Materia Medica Pura 200th Anniversary Essay

"the discoveries of Hahnemann, and those of his ablest and most rational disciples, of the minutest effects of old and new remedies, has as yet been more useful to mankind than all the minute discoveries of the pathological chemists, microscopists, and pathological histologists." (Peters & Snelling, p.3)


While the Organon of 1810 delivered the rationale and principles of homeopathy to the medical world, it was the Materia Medica Pura, published the following year that delivered the first slough of proven drugs, the tools that would-be homeopaths could begin to use. Thus, the principles and the methods of the new system arrived almost simultaneously. The first volume of the Materia Medica Pura gave the symptom pictures of twelve newly proven remedies, six of which were brand new and the details of the other six had been greatly expanded since first appearing in the Fragmenta of 1805. The remedies were: Belladonna, Dulcamara, Cina, Cannabis sativa, Cocculus, Nux vomica, Opium, Moschus, Oleander, Mercury, Aconite, Arnica. Volume 2 appeared in 1816 giving the proving details of Causticum, Arsenicum, Ferrum met, Ignatia, Pulsatilla, Rheum, Rhus tox, Bryonia, Magnesia, North and south pole. Clearly therefore Hahnemann was engaged in a steady stream of new provings during these years.

The key feature and main predecessor of the Materia Medica Pura—as it were the soil in which it first grew and flowered—is most obviously the provings of medicines, or to be more precise, the single drugs which Hahnemann had personally proved on the healthy (mostly himself) and then tested in medical conditions on the sick. He became increasingly convinced that "the disease-producing effects of drugs, would give the key to their therapeutic or curative powers." (Peters & Snelling, p.87) Yet, in the entire history of medicine, "with the exception of a few experiments with drugs on the healthy, by Störck and a few others, most of the effects and virtues of medicinal substances had been discovered by accidental and experimental or empirical experience, and by chance." (Peters & Snelling, p.87) It is likely if not highly "probable that Hahnemann got his notions of experiments with drugs on the healthy, and the use of only one remedy at a time, from Störck, and a more noble example he could not have selected." (Peters & Snelling, p.103) It is therefore perfectly true that both "Störck and Hahnemann...experimented upon themselves to aid sick people." (Peters & Snelling, p.19) Hahnemann "instinctively followed the same primary and necessary plan, in studying the effects of remedies, which the primitive physicians were obliged to follow in their first studies of disease...(he) rejected the major part of the materials of all the physicians who preceded the study and diagnosis of remedies." (Peters & Snelling, p.8)

He "began experiments, later called ‘provings’, on himself and other healthy individuals," (Flinn, 425-7) but Hahnemann was not unique, various physicians through the ages had tested drugs on themselves. Baron Anton von Störck, a Viennese physician, had set a fine example for Hahnemann. He was “convinced that Conium maculatum could cure cancer and all other manner of 'swellings.' (Storck, 1760) No doubt he had arrived at his ideas after reading in Pliny and Dioscorides of hemlock’s reputed power to shrink breasts and wither testicles. Störck fed extracts of poison hemlock to his patients and proclaimed his efforts a total success.”(Bloch, 2001) Störck “was the first scientist to systematically test the effects of so-called poisonous plants (e.g., hemlock, henbane, meadow saffron). Discovering new therapeutic properties in previously dreaded plants, Störck used himself as a subject in experiments to determine tolerable dose levels. As a result of his investigations, Störck was able to successfully treat his patients using the drugs he discovered. Samuel Hahnemann's later writings, including his "Organon", show that he was considerably influenced by Störck's ideas. In fact, Hahnemann's clinical teacher at Vienna was a follower of Störck, Joseph Quarin. Hahnemann's elaborate system of validating homeopathic material can be seen as a development and refinement of the techniques he learned in Vienna.” (Gantenbein, p.229) Another physician in this tradition was Jan Purkinje, who “described the effects of Camphor, Opium, Belladonna and Turpentine on humans in 1829.” (Anonymous, accessed 12-2-2011)

Hahnemann initially harvested the symptoms of single drugs from the medical literature—which he published in the Fragmenta—but had already followed the example of von Störck by proving drugs on himself in order to augment the symptom information; examples include those already proved by Störck, such as Colchicum, Belladonna, Stramonium, Hyoscyamus, Conium and Aconite (Sneader, p38-39; Störck, 1760-3), all of which appeared in the early homeopathic provings. However, the appearance of the Materia Medica Pura naturally raises a series of aspects surrounding Hahnemann and the processes and sequence of events that preceded and led to the emergence of homeopathy from the allopathy of his day, which he termed the "most senseless mode of treatment…(a) mischievous so-called art," (Organon, xxix) and "a pernicious practice," (Organon, xxix) in which he had himself been trained.

Of central importance to the Materia Medica Pura are his decisions—made fairly early on—to reject the authorised allopathic "Materia Medica based on conjectures and compound prescriptions," (Organon, §54) to abandon the longstanding tradition of mixed drugs (polypharmacy) in favour of using single drugs, and to test drugs on himself. He rejected by reflex "the absurdity of giving complex mixtures," (Dudgeon, xxiv) of drugs, referring to them as "abominable and nonsensical compounds," (Dudgeon, xxviii) and "a confused jumble of unknown drugs." (Dudgeon, xxviii) Due to his numerous misgivings about it, he decided, "to give up his medical practice," (Haehl, 1, 267) soon after his marriage in November 1782. (Haehl, 1, 28) He "retired disgusted with the uncertainty of medical practice and devoted himself to chemistry and literature." (Dudgeon, xxi) From around 1796, "Hahnemann had now abandoned the complicated medicine of the dominant practice," (Peters & Snelling, p.89) and thus began "separating himself from the ordinary ties which bound him to the dominant profession." (Peters & Snelling, p.99) Taken together, therefore, these changes to his medical position—implemented between 1782 and 1790—created one long 'gestation period' or fertile seedbed in which all his later work was first conceived, nurtured and finally brought to fruition. Without these developments there could have been no Fragmenta de viribus, no Materia Medica Pura and no Organon.

It had been virtually axiomatic in medicine for centuries that some drugs will work for some people and for some of the time, but there had seemingly never emerged a truly foolproof or reliable hypothesis concerning the specific actions of drugs on the sick. As he later noted: “all persons are not affected by a medicine in an equally great degree; on the contrary, there is a vast variety in this respect, so that sometimes an apparently weak individual may by scarcely at all affected by moderate doses of a medicine known to be of a powerful character, while...there are very robust persons who experience very considerable morbid symptoms from an apparently mild medicine, and only slighter symptoms from stronger drugs.” (Organon, §129) Hahnemann must often have wondered how this imprecise, haphazard and hit-and-miss process might somehow be transformed into a more reliable and accurate medical procedure regarding the selection of the drug most suitable, not for a named 'disease,'—which he had long dismissed as a flawed and therefore futile endeavour—but for a specific case of sickness. His view was that "every disease, if observed with sufficient attention, constitutes a true individuality," (Teste, p.41) and that the true image of a “disease is reflected in the totality of the symptoms.” (Haehl, v.1, p.292) For him, totality and individuality entirely supplanted the predominant conception of disease classification of his day—and these are the foundation stones of homeopathy. As usual, he also yearned to rest his new system upon reliability, simplicity and predictability.

In his 1797 essay 'On the Obstacles to Certainty and Simplicity in Medicine,' published in Hufeland's journal, Hahnemann had announced his "proposed reform and perfecting of the materia medica,"(Dudgeon, 179) but this request was "met with nothing but derision and contempt from his colleagues."(Dudgeon, 179) Hahnemann clearly ”perceived that the whole edifice of the old Materia Medica must be rebuilt from the very foundation, as that Materia Medica furnished nothing positive regarding the (true) pathogenetic actions of drugs." (Dudgeon, 176) Having received no support for this proposal from his colleagues, he was therefore left with no alternative but "to test the medicines and poisons accurately and systematically upon the healthy individual," (Dudgeon, xlvii) and mostly upon himself. It was only "by pursuing a steady course of experimentations for thirty years, that Hahnemann succeeded in organising a complete Materia Medica." (Teste, p.33)

Nested in the Materia Medica Pura—like a Russian doll—we can glimpse a complex bundle of rarely discussed but important aspects concerning the development and emergence of homeopathy as a medical system. It is not profitable therefore to consider the emergence of the Materia Medica Pura in isolation from these processes and developments that formed the complex conceptual and practical milieu (crucible) in which Hahnemann worked to develop homeopathy. To do the subject the full justice it deserves, demands a deeper appraisal of this milieu and therefore of the processes which led to the emergence of homeopathy.

The emergence first of the Organon and then of the Materia Medica Pura only a year later follows on from an immensely fertile period in Hahnemann's life that commenced in 1805 with his move to Torgau. The immediate predecessors of these texts were his essay "The Medicine of Experience, that precursor of the Organon," (Dudgeon, 118) published in 1806 and his Fragmenta de viribus published in 1805. Therefore, the years "1805 and 1806 were eventful ones for the development of the doctrine." (Dudgeon, xxix) It was also in Torgau where he resumed his medical practice "and continued it until the end of this life." (Bradford, p.76) It was here "where he enjoyed a respite from his travels," (Hobhouse, p.162) after his "restless years of wandering." (Haehl, vol. 1, 13) In these truly "wilderness years," (Coulter, II, 348) he was in "a state of complete internal revolution," (Haehl, I, 48) living a "life of wandering and poverty." (Bradford, 136) For the "next twenty six years he wandered from town to town, a failure as a practising physician." (Lasagna, p.33) He changed his “residence seventeen times between 1782 and 1805.” (Coulter, 2, 309) We are “utterly at a loss to account for these frequent changes of place on the part of Hahnemann; it sometimes makes us fear that he must have naturally been a very discontented man, or else of a quarrelsome disposition." (Peters & Snelling, p.89) These "bitter days of wandering and adversity," (Bradford, 134) might well be seen as "a long series of years he was depressed by poverty and driven from one town of Germany to another by the persecutions of the physicians and apothecaries," (Marcy, 57) but these years of ferment and hardship—whatever the reasons for them—also acted beneficially to bring all his ideas to a more perfected state. Having established "his doctrines on the basis of accumulated experience and facts, (it) was the work of many painful years." (Marcy, 56)

Clearly, what had preceded this sudden damburst of activity was a period (~1790-1805) in which he had staked out all the major conceptual parameters and practical aspects of his new medical system—researched, formulated, meticulously delineated, tested, re-tested and fully confirmed to his own satisfaction—such that by the time we reach the publication of the Materia Medica Pura he is not a man casually offering his colleagues a few new, untested hunches and ideas, but a man who is divesting himself to the world of a complete system, laying down a heavy cargo of well-tested and well-defined ideas and experiences. Therefore, the Organon and the Materia Medica Pura actually represent a long-awaited unburdening of an entire system, cleverly devised, extensively tested and fully validated in the work he had been conducting during the 1790s and early 1800s, and work that fully reflected, "the industry and erudition of Hahnemann." (Peters & Snelling, p.10) This work was in turn rooted in the tireless researches and investigations he had conducted after abandoning medical practice in the early 1780s.

In the light of these considerations, it is therefore clear that Hahnemann was not idly investigating the effects of drugs in an abstract impersonal sense borne out of the interests of pure research. Rather, in fact, he was conducting his investigations with a definite reason in mind, with a mission, and aiming quite specifically to one day make his return to medical practice armed, so he hoped, with a new system of effective drugs and reliable rules and principles on how they should be used. "He could only wait for the moment, as inevitable as the Day of Judgement, which would see him revealed as the apostle of a pure and true doctrine of medicine." (Gumpert, p.59) His research thus comprised a two-pronged attack on the problem: first, to find reliable single drugs that worked in a predictable fashion, and secondly in doing so to establish reliable rules and principles that underpin their efficacy. His aim was to produce both a system of reliable drugs as well as expose the reasons for their reliability; a rationale for their use, as compared to what he saw as the haphazard chaos of the unprincipled use of the mixed drugs then in common use: "the medical theorists were all of this time wildly wandering in the thick fogs of conjecture." (Marcy, p.362)

Hahnemann has at times been dismissed as a mere theorist and system builder, but this is a very incomplete view. He wanted drugs that work but which work according to sound principles. He knew that Calomel, Antimony and Laudanum ‘work’ but then look at the damage they do! He didn't want any more drugs like that and had abandoned medical practice precisely because of the ill-effects of such strong and dangerous drugs. He condemned "the use of wrong, powerful medicines...strong palliatives...contraria contrariis curentur." (Organon, p.25) He depicts this “antipathic method,” (Organon, §57) as “fundamentally unhelpful and hurtful.” (Organon, §56) He laments “the inefficacy of the treatment by contraries,” (Dudgeon, 49) and alludes to the dangers of using strong antipathic drugs because “a stronger dose of the remedy…necessitates giving ever increasing quantities of the palliative,” (Organon, §60) but this merely suppresses the sickness, bringing limited and transient relief and comfort to the sick, but never “a permanent and perfect cure.” (Organon, §61)

Hahnemann had observed for himself that such allopathic treatments effect “merely a transient alleviation, always followed by aggravation,” (Organon, §70) and remission. He denounces this form of medicine as “a false art with its hurtful drugs and treatments,” (Organon, §76) and “the allopathic non-healing art.” (Organon, §75) This forms the very crux of his disenchantment with the regular medicine of his day and why his conscience forced him to abandon such dangerous and fundamentally uncurative methods. The true homeopathic cures induced by the similimum, are "cures without much disturbance," (Organon, §154) “a rapid and perfect cure,” (Organon, Introduction): “rapid, gentle and permanent restoration of the health, or removal and annihilation of the disease in its whole extent, in the shortest, most reliable, and most harmless way, on easily comprehensible principles.” (Organon, §2)

He wanted only safe and harmless drugs that worked according to well-defined principles. Therefore his theory was always yoked to his practice, but it is true that it was always present. As a physician, he had always been grounded primarily in the practicalities of what actually cures sickness, and throughout his career, “all Hahnemann’s views and doctrines were made subservient to his therapeutics.” (Dudgeon, 243) Thus, in the Fragmenta and the Materia Medica Pura we can see at work these underpinning aims and objectives that Hahnemann was working with running like a gold thread, and which comprised the indelible hallmark of everything he did. He was certainly not pursuing a hobby isolated in some slack backwater, but was operating with a resolute determination that his search would succeed and ultimately yield to him the treasured prize of reliable effective drugs, and a set of sure principles—a map and compass—to guide their proper use in clinical practice. This describes clearly and accurately the ‘conceptual place’ where the Fragmenta, the Organon and the Materia Medica Pura all sprang from.

The law of similars undoubtedly played a pivotal role in the development of the Materia Medica Pura. While investigating the toxic and therapeutic effects of single drugs in the early 1790s—following on from his pathbreaking Cinchona experiment of 1790—he had stumbled upon a startling discovery, which is often glossed over or not even mentioned at all in the writings about the early provings. In coming to use single drugs on patients, Hahnemann had perceived that peculiar and intense sensitivity sick individuals manifest towards a specific single drug: their similimum. This general failure of the literature to give this phenomenon greater prominence might have engendered a poor understanding of the origins and basis of homeopathy, especially in relation to why small doses came to be used in the first place. Clear understanding of the specific effects of the best-match drug on a sensitive person provides some explanation for why dose reduction was so urgently required and it was his observation of this 'sensitivity effect' that had originally led Hahnemann down this path, for dose reduction and potentisation did not seem to spring from any theoretical considerations or speculative medical theorising on his part. Hahnemann’s "discovery of the principle of potentisation came about gradually as he experimented in the reduction of his doses, in order to arrive at a point where severe aggravations would not occur." (Close, 190) It was "the homeopathic aggravation, that is the increase of all important disease symptoms which followed upon the administration of the 'specific remedy'... (that) induced him to gradually decrease the dose." (Dudgeon, 311)

This powerful and dramatic observation effectively solved an ancient riddle regarding which drug is best suited for a specific case of sickness. The impact the most similar drug has on a sick person for whom it is suited solves the question of which drug is best for any specific individual. And in this transition from the provings to the early clinical uses of single drugs, this incredible sensitivity a patient manifests towards one specific single remedy which could afford some relief of their malady, but which was also capable in crude dose of inducing the most dramatic and severe aggravations of their symptoms. This unusual and unexpected development reveals in essence, the true meaning of the 'law of similars,' because it illustrates that true similarity is a deep and genuine resonance between drug and patient. Furthermore, Hahnemann's numerous dose reduction experiments can be traced back to this single phenomenon, for he would never have devoted so much of his energy and ingenuity to the business of potentisation were it not for the aggravations resulting from the remedy-patient sensitivity. The homeopathic aggravation is "an increase of the actual symptoms of the disease shortly after the administration of the medicine, and the cause of it is the dose of the medicine being too powerful. It is an inconvenient and unnecessary accompaniment of the curative action, and is to be got rid of by diminishing sufficiently the size of the dose." (Dudgeon, 122) Hahnemann asserts that aggravations were due to "the medicine being given in too large doses," (Dudgeon, 122) but arguably it principally arises due to the resonance of similarity that pertains between drug and patient.

He denounced larger doses which, "he says, cause medicinal aggravations." (Bradford, 456) With regard to dosage it was "the aggravation after strong doses," (Dudgeon, 315) that drove him ever further to investigate the processes of drug dilution. His never ending dose reduction experiments were initially conceived and instituted in order to neutralise and eliminate these peculiar and intense aggravations that he repeatedly observed to be precipitated by the clinical use of the best-fit remedy, that is the most similar remedy to the whole case, or the similimum as it has come to be called. Hahnemann "was only gradually led to the employment of infinitesimal doses." (Teste, p.18) Though he had initially "made use of the pure mother-tinctures in ordinary doses, but he observed that the primary effects were too active—there usually occurring a temporary augmentation of symptoms. This induced him to reduce his doses until he came to use attenuations and dilutions." (Marcy, p.122)

It seems that Hahnemann never really gave much prominence to this crucial aspect of the law of similarity in the selection of drugs. Although he emphasised that the correct drug for a patient should be a good fit for their case totality—that is most suitable for as many of their general and specific symptoms as possible, citing clinical practice as the basis for this belief—yet still he never explained carefully enough or in sufficient detail that the origin of these views lay almost exclusively in his direct observation of the intense aggravations caused by the most similar drug or that the most similar drug has this wonderful capacity of resonating directly and dramatically with the unique but otherwise undisclosed sensitivity of the patient for whom it is best suited. No other drug has the power to elicit this specific type of effect in the patient. One feels that if this aspect of drug-patient similarity and resonance had been given much greater prominence by Hahnemann, then it is arguable that homeopathy might have been more clearly understood by the allopaths of his day and may then have garnered some wider acceptance. This seems like a plausible hypothesis considering how little it has been emphasised throughout the history of homeopathy. This point has never really been placed at centre-stage and yet it is crucial to our understanding of how the provings eventually gave rise to the therapeutic tools of homeopathy, which Hahnemann handed to homeopaths in the form of the Fragmenta and the Materia Medica Pura.

The upshot of all this is that anyone who just uses mainstream homeopathic remedies may well think they are practising homeopathy, whether they are using single or mixed drugs, but real homeopathy is only truly practised when the similimum is given. Thus, Hahnemann's failure to more fully explore in his writings this sensitivity and deep similarity between patient and drug, has allowed people to 'do as they wish' and to think that just using remedies is enough. Well, that is not pure homeopathy because it fails to take account of the factor of deep similarity. So in asking what has caused the biggest failure in the history of homeopathy, it is ''using the wrong remedy'' or failing to find the right one that is the answer. And what has caused that situation of not using the right remedy? Well, Kent says it actually and says there is only one drug for the patient, one sensitive point, one weak spot, which the homeopath must find, and that is the similimum.

"Now when a person becomes sick, he becomes susceptible to a certain remedy, which will affect him in its highest potency; while upon a healthy person it will have no effect. Man is susceptible to all things capable of producing similar symptoms to those which he already has. An individual may be susceptible to nothing else; gross, coarse, vigorous in constitution; yet there is one thing he is susceptible to, and that is what he needs. The same susceptibility is necessary to prove a drug, as to take a disease. That is the Homoeopathic relation. Hence we see what contagion is." (Kent Aphorisms) Kent clearly gives the similimum, idiosyncrasy and patient sensitivity much greater emphasis and prominence than Hahnemann did. So, it all boils down to a lack of understanding about the sensitivity issue, the true and deep similarity between the one drug and a specific patient. This general failure to place this important point at centre stage, and give it more deserving emphasis, has allowed people to believe that any drug would do as long as it was similar to the case totality, which is not correct, vague similarity is just not sufficient, and this woeful tendency is one factor that has allowed people to deviate from the central rules of homeopathy and thus to have spawned various breeds of mongrel systems and half homeopaths down the years, which have in turn created internal divisions and many disputes.

However, let us be clear, this problem first arose after the provings and when Hahnemann had started to use his new remedies for the first time on sick persons. It derives from this time of transition from his harvesting the pure and fairly abstract symptom data of the provings, once he had begun to try and carefully match remedies to the symptom pictures of actual patients. And it was precisely in that precarious endeavour that all these complications first arose. Although "the primary characteristic of homeopathic medicine was the law of similia," (Rothstein, 165-6) yet he began to see that the word 'similar' means a whole spectrum of different things and is not the simple and handy tool it must first have seemed to be, once you try to navigate a path through the clinical conditions of patients. In other words, it is one thing to conduct a proving and tabulate all the symptom data, but it is quite another to apply this material to sick persons.

Therefore, in this transition from provings to clinical practice, which he undertook sporadically throughout the 1790s, Hahnemann found the devil to be in the details, that matching a drug to a patient is quite a delicate and complex skill. But, as usual, his overwhelming passion for experimentation and acute observational powers stood him in good stead. What “a keen observer and independent thinker he was.” (Haehl, vol 1, p.289), and refer to him as an 'acute thinker and observer' (Haehl, p.301). But he also possessed "a keener power of observation, a more profound reflection, a more critical appreciation of values." (Haehl, p.267) Hahnemann was "one of the best observers." (Dudgeon, 77) He especially "surpassed his mixture-loving contemporaries in the gifts of observation and investigation." (Ameke, 85) Everything he knew he had deduced "from pure experience and observation." (Ameke, 134) It is also during this period that he first glimpsed the differences in the clinical setting between Nux vomica and Pulsatilla, for example, or between Belladonna and Aconite.

It is due to this second phase of his work with newly proven drugs that he first unlocked the very subtle resonances between drug similarity and individual patient idiosyncrasy, the likes of which had previously been unknown to the medical world. And it is also upon the resonance which exists between the two that he built truly curative homeopathy. In other words, not only must the patient have a raging fever but must be red hot and hallucinating for Belladonna and worse for cold winds for Aconite. Likewise, we see the brash confidence and touchy volatility of Nux as compared to the weepy and sensitive Pulsatilla patient. From the apparent similarities in some symptom areas, between two drugs, he then also began to recognise some fine differences that distinguish and so separate two similar remedies from each other, just as the subtle idiosyncrasies of two patients, with broadly similar symptoms, distinguish them from each other in their sickness.

The homeopath focuses upon "the symptoms peculiar to the individual," (Coulter, II, 250) case (the propria symptoms), which are much "more reliable criteria…for distinguishing one patient from another," (Coulter, II, 250) and in most cases "the patient’s habits and mode of life were the most important of the propria."(Coulter, II, 250) It shares with ancient medicine "the aim of coming as close as possible to the idiosyncrasy of the patient," (Coulter, II, 250) which is "that which distinguishes him from all similar patients," (Coulter, II, 251) and which distinguishes this "patient from all others of his class. Each sick person is unique in his sickness, and the sickness is unknowable in its essence." (Coulter, II, 251) Unlike allopathy, homeopathy deals with "the characteristics which distinguish the individual patient from all others like him,"(Coulter, II, 498) and is rooted in a process "to bring out what is specific, unique, in a given character or series of events…respects in which it differs from everything…(and) conveys the unique pattern of experience." (Berlin, 1996, 22) All such information—which is the bread and butter of all homeopathic prescribing—did not reveal itself easily or automatically, but came to light from using the information of the provings and from using that body of information to treat the sick. As with so much, it was retrieved slowly in a piecemeal fashion through sheer dint of his endless experimentation and from experience. Clearly, "in all these discoveries Hahnemann was guided by experience, to which he trusted solely." (Dudgeon, 49-50) He relied upon what “pure experience, the sole and infallible oracle of the healing art, teaches us.” (Organon, §25)

When he first descended into this complex and chaotic world of symptom data, Hahnemann must have despaired of ever making much sense of it. On the one side he was confronted by proving data of tremendous richness, detail and diversity, and on the other by a similarly diverse field of chaos and complexity in the symptoms of human sickness. It was in his weaving of new paths to join these two bodies of knowledge, that true homeopathy was founded.

The raw symptom data of a proving often stands a very long way from the fully rounded pictures of drugs that we are accustomed to seeing and using today. "The object of proving a drug is to delineate the drug personality." (Wright Hubbard, p.820) From the results of a proving it is often the case that the true "image of the drug is but faintly distinguishable." (C Mayrhofer, p.13) Quite often, "instead of presenting us with a clear picture of drug-diseases, it gives us only a monstrous agglomeration of symptoms." (Watzke, p.285) A definite period of gestation is required to elapse before the crude data of the proving can be converted into the more rounded drug picture we see in the materia medica. Clearly, the symptom data of the early provings needed to be studied in detail for some time before they could be said to have yielded their more obvious fields of therapeutic application and be transformed into the type of drug pictures we are now familiar with. This inevitably means that it took some time for the information to be fully digested and made sense of, mostly because of the amount, the richness and the diversity of that data. In this regard, it really is quite amazing what a short time it actually took Hahnemann to digest it, make sense of, compact down and classify the information for each drug and to clearly identify those types of human sickness for which it was most applicable. To then also begin using such drugs quite quickly on patients is also quite a remarkable achievement in itself.

Although the gap of fifteen years between the Cinchona proving of 1790 and the publication of the Fragmenta in 1805, seems quite long and the symptom pictures of only 27 drugs emerged in that time—a rate of almost two provings per year—it is still quite an impressive achievement because he was certainly beginning to use those drugs at the same time as they were being proved—e.g. Stramonium in 1792-3 for Herr Klockenbring—and therefore he was learning, as he went along, how to translate the proving data into more rounded drug pictures for clinical use. Therefore, by way of summary, we can say that Hahnemann not only had to prove drugs from scratch, and mostly alone, but he also had to analyse and sort the symptom data into some kind of coherent and comprehensible drug image, while at the same time commencing to apply that information to patients in the clinical setting. When viewed in the round, therefore, it is pretty clear that his achievement in the period in question—which finally saw the emergence of a materia medica of 61 drugs by 1830—is quite an impressive one. By alluding to the two volumes of the Fragmenta, the six volumes of the Materia Medica Pura and the two volumes of The Chronic Diseases, Dudgeon rightly says that the "ten volumes of provings he has left us are an eternal monument to his energy, perseverance, conscientiousness and self-sacrifice." (Dudgeon, xlvii)


The Materia Medica Pura was published by Hahnemann in six volumes extending over a ten year period. There are 61 medicines contained in these volumes, deriving from the work of 37 provers.

1st Volume Materia Medica Pura: 1811- Contains pathogenesis of 12 medicines, 6 of which are new, the pathogenesis of all of those which had already appeared being considerably increased. Contents: Belladonna, Dulcamara, Cina, Cannabis sativa, Cocc, Nux vomica, Opium, Moschus, Oleander, Mercury, Aconite, Arnica montana.

2nd Volume Materia Medica Pura: 1816- Contains pathogenesis of 8 medicines together with those ascribed to the magnet. Contents: Causticum, Arsenicum album, Ferrum met, Ignatia, Pulsatilla, Rheum, Rhus tox, Bryonia, Magnesia, North and south pole.

3rd Volume Materia Medica Pura: 1817 with 8 medicines. Contents: Chamomilla, Cinchona, Helleborus, Asar, Ipecec, Scilla, Stramonium, Veratrum album.

4th Volume Materia Medica Pura: 1818 with 12 medicines: Hyoscyamus, Digitalis, Aurum met, Guiacum, Camphor, Ledum, Ruta grav, Sars, Conium, Chelidonium, Sulphur, Argentum nit.

5th Volume Materia Medica Pura: 1819 with 11 medicines: Euphrasia, Menyanthes, Cyclamen, Sambucus, Calcarea, Acetica, Muriatic acid, Thuja, Taraxacum, Phos Acid, Spigelia, Staphysagria.

6th Volume Materia Medica Pura: 1821 with 10 medicines: Angustura, Manganum, Capsicum, Verbena, Colocynthis, Spog, Drosera, Bismuth, Cicuta, Stannum met.



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Stuart Close, The Genius of Homeopathy: Lectures and Essays on Homeopathic Philosophy, Philadelphia: Erhart & Karl, 1924

Harris L Coulter, Divided Legacy, A History of the Schism in Medical Thought, Washington: Wehawken Books, 1973, 3 volumes

Robert E Dudgeon, Lectures on the Theory and Practice of Homeopathy, London & Manchester: Henry Turner & Co, 1853

Lewis B Flinn, Homeopathic Influences in the Delaware Community A Retrospective Reassessment, Del. Med. Jnl., 48:7, July 1976, 418-428

Urs Leo Gantenbein, The First School of Vienna and Samuel Hahnemann’s Pharmaceutical Techniques, MedGG, 19, 2000, 229-49

Martin Gumpert, Samuel Hahnemann: The Adventurous Career of a Medical Rebel, New York: Fischer, 1945

Richard Haehl, Samuel Hahnemann, His Life and Works (2 volumes), London: Homoeopathic Publishing Company, 1922

Samuel Hahnemann, Fragmenta de viribus medicamentorum positivis sive in sano corpore humano observatis, 2 volumes, Leipsic: J A Barthi, 1805 (Translation: Fragments of powerful medicines positive but if observed in the healthy human body)

Samuel Hahnemann, The Organon of Medicine, combined 5th/6th Edition, Translated by R.E. Dudgeon, and edited by William Boericke, Philadelphia: Boericke & Tafel, 1893

Rosa M Hobhouse, The Life of Samuel Christian Hahnemnann, India: Harjeet & Co, 1933

James Tyler Kent, New Remedies, Clinical Cases, Lesser Writings, Aphorisms and Precepts, Chicago: Ehrhart & Karl, 1926, pp.641-689

Louis Lasagna, The Doctors' Dilemmas, New York: Harper & Row, 1970

E Edgerton Marcy, The Homoeopathic Theory and Practice of Medicine, Volume 1, New York: Wm Radde, 1868

Carl Mayrhofer, Thuja occidentalis, an Essay, NAJH 3, 1853, pp.3-158

John Charles Peters & Frederick Greenwood Snelling, Principles and Practice of Medicine, New York: Wm Radde, 1863

William G Rothstein, American Physicians in the 19th Century from Sects to Science, Baltimore: John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1972

Walter Sneader, Drug Discovery: a History, London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2005

Anton von Störck, Libellus, quo demonstratur: cicutam non solum usu interno tutissime exhiberi, sed et esse simul remedium valde utile in multis morbis, qui hucusque curatu impossibiles dicebantur, Vienna, 1760 (Translation: A little book which shows Hemlock not only safe for internal use, but also at the same time a very useful medicine in many diseases which up to this time are declared as impossible to cure)

Anton von Störck, Libellus, quo demonstratur: stramonium, hyosciamum, aconitum non solum tuto posse exhiberi usu interno hominibus, verum et ea esse remedia in multis morbis maxime salutifera. 1762 (Translation: A little book which shows Stramonium, Hyoscyamus and Aconite not only showing them safe for internal human use, certainly, and at the same time as medicines having great healing power in many diseases)

Anton von Störck, Libellus, quo demonstratur: Colchici autumnalis radicem non solum tuto posse exhiberi hominibus, sed et ejus usu interno curari quandoque morbos difficillimos, qui aliis remediis non ceduntdicem, Vienna: J. T. Trattner, 1763 (Translation: A little book which shows Colchicum autumnale (Meadow Saffron) root not only safe for human use, but also useful for internal cures whenever diseases, difficult to cure, will not yield to other medicines)

Alphonse Teste, The Homeopathic Materia Medica, Philadelphia: Rademacher & Sheek, 1854

Philipp Anton Watzke, Introduction to the Provings of Colocynthis, NAJH, 3, 1853, pp.283-386

Elizabeth Wright Hubbard, A Brief Study Course in Homeopathy, 3rd edition, 1959