By Bonnie Price Lofton
Issue 120, Sep/Oct 2003
When you send children to college, you can be sure you'll hear from them on at least two occasions: when they're broke, and when they're really sick. I could handle these crises by telephone when my 19-year-old daughter, Allison, was only halfway across the US , but this summer she's heading halfway around the world-to India , on a study-abroad program. Suddenly we're talking about clean drinking water, money belts, and what medicines to take.
Allison has been treated with homeopathy since she was eight. But knowing I was around to choose remedies for her, she never learned the system, and now we had to build her homeopathic repertoire from scratch. It needed to be simple enough for her to understand and follow, as well as highly portable; and it needed to be sufficient to get her through six months on her own.
We agreed on one paperback book for her suitcase. My choice was Homeopathic Medicine at Home: Natural Remedies for Everyday Ailments and Minor Injuries, by Maesimund B. Panos, MD and Jane Heimlich (J.P. Tarcher, 1981). This book was the first book I ever read about homeopathy. Some 50 homeopathic books later, it is still my favorite, as evinced by its long-gone cover and dog-eared pages. With the Panos book, you can find Hepar sulphuris quickly in a nifty chart when you're frantically looking for something to stop a sweaty, irritable child's croupy, suffocating cough in the middle of the night.
But what to do about arming Allison with the most essential remedies? The homeopathic kits widely marketed in natural food stores were too bulky for hauling around India in a backpack, and the smaller travel and first-aid kits were too limited in their selections of remedies. Then I remembered a small pharmacy, Homeopathy Works in Maryland , that sells remedies in minute pellets, packaged in brown-glass bottles. They even had a lightweight plastic case, about the size of the box in which the largest tube of toothpaste is sold, that securely holds 20 tiny remedy bottles. I contacted Joe Lillard, who owns Homeopathy Works, and asked if he would assemble my choice of remedies in one of his plastic boxes. He hesitated-he markets his urgent-care selections in this box-but when I explained my situation, he agreed. He said that, for the size of pellets and bottles I wanted, I would be limited to 30x potency. That was a higher potency than I would have chosen-6x or 12x is usually advised for novices treating acute illnesses-but 30x remains in the acceptable range for non-experts. "Fine," I said. Allison's kit arrived a few days later.
Here's what I'd asked for, and why.
- Aconitum napellus (aconite): Allison is familiar with aconite; it's usually the first remedy I reach for when a child starts to feel sick, and it's great for easing fear of the unknown.
- Apis mellifica: For any insect sting that has an effect like that of a bee sting. Who knows what Allison will encounter in her wanderings? Fortunately, with homeopathy you don't have to know exactly which bug has stung you-to reach for Apis, you have to know only that the stung area is swollen, itchy, and red.
- Arnica montana : Routinely used in our family for bruises and injuries from sports and accidents. This is one of two remedies for which Allison needed no explanation-she's seen it work wonders for years.
- Arsenicum album: This will arm Allison against food poisoning, especially when characterized by vomiting (with or without diarrhea) after eating and drinking.
- Belladonna: Allison has never experienced the Belladonna-type fever-a sudden, violent onset that leaves one red, dry-hot, and extremely restless-but I included this common fever-reducer "just in case." Besides, there will be six other students in her group; maybe one of her buddies will need it.
- Carbo vegetabilis: Another possibility for food-and-stomach problems. Allison should reach for this if foods (especially fats) disagree with her and turn to gas, or if she experiences burning in the stomach with sour belching, flatulence, vomiting, and/or heartburn.
- Chamomilla: This one was debatable. Although two of the three children in our family have had colic, for which Chamomilla is commonly recommended, neither ever responded to the remedy. Still, Chamomilla is a mainstay of homeopathic kits, so I guess it fits other people's profiles. I tell Allison to use it for green diarrhea, if nothing else in her kit works.
- Colocynthis: Our family's remedy for colic, in place of Chamomilla. If Allison finds herself doubling up with stomach pain, or if she has a cramping sensation, this might be a good choice.
- Euphrasia officinalis: For any eye problem.
- Hypericum perforatum: For puncture wounds or injuries to the nerves, especially crushed fingers or toes.
- Ignatia amara: For grief or homesickness. Allison says she doesn't think she'll need this-maybe her parents should take it for Allison-sickness.
- Ipecacuanha: For constant nausea, which may be accompanied by vomiting.
- Ledum palustre: For puncture wounds.
- Magnesia phosphorica: Another possibility for stomach discomfort characterized by colic-like pain and wind; or for a bloated, distended abdomen. If warmth and pressure relieve the discomfort, Magnesium phosphate might be a good choice.
- Mercurius corrosivus: For inflammatory conditions, especially if the lymph nodes are swollen, as well as for a metallic taste in the mouth, abscessed ears and pus infections, or painful diarrhea with that "never get done" feeling. Also, for very painful sore throats.
- Nux vomica: For insomnia, stomach problems, or other bad effects of overindulgence, especially of coffee, alcohol, tobacco, or rich or highly seasoned foods.
- Podophyllum peltatum: I'm not sure why this remedy isn't more widely known among casual users of homeopathy. Someone in my first homeopathic study group clued me in to its antidiarrhetic power when I kept leaving the room every ten minutes to head for the bathroom. If Allison feels OK except for horrible diarrhea, and if it's gushing, offensive-smelling yellow or green liquid, she should take Podophyllum frequently-every half-hour is not too often-until she gets relief.
- Pulsatilla: This is Allison's constitutional remedy. From trial and error, we've learned that she can short-circuit her annual collapse into serious acute illness by taking a high-potency dose (1M) of Pulsatilla. I'm also including a low-potency dose, in case one of her friends needs Pulsatilla for an earache or a loose, rattling cough.
- Spongia: Can't be beat for a dry, barking, rasping cough.
- Veratrum album: For nausea with violent vomiting and profuse diarrhea, clammy sweating, and collapse due to extreme weakness.
Apart from the Homeopathy Works kit, I'm sending with Allison off with a few tiny vials of Oscillococcinum, a medicine that works wonders for derailing budding flu symptoms. To stave off colds, she should combine it with aconite at the first sign of a scratchy throat or congested feeling in the head.
Hint to Allison: Take only a tiny amount of each medicine, so that it will last you until you return to the US . An eighth of a teaspoon is plenty. With homeopathy, the quantity you take is irrelevant, regardless of the instructions on the packaging. If it's the right remedy, it will work even in minute amounts.
Anyone who has experimented with homeopathy for more than a year will have begun to get a feel for which set of remedies are best suited for the personalities and body types of each family member. A friend of mine swears by Hepar sulphuris calcareum for colds, especially those that begin with sore throats and advance into dry, hoarse coughs. Another reaches for Ferrum phosphoricum when I would be reaching for aconite. Homeopathy is an art, and part of that art is learning how it works for each member of your family. No one else knows what has and hasn't worked for Allison over the last 11 years. Besides, in what standard homeopathic kit would you find 11 out of 20 remedies devoted to stomach distress?
Allison, eat those raging-hot curries to your heart's delight-just keep your kit in your backpack.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
One of the best ways to learn about homeopathy is to join a local study group. A list of volunteer study-group leaders across the US can be obtained from the nonprofit National Center for Homeopathy, 801 North Fairfax Street, Suite 306, Alexandria, VA 22314; 877-624-0613; www.homeopathic.org . Homeopathy Works, 33 Fairfax Street , Berkeley Springs , WV 25411 ; 800-336-1695; www.homeopathyworks.com .
Bonnie Price Lofton is director of development for the Conflict Transformation Program, a training program for peacebuilders from around the world at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg , Virginia . She can be reached at www.emu.edu/ctp/