe penicillin and quickly kill off whatever pathogen had invaded their patient’s body. People died from infections that we barely give a second thought to today. Furthermore, there were no vaccinations, so infectious diseases were still raging and, once they hit a community, they would spread quickly through a town, region, or even an entire country, and thousands of people could die within a matter of days.
Disease epidemics were common in the 1800s and always struck fear. Epidemics could quickly kill more people than on the battlefields of war. What made this even worse was that epidemics ravished children and women just as easily as men. In fact, young children were even more vulnerable. There was a general feeling among healers that such dire times justified desperate actions. Poisonous medieval concoctions containing high doses of toxic substances such as arsenic, mercury, and lead were often administered as “medicine” to “purge” the system. The problem is they not only killed the microorganism causing the disease but they also killed the patient. In fact, during epidemics, hospitals practicing traditional medicine often lost more patients than hospitals practicing homeopathic medicine. Thus, it’s easy to see why people gravitated toward homeopathy so readily.
While there were many burgeoning alternative medicines at the time, it was homeopathy that quickly took root across Europe and the United States. In fact, during the 1800s, homeopathy became so popular and well respected that it was considered a major rival to traditional medicine. Allopathy was a term used somewhat pejoratively in the 1800s among proponents of homeopathy to contrast the very different medical approaches when the competition between traditional medicine and homeopathy was at its fiercest.
Modern homeopaths seem to be drawn to the field by a similar philosophy and concern. As an example, Dr. David Horobin, a homeopathic dentist in the U.K., wrote this in a letter to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine: “What draws so many of our colleagues and their patients are disenchantment with the harshness and side effects of modern therapeutics. Homeopathy and other gentle complementary therapies are both [beneficial] and free of those side effects that so plague conventional medicine, with its mechanistic approach to human illness.”
There is another good reason why homeopathy gained such a strong foothold across Europe. Homeopathic medicine was highly favored and supported by the royal families of the 19th century. King George VI even named a racehorse “Hypericum,” the scientific name for St. John’s wort and a popular homeopathic remedy. Even today, this tradition continues with Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II strongly supporting homeopathy.
The Ancient History of Homeopathy and Its Influence on Hahnemann
The idea of “like curing like” did not actually start with Hahnemann. This healing method, although not called homeopathy at the time, goes all the way back to at least 400 B.C.E. when the famous Greek doctor Hippocrates of Kos practiced this on his patients. For example, he gave tiny doses of mandrake root to mania patients because it produced similar symptoms at higher doses. This is the same Hippocrates who wrote the first version of the Hippocratic Oath and is referred to as the “Father of Modern Medicine.”
This same “like cures like“ concept is found in ancient Indian medicine and ancient Chinese medicine as well. So, as you can see, the history behind modern homeopathic medicines goes back much further than most people realize. But why is this ancient history of homeopathic concepts overlooked by so many?
While you can find many articles published on the history of homeopathy, most fail to recognize the significance of Hahnemann’s breadth of work as a translator of medical and scientific texts. They seem to completely miss the fact that Hahnemann’s thinking had was shaped by all of the scientific books that he translated. He must have been fully familiar with the earlier concept of “like cures like,” unlike many of his contemporary medical doctors, and this must have influenced his path toward developing the field of homeopathy in the 1800s.
As a young child, Hahnemann was an intellectual prodigy with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a particular gift for languages. By age 12, he had already mastered Latin, Greek, English, French, and Italian, in addition to his native German. By age 20, he was already working as a translator at the University of Leipzig before he went on to become a medical doctor. Around this same time, he added to his linguistic repertoire Arabic, Chaldaic, Hebrew, and Syriac.
Hahnemann’s mastery of 10 different languages from cultures that were at the forefront of advanced human knowledge, along with his copious work as a translator of academic tomes, opened up a much broader world of information and philosophy to Hahnemann than most doctors of his time would have been exposed to. In a sense, Hahnemann was preconditioned to “re-discover” the field of homeopathy and bring it into the 1800s and beyond.
The History of Using Homeopathic Medicine on Children
The use of homeopathic medicine spread very rapidly in the United States. This was due in large part to mothers who wanted a more gentle approach for their children. The medicine of that time was harsh for a patient of any age, but for a child, it was even more dangerous, and mothers instinctively knew this. Additionally, Dr. Constantine Herring, a devoted follower of Hahnemann’s methods, began distributing homeopathic “domestic kits” to traveling apothecaries. These kits were inexpensive and very popular. It wasn’t until antibiotics were introduced that homeopathic medicines waned in popularity.
Today, many parents prefer using less harsh medicines, such as Hyland’s Baby Oral Pain Relief Tablets, on their children because these medicines are known to work in a gentle way and, therefore, are considered by many parents to be a safer course of action. Babies and children also tend to be quite fussy about taking medicine, and a gentler form of medicine is tolerated better for such common childhood ailments as gum soreness, tummy aches, and colds. Furthermore, the observed effectiveness of homeopathic products often spreads more by word of mouth than by commercial ad campaigns. Parents and grandparents constantly swap stories about what works and what doesn’t work. Personal recommendations by friends and extended family members during heart-to-heart chats mean more than a print ad or television commercial ever could. For this reason, homeopathic medicines for babies like the Hyland’s Baby Oral Pain Relief Tablets and Hyland’s Baby Calming Tablets, will likely keep pediatric homeopathic medicines as popular today as such medicines were in the 1800s within certain families and social circles.
A Resurgence in Popularity
As people sometimes say, “everything old is new again.” This can be applied to clothing styles, hairstyles, social attitudes, and in this case, medicine. While homeopathy fell out of fashion, it never really disappeared, thanks to its legion of enthusiastic supporters. Its recent resurgence of popularity has brought homeopathy again into the mainstream of societal consciousness. There is a renewed respect for homeopathy, as medical professionals and academics have framed it as a “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) that can coexist with and provide value alongside traditional medicine.
The idea is that homeopathy, as an alternative field of medicine, “complements” traditional medicine and that neither type of medicine ultimately supplants the other. As a good example, Irvine Loudon, a respected medical historian and honorary fellow at Oxford University, refers to homeopathy as the “longest established CAM to have arisen in Europe” in his 2006 paper “A Brief History of Homeopathy.” This paper was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and is well cited.
It can also be said that homeopathy saved traditional medicine or, at a minimum, accelerated its progress. Without the competition from homeopathy, the necessity for traditional medicine to move away from using dangerous “cures” that didn’t work, were painful, and sometimes even resulted in a loss of life would not have been as great. Some historians believe that traditional medicine was forced to become more scientific and careful in its overall approach because of the competition from homeopathy. Thus, the spread of homeopathy was not only a transformational event onto its own but it also helped transform all of modern medicine, and it continues to do so to this day.
Sometimes it takes delving deep into history to enlighten oneself on what is possible in the future. This is why it is important to consider Hahnemann’s early scholarly work translating old scientific texts when attempting to understand where he observed and developed the principles of homeopathy. The homeopathic products we benefit from today, such as Hyland’s Baby Oral Pain Relief Tablets, are possible because of Hahnemann’s insights and were no doubt deeply influenced by his superb knowledge of medical history across the great civilizations.
A Trusted Brand in North America
Founded over a century ago, Hyland’s is the oldest manufacturer of homeopathic medicines in North America. It all began in downtown Los Angeles in 1903, when eight medical doctors established a retail pharmacy. In the basement of the building, they manufactured homeopathic medicines and developed a loyal following. Back then, the shop was known as Standard Homeopathic Pharmacy. Seven years later, George H. Hyland, a pharmacist who had been managing the store, bought the pharmacy and began expanding production of homeopathic products.
As the business grew over the years and new energy was infused into it by new members of management, Hyland’s had to relocate to increasingly larger locations in Los Angeles to meet the demand of its customers. While historically homeopathic medicines were most often found in natural food stores or specialized pharmacies, around 1987 Hyland’s Teething Tablets began to be sold in more mainstream drugstore chains and homeopathic medicines began a resurgence in popularity. The earliest found catalog mention of Hyland’s Teething Tablets, one of the company’s first products, was in 1925. Hyland’s Baby Oral Pain Relief Tablets, however, are an entirely different product from Hyland’s Teething Tablets, intended to relieve pain and symptoms from more than just teething. In 1998, Hyland’s founded 1-800-HOMEOPATHY, a mail-order catalog that quickly expanded its customer base to 150,000. This expansion meant that many more people could benefit from Hyland’s homeopathic medicines. Today, while best known for pediatric homeopathic medicines, Hyland’s offers the most extensive line of homeopathic medicines in North America.
*Claims for Hyland’s products are based on traditional homeopathic practice, not accepted medical evidence. They are not FDA evaluated*