What does Materia Medica, Vital Force & Other Homeopathy Lingo mean?

Materia medica, proving, repertory, vital force, Polycrest…It’s easy to get flummoxed by the homeopathy lexicon. Trust me, I’ve been there too! Don’t worry, though—I’ll explain the important terms to know in this blog so you can get your bearings. 

Choosing to study a complete subject like homeopathy can feel doubly overwhelming when you’re struggling to wrap your mind around the terminology. Remember that certified homeopaths study homeopathy for at least four years! It’s no surprise moms, who already have a lot on their plates, will need time to fully grasp the concepts and verbiage. 

As someone who has worked with many different homeopaths throughout the years who have shared their perspectives on these terms, I’m happy to lend a hand! I have taken their key points and put them in my own words. I’ll share with you the definitions to the top 6 most important homeopathy terms you need to know. 

Side note: Where you get your definitions MATTERS! Did you know that dictionaries can be quite political, and reflect the mainstream beliefs of the time? Definitions change based on fads or popular opinion. (Just go ahead and look “Homeopathy” up on Wikipedia…that’s a more biased site that I’d be reluctant to get any information from. It’s known to be “unfriendly” regarding anything “natural health” related.) 

I’m the type of person that believes there are ultimate truths about things, and that those shouldn’t change. For this reason, when I wrote my curriculum, I referred to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary. In today’s age, information gets politicized, adapted and even twisted to fit certain narratives. Definitions are distorted from their centuries-long meanings to conform to modern trends. That is why I used the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary for many of the terms in my homeopathy curriculum.

When it comes to homeopathy-related words, I use Yasgur’s Homeopathic Dictionary. Jay Yasgur is still alive today, and he updates his dictionary every few years. I will tell you something hilarious: I’m president of Americans for Homeopathy Choice, and I guess he puts people’s names in his dictionary, but he randomly emailed me once, and asked me for my bio for his newest dictionary edition. I’m kinda scared to see it, so I haven’t bought it, so you’ll have to let me know if you get his new version and tell me if I made the cut or not.

6 Important Homeopathic Terms to Know: 

Vital force:

According to Yasgur, it is the energy which maintains life in the individual. It is unique from person to person. The vital force is neither chemical nor physical. When I think about this word, the image of Michelangelo’s Fresco painting, “The Creation of Adam” comes to mind. I was lucky enough to see this beautiful mural in person in the Sistine Chapel, in the Vatican. It’s that painting where God is touching Adam’s finger. It’s like the breath of life, and it’s an essential cornerstone to understanding homeopathy. Some people, especially young ones, are full of this spark. In Chinese Medicine, it is called “Qi” (pronounced “Chi”). It drives our ability to heal, and for this reason, older people may not have as much of it. The more vital force we have, the more it allows us to heal. Homeopaths take into account a person’s vital force when taking a case. I think it’s beautiful that homeopathy takes into account a person’s vital force as part of its system of medicine. I think that’s one of the things that makes homeopathy so beautiful.

2. Side Effect:

For this is a definition, I had to use the Merriam-Webster dictionary from 2022. What does that fact tell us? They certainly had drugs with side effects back in 1828, but how we’re definitely much more inundated by side effects due to the deluge in pharmaceutical drug use. Ok, so obviously, side effect is a noun, and it refers to a secondary and usually adverse effect of a drug. 

3. Proving

In homeopathy, we don’t have side effects, but the closest thing we have is a proving. The word is a noun and it comes from German Prüfung, meaning assessment or examination. According to Yasgur’s dictionary, a proving is the process of determining the medicinal/curative properties of a substance.

There are two kinds of provings. The first kind is an intentional one. An intentional proving is when a healthy person takes a homeopathic remedy with the purpose of developing symptoms associated with that remedy. The goal is to understand the healing properties of that remedy, and the prover (person proving the remedy) is carefully observed, and the prover’s symptoms are recorded. Homeopaths have been known to conduct proving with students, and from the information gathered, a profile for the remedy can be created and recorded in a Materia media (we’ll define that term shortly.)

The second kind of proving is an unintentional or accidental proving. For most people who use homeopathy as their primary medicine, this is likely to happen at some point. We all do it soon or later. You shouldn’t  be afraid of a proving because the symptoms are transient in nature. This kind of proving happens when you take a remedy too often and you produce symptoms associated with that remedy. This is why using homeopathy under the supervision of a homeopath is advised. Proving a remedy can happen whether or not you’re on the right remedy for the illness you’re taking it for. In a few weeks, I’ll be releasing a new product that you newbies will love, where I will cover this concept in more detail (is this available?)

3. Modality  

A condition that makes a particular symptom or general condition better or worse. So for example, some people with allergies feel better outside in the open air. The modality is: better in open air. An example is when people with joint pain feel worse when they are laying still, and better when they are in motion. So in this case, the modality is: worse from being still, better from motion. Knowing the modalities of a person’s illness helps you pick the right remedy that has the same modalities. 

4. Polycrest: 

A homeopathic remedy whose provings and clinical applications show that it has many widespread uses, covering a wide variety of mental, emotional, and physical symptomatology (Yasgur, 2004, 191). An easy way to remember this definition is to remember that POLY means many. Let me give you an example with one of the great Polychrests: Arsenicum album. Arsenicum is a single remedy that can cover a huge span of conditions and symptoms. The types of symptoms that Arsenicum album can help address range from food poisoning to anxiety to the flu and even violent itching. There are 50-60 Polychrests, and most homeopathy kits include these major remedies. Other examples of Polychrests that you may recognize are: Nux vomica, Sulphur, Lachesis, Natrum muriaticum, Phosphorus, Causticum, and Lycopodium.

5. Materia medica: 

The Materia media is a lot like a dictionary that lists homeopathic remedies in alphabetical order by name, while also listing the symptoms associated with each remedy. Each remedy entry in the Materia medica is broken down by body part. So under Arsenicum album, it starts with a section for the general symptoms, then moves to symptoms relating to the head/face, the mental symptoms, and it will list symptoms associated to the skin, or stomach, or even the sexual system. Everything is generally grouped by body part. The provings I mentioned earlier provided the information listed under each remedy in the Materia medica.

6. Repertory: 

Finally, we have the repertory, which is like a Materia medica backwards. Instead of being a list of remedies, it is a list of symptoms listed alphabetically. In the description of the symptoms, it shows the remedies that help address those symptoms. For example, in the Boericke Repertory, under stomach, we can find a list of remedies for certain cravings. Here’s what the listing says under cravings for “Acids, pickles, sour things” looks like: Acids, pickles, sour things — Abies c., Alum., Am. m., Ant. c., Ant. t., Arn., Ars., Arunco, Calc. c., Carbo an., Chel., Cinch., Cod., Hep., Ign., Jonosia, Kali bich., Lact. v., Mag. c., Myr., Nat. m., Phos ac.Puls., Sec., Sep., Thea, Ver. a.

Ready for a bonus word? 

In the beginning of this blog, I made a point about different dictionaries. If you read my storybook, Evie and the Secret of Small Things, you know I footnoted the definition of a lot of larger vocabulary words for kids and parents to reference quickly. Many of those words come from the 1828 definitions, but here is a word that was in the old dictionary and the modern day one. I want you to pay attention to the subtle difference between the definitions of the word ‘skeptic.’ 


Skeptic n. one who doubts the truth and reality of any principle or system of principles or doctrines (Webster’s Dictionary, 1828).

In the first 1828 definition, it’s clear that absolute truth exists and that a skeptic is “One who doubts [that absolute] the truth”…

Now let’s look at the modern definition. It reads: 

A Skeptic n. a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual. 

I find it interesting that in the modern definition, there is no mention of absolute truth, and it has broadened the umbrella of what a skeptic is from someone who doubts truth to someone who doubts what is purporting to be factual. The modern definition doesn’t even use the word true!

Food for thought: What does this tell us about our society today? What does that tell you about modern day skeptics? I think the idea is fascinating and helps us re-examine the world around us and think critically about how things are portrayed. 

I’ll say it again. Words have power, and where we get our definitions matter. 

Let’s end by setting a goal: This week, look up a word related to homeopathy that you don’t know, and commit it to memory! It can even be a remedy and the symptoms associated with it. Let us know what the word is, using the hashtag, #HomeopathyLingo so we can all learn together.

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