The growing interest in natural remedies has put homeopathy back in the headlines. An alternative medicine system that traces its roots to Ancient Greece, homeopathy is based on Hippocrates’ notion that “like cures like”—or, to be more specific (as he said), “Through the like, disease is produced, and through the application of the like, it is cured.”
An ethos that’s best understood in the modern-day flu shot—wherein a person receives a minute amount of the flu virus to propel the body’s natural defense system into action—homeopathy is founded on the belief that a substance that causes adverse symptoms in a healthy person can cure the same symptoms in a sick one. (For instance, a healthy person who ingests the toxic herb belladonna—or deadly nightshade—will suddenly experience symptoms ranging from a flushed face to a high fever. An unhealthy person who has these symptoms due to the flu, however, will often recover quickly after taking the homeopathic remedy known as belladonna, in which the substance is successively diluted so that only the energetics of the herb are left.)
Revived in the 18th century by German physician and botanist Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy has been honed over the years around the world. According to data determined by the National Health Interview Survey, nearly 5 million Americans use homeopathic remedies today, while pharmacies in Europe carry homeopathic medicines. Available in pills, liquids, or creams, it’s used to treat a wide variety of ailments, but is most commonly relied upon for quotidian health problems that are typically treated at home, from muscle strains to joint pains and the flu.
Intrigued by the concept but don’t know where to begin? Here are the 10 most popular homeopathic remedies and their uses:
1. Arnica: bruises and contusions
A staple in first aid kits, Arnica has earned every bit of its fame as one of the most successful remedies for contusions, bruises, and aches. The most prevalent form of the plant, Arnica montana, has been shown to ease the sting of insect bites, soothe the stiffness that often arrives from long stints of driving, and relieve sore muscles after a tough workout. As the Mayo Clinic puts it, Arnica helps “stimulate the body’s self-healing response,” thus hammering home the whole concept of homeopathy.
2. Allium cepa: allergies and the common cold
Derived from onions, allium cepa “covers more symptoms of the common cold than any other remedy,” the National Center for Homeopathy reports. Much like our experiences with cutting an onion, allium cepa induces watery eyes, itchiness, and burning of the mouth and throat. It’s also used for allergies and runny noses.
3. Chamomilla: colic, teething and childhood irritability
Dubbed the “parents’ friend,” chamomilla is one of the most frequently used homeopathic remedies for children. Called upon to help babies feeling the pain of teething and colic—and the irritability that often arrives with them—chamomilla is also used for ear pain (particularly aches that are intensified by wind), fevers, and menstrual-related distresses.
4. Magnesia phosphorica: menstrual cramps
Speaking of which: As most women know, “period pain” is very real with the sharp, spasmodic cramps that menstruation often creates. Magnesia phosphorica has long been used to help alleviate these pains while also ultimately relieving edginess and oversensitivity. A combination of magnesium and phosphorous, this homeopathic remedy is further used to help manage calve cramps, neuralgia, sciatica, and bloating.
5. Ignatia: grief, anxiety and depression
Relief from grief and despair often arrives in the form of time, love, support—and, for some, counseling. But urgently-felt anguish—such as the sudden death of a loved one—may need to be addressed immediately. Enter Ignatia. Commonly called St. Ignatius’ Bean and ignatia amara, this homeopathic remedy is also used for fever, insomnia, headaches, and PMS.
6. Nux Vomica: hangovers, digestive troubles and general overconsumption
It may not have the most appealing name, but its potential benefits are alluring. Derived from an evergreen tree that’s native to Southeastern Asia and Northern Australia, Nux Vomica is often depended upon when one has had too much—whether through an overdose of work or a surplus of its antithesis (read: fun, often in the form of food and libations). It is also used to help manage motion sickness, back pain, anxiety-driven headaches, stress, and sleeplessness.
7. Sulphur: itchiness
Considered the most universally recommended homeopathic remedy, Sulphur may be a windfall for itchiness—particularly when such itchiness is aggravated by warm weather. (It can also be helpful for acne and eczema.) Believed to have been used for centuries—Sulphur was once burned to purify and disinfect homes—it’s also turned to for bloating, menopause-related depression, sore throats, and diarrhea in children.
8. Arsenica Album: anxiety and loneliness
At first glance, Arsenica Album may seem risky—after all, the homeopathic remedy is derived from the classic toxin arsenic. But in homeopathy, minimal—or no—arsenic remains in the solution that’s used, and, within the homeopathic community, it’s believed to be one of the fifteen most important remedies. It’s most closely associated with anxiety, specifically anxiety that arrives from loneliness and perfectionism. Given that homeopathy is highly individualized—with the belief that people fall into constitutional types—it’s also thought to be especially helpful for those who have a tendency to feel cold.
9. Zincum Metallicum: restless leg syndrome
Twitchy legs aren’t just an embarrassing sight in the boardroom—they’re also often the culprit behind general discomfort and insomnia. Zincum Metallicum could be a blessing for people whose symptoms include weakness, numbness, jerking, and/or twitching of the legs, particularly when these issues grow worse at night. Furthermore, Zincum Metallicum is believed to help people who are feeling hyperactive and overstimulated.
10. Gelsemium: the flu
Fever, chills, headaches, fatigue, aching muscles—the flu can sometimes feel like sheer misery. Gelsemium as a homeopathic remedy may alleviate these and other symptoms associated with influenza. (It’s also considered an effective strategy for a particular form of anxiety; that is, nervousness prior to a big event—a speaking engagement, a storm, a visit to the dentist.) As Dr. Sarah Chappelle, ND, advises, “You can tell Gelsemium is the right remedy when you have a gradual, slowly developing flu that sneaks up on your over the course of a few days.”
Which, in this case, can be a bit of a good thing, as it will allow you the time to consult with your homeopathic doctor before the symptoms overwhelm you—which is precisely what you should do with all of the homeopathic remedies outlines here.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.