Homoeopathic remedies have been grouped or classified right from the days of Hahnemann, who described the three great classes of Psoric, Sycotic and Syphilitic remedies. Subsequently, Grauvogl, Teste, Hughes, Burt, Farrington (in no particular order) described drugs according to their tissue affinity, botanical / zoological families, etc. Many present day homoeopaths have made valuable analyses of drugs based on their botanical, zoological and chemical classes or groups.
There is little doubt that the classification of remedies has made a significant, positive impact on the practice of Homoeopathy. Studying drugs by classification is useful as it:
The classification of remedies into various miasmatic patterns on the one hand (including malaria, typhoid, cancer, leprosy etc.) and Natural (Botanical, Zoological, Chemical) groups / families like Loganiaceae or Elapidae etc. has greatly increased accuracy in prescribing. These groupings serve as a roadmap guiding us towards the right drug.
The main risk in studying drugs by classifications is that we might derive generalizations based on very limited data, and even extrapolate it to dissimilar classes. This will certainly be corrected over time with study and expansion of the materia medica via provings, clinical cases etc.
The homoeopathic materia medica, while it seems huge, is actually extremely limited as far as well-proved drugs are concerned. For example, the largest class of animals is the Insects - with beetles being the largest group within the family of insects. There are more species of insects than there are all other species combined. In homoeopathy, the Insecta as a class are not at all well represented. It is difficult to generalize based on the little knowledge we have - based on the handful of well-proved drugs. The honey bee is very different from the bumble bee, which is very different from a moth or a grasshopper. Even within a single species (Human beings / homo sapiens), we have those with psoric, sycotic, syphilitic and tubercular traits. There are believed to be 30 million species of insects - of which only 1 million have been identified and named scientifically, of which homoeopaths have studied just a handful. Even a single subfamily of insects is likely to fall into multiple miasmatic classes. For example, consider Family Apidae (Cuckoo, Carpenter, Digger, Bumble, and Honey Bees) --> Subfamily Apinae (Honey, Bumble, Long-horned, Orchid, and Digger Bees). Similarly, there are deadly reptiles like snakes and crocodiles, but also harmless herbivorous reptiles such as tortoises and iguanas.
Even within the same plant family Solanaceae, there is bound to be a huge difference in the symptoms and signs of a proving of deadly poisons such as Datura Stramonium and Atropa Belladonna (Deadly nightshade) and Potato or Tomato. It is quite possible there will be some features in common, and yet the differences are likely to be so great that generalizations and group-study is useful only when exceptions are clearly defined.
It also raises the interesting question of which part of a plant or animal we are using to make our remedies, which makes classification even more complex! Potentized human cerumen will have totally different properties compared to milk. It cannot have the characteristic of the milk remedies.
We know that the commonly used fruit of the tomato plant is good for health, whereas other parts are poisonous. (Roberts' proving was the ripe fruit). Poppy seeds are used in food routinely and have none of the effects of Opium at least taken as it is. We need to do a double-blind proving of poppy seeds along with some other substance like Pulsatilla and Placebo to see the results.
Caution Regarding Provings: Any conclusions regarding the proving substance must be derived before the substance name is known, else it is pointless. In other words, there is no point in deriving a theme based on preconceived notions about the substance. e.g., Prove the pesticide DDT in a very careful, controlled, scientific manner, but interpret the prover's words and statements in the light of my beliefs about DDT! For this reason, the very common practice of depending upon a description or theme by the Master prover rather than looking at the prover's words is avoidable.
Thus, it is important to note that:
We need to use classifications and derived themes to suggest a range of new drugs we could use in practice. It is always sensible to proceed from the General to the particular... from Kingdom to Specific class. However, this suggestion or idea for a new drug must generally be confirmed by matching the symptom totality as obtained by a proving - else we might be misled. Further, if the symptoms match well, and it conflicts with our idea of the Kingdom or Family - we should go with the provings.
Finally, we should not get stuck to the idea of a patient as belonging to this or that kingdom - this may close our mind to possibilities. For in Homoeopathy, a person needing Pulsatilla may later need a mineral like Silica. The Natrum mur patient may turn into an animal - Sepia! Apis into Nat-mur.... and the Stramonium child may eventually need Calcarea. If we take the classification study literally, then we close our minds to the possibility of an animal turning into a plant (!?). The fact is that our bodies appropriate that dynamic state in nature which is best suited for the current situation. Following a severe injury, the body may take on a Arnica state. In epidemics, the body takes on the prevailing miasma or state - the patient will not then stick to your classification of Plant or Mineral or Animal.
The sensible homoeopath will always balance the use of classifications with a study of the Repertory and Materia Medica. Our teachers have always stressed that these classifications form just a part of the totality and are only useful as adjuncts - studying and being familiar with the basics is more important. It is the less informed, but more enthusiastic novice who only accepts part of the message and wants to "try" new drugs without a deep and careful study.