An appraisal of homoeopathic proving methodology as a bridge between the indigenous and rationalist-scientific understandings of medicinal plants : the case of Strychnos henningsii
Ross, Ashley Hilton Adrian
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Aim This study sought to appraise homoeopathic proving methodology as a bridge between the indigenous and rationalist-scientific understandings of medicinal plants through a detailed exploration of the relationships existing between data derived from respective paradigmatic explorations of a single African traditional medicinal plant, Strychnos henningsii [Red bitterberry]. Methods The data derived from the implementation of a triple-blind, placebo-controlled homoeopathic proving methodology, on 32 healthy human subjects (50 percent placebo), using the bark of Strychnos henningsii in the 30CH potency, were evaluated for internal consistency and coherence, and subsequently compared to data derived from a phytochemical analysis of the crude bark sample, and translated data derived from semi-structured mothertongue interviews of eight Zulu traditional healers. The proving data took the form of subjective journal data and the results of four objective blood measures of erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), redand white blood cell indices, and liver functions. The subjective data were evaluated in terms of defined inclusion criteria and presented in standard materia medica and repertory formats, and tabulations of objective data were subjected to independent statistical analysis, using repeated-measures ANOVA and profile plots. The crude bark sample was analysed in terms of the presence of strychnine and other indole alkaloids, using highperformance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, and interview data related to the indigenous understanding and application of Strychnos henningsii within the traditional African medical paradigm, were audiovisually recorded, collaboratively translated, and independently verified. ABSTRACT iii Qualitative data processing and analysis was effected with the aid of NVivo® software, and a range of comparative analyses were effected with the aid of Radar® homoeopathic software, materia medica references and the Mappa Mundi elemental theory model. Results The proving yielded 581 subjective symptoms, covering a broad range of physical and mental disease manifestations, and nine statistically-significant treatment effects within the objective data set. These included elevation of ESR and changes in two red blood cell indices, four white blood cell indices and two liver function indices. The two proving data sets were demonstrated to show high levels of correlation, although these correlations were not demonstrable for all provers. The phytochemical analysis confirmed the presence of between two and five strychnine-related compounds (excluding strychnine itself), and the field interview data served to confirm all except two documented traditions of use, as well as identifying a number of novel indications and application of Strychnos henningsii bark. The comparative analyses demonstrated the integrity of homoeopathic proving methodology as a mode of scientific investigation, and significant and widespread overlaps of proving symptomatology with both the pharmacology and toxicology of strychnine, and the physical and metaphysical understanding and application within the traditional African medical paradigm. Conclusions Homoeopathic proving methodology was discussed in terms of the evident degree of overlap with the indigenous and rationalist-scientific paradigms, and the incomplete nature of the homoeopathic ‘totality’. A number of recommendations were made for future cross-paradigmatic research.