Materia medica literally means “medical material” and describes a body of information (book, manual, etc.) that lists the uses and healing properties of any substances used to treat medical conditions.
The collection of information on the therapeutic properties of items found in nature dates back to the Roman Empire under Nero, where a Greek physician named Padanius created the first volume of works on medicinal substances. His book, De Meteria Medica, was circulated in various languages until 1600 and is said to be the most influential precursor to today’s pharmaceutical books.
While the original materia medica contained roughly 500 plants and their uses, today’s resources for homeopathy contain many more healing substances. Also in contrast to the ancient study of homeopathic remedies, today’s remedies have the advantage of scientific testing to confirm which treatments are best.
The use of medicinal chemistry has promoted the replacement of materia medica studies with pharmacology, but those interested in homeopathic healing still rely on references that provide information on healing powers found in nature.
The importance of plants, minerals and animal products in homeopathic remedies is great, since natural healing is believed to be ideal for the health of the human body. While detractors of homeopathy argue that a placebo effect is the only benefit to be gained from so-called “natural remedies”, those who rely on materia medica information would contest that creating a chemical drug to use for healing should not be the first course of action in medical treatment.
Whatever your preference, doing a little research on the subject can’t hurt. Free and comprehensive materia medica resources are available online for curious browsers or those interested in using homeopathy themselves.