Intended for healthcare professionals


Cockroaches blamed for high asthma rates

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 17 May 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1433

Homeopathic cockroaches and other oddities


It is of great interest that several homeopathic provings have been
so graphically given in your columns in recent years. These include the
following example from 1997:

"…inner city asthma study investigated the role of allergens among
476 children with asthma from eight inner city areas in the United States.
They found that the children, whose average age was 6 years, were more
likely to be allergic to cockroaches (37%) than to house dust mites (35%)
or cats (23%). An examination of dust taken from the children's bedrooms
showed that 50% had high concentrations of cockroach allergens compared
with 10% with high amounts of house dust mites and 13% with cat
allergens." [1]

This modern writer was not to know that two species of cockroach in
19th century homeopathy had been brought into use for asthma and attacks
of breathlessness:

“Found accidentally to relieve asthma in a patient who took tea in
which a beetle had been infused; it has since proved to have a wide range
in asthmatic cases (Ray, Homeopathic. Recorder, 1890, p. 254; & 1891,
p.193). In the acute attack it acts better in low potencies; the higher
being given in the more chronic stages. It is especially suited to
corpulent people; and to malarial cases; cases worse for rainy weather.
Has saved cases in which suffocation was threatened by great accumulation
of mucus. Useful in cases of bronchitis and phthisis where there is much
dyspnœa.” [2]

“Acute pain in chest with want of breath…” [3]

Another fine example is the recent implication of Aristolochia
species [in Chinese herbal products] in urinary complaints and cancer:

“Doctors in Belgium have discovered that a Chinese herb, Aristolochia
fangchi, already linked to kidney failure, may cause cancer as well..” [4]

“40 out of 100 patients who had taken the herbs and developed chronic
renal disease as a result. They found that at least 18 had a cancer of the
urinary tract.” [5]

Regarding these drugs and their homeopathic symptomatology, I have
already commented in an email of 4 August 2000 [6]. The observations of
modern clinicians are completely concordant with the homeopathic provings,
regarding its impact upon the urinary organs and of being implicated in

Other good examples include a case of Deadly Nightshade [Atropa
belladonna] poisoning [7] and, more recently, that of Stramonium [Datura
stramonium] in a case of inadvertent self-poisoning [8]

“At midsummer, when vegetation is at its height, Solanum nigrum,
Hyoscyamus niger, Cicuta minor, Datura stramonium, and Lactuca virosa are
gathered, and a sponge is plunged into their juice freshly expressed. The
sponge is then dried in the sun, the process of dipping and drying is
repeated two or three times, and the sponge is then laid up in a dry

When the sponge is required for use, it is soaked for a short time in
hot water; afterwards it is placed under the nose of the person to be
operated upon, who is quickly plunged into sleep…” [7]

Regarding Stramonium:
“Strong disposition to sleep by day…deep sleep, with snoring, cries, and
howling…restless sleep, with tossing about, twitching, and
screaming…Comatose somnolency, with a ridiculously solemn expression of
countenance on waking….wakes in a great fright from indefinable
terrors…Agitated sleep, with vivid dreams...frightful visions during
sleep…” [8]

“…my vision was blurred. I closed one eye, then the other, and it
quickly became clear that my left eye was at fault. Calmly I went in and
looked in the mirror only to find that my left pupil was grossly dilated,
the right one being normal and reacting…” [9]

Regarding Hyoscyamus:
“Somnolency, like coma vigil, retarded sleep, or sleeplessness caused by
excessive nervous excitement, or by great anguish, sometimes with
convulsions and starts. Nightly sleeplessness. Child sobs and cries in
sleep without waking. Profound, comatose sleep, with convulsions and
involuntary movements of the limbs…” [10]

“It was this ability of henbane to induce prolonged unconsciousness
that particularly impressed the 18th century physician (and benefactor of
the Chelsea Physic Garden) Sir Hans Sloane, who recorded the case of four
children who accidentally ate henbane seeds. They slept for two days and
two nights…” [7]

“Today, when we think of plant based medicines, we tend to think of
substances that are weak or homoeopathic, but in Shakespeare's day they
would have known better. When Friar Lawrence chooses the plant from which
he will make Juliet's sleeping potion, he tells us:
Within the infant rind of this small flower, Poison hath residence, and
medicine power.” [7]

This final sentence is strangely reminiscent of the words of
Hahnemann himself when describing the effects of drugs on the healthy that
led him to the law of similars. What it can cause it can cure, and hence
Shakespeare’s dictum, that Carter quotes: ‘poison hath residence, and
medicine power’.

“The mischievous effects of...strong unknown drugs, will be perfectly
obvious...every medicine is a disease-creating substance, consequently
every powerful medicine taken day after day...will make healthy persons
ill...long-continued doses...[leads to] the establishment of permanent
alterations of our organisms...that is not capable of being cured and
removed by any human art...for which there is and can be no remedy on
earth, no antidote, no restorative medicines in nature.” [11]

“Day after day...[Hahnemann] tested medicines on himself and others.
He collected histories of cases of poisoning. His purpose was to establish
a physiological doctrine of medical remedies, free from all suppositions,
and based solely on experiments.” [12]

“Many examples might be adduced of diseases which, in the course of
nature, have been homeopathically cured by other diseases presenting
similar symptoms...” [13]

“In 1792 he published a cure of a case of colicodynia after the usual
means of cure had failed, by means of medicine producing very similar
morbid symptoms [Veratrum album].” [14]

“…most of the virtues of medicinal bodies were discovered by
accidental, empirical experience, by chance; often first observed by non-
medical persons…” [15]

Without further ado, I think it is perfectly possible for the
unprejudiced eye to see, even with these few examples, that modern
clinicians are just as capable of generating clinical observations that
substantially confirm the old herbal ideas and those of the homeopathic
provings. And thus can also be discerned the general principle that all
drugs have the peculiar power to poison - ‘every medicine is a disease-
creating substance’ [10] - and therein also lies their power to heal. Or
in the eternal words of Shakespeare: ‘poison hath residence, and medicine
power’ [7]. Arguably it is such words that express the root essence of
Hahnemann’s maxim: ‘similia similibus curentur’, or what can cause can


[1] NEWS, Cockroaches blamed for high asthma rates, Zosia Kmietowicz,
BMJ 1997; 314: 1433 (17 May) as reported in the New England Journal of
Medicine 1997;336:1356-63)

[2] John Henry Clarke, c.1920, Dictionary of Practical Homeopathic
Materia Medica, Blatta orientalis, Indian Cockroach

[3] ibid., Blatta americana = Periplaneta americana; American

[4] Chinese herb may cause cancer, Scott Gottlieb, BMJ 2000; 320:
1623 [17 June]

[5] NEWS EXTRA, Belgium orders cancer tests after herbal remedy
alert, BMJ 2000; 321: 12. [1 July]


[7] Narcosis and nightshade, Anthony John Carter, BMJ 1996; 313: 1630
-1632. [21 Dec]

[8] John H Clarke, Dictionary of Practical Materia Medica

[9] FILLERS, Not such an angel?, John Merrick and Stephen Barnett,
BMJ 2000; 321: 219. [22 July]

[10] J H Clarke, Dictionary of Practical Homeopathic Materia Medica,

[11] S Hahnemann, Allopathy: A Word of Warning To All Sick Persons,
1831, in Lesser Writings, pp.747-9, in Lesser Writings, compiled by Robert
E Dudgeon, London, 1853

[12] Martin Gumpert, 1945, Hahnemann - The Adventurous Career of a
Medical Rebel, L B Fischer Publ. Corp, New York, translated from the
German by Claud W Sykes, p.92

[13] S Hahnemann, Organon of Medicine, Aph. 46

[14] Thomas L Bradford, 1895, Life and Letters of Hahnemann,
Philadelphia, USA, p.59

[15] S Hahnemann, Essay On a New Principle, 1796, in Lesser Writings,

Competing interests: No competing interests

19 October 2000
Peter Morrell
Hon Research Associate, History of Medicine
Staffordshire University