Doctrine of Signature

In our day to day practice we use thousand times of Lycopodium clavatum, Phosphorus, Natrum muraticum, Sepia, etc. etc. but we actually don’t know about exact relationship between Drug sources and the drug symptoms. Doctrine of Signature explains that how the sources of drug are similar to the symptoms produce by drug. The literal meaning of theword signature is said to be a duplet, which has been derived from two words sign and nature, means signs of nature.  In simple terms ‘doctrine of signature’ is a belief on various signs of nature. When we use a drug we must know about the source of drug why the material chooses for drugs since in the present era it is discuss only in Homoeopathy, many say that now this doctrine is accepted only by homeopaths, and often they exploit this misconception as a weapon to criticize homeopathy.


Paracelsus: (1493- 1541)

Paracelsus Von Hohenheim a Swiss physician was also a famous proponent of the doctrine of signature and he created an alternative model and generated a mind-body medicine. He introduced treatments of particular illnesses based on his observation and experience. He also advocated the relation between the drug source and drug symptoms. According to him, disease or morbid states should be called by the names of their remedies. The doctrine of signature was given renewed thrust in his writings and continued to be embraced until the 17th century.  His law of signature is an application of medicine on the basis of similarity of anatomical structures, colors and smell between the plants and the human body. Paracelsus also proposed the concepts such as similar cures the similar, scorpion cures scorpion, mercury cures mercury, etc.

Jakob Bohme: (1575- 1624)

The history of doctrine of signature goes back to Jakob Bohme, a master shoemaker in Germanywho had a profound mystical vision on the relationship between God and his creations. This prophetic vision induced him to write on the signature of things created by God. His philosophical work Signature Rerum (signature of all things) became very popular and later on it was adapted in to the field of medicine. This doctrine states “by observation, one can determine from the color of the flowers or roots, the shapes of leaves, the places of growing, or other signatures what the plant’s purpose was in God plan”. (5)

William Coles:(1626- 1662) 

William Coles, a botanist and herbalist found that walnuts were good for treating head ailments because of its head like shape. Similarly, the little holes in the leaves of hypericum resembles the skin, which is a hint for its use in all sorts injuries affecting the skin.

Some old examples of doctrine of signatures: 

Those plants, which agreed the doctrine of signature, still carry the word root “wort” an Anglo-Saxon word (means plant) along with their modern name.

Some examples are:

Mandrake plant (similar to a child): Hence useful for sterility.

Spleen wort (similar to spleen): Hence useful for disorders of spleen

Louse wort (similar to lice): Hence useful in repelling lice.

Tooth wort (similar to teeth): Hence useful for tooth complaints.

Liver wort: (similar to liver): Hence useful for liver disorders.

Pioneers on doctrine of signature:

Hahnemann- (1745- 1843) 

Hahnemann was strongly against this concept because of his aversion to all sorts of speculations. In the 110th aphorism he denounced the doctrine of signature and mixture prescription. He had an intension that in future people should not liberally speculate on this basis. In the 110th aphorism he says

“……….and that the only possible way to ascertain their medicinal  powers is to  observe those changes  of  health medicines are capable of producing in the  healthy organism; for the pure, peculiar powers of medicines available for the cure of disease  are  to be learned neither  by any  ingenious a priori speculations, nor by the smell, taste or appearance of the drugs, nor  by  their chemical analysis, nor yet by  the employment of several of  them at one time in a mixture  (prescription)  in diseases;

C M Boger:  (1861- 1935)

He says in his work Philosophy of healing, “The doctrine of signatures has been derided and said to rest upon pure fancy; but I know of no accidents in nature and everything has an adequate cause, hence we should not be too ready to attribute such things to mere coincidence. Such correspondences are too numerous as well as much too striking to be lightly passed over.  It seems rather a case of not knowing just what they mean or what the real connection is”. 

H A Robert: 

H A Robert says in his work on Homoeopathic philosophy “Various doctrines of healing sprang up through the years; perhaps the most interesting of these was the doctrine of signatures, founded on the belief that each member of the vegetable kingdom carried within itself the likeness of some organ or part of the human economy, as a sign that this particular plant   was applicable to disturbances of that organ. That was probably the most consistent method among all the very ancient systems of applying drugs”.

J C Burnett: (1840-1901) 

Dr J C Burnett had a supporting attitude towards this doctrine. He writes in his work on diseases of liver “The interaction of the human organism with its environment has generally been recognized in every age according to the views current at the time, the relations of the microcosm to the macrocosm used to be a big chapter in medical doctrine. The old doctrine of signatures is laughed   at   by almost all physicians, inclusive   of   the homoeopaths, and yet it is not without considerable foundation in fact; and, indeed, facts in great numbers may be drawn from homoeopathic literature in support of its real practical value. It has often helped me and I have long since ceased to ridicule it.  Of course, it can easily be turned upside down and made to look silly, but still there it is and in the long run will most certainly be justified by science. I am very certain Hahnemann believed in it for it is manifest that he drew very numerous indications from it for his remedies. That Constantine Hering also believed in it seems pretty certain, and Hering knew his Hohenheim, of whose works he made a splendid collection.  Von Grauvogl, too, shows that he was   not uninfluenced by it.

Rademacher ever made merry over it, and yet many of his remedies came into use through it, Chelidonium to wit. Von Grauvogl years ago recommended Pulmones vulpecularum in asthma and I have followed his recommendation with advantage, he was laughed at a good deal at the time, but now science comes along and puts a stop to the ridicule so long cast upon Paracelsic organ feeding”.

Today I explain Doctrine of Signature of few drugs used frequently in Homeopathy

  1. Lycopodium clavatum

Lycopodium is a genus of clubmosses, also known as ground pines, in the family Lycopodiaceae, a family of fern-allies. They are flowerless, vascular, terrestrial or epiphytic plants, with widely-branched, erect, prostrate or creeping stems, with small, simple, needle-like or scale-like leaves that cover the stem and branches thickly. The fertile leaves are arranged in cone-like strobilli. Specialized leaves (sporophylls) bear reniform spore-cases (sporangia) in the axils, which contain spores of one kind only. These club-shaped capsules give the genus its name. There are approximately 200 species, with 37 species widely distributed in temperate and tropical climates, though they are confined to mountains in the tropics. Its bascis properties are always similar to the Lcopodium Patients like confidential, innovations, solitary but need any one by near to him.

  • Phosphorus

Phosphorus is found in Group 5 (VA) of the periodic table. The periodic table is a chart that that shows how chemical elements are related to each other. Phosphorus is part of the nitrogen family along with nitrogen, arsenic, antimony, and bismuth. Phosphorus always diffuse and oxidize in moisture, it is illuminating in nature, same in the Phosphorus patient is always have diffusion in everything he always has a fear of thunderstorm and in rainy season.

  • Calcarea carbonica and Belladonna

Belladonna plant grows in a soil rich in CaCo3. That’s why these medicines have a strong complementary relationship.

  • Natrum muraticum and Sepia

Sepia a cuttel fish living in sea water having excess amount of Natrum Muraticum (NaCl) unfortunately this fish will not survive with out NaCl.

  • Terentula hispenica

Terentula hispenica is prepared from the entire living poisonous spider of south Europe, especially of Spain. The spider comes out from the underground when the drum is beaten. From this we get the Terentula hispenica has a characteristic symptom of oversensitive to music.

  • Lachesis

Lachesis is prepared from poisonous snake of South America (Surukuku). The snake remains in a curved position during winters and wake up in spring. It stretches out always its trembling tongue and passes a too offensive black stool. All these are present in the symptoms of Lachesis.

  • Bryonia

Bryonia is prepared from the root; the roots are fleshy, yellowish white in color and rough; acidic and bitter in taste, odour nauseating. Bryonia patient also to some extent has fleshy yellowish-white coated tongue with rough irritating temperament and possessing bitter in taste in mouth. As such, it can be inferred that the sources of drugs can help to enhance the knowledge of Materia Medica.

  • Euphrasia

Euphresia was famous as a remedy for the eyes, because it had a black spot in its coralls, which looked like a pupil.

  • Rhus toxicodendron

Rhus toxicodendron plants are to be collected in the damp weather, rainy season, in the evening time because at that time Rhus tox plant posses more medicinal properties.

  1. All plant medicines which are uses in Blood disorders have a peculiar red color in the flower or in the leaves. Foe example Calandula, Sangunaria, Hammamalis, etc.


  1. Book on Pharmacy by Mandel and Mendel
  2. THE DOCTRINE OF SIGNATURE- A debatable topic by Dr Muhammed Rafeeque,
  3. The Lycopodium by S. Vijya & et al in CDRI Library Lucknow.
  4. Principle an art of cure by homeopathy: H A Robert. (B Jain, new Delhi)
  5. Studies in the philosophy of healing: C M Boger (B Jain, new Delhi)
  6. Diseases of liver: J C Burnett (B Jain, New Delhi)
  7. Organon of medicine: Hahnemann (B Jain, New Delhi)
  8. Homoeo times, chennai.