Curiosities of Homeopathic Pharmacy

Robert Reyburn, M.D.
JAMA, October 4, 1890


Even though medical science was in its infancy in 1890, enough was known to be certain that "high dilution" homeopathic remedies—made by repeatedly diluting an original substance to a point where no molecules of the original substance remained— could not work. This essay ridiculed a product catalog published by a prominent "high dilution"homeopath in 1886. The catalog included "high-dilution" products said to be made from moonlight; blue, red, and yellow rays of the light spectrum; black or East India cockroach; chimney soot; mosquito, rabies virus, and pus from a rectal abscess. One product, made from the sap of the Caguil tree was offered as a treatment for "uncontrollable desire for coitus." The essay was read before the Medical Society of the District of Columbia on April 23, 1890 and published a few months later in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The full catalog can be accessed by clicking on the picture of its cover.


Having recently obtained a copy of the circular and price list, issued by a dealer in higher potencies residing in New York City, I desire to impart to the members of this Society and the profession, some of the information therein contained. This document is entitled "Catalogue of Morbific Products, No­sodes, and other Remedies in High Potencies." These remedies are for sale at No.13W. 38thSt., New York City. By Samuel Swan, M.D.

Glancing over the catalogue, on page 16, we were struck by one article of the materia medica, kept for sale and called, "luna, or moonlight." How in the world is this obtained, and what are its properties? Astronomers have long disputed as to whether the rays of the moon possessed any heating power, but why need they any longer be in doubt, when they may be bought by the vial full, and seen and tasted by ordinary mortals?

On page 20, we find three species of pediculi (or lice) . . . The idea of swallowing them, or a preparation made from them, no matter how dilute, is rather startling to the uninitiated. . . .

 

The pediculis corporis, by-the-way, has a note in brackets after it, stating that this special lot came from Bos­ton . . . . Why is this? Are the Boston pediculis more voracious, or of larger size than those of other cities? What is the cause of their superiority?

But, thank Heaven, there is on the first page one familiar remedy, viz.: "adeps anserina" (goose grease). How well do we remember the vile odor of this substance when applied externally to the neck in our youthful days. Never did we imagine we should see it prepared in "High Potencies" and given in granules.

The explanation of ''flavus irides" on page 11, is "yellow ray of the spec­trum." Here is bottled sunshine with a vengeance! Photographers have Jong desired to fix the fleeting rays of the sun, and make their pictures glow with the colors of nature, and here we have them prepared and fit for internal medication. Would that we knew the secret of this preparation! One thing is certain, if we must swallow globules, it would be much pleasanter to think of swallowing bottled sunshine, than a preparation of pediculis corporis, even though they were labelled as coming from the city of Boston.

On page 6 we find, "carbunculus on neck of swan very severe." We are not told whether the carbuncle was very severe upon the swan, or whether the pus obtained from it has been very severe upon the unlucky patient who takes it-perhaps both statements may be true.

"Fei gryllus Americana" (page 11), or "Brazilian cricket," is said to be beneficial for "suppression ofurine with or without pain," and this important fact is also stated, that "a boy who had chills and fever swallowed a live cricket and never had a chill afterwards."

On the first page several dainties are provided for lovers of preparations of the high potencies. One is "adenia," or "glands from a person suffering with Hodgkin's disease;" a little further on is the "Ailanthus bug," an insect found on the odorous though unfragrant Ailanthus tree. On the same page "Albu­menurea" is defined as "renal albumen," or in other words, the putrid and disgusting products of the decomposition of the human body, as found in diseased urine.

But time fails me, and I can only enumerate a few of the choice morsels obtainable: "hippozinine," a preparation from the glanders; "lyssin" from hydrophobic patients; "osieo necrosis" from necrosed or dead bone; pus from abscess of rectum, and caries of heel, pus from septic abscess..

Many other preparations might be given, but I will conclude by giving an extract from the note after page 30. Dr. Swan says that the plan of sending grafts has been adopted, viz.: "If a graft is put into a vial filled with unmedi­cated pellets, and corked, the whole mass will be medicated in half an hour. . . . When a vial of medicine is nearly emptied, fill it with unmedicated pellets and you will not have to purchase the remedy a second time."

This article was revised on August 18, 2019.

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