It’s still ‘HOMEOPATHIC AWARENESS WEEK’. What better time for introducing you to one of the most bewildering aspect of this bizarre therapy?

Homeopathy is not just being promoted as a treatment for humans and animals, it is also advocated for plants. There are plenty of websites about this that give concrete advice such as this one: “Try the key symptom of a remedy that you would normally give to a person, on plants. For example, in cases of freezing where the leaves turn to a light or silvery colour, use Aconite 200 CH. When the leaves are more of a reddish colour use Belladonna 200 CH. Just like with a feverish child. If the child is pale then you know it is an Aconite fever. If is extremely red on the other hand, like a hot tomato, then the remedy is Belladonna. And you see this on the leaves too. You simply convert it one to one.”

Given this school of thought within homeopathy (not even Hahnemann would have dreamt this up), it seems only logical to use plants also for attempts to prove that highly diluted homeopathic remedies are more than pure placebos.


Not to homeopaths!

Not even to some academic researchers within the realm of homeopathy.

The authors of this systematic review evaluated publications on plant-based test systems. A literature search was conducted in online databases and specific journals, including publications from 2008 to 2017 dealing with plant-based test systems in homeopathic basic research. To be included, they had to contain statistical analysis and fulfil quality criteria according to a pre-defined manuscript information score (MIS). Publications scoring at least 5 points (maximum 10 points) were assumed to be adequate. They were analysed for the use of adequate controls, outcome and reproducibility.

Seventy-four publications on plant-based test systems were found. Thirty-nine publications were either abstracts or proceedings of conferences and were excluded. From the remaining 35 publications, 26 reached a score of 5 or higher in the MIS. Adequate controls were used in 13 of these publications. All of them described specific effects of homeopathic preparations. The publication quality still varied: a substantial number of publications (23%) did not adequately document the methods used. Four reported on replication trials. One replication trial found effects of homeopathic preparations comparable to the original study. Three replication trials failed to confirm the original study but identified possible external influencing factors. Five publications described novel plant-based test systems. Eight trials used systematic negative control experiments to document test system stability.

The authors concluded that, regarding research design, future trials should implement adequate controls to identify specific effects of homeopathic preparations and include systematic negative control experiments. Further external and internal replication trials, and control of influencing factors, are needed to verify results. Standardised test systems should be developed.

Really, just one (!) replication trial found effects of homeopathic preparations comparable to the original study? And yet the authors do not arrive at the only possible conclusion that is based on the actual data presented?


But there are other things which seem odd here. The very first two sentences of the abstract of the above article read as follows: Plant-based test systems have been described as a useful tool for investigating possible effects of homeopathic preparations. The last reviews of this research field were published in 2009/2011.

This is odd because there is a very similar review dated 2015 (what is more, it is by some of the authors who also did the new review); it concluded: Plant models appear to be a useful approach for investigating basic research questions relating to homeopathic preparations, but more independent replication trials are needed in order to verify the results found in single experiments. Adequate controls and SNC experiments should be implemented on a routine basis to exclude false-positive results.

Why do the authors mislead us so badly?

Ahh, I see! They are affiliated to the following institutions:

  • Centre for Complementary Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Institute for Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology, University of Freiburg, Germany
  • Institute of Integrative Medicine, University of Witten/Herdecke, Witten, Germany
  • Institute of Complementary Medicine, University of Bern, Switzerland.
  • Hiscia Institute, Arlesheim, Switzerland
  • Crystal Lab, Landgoed Roepaen, Ottersum, Netherlands.

Could they have an interest in perpetuating the notion of homeopathy (for plants)?

Could it be that these researchers are less than objective?

So what?

No reason to make a fuss, because no harm done!

Not entirely true: some might choke laughing about the idea of treating plants with highly diluted, shaken water.

9 Responses to Homeopathy: from the bizarre to the outright bewildering

  • 35 publications? Isn’t this a good example of the impact of the ‘publish-or-perish’ culture in Academia? It seems to me that there is a dramatic increase of rubbish being published, simply for the sake of publishing something, while the Uni bureaucrats continue to look the other way.

  • Edzard,

    You see: you are able bring a smile every day: ‘No reason to fuzz’

    The correct English expression is: ‘No reason to fuss’

    Thanks again, you’ve done it again.

  • Below is a link to a review of controlled research using homeopathic medicines on plants. Either homeopathic medicines have a significant effects on plants or plants are psychic and are very good at responding to homeopathic medicines that they “think” are placebo but aren’t.

      this is the entire methods section of the review:
      The sources for information on the studies included in the present review were the aforementioned reviews [11-16]. The experiments with the highest methodological quality (Manuscript Information Score – MIS ≥ 5) published from 1979 onward were selected. Since the 3 previous reviews analyzed articles published from 1920 to 2015, to update the dataset we added studies published from 2015 to 2017 located through a search in database PubMed using keywords “homeopathy” AND “plant”; “homeopathy” and “agriculture”. We also described some Brazilian initiatives for homeopathic research on plants.
      this is not a systematic review, it is a hoax!
      only 10 studies (6%) used negative controls (placebo group).
      observer blinding?
      validity of outcome measures?
      reproducibility of findings?
      I am under-whelmed.

    • If your salary depends on homeopathy, you’d believe anything. The problem begins when it doesn’t, and you still believe anything

  • Interesting article today in relation to my earlier comment regarding the publish-or-perish phenomena, focusing on the rise of predatory journals. Although the problem is not limited to CAMists they definitely thrive in this environment. This is the ideal environment for pseudoscientists to flourish. Interesting point is what will happen if you are called upon in court as an expert witness and whatever you have to say is refuted by making use of these fake publications?

    Doesn’t these Unis (Freiburg/Witten/Bern) have a responsibility to prevent pseudoscience from being published? But then again, the day these Unis allowed pseudoscientists a foot in the door was the day that things went wrong. Its apparently hard for Uni bureaucrats to acknowledge that they’ve made a mistake and to rectify those mistakes. A long term vision and leadership is unfortunately lacking. As long as these folks continue publishing these Unis will probably look the other way.

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