New England School of Homeopathy

Book Reviews: Provings, Volume I

Provings Volume I: How Understanding ProvingsOffers an Essential Foundation to Successful Patient Care –  with a Proving of Alcoholus by Dr. Paul Herscu, ND MPH

George Guess, MD, DHt
– AJIH – 2003

Julian Winston
– The Homeopath – 2003

Edward Shalts MD
– The Homeopath – 2003

Peter Wright ND
– The American Homeopath – 2003

The New England School of Homeopathy Press, Amherst, MA, 2002. 351 pages. Soft cover. ISBN# 0-9654994-4-1

Available for purchase only as a 2 volume set, with Provings Volume II.
Cost: $36.00 + shipping charges: $7.50 USA / $20.00 International orders. Payment accepted in US dollars only.

Reviewed by George Guess MD DHt
AJIH – 2003

Paul Herscu has written another tantalizing book, this one on homeopathic provings. It is a timely book, given the rash of new provings lately, and it addresses many extremely important issues pertaining to that topic. The author thoroughly explores his subject. He provides insights into the mechanism of homeopathic provings that correlate closely with our observations in clinical homeopathic practice. Dr. Herscu offers his scheme for well-conducted provings, constructively criticizes many questionable practices employed in many current provings, and, finally, illustrates his thesis admirably with a fine proving of the remedy Alcoholus.

Dr. Herscu begins by equating the homeopathic medicinal influences that generate proving symptoms and curative reactions in patients – both are considered stress responses (which he terms “Strain”), the stressor in each case being the homeopathic medicine. Provers’ and patients’ organic bodily systems reactions to such stressors are responsible for the responses that result. It is a simple theory, with important ramifications, for it lays the groundwork for Herscu’s subsequent emphasis on drawing parallels between the phenomena we witness daily in clinical practice and those observed in provings; parallels are further extrapolated to include clinical case analysis methods and proving symptom analysis.

One of the first recommendations based on the above understanding is that there need be no distinction between primary and secondary symptoms; since both are in actuality reactions to the stress imposed by the remedy, they should all be recorded together.

Another recommendation, one that strikes this reviewer as eminently practical, is that it is a good strategy to take each prover’s case prior to the beginning of the proving to determine his or her “constitutional” remedy(ies). This important step can yield valuable information – remedy relationships become more clear, symptoms cured by the remedy being proved are more readily identified, etc.

Some of the history of provings is included. Along the way, Herscu also defends homeopathy ably; he even suggests that we adopt a more aggressive posture when defending or promoting our ideas and methods. A case in point is his recommendation that we make our allopathic colleagues more aware of the significance of our contributions to medical science in general. For example, we can be proud of the fact that homeopathy was the first medical system to introduce blinded, placebo-control drug studies to medical science. Also, homeopathy’s medical testing protocols pre-date allopathy’s by 40-80 years. He goes on to suggest that homeopathic provings share a resemblance to Phase One clinical trials, and could be so employed to the benefit of orthodox allopathic medical research. For instance, an early proving of a new allopathic drug in development could help to safely identify those systems and organs of the body which might be most affected by the drug. Herscu’s perspective on the potential alliance between homeopathic and allopathic forces that might be attained is refreshing.

In Chapter 5 Herscu lists some of the fallacies he has identified in many current proving strategies and methods; such as: lack of blinding and placebo control; excessive emphasis on dreams; failure to take into account the “Hawthorne effect” (how a patient’s focusing on his symptoms can cause even more, imagined symptoms to arise); the inclusion of symptoms noted by those participants taking placebo. This last criticism seems especially well taken. Herscu’s argument is that we cannot tell what we are testing; for instance, when a proving is conducted at a conference or among a close-knit group of homeopaths, and when all symptoms – those of the actual provers and placebo-takers – are incorporated into the proving and discussed among the participants, it becomes impossible to determine what is being tested – a remedy or the conference/group experience. Another fallacy is the inclination to extrapolate the proving to include extraneous world events; such an approach leads logically to a limitless proving, with no end of symptoms.

All the above have led, according to Herscu (and this reviewer must agree) to some recent provings containing too many and widely disparate symptoms, rendering the proving relatively useless clinically. No discernible image of the medicine surfaces. Needless to say, if many of our provings were to be so afflicted, our clinical accuracy would suffer. As a case in point, consider the computer-based repertories currently in vogue. Often, when a comparative listing of symptoms is performed between some of the newer, just proved and barely utilized remedies and several tried and true, mid-level remedies, the symptomatology of the newer remedy vastly surpasses in quantity that of the older, established medicine. Can this observation be accurate? reliable? One might argue that past provings of the older remedies were inadequate and failed to reveal all of those medicines’ symptoms. However, it seems one must pause and consider the possibility that, given the well-known history of the older remedies and the fact that, despite decades of use, their symptomatology has not been expanded, the symptoms catalogued for these newer remedies are excessive and misleading. If true, such a trend becomes very disturbing, threatening the long-standing validity of our knowledge base.

Herscu calls these extraneous symptoms “noise”, and he focuses throughout the book on strategies to minimize such noise. Following is an abbreviated listing of some of his recommendations for conducting provings, which this reviewer would heartily recommend to anyone contemplating conducting a proving in the future.

A major innovation: Herscu suggests that we catalog provers constitutional types at the time of the proving, which can lead to many benefits; e.g., easy ability to identify the related remedies. (One could also try to accumulate a variety of constitutional types for the proving, which would increase the chance of developing more symptoms in the proving.)

Herscu suggests conducting provings/accumulating symptoms in three phases, so to speak. Phase One is represented by the substance’s toxic symptoms. Phase Two is conducted with the 6C, 12C, or 30C potencies (expected to produce more general symptoms). Phase Three – a critical, final step – is conducted with 200C or 1M potencies, which are given to only those provers who in the earlier phase were identified as being sensitive test subjects. Very specific guidelines are provided for remedy administration – potency and frequency of repetition – during a proving.

An extremely important step, Herscu advises that the proving investigators collect symptoms of only those provers who demonstrate a definite sensitivity to the substance. This is recommended as a strategy to eliminate noise in the proving and to focus the collection of data upon only those symptoms which are clearly products of the remedy and which are better defined and qualified, thus increasing their later clinical utility. This step strikes this reviewer as one fraught with potential difficulties. How exactly such a strategy can be accurately employed remains in doubt, especially since Dr. Herscu doesn’t describe his method of identifying non-sensitive provers. However, he promises to cover this issue in a subsequent book. Herscu recommends the use of placebo controls during provings both as a means of keeping the investigators honest and as a means to minimize the proliferation of imagined symptoms. This last recommendation brings up an important issue.

A number of recent provings have included symptoms arising in those individuals who did not take verum during the proving; such persons either took placebo or no substance at all. For the symptoms of these latter participants to be incorporated as representative of the symptomatology of the remedy being tested is very troubling and perplexing. If such spontaneous symptoms are valid and actually do represent the accurate symptom profile of the medicine, then some heretofore unidentified mechanism is at work. Perhaps such a mechanism does exist (see Dr. Iris Bell’s comments on this possible phenomenon in her article “Evidence-Based Homeopathy”, appearing in this issue). But another, in this reviewer’s opinion, even more likely possibility is that such symptoms are inaccurate, the products of a group experience, imagination, or some other influence. Because doubt about this question cannot possibly be eliminated, in the interests of good science, the symptoms of those who take placebo in these experiments should be excluded. Failure to do so risks undermining the integrity of the information upon which practitioners make critically important clinical decisions.

Herscu puts this issue in proper homeopathic context when he asserts that it is literally impossible for all those involved in a proving – verum and placebo takers – to manifest legitimate symptoms of the proved substance. Such an occurrence would refute the very bedrock of homeopathy – the idea of individual sensitivity, which underlies the Law of Similars.

The concerns, criticisms, and recommendations, some of which have been described in this review, that Dr. Herscu offers in Provings are vital food for thought for every homeopath and, especially, for every proving investigator. As such, it is a must read. I cannot recommend the book strongly enough. But wait, the book doesn’t stop there.

After 139 pages of discussion about proving methodology, a detailed (171 pages) proving of the remedy Alcoholus follows. This proving was very extensive. It consisted of five separate provings, each conducted on 15-40 provers, over the course of five years. The results were consistent and reproducible. Much of the proving methodology that Herscu lays out in Provings was employed in this proving. The resulting symptoms were subsequently arranged into groupings consistent with Herscu’s understanding of the “Cycles and Segments” of the remedy as revealed during the proving. A description of ethanol and its pathophysiology and toxic symptomatology begins the proving report; preparation and dosage methods are clearly described; next appears the materia medica of Alcoholus as interpreted by Herscu. The principal themes of the remedy seem to be: Exhilaration – with loss of inhibition (sense of floating, laughter, loquacity, desire to enjoy oneself, practical joking, immaturity), deception (lying, stealing, absence of moral feeling) and rage (aggressive, hurtful); Sensory acuity – entranced by sensory stimuli or very disturbed by same, heightened sensation, increased sex drive; Confusion – misunderstanding, forgetfulness, and motor incoordination; Desire to be alone – either because of the sensory sensitivity or due to the confusion; Depression – sadness that their life is not playing out as it should; Desire for stimulation – craving caffeine, alcohol or drugs; seeking stimulation through loud music or fast driving, etc. After this thorough and easily assimilable materia medica chapter, Herscu proceeds to offer a short case of Alcoholus, a lengthy listing of the rubrics of the remedy, and, lastly, detailed individual prover’s reports.

The book is well organized, well written, indexed, and has an attractive paperback cover. Once again, it is an important work. All homeopaths should make themselves familiar with the ideas on provings it promulgates; further, the proving of Alcoholus provides a fine blueprint for provings in general and important information about the remedy itself.

American Journal of Homeopathic Medicine
American Institute of Homeopathy
801 N. Fairfax Street, Suite 306
Alexandria, VA 22314

Reviewed by Julian Winston
The Homeopath – 2003

Paul Herscu, ND, DHANP is a well-known international educator. He has taught regular courses for a number of years in Sweden, Norway, South Africa, among other places, as well as in the USA. He currently runs the New England School of Homeopathy in Amherst, Massachusetts and, until recently, edited the New England Journal of Homeopathy, which is now, sadly, no longer in publication. His demeanor has always been one of quiet certainty. I have found that when Herscu says, “Well, you might want to think about…” it is always worth listening.

His two previous books The Homeopathic Treatment of Children (1991) and Stramonium (1996) are based upon his acute perceptions in his clinical practice. The second book offers an insight into his methodology of “Cycles and Segments”, which he has traced back to the conceptual work of Hahnemann and Boenninghausen.

Herscu’s latest book, Provings, has two parts. Part one discusses the conceptual reason for provings. Part two, is a complete proving of Alcoholus, which Herscu conducted with 114 provers over five years. Herscu has promised Volume II, which will contain the historical articles about provings that have been written by homeopaths, showing how they contended with the same issues we are facing today. Each piece will be annotated. It is Herscu’s hope that this will become a valuable resource/compendium for anyone interested in seeking the legacy, and more importantly building their own understanding of provings, an approach which is signalled by the the sub-title of the book: “How understanding provings offers an essential foundation to successful patient care.”

In Chapter One – “Basic concepts” – Herscu introduces the idea of “stress and strain”, and how they manifest both in a proving and in health. In the ideal proving, he points out, the remedy is given and it is such a perfect simillimum to the prover that all the prover’s symptoms disappear. So, in the ideal world, the practice is the same as the proving. The problem is that for most people the remedy is NOT what they need and the “stress” of the remedy will find the prover “straining” against it, and thus producing symptoms. Says Herscu; “The process of proving and the process of practice is at the same time a mirror image of itself and a continuation of one to the other.”

Another question posed in the chapter is how to tell the difference between a placebo and the verum in a trial? If you cannot tell the difference, then all of homeopathy is up for question.

In Chapter Two, Herscu suggests that the debate about provings has always been one of methodology “how to do them” rather than on developing a clear understanding of what a proving actually is. And the process of developing this understanding is what Herscu’s book is about. I found that when I posted a brief review of the book on the Lyghtforce e-mail list, that most of the comments offered against the book were concerned with arguments about methodology. And it is this very thing that Herscu wishes to avoid. Before you discuss the methodology, you should understand what the subject is about.

When a homeopath takes a case, he or she is often presented with a long list of symptoms. The successful outcome depends upon the homeopath’s ability to pick from the list those symptoms that are characteristic of the patient’s disease (Organon, Para. 153). On the other side of the coin, when a proving is done, it results in a listing of symptoms from the provers. Are they all important? The skill in doing a proving is to be able to select from the myriad of symptoms those that are characteristic of the remedy. Says Herscu, “Learning which symptoms to include in a proving enhances your ability to do the same thing in case taking…by not understanding provings, we have created mistakes that Hahnemann was trying to rid us of by creating a more perfect or pure materia medica of the drugs via the proving…We fear that the rubrics of the repertory are expanding so rapidly that soon every remedy will be in every rubric. This will, literally, ruin the usefulness of the repertory as a tool.”

Chapter Three is a detailed discussion of the models of stress and strain, as well as of the models of cycles and segments. These explain why certain people react to a remedy and others do not. The proving is simply a basic scientific experiment of recording changes that happen to people. The model to which Herscu is aiming will be able to explain all possible reactions to the proving substance.

Chapter Four – “What provings add to the medical community” – includes the entire text of an article on provings that was presented to the AIH in 1885. This places the proving in its historical context, and shows that homeopaths were there first with a Phase I Drug Trial, first with masked studies, and first with placebo controlled trial.

Chapter Five is titled, “What provings are not”. (Before continuing, readers are reminded that, although what I have written here is true to the book, it is not the book. Before you become offended about your favorite person or method being attacked (and, undoubtedly, some will), I suggest that what I offer is a summary, and all criticisms should be made of the book after reading it, and not from the out-of-context snippets I have place in this review.) Herscu strongly believes that it is from the lack of a common language, a lack of a model that we have come to the place where there is so much fighting. Without a common language we cannot describe what troubles us; and if we try, what comes out may look like an attack on this or that person. What Herscu is attempting to do in the book is to lay out a language that will further discussions about ideas, and not about personalities.

When studying provings we can find that one group of provers exhibits many symptoms in their provings, while another group exhibit very few, if any, symptoms. Can these two polarities be reconciled? The chapter begins with a discussion of some examples of current provings: – meditation provings, song provings, seminar provings, dream provings, and provings where N = infinity, i.e. everyone even near the proving, whether they have taken the remedy or not, is believed to have symptoms elicited by the proving.

Herscu admits that many of the people who began these methods he counts as friends. But he is talking about ideas and not homeopaths. He finds the methodology and thinking behind some of these provings is questionable. This is because the great virtue of a pure Hahnemannian proving is the ability to isolate the symptoms of the remedy, and to do it in a way which eliminates “background noise”, so that what you are measuring is the remedy.

Many years ago I bought a Citizen Band (CB) radio for my car. The CB radio came with a few controls. One was a channel selector (there were about 20 operational channels), one was off/on/volume and the third was called “squelch”. If the squelch knob was all the way to the left, you heard everything: a constant drone of static, distant conversations, beeps and clicks. As you turned the squelch to the right you started to filter all that other stuff out. At some point, the radio went quiet coming to life only when there was a strong transmission from nearby.

For most provings the squelch knob is set too low. Any and all symptoms are admitted, and by doing so we develop huge lists of symptoms that are added to repertories, making the repertories almost unusable. Given time, this will sort itself out. We will find which symptoms are of value and which are not, and the rubrics will be culled, and the repertories will be useful again. But, says Herscu, “Once the ‘noise’ is included in the repertory, there is no easy way to extricate it…we have included so many symptoms that all the remedies begin to look alike.”

But need this be the case? If the provings set a higher “noise threshold”, and were seen as the mirror image of our patients, we might be able to abstract that which is characteristic and unique to the remedy being proven and then these lists of 2,000 possible symptoms could perhaps be culled to 100 or so meaningful ones.

Chapter five also includes a discussion of several homeopathic “misconceptions”, one of which examines the so-called “Hawthorne Effect”, first observed in experiments by Western Electric in Hawthorne, Illinois in the 1920s. “By showing your interest, you are intruding in the experiment. Behaviour is changed if the person knows they are the subject of a study.”

Other areas Herscu discusses or questions concern the limits or edges of the proving experience, dreams as a source of symptoms, the doctrine of signatures, and the question of whether objects have attributes that are outside their constituent parts, i.e., would a proving of a brick from a house be any different than a proving of an identical brick from a monastery.

Herscu asks: “What are we testing? Are we testing the substance? Are we testing the air? Are we testing the fact that we are away from home? Are we testing new foods? The threshold has dropped so low that a great deal of background noise is no longer being filtered out…The true symptoms of the substance are buried within the multitude of symptoms from the lowered threshold… Having numerous people who did not take a substance or who took placebo develop the same symptoms as the ones who took the remedy is not a demonstration of our interconnectedness; rather it shows that the filters are so porous, and the threshold is so low that the experiment is faulty.

” If you take the proving substance and then your wife is in a car accident, maybe the accident is part of the proving… this sort of thinking may seem humorous to some, but it is not; especially when these symptoms then make it into our materia medica and repertories, making the tools of our trade full of misleading information, ultimately making the practice of homeopathy, already challenging, that much more difficult.”

Of the 13 misconceptions that Herscu discusses, the one I found most interesting was the last, number 13: – “That it will not impact your practice”. If the threshold is so low, he asks, what is the implication in practice? Where does a case history end? “If the patient’s husband fell should the patient take Arnica? If you look out the window and see a certain bird fly by, should you give that remedy?

“One mirrors the other. If your borders are not tighter, if your threshold is not high enough, then your analysis of patients will eventually follow suit. One will mirror the other. I have seen my colleagues go through this for many years. It winds up as a painful process to all involved, at the end. The problems are so numerous that it will take a long time to correct.”

Chapter Six describes a model of a proving. One of the things Herscu suggests factoring-in is the “constitution” of the prover. This has not been done before because there was no adequate model to explain it. All people were thought to be equal. But they are obviously not, and if we know their “constitution” we have a better chance of getting a diverse group of provers. “Having 30 people of only three “constitutions” is not as beneficial to us as having 30 people of 10 constitutional types.

Chapter Seven outlines the actual methodology that Herscu used when he did his proving (of Alcoholus).

In Chapter Eight, Herscu reiterates that the proving must always reflect the clinical practice. “If you meditate in the proving you must meditate in the case-taking. If you include experiences of those who did not take the remedy in the proving, then you must include experiences of people who are not your patient in your clinical practice. In reality the proving always reflects the practice. When they do not, when one diverges from the other, then you are running into a problem. The information included in the proving will be incorrect and many people will wind up receiving the wrong remedy as a result. Your practice will suffer.” Strong words.

In part Two, he “puts his money where his mouth is” with a full proving of the remedy Alcoholus. The provings were done five times over a period of five years. 114 people took part. Of that group, 89 fell under the “threshold” (and so were not mentioned in the proving). Not one of the placebo provers made it above the threshold. Of the 25 whose symptoms were considered, 18 of their daybooks are reproduced at the end of the section.

The remedy is not a new one. It does appear in Allen’s Encyclopedia, but the symptoms are sparse and many were “incorporated with hesitation”. Herscu selected it because of mankind’s long relationship with alcohol, its addictive properties, its essentially poisonous nature, and the genetic/social trail it leaves through fetal alcohol syndrome. The materia medica of the remedy is fully fleshed out, and the proving symptoms clearly brought out the specific segments and the cycle of Alcoholus. Herscu includes 477 rubrics of Alcoholus although, as he points out, many are simply sub-rubrics, or contain modalities, of a single symptom. He also includes a history of alcohol, and a short case where he found the remedy curative. He believes that the remedy is “like a nosode” and will be as useful as Cannabis and Opium are in the treatment of drug-related conditions.

How does a proving supervisor establish the “threshold”? Herscu outlines this in a separate 10 page chapter, “Instructions to provers”. This section can also be used as a binding document between the prover and the supervisor. There is a discussion of how to eliminate “noise” through establishing a baseline, not changing the daily routine, and having a full case taken by the supervisor before the start of the proving. But the “threshold” itself is still not well defined, and is open to much interpretation.

A great deal of the burden is on the supervisor. As Herscu points out, unless a case is well taken your chance of finding a good remedy is nil. The same applies to a proving — unless the supervisor carefully conducts it, the symptoms will be meaningless. He points out that some provers, who were not part of the placebo control, had few (if any) usable symptoms. Their susceptibility obviously fell outside the range of the remedy.

Obviously, meditation provings, seminar provings, or dream provings all fall outside the scope of a properly conducted proving, as Herscu sees it.

Herscu acknowledges the help of Frank Gruber, Christopher Ryan (both sadly now deceased), Amy Rothenberg and Todd Hoover. These colleagues provided a forum for his ideas, and many of his concepts grew from conversations with these four.

Although the ideas presented in the book are, I believe, of great importance, the book suffers from much repetition and a certain difficulty of style. Some of this might have been mitigated had Herscu not written in the first person so much. The book often seems more like a transcript of a seminar lecture than a cohesive book. The first part could have been cut down considerably with the assistance of a good editor. Although I didn’t mind the style, it might be difficult for some people to read – which is a problem, since the material within is valuable.

I am also bothered by Herscu’s lack of definitions. It is one thing to say that the “noise level” should be set higher – but what exactly does that mean? We all have our own internal definitions. When Herscu says that he set the bar and only 25 of the 114 provers were over it, I would have liked more definition. Because if we can’t understand how to set the bar, then we are left with Herscu being the only one who can.

I believe this book can well be one of the most important books written by the current crop of authors. The proving is exact, and the results immediately useful in practice. The concepts proposed are carefully enunciated and, if followed, can lead to a more accurate way of understanding and conducting provings. It remains to be seen if anyone is bold enough to attempt doing what is suggested. If not, the world of provings will continue down the uncontrolled track they are often on and, with the filters being so porous, homeopathy itself will be the major loser.

The Homeopath
The Society of Homepaths
4a Artizan Road
Northampton NN1 4HU

Reviewed by Edward Shalts MD
The Homeopath – 2003, vol. 92, page 120-122

A colorful cover of this book carries a heading that reads: “Cornerstones of Homeopathy”. The proving, without any doubt was the very first and the most important stone in the solid scientific foundation of homeopathy. Homeopathy was born during the first proving conducted by Hahnemann. All the principles of homeopathy and our daily clinical practice are based on provings. To be more precise, they are based on our understanding, or lack thereof of the “mechanisms and philosophy behind provings” (PH).

Most of us like new information on Materia Medica. At every homeopathic seminar I have attended the audience asks for more information about the remedies. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of renowned teachers pay most of their attention to the theoretical part of homeopathy. Homeopathy does not exist without a deep, detailed understanding of mechanisms underlying health, illness and cure. Dr. Herscu’s book helps the reader to understand these very important points very clearly. The second part of the book presents a proving of Alcoholus, as well as the Materia Medica of this remedy. This proving, or, to be precise, a re-proving of Alcoholus clearly illustrates all of the major points of the theoretical part of the book.

Chapter 1 introduces the basic concepts of the Herscu’s model of Stress and Strain. This new perspective makes understanding of the process of provings an easy task. Herscu shows how important the understanding of proving is to the daily practice of homeopathy.

Chapter 2 is called “Why Provings Are Important to You”. In this chapter Dr. Herscu addresses the role of understanding of mechanisms and philosophy behind provings in improving all major clinical skills including case analysis techniques, the use of the repertory, remedy selection and follow-up. By doing this, Dr. Herscu reconnects the proving with the clinical experience.

Chapter 3 is dedicated to clarification of important theoretical and practical aspects of provings from the perspective of the Herscu’s model of Cycles and Segments. The thinking of the author is very clear and leads the reader to better grasp important issues of both provings and clinical practice. In this chapter Dr. Herscu revives the concept of the individual predisposition that has been missing in many current provings and many studies.

Chapter 4 provides us with the opportunity to review very important original texts that have been frequently overlooked or just simply forgotten. In this chapter Dr. Herscu highlights the history of blinding and placebo. I am convinced that reprinting the Transactions of the Thirty Eight Session of the American Institute of Homeopathy (1885) will open eyes of many homeopaths and conventional physicians to the origin of the placebo-controlled study. In my opinion, the emphasis on the interface between clinical studies and clinical practice that Dr. Herscu makes in this chapter is one of the most important features of this book.

Chapters 5 and 6 illustrate important differences between various “fashionable” methods of provings and the reasoning behind the “classical” approach to the design of provings.

Chapter 7 is dedicated to setting the standards of the proving process so that they will not be haphazard. In this chapter the author provides the tools necessary for conducting a successful, scientifically sound proving.

Chapter 8 summarizes the content of Part One of the book.

Part 2 of the Provings presents a book in itself. It is dedicated to a very detailed proving of Alcoholus. I feel compelled to cite here a quote from T.F. Allen’s Encyclopedia of Pure Materia Medica printed on page 149 of Herscu’s book. In the introductory description of Alcoholus Allen says: “The following symptoms have been collected from various sources, and though incorporated with some hesitation, are believed to be reliable.” Herscu asks a question: Can you imagine any other remedy being offered up with this sort of a doubt?

I have to answer Yes I can. Historically, a number of provings in the past and present have being compiled from unreliable data, or had very few provers participating. I have to say that I admire Allen for his honesty and professional integrity that led him to place this statement in the very beginning of the remedy description. Based on my own experience with the substance in question, such a statement would have never come from the person “under the influence”. And aren’t we all under the influence of this powerful substance? Oh, yes we are. For hundreds, and maybe even thousands of years. The proving of Alcoholus has also become a test, a proving of sorts of the theoretical foundation that Dr. Herscu has been building the last twenty years.

Chapters 9, 10 and 11 are dedicated exactly to these very issues. The importance of re-proving this substance and the influence it has on our patients, and on homeopaths. As Dr. Herscu points out, all our remedies contain potentized alcohol.

Chapter 12 presents a Cycle and Materia Medica of Alcoholus. Dr. Herscu provides a very clear and logically impeccable picture of the remedy. Traditionally for him, Materia Medica is based on solid data obtained in the proving and tested clinically. No speculation is involved. Actually, Dr. Herscu remarks on pages 152 and 153, the proving of Alcoholus was undertaken with 5 different groups of provers over a span of 5 years. Remarkably, the same symptoms were generated in different groups of provers. Placebo group produced no symptoms of any importance. Only 25 provers produced symptoms “above threshold”.

Chapters 13 and 14 complete part II of the book with a case and the rubrics of the remedy.

The book is not without certain flaws. Some of them are the result of low cost production. I feel that such a fundamental work deserves a better body. This cornerstone book should have been printed in hardcover though I like the cover art. I think its designer; Amy Rothenberg ND (a very good, gifted homeopath and Paul’s wife) captured the Alcoholus state very well. Looks like Russia (my homeland) to me. The editing also could be much improved. To my taste, the book is sometimes a bit too conversational and personal. But I must say, it captured my undivided attention. All 320 pages of it (I usually don’t read the Index!).

I have known Paul Herscu for about 5 years. I graduated from the New England School of Homeopathy. I have worked on research projects with him. I followed his work respectfully since the time I first met him at one of the NCH conferences in the early 90’s. I am very impressed by Paul’s ability to go deep into original sources of homeopathy and extract important features of our profession making them available to a large community of students and active practitioners of homeopathy. His work has always made us think and frequently reset our approaches to various things that we thought we knew and understood so well. This happened with his first book, The Homeopathic Treatment of Children, (1991). Just very recently I argued with Paul about the year his Stramonium (1996) was published. The model of Cycles and Segments seemed to me much older that it really is. Now I know why. Dr. Herscu’s work is rooted very deeply in the original work of our Grand Masters. It is not a result of theorizing; it is not driven by a histrionic need to become famous. From numerous personal interactions with Paul I know that his books came about as a result of his deep desire for Homeopathy to advance further and further towards becoming a solid science, based on real experimental data, that employs the art of the application of the laws of Nature for the cure of the sick.

In my opinion his new book advances our community towards this goal. In these difficult and in many ways controversial times in history of homeopathy (that seem to never end), this book is refreshing. It brings back the feeling of having a solid, powerful foundation that will not yield to temporary clashes of various theories and personalities behind them. The intent of the author is clearly to unite, to strengthen our community by clarifying very important points of the theory and practice of the trade.

I highly recommend this book to all my colleagues. It also should be read by any student of homeopathy. Provings is a very important and reliable reference for scientific endeavors in the realm of homeopathy. Dr. Herscu offers a clear description of the theory and practice of provings based on numerous important classical texts provided unabridged in the main body of the book.

The Homeopath
The Society of Homepaths
4a Artizan Road
Northampton NN1 4HU

Reviewed by Peter Wright ND
The American Homeopath – 2003

Paul’s teaching, while often genuinely innovative, has always been framed in the historical context of homeopathy’s master prescribers. The apt quotations from both famous and obscure homeopaths in Provings provide further evidence of his depth as a scholar. His previous books, of course-one on children’s remedy types, and the second that outlines his theory of Cycles and Segments through a study of Stramonium – have been important contributions to homeopathic literature. While I look forward to reading the additional books he promises here, his position as a teacher and theorist is quite unassailable with the publication of this one.

The American Homeopath
North American Society of Homeopaths
1122 East Pike Street, #1122
Seattle, WA 98122