Chances are, you’ve seen boxes of the flu remedy with the unpronounceable name (Oscillococcinum) propped up by the pharmacy register during cold and flu season. Or maybe you’ve rubbed arnica gel into a bump or bruise your child brought home from the playground. If so, you’ve dabbled in the world of homeopathy, microdosed natural remedies that work on the principle of “like cures like,” or the law of similars. Confused yet? Exactly how homeopathy works retains an air of mystery, yet the alternative-healing modality is widely used around the world (especially in Europe and India), has a small but growing body of scientific evidence that backs up its effectiveness, and is gaining in popularity in the United States (with sales growing more than 10 percent a year, on average, since 2000, according to Nutrition Business Journal).

Homeopathic remedies are safe

Because they are so highly diluted, homeopathic remedies contain only miniscule amounts (if any) of the original substances from which they are made—so they have no known side effects and no interactions with other medications. For this reason, they can be especially appropriate for treating children (even infants) and pregnant mothers. Interestingly, homeopathic remedies are the only alternative medicines regulated as drugs by the FDA.

Developed by 18th-century German physician Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy (which means “similar suffering”) uses miniscule concentrations of natural plant, animal, or mineral substances to stimulate the body to heal itself. Homeopathy is based on the same ”similar” principles as conventional allergy treatment and vaccines, where a small dose of an allergic substance or inert form of a virus is given to bolster the immune system against a particular offender. In homeopathy, for instance, a minute dose of coffee (Coffea cruda) may be given to remedy insomnia, or poison nut (Nux vomica) to relieve nausea.

Often prescribed by naturopathic doctors trained to diagnose ailments from a holistic perspective, homeopathic remedies are aimed at treating the whole person. “Unlike other forms of medicine that treat symptoms, homeopathy works at a fundamental level to correct the imbalance that allows a problem to happen,” says Jody Shevins, ND, of Boulder, Colorado. “It’s like digging out the roots and refurbishing the soil rather than just cutting down weeds.”

So which conditions (and individuals) are best treated by homeopathy? And when is it appropriate to try a treatment at home—or work with a naturopathic doctor to arrive at an individualized diagnosis? See the articles below...