A closer look at Pulsatilla

Keith Souter describes this medicine of many uses

Pulsatilla nigricans is one of our oldest and most useful homeopathic med­icines. It was proved by Samuel Hahnemann in 1805 and was exten­sively used by him to treat many hun­dreds of patients. He said that: “this very powerful plant produces many symp­toms on the healthy, which often cor­respond to the morbid symptoms commonly met with.”

In that single sentence he describes the principle of homeopathy, which he famously summed up as “similia sim­ilibus curentur”, or “let likes be treated by likes.” Yet Hahnemann was quite clear about when homeopathy worked best. Talking specifically about Pulsatilla, he wrote that “this, like all other med­icines, is most suitably employed when not only the corporeal affections cor­respond but also when the mental and emotional alterations peculiar to the drug encounter similar states in the dis­ease to be cured, or at least in the tem­perament of the subject of treatment.”  Essentially, you get the best results when the physical, mental and emotional symptoms match those of the remedy profile. Further, the remedy profile is so distinct, that a definite Pulsatilla tem­perament can often be discerned.

The weathercock remedy
Dr William Boericke (1849­1929) studied medicine at the Vienna Medical School for one year before emigrating to Philadelphia in the USA, where he com­pleted his medical studies. He became one of the most successful homeopathic physicians of his era and was appointed as the first professor of Homoeopathic Materia Medica at the University of California, a post he held for 30 years. His main work, The Pocket Manual of Homoeopathic Materia Medica prob­ably rests on the desk of most profes­sional homeopaths.

Boericke begins his entry about Pulsatilla with the words: “The weather­cock among remedies”. This image is worth focusing on, for it sums up many of the attributes of this medicine. A weather­-cock or wind­-vane is an instru­ment that is usually put on the highest point of a building to show the direc­tion of the wind. The traditional design is for a cockerel, hence the name. If you observe one you will be aware that they change position with the wind, some­times being wildly changeable depend­ing upon the weather. And of course they are only of use outdoors. The key fea­tures of the Pulsatilla profile mirrors both this changeability and the need or desire to be outdoors. The changeability is as unpredictable as the wind itself.

The windflower

The homeopathic medicine Pulsatilla nigricans, usually just referred to as Pulsatilla, is made from the whole meadow anemone, also known as the pasqueflower or windflower. This per­ennial plant is a member of the Ranun­culaceae or buttercup family. It grows in clumps on sandy well­drained soil in sunny meadows, pastures and fields. It is soft and beautiful with pendulous bell­shaped flowers, purple petals and a gold heart.

The Pulsatilla profile
Pulsatilla is predominantly a female remedy. It is classically thought to suit blonde, blue­eyed females of a mild, shy and tearful disposition. Yet there is often much more to these fair types, for they are usually quite paradoxical in virtu­ally all areas of their life.

The image they project often belies what they feel inside. Although they tend to be good­natured yet they can hide their indignation about some slight they may have received. They tend to bottle things up and hold onto emotions. On the other hand they can certainly be weepy. Indeed, they will tend to weep when they describe their symptoms and their upsets, but they will also be moved to tears when listening to music, watch­ing a romantic film or even seeing distressing news on the television. They can be hopeless romantics and will prob­ably be moved to weep when shown kindness or given a present. The emotions they hold onto can also be very nega­tive ones. They can hold grudges and classically they feel peeved. They can become quite jealous, quite sorrowful, depressed and very anxious.

They can also hold firmly to their views, in that they can be deeply reli­gious, or dogmatic about things that they hold dear. Their views can be held so rigidly that any slight personal mis­demeanour, especially if of a sexual nature, can be regarded as a great sin and they hold onto guilt. And figura­tively speaking they can beat themselves up with this guilt, just as they can with any of the other negative emotions. Pulsatilla types are full of fears. They can fear the dark, illness, death, ghosts, doctors, dentists and appointments. Sympathy always helps them. A cuddle or a hug may make them weep, but it will usually help. It is that touch, that comfort that is important.

Easily upset
Pulsatilla types may often be slightly plump, which in itself is a bit of a paradox, since they are so easily upset by food, especially any food that they feel is too rich. Fatty foods such as butter and cheese upset them, as does pork. Their preference is for cold food, since hot food can also upset them.

Their environment can have a deep effect on them. They like their sur­roundings to be comfortable and homely. Yet they cannot bear a stuffy room. They will open the windows or better still, seek the open air. When they can they like to be outside in the garden, in the fields or on a walk.

Although they are chilly, cold usually makes them feel better. Yet it has to be dry cold. Wet cold upsets them. Being caught in the rain, getting their feet wet may bring on a chill, a cold, sinusitis, catarrh or even cause a flare­up of asthma. Almost certainly it will provoke chilblains.

A great polychrest
Dr Samuel Hahnemann first used the term polychrest in an essay about the medicine Nux vomica. By this he meant a medicine that had a great many uses. Pulsatilla was one of his polychrests and it remains one of the most useful medicines.

Night terrors
Jenny was a seemingly happy little six year­old when she started to experience night terrors. These were more than simple nightmares. She would wake up screaming, needing her mother to hold her tightly until she settled. These had become very frequent and Jenny had become anxious about going to sleep. She needed the light on and had to be surrounded by a mass of cuddly toys.

Strikingly, Jenny’s mother described her as always needing reassurance that she was loved. When she did sleep she always had her hands above her head, a characteristic of Pulsatilla. Accord­ingly, Pulsatilla 30c cleared the night terrors up immediately.

Grief and bereavement
Pulsatilla is one of the main medicines indicated during bereavement. The pat­tern is usually of someone who tries to bottle their emotions up, yet who is weepy and in need of consolation. They need someone to talk to, someone who will listen to them and if possible some­one who will put their arm about them.

Nancy lost her husband a week after he retired. They had been planning to spend their retirement travelling about the country in a camper van when he tragically died from a heart attack. They had no children and apart from her small dog, Nancy was alone. Walking her dog and cuddling him were the only things that helped. She had refused the offer of an antidepressant. High potency Pulsatilla made a terrific difference, she felt. Within three months she had joined a walking group and formed a close friendship with another bereaved lady.

Pulsatilla is often indicated when a woman describes being “never well since” one or other of the key times in her reproductive life.

  • Painful periods

Sally was eleven when she started her menstrual periods. She hated and dreaded them because they were so painful that she couldn’t do anything for the first day. They caused painful spasms which sent her into floods of tears. Only hugs from mum and rub­bing her tummy helped. Here again, Pulsatilla 30c on a monthly basis helped dramatically.

  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMT)

I generally find that there are about a half dozen homeopathic medicines that cover most cases of PMT. The Pulsatilla pattern is characterised by shifting moods, peevishness and extreme weep­iness. Alison, a 37 year-­old secretary, had such a pattern. She also experienced premenstrual headaches that were eased by going out for a stroll at lunchtimes. This is again in keeping with the Pulsatilla profile and once again, monthly Pulsatilla helped her to deal with her problem.

The general “holding on” of Pulsatilla and the lack of thirst and perhaps slight dehydrating effect that results seem to account for the tendency to produce thick mucus discharges. These can occur anywhere that mucus membranes pro­duce a discharge. There is often a ten­dency to conjunctivitis, styes and blocked tear ducts. Similarly, catarrh and its results can be a big problem.

Laura was a 40 year­-old teacher who was plagued by recurrent sinusitis and catarrh. She would have at least three episodes per term, usually requiring a couple of courses of antibiotics for each one. A sinus washout had made no dif­ference. She described the discharges as being highly variable day to day. Sometimes they were yellow, sometimes green, but always profuse and stringy. This is a Pulsatilla feature and the remedy in 30c potency transformed her life.

Menopausal flushes
Hazel had been on HRT for ten years, but had been disappointed to find that her hot flushes returned when she finally had her HRT stopped. Her libido had always been quite good, but it disap­peared when the flushes returned. This irritated her greatly although her part­ner was very supportive. The interest­ing features about her flushes were that they were completely unpredictable in timing, intensity and sensation. Some­times she felt hot, other times cold and chilly and at other times, just clammy. Pulsatilla gave her control of her life and some return of her libido.Vaginal discharges are also common. As with the catarrhal symptoms, peo­ple in need of Pulsatilla often describe the variability in the quantity, and appearance of the discharge. It usually burns and itches quite markedly. When the overall pattern fits Pulsatilla, then help is often at hand.

Venous problems
Congestion is the keynote here. The piles feel sore, may burn, but will feel better for a cold application or compress. So too do chilblains and varicose veins. Indeed, when chilblains are bad, or vari­cose veins are troublesome, then even the heat of the bed may make them worse and the covers have to be thrown back.

Wandering pains
This is such a characteristic feature of Pulsatilla. Pains flit from joint to joint, or muscle pains wander.

Rosalind was 53 when she was diag­nosed with fibromyalgia. Her pains were never the same two days running. She was fatigued, peevish and never thirsty. Pulsatilla did not cure her, but it helped her to cope.

It is not only women
I have talked about bias in homeopathic prescribing before. It is perfectly possi­ble to practice homeopathy with a small number of the polychrest remedies. One of the old adages reduces this to the somewhat cynical view that all men are Sulphur and all women are Pulsatilla. That is clearly so simplistic and restric­tive that you would reduce your chances of success considerably. Yet there is also a tendency to be biased against the poly­chrests, since they often seem to cover so many conditions. And it is also possible to be biased against a medicine such as Pulsatilla when considering a male. To use gender as an eliminating factor is not sensible. If the overall pattern fits Pulsatilla then there is a good chance it will be the right medicine for the individual.

Pulsatilla often works well when men have a problem with their testicles. On several occasions in my career I have prescribed Pulsatilla for males with mumps orchitis, which occured in up to 40 per cent of males after puberty before the MMR vaccine was available and which could potentially cause fer­tility problems. On each occasion the condition swiftly resolved.

Keith Souter MB ChB FRCGP MFHom MIPsiMed DepMedAc has a private holistic medicine practice and is a newspaper columnist as well as the author of Homeopathy for the Third Age and Homeopathy: Heart & Soul.