Without the Illness, You Cannot Find the Cure: Reflecting Daphne Mezereum
Editor’s Note from Mary Ellen Coulter: Novice homeopaths often gravitate to remedies like Sulphur, Graphites and Arsenicum Album when treating cases of eczema or impetigo. Susan Drury’s case is a wonderful example of how an often overlooked remedy, Daphne Mezereum, although best known for skin conditions, also is an excellent remedy for neuralgia. In this case, Mezereum, successfully treated a case of trigeminal neuralgia and improved the mental and emotional state of the patient. This article is republished with the permission of NASH and the American Homeopath.
All rubrics included are taken from Schroyens’ Synthesis Treasure Edition Repertory.
Quotes in italics are direct words of my client.
I was 31, married, mother to a young child. Recently moved from New York City to my husband’s hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, suddenly I began to experience excruciating, burning pain stabbing from my right jaw across the cheek to my nose. The pain would come in spasms, like an ice pick being jabbed again and again into my face, rendering me unable to move, speak or breathe during the seconds the attack lasted. The pain was triggered by the most mundane activities – chewing, smiling, talking, lying down, brushing my teeth – and was so extreme that I’d be left stunned and in tears.
So began my 16 year journey of despair, discovery and healing from Trigeminal Neuralgia. Also known as Tic Doloreux, it is said to be the most painful condition known to humanity and while it won’t kill you, many sufferers wish they were dead. Episodes lasted months at a time, during which life compressed into minimizing activities and yet continually being struck afresh by waves of pain tearing through my face.
Modern medicine didn’t have much to offer other than anti-convulsive drugs to manage the spasms. There were various invasive techniques to deliberately damage the nerve, but those procedures often created different kinds of pain even harder to control with medication. My desire to become pregnant again ruled out drugs and I didn’t want to risk permanent neurological damage through invasive procedures. Instead I suffered miserably through the episodes and in the unpredictable lulls, would warily expand my life once again.
Two years after my diagnosis, I went to Pittsburgh and underwent brain surgery with Dr. Peter Jannetta, a neurosurgeon who had pioneered a curative surgery for TGN. Opening my skull and inserting a special microscope into the brain stem, he removed a vein looped tight around my right trigeminal nerve and padded an artery also pressing against it. He hypothesized that as the blood pulsed through the vessel, it was continually triggering the nerve to fire. He had operated on hundreds of people with a high success rate and his statistics showed that if you lived for a full year afterwards with no recurrence of pain, you were considered permanently cured.
When I woke in the recovery room, for the first time in years I was pain-free; in the coming weeks it was miraculous to be able to walk, talk, eat, run, laugh, sing and even sleep on my side without causing the slightest flicker of pain. In celebration, I ran my first marathon 4 months later, and within a year was pregnant again.
My second daughter was born and soon I again became pregnant. Three years post-surgery, I remained pain-free and considered the nightmare behind me. One beautiful summer evening I recounted the story of my TGN history and cure to friends. We all marveled at the happy ending – beautiful family, beautiful home, good health. The next morning I woke up and suddenly felt a familiar stabbing of pain, cutting across my right cheek. The nightmare had returned.
Through the next 2 years, my episodes of pain were relatively mild; I gave birth to a third daughter and had various pain-management strategies. My family was used to me stopping in mid-sentence and freezing in a strange grimace while tears poured from my right eye – occasional blips in time until I could shakily continue where I’d left off. Life was busy and eventually my husband’s job transferred us to Toronto.
Moving went well, but very quickly the TGN became much worse. Repeating the surgery held a poor prognosis so I finally went on the anti-convulsant drugs. At that point I realized no true healing was going to come from the conventional medical system; while doctors could write prescriptions and cut open my brain, there was some deeper disturbance that hadn’t been touched and held the secrets of my disease. I resolved to explore my own inner mysteries and strike out on an individual path of healing.
I explored many alternative modalities; two that particularly spanned the breadth of body, mind and spirit were cranial-sacral therapy and shamanic healing, and I experienced dimensions of my psyche previously unknown to me – although the pain remained the same. As I plumbed my own inner life, a desire to work with others in a healing capacity began to grow. Now the impetus to find my own healing was matched by the desire to train as a practitioner and help others on their individual journeys as well.
I was far into my apprenticeship in cranial sacral therapy and we were about to move back to Vancouver when a friend introduced me to homeopathy. Instantly, I recognized this as the complete medical system whose philosophy of energy-based health and disease reflected my new understanding and experiences. Upon arrival in Vancouver, I enrolled in the Vancouver Homeopathic Academy.
During the four years at the Academy, I consulted a homeopath to try and find a curative remedy for the TGN that continued to tear through my face. I was the kind of patient that would discourage most practitioners – one after another, no remedy touched the pain. My homeopath eventually consulted with several other renowned colleagues, but still no curative remedy was found and I was continually forced back to pharmaceuticals for months on end.
Due to the lack of improvement, searching for the right remedy was never far from my mind. While researching my fourth year thesis, I stumbled across a short emotional characteristic of a remedy I knew little about, other than it was one of the many within the rubric for Trigeminal Neuralgia – and was stunned at how that characteristic mirrored my own inner feelings. Currently pain-free, I resolved to take a dose the next time the pain kicked in. Three weeks later when there was that sudden familiar burning pain shooting across my face, I carefully got the remedy and put it in my mouth. Instantly, the pain disappeared. I shook my head a little – nothing happened. I opened my mouth wide and pretended to chew – nothing happened. The pain simply vanished, and stayed away for several days. Whenever there was a recurrence, I took another dose and the pain again immediately disappeared. The pharmaceuticals stayed in the cupboard, the recurrences gradually faded and now, seven plus years later, I consider myself permanently cured.
Having since used this remedy curatively with another patient in my practice and coming to a greater understanding of it, in hindsight all the signs and symptoms indicating it were present in my case from the beginning – so why had several brilliant, experienced homeopaths missed it? Despite being proven by Hahnemann himself and well-represented in classic materia medica texts, it has been overlooked by most contemporary homeopathic literature with the exception of Harry Van der Zee (1)and Didier Grandgeorge’s short descriptions. ( 2) May this article help it become clearly recognizable so more may recognize and access its curative abilities.
Daphne Mezereum is a plant remedy in the Thymelaceae Family, of the Malvales superorder. It is a deciduous plant with bright lilac-purple, neon pink or white flowers appearing on bare twigs in late January, February or March, followed by thin soft green leaves in summer and brilliant scarlet berries in September. By flowering in winter or very early spring, it makes a striking, noticeable appearance – new life quickening, even as everything around it is still dormant and bare. It likes more sun than other variety of Daphne plants and needs summer irrigation to stay healthy. Due to its extreme toxicity, it has been used in medicine sparingly.
Although Rajan Sankaran writes about the Malvales in his “An Insight to Plants,” (3) he doesn’t include the Thymelaceae despite there being three homeopathic remedies (Daphne Mezereum, Daphne Indica and Dirca Palustris) in the family. The sensation and reaction he attributes to the Malvales is one of “Together and then Separated, Joined and then Separated, Attached and then Detached.” From my own experience and that of my patient, Mezereum shares this sensation, with its own unique sensitivity as to what triggers the sensation and reactions thereafter.
Along with being an excellent remedy for neuralgias, Mezereum has a powerful effect on skin eruptions which can be severe. In Prisma, Vermuelen writes: “The plant is a powerful irritant to skin and gastrointestinal tract and has caused numerous fatal accidents. One of the oldest plants recognized as a poison… Daphne Mezereum is the deadliest of them all. Mezerein in the seeds creates great inflammation, ulceration and vesication.” (4) It is the only remedy listed in the rubric “Generals – History, personal, eruptions of.”
My Mezereum patient came to me to resolve her persistent, severe, weeping, itching, burning eczema which she had had for many years: “My skin can get itching, burning, hot, can get moist if you scratch it. Scratching the head off the bumps, they would ooze and then harden. If I’m in a vulnerable situation, it goes crazy – swollen skin, red, hot, puffy, itchy and then slowly it forms a dried out crust.”
In my history, I had a terrible case of impetigo on my chin as a teenager, and as an adult would periodically get sudden, itchy blisters on my lower back, as well periodic sore, herpetic-type eruptions on the palm of my right hand. If I didn’t break the vesicles, a painful systemic infection would ensue with a red streak up my arm so I learned to be meticulous about opening the blisters and draining them over the course of a few days until they healed.
Mezereum’s toxic principles are absorbed not only by the skin, but also by the gastrointestinal tract. The remedy can have great stomach pains, often accompanied with anxiety. As a child, my patient “used to have terrible stomach pains, it was a big upheaval for me, we had just moved, mother went back to university, everything was different, cold and wet, mother not home all the time. Had terrible stomach pain, anxiety felt in stomach; cramping, doubling over would help. Now if I’m anxious, get stomach pains but not so bad.” While I never suffered from stomach pain per se, many times I would get an overall sick feeling of anxiety, usually when I perceived I had made a mistake or done something wrong. (Mind – fear, stomach arising from; Stomach – Anxiety)
The remedy can also be good for sinus congestion or sinusitis. Grandgeorge writes “It produces dramatic results in cases of bilateral maxillary sinusitis… the key to the remedy is found here. The maxillary sinuses are hollow facial organs which contain anatomical structures sensitive to the magnetic field in the environment. These organs give migratory birds, for example, a sense of direction and orientation. Following a move, travel in a foreign country, a resort vacation etc., Mezereum subjects’ maxillary sinuses become blocked and they “lose their bearings.”(2)
This idea of a loss of bearings points to a major theme and potential etiology for the Mezereum state. Vermeulen writes “Temperamental in the garden, it has a strong aversion to being moved once established and has a sudden propensity to die for little or no apparent reason.” (4) For those with a Mezereum sensitivity, moving can be a trigger for the disease state.
My own disease arose after just such an event. No stranger to moving, I grew up living around the world as my father worked internationally. As a shy only child, changing countries and schools was never easy however my mother especially provided comfort and support with each move and overseas communities were fluid and welcoming. Coming to Vancouver, however, was a different story.
I had moved to New York City after experiencing a mystical inner calling, and as an aspiring opera singer, it was wonderful, fertile ground; I felt I had finally come home. While in New York I met and married my Canadian husband whose dream was to get back to Vancouver. Soon we had a baby girl and life was rich and fulfilling. So when he announced that the time had come to move back to Vancouver, I was struck both dumb and numb – although I’d known it would happen “some time,” the reality had never sunk in. In the face of his decision, there were no words to speak otherwise. My own feelings of dismay were suppressed and just as through my childhood, I was carried along by someone else’s momentum.
The price of such acquiescence, however, was a high one. I was adrift and alone in Vancouver. This was my husband’s dream and everything was his – his home town, his family, his friends, his job. While I had felt conflicted about the move, suddenly being plunked down into this foreign world brought home all I had lost. Torn from the vibrant life I knew and loved, here I only felt dullness. While my husband was off at his new job, my life shrunk to taking my daughter to a park where for hours I would sit, watching her chase pigeons, numbness occasionally broken with spells of weeping (Mind – dullness, looking out the window lasting for hours; Mind – Indifference, dead to him everything seems).
My sensations clearly fit into the “attachment and then detachment” of Sankaran’s Malvales description and I expressed the passive reaction state – feelings of estrangement and indifference. Before I had been attached to a home and life where I flourished; now I was separated from everything. My response was to lose my sense of self, as if I was now nothing (Mind – delusion, dead, everything is). Had I been the plant, surely I would have died. Instead, I began to experience sudden shooting stabs of excruciating, overwhelming pain in my face.
In flower language, Daphne Mezereum means “desire to please” and this is perhaps the central theme of the remedy – pleasing others, even if at your own expense. Highly attuned to those they are attached to, Mezereum will feel compelled to please, even when counter to their own needs or instincts:
When was your skin really bad? “That was around my mother. I had to separate from her in a way that was hard for me and she wasn’t participating in. She was attached to me, could infantilize me so it was hard when I had to move out from that… I have a tendency to be drawn in, I wanted to please her so I did be that person.”
If they lose too much contact with their own desires and sense of self, their physical pathology may become their sole experience of self-differentiation:
What did you experience? “Sense of being taken over by the other person’s agenda, diminished, my own needs diminished and the other person’s agenda having to be accommodated. I felt like nothing, I had no sense of myself at all. I was no different than a stone on the beach… covered in eczema, I didn’t exist except for this burning skin. Burning, oozing, hot, itchy, but I couldn’t tell anyone, I had to hide it.”
Why does Mezereum so need to please others? While some authors put this remedy in the sycotic miasm as there is the feeling of needing to hide, I suggest it belongs more to the contemporary understanding of the Leprosy or even Syphillitic miasm: while the sensation of separation feels like torture and exile, attachment to others at your own expense is equally oppressive, leading to self-alienation and despair: “ I Felt the sense of impossibility of changing or affecting anything. Disappearance, diminishment of me, vulnerable, helpless, hopeless. My brain was gone. Numbness, like under a bell jar, numb emotionally, everything shut down. So highly attuned to my mother’s comments, voice, opinions, whatever.”
Being so attuned to pleasing, they are easily overcome with feelings of shame and guilt, especially when something happens to upset or anger the person/people they need to please – whether they were responsible for it, or not. They can experience the delusion of having done something terrible or of being wrongly blamed for something they haven’t done. I had several minor car incidents that most people would have shrugged off but which left me feeling sick with guilt and shame, as if I would never be forgiven. I had a series of dreams of innocently doing something perceived as wrong – or being prevented from carrying out a duty to people I wanted to please – and the feeling of having done something unforgiveable for which I would be punished forever was so horribly real that when I finally woke up, I had trouble accepting it having truly been a dream. Even imaginary scenarios of something for which I could be blamed would fill me with dread and guilt. In the repertory there are rubrics such as “Mind – Anxiety, Salvation about; and Mind – Despair, Religious despair of salvation;” these rubrics need not refer to a religious God but instead reflect the fear of being cast out and forever unforgiven by whatever authority the person feels themselves to be under.
During the trigeminal neuralgia years, I had a powerful shamanic vision in a cranial sacral session: I experienced myself being alone, naked and staked out in a flat, endless desert under a hot sun. I was spread-eagled, my arms and legs tied to stakes and my belly had been split open, leaving my entrails exposed to birds and other creatures. This was done to me by others without reason, I was innocent of any wrongdoing – and yet they staked and abandoned me, exposed, ripped open, to be slowly picked away at and die, in the endless, barren desert under a burning, relentless sky.
My patient also spoke of the sensation of helplessly being attacked or split open in the stomach and chest: “I feel guilty, as far as my sisters are concerned, I abandoned my mother, had to get distance from her – I did turn away from her in order to save myself. Comments from sisters can make me feel guilty because mother was very hurt. It was life or death for me. (It feels as if) you were attacked in the chest, stomach, something shameful feels trapped, caught in the chest area. (I feel) revulsion at the attack and inability to stand up for myself. You don’t feel you are in the wrong, but (feel burning) shame and you are caught, no way out.”
The name Daphne comes from Greek mythology; Daphne was the beautiful nymph of the Peneios river and had resolved to spend her life in perpetual virginity. Apollo loved and wanted her but she ran from him until in exhaustion, she begged the gods for help and was changed into a laurel tree. Apollo loved her, even in her tree form. Embracing the branches as though they were still limbs, he kissed the wood but even as wood, she shrank from his kisses. Imagine this as a metaphor for Mezereum’s delusional state – someone else’s desire for you conflicting with your own sense of destiny, your shape becomes changed in a last-ditch effort to preserve basic integrity. However although the core is preserved, you are now rooted in place, helpless to escape. Reduced to being a piece of wood, you suffer the loss of your unique human expression while still, although not able to fulfill their desires, subject to their attention and influence.
Nymphs in Greek mythology were depicted as beautiful minor female deities connected to a particular place in nature such as a spring, river or mountain. Daphne was a river nymph who wanted the independence of virginity – perhaps so she could devote her existence to exploring the depths of water’s intuitive knowledge and feelings. (Mind – absorbed; Mind – Meditating; Mind – Introspection).
Likewise Mezereum’s inner life is a deep source of rich creativity and other-worldly insights, and can give rise to unique and unprecedented realizations. My own life has been punctuated by a number of unexpected transcendental spiritual experiences. The plant’s beautiful, early flowering suggests spontaneous inspiration and unprecedented expression perhaps not yet understood by the outer world. (5)
For Mezereum individuals to commune with their inner inspiration, a lot of solitary time dedicated to experiencing and plumbing their depths is required. Being so highly attuned to the needs and desires of others, however, is again the conflict that separates them from themselves: “If I’m too over-exposed to others… I can’t be aware of my own needs. Everybody else’s needs are way more important and I attend to them and don’t know what it is I could possibly really want myself. My creativity seems to need a huge amount of space and time. Takes a lot of quiet and solitude for that process to occur which is a process that I enjoy and need.” (Mind – Concentration difficult, if interrupted)
Without that time for solitude and reflection, especially when around too many people or demands on them, there can be a feeling of exhaustion or fragility. Too much exposure to others can sap their life forces: “Invaded is another way to describe it. Invaded right into your inner self and no protective (hand gesture like an outer cover)… able to be invaded.” Even too much exposure to the outer world or television can be difficult: “I’m sensitive to things that are going to make me sad or depressed, too many children lost in snow, pedophile ring, whatever. I feel I need to filter out, I’m too thin skinned. Thicker skin would be nice!”
When in a healthy state, Mezereum’s sense of stamina and thicker skin around others and events in the world can improve. After the remedy my client said “I found I was more relaxed when talking with people. One friend is extremely talkative, sometimes I find it unbearably exhausting but I seemed to keep my energy up. I feel a lot more resilience, not so much sensitivity, a bit more drive and determination.”
Harry Van der Zee’s “Miasms in Labour” was my original source of Mezereum information and his description is a “conflict in loyalty where they are torn apart between two conflicting emotions, resulting in ambivalent and suppressed impulses.”(1) This is another way of expressing Mezereum’s conflict between the desire/obligation to please someone else while continuing to heed one’s inner desires and truth. When pleasing the other means suppressing your own desires, you lose the sense of what you want; should something happen which displeases the other, terrible guilt, fear and the delusion of having done something unforgiveable weighs heavily. Over time, either side of the conflict can lead to illness, which for Mezereum will be of a painful, burning, violent nature.
A partial list of Mezereum characteristics includes:
Physical feeling of coldness, iciness (despite many sensations of burning);
Neuralgic symptoms – neuralgic headaches extending to the eye or trigeminal neuralgia; herpes zoster with burning, neuralgic pain; neuralgia after shingles;
Burning symptoms – violent burning, often in mucus membranes such as the mouth or stomach; burning neuralgic pains, burning skin eruptions;
Violently itching, weeping eruptions, often disfiguring – eczema, itching, burning, thick crusts with cracks, oozing thick, white pus; itching eruptions after vaccination; itching changes place on scratching;
Issues around disfigurement, disfigured face; or conversely, deceiving appearances, outward show or glamour;
Being stigmatized or wrongly blamed for things;
Anger, followed by quick repentence;
Bad effects from history of suppressed eruptions or in eruptions following vaccination;
Bone pain –affects long bones, and also bones of face and head; also can affect the teeth.
The price of an unhealthy Mezereum state is a high one; feeling obligated to follow the desires of others, they no longer are in touch with their own inner direction and desires. If anything goes wrong for the others, they suffer tremendous guilt as if having done something unforgiveable for which they will be punished and outcast. As their individuality becomes stunted in response to the demands of others, this psychic annihilation will be expressed through violent, often disfiguring pathology.
However without the illness, one cannot find the cure. Under Mezereum’s healing influence, the terrible conflict gradually dissolves and they are no longer in bondage to the desires /influences of others or under the threat of exile and damnation. As the focus of attention moves away from the people and the environment around them and turns to attending one’s own inner treasure trove of inspiration, they are able to experience their deeper truth and have the freedom to embody their uniqueness. Through the remedy, their potential is finally accessible to them and allowed to flower, bringing their individual beauty of expression to the world.
1. Miasms in Labour by Harry van der Zee, Stichting Alonnissos, January 2000. Pgs. 91, 92.
2. The Spirit of Homeopathic Medicines by Dider Grandgeorge, North Atlantic Books, 1998. Pg. 129.
3. An Insight Into Plants by Rajan Sankaran, Homeopathic Medical Publishers, 2002. Pg. 642.
4. Prisma by Frans Vermuelen, Emryss bv Publishers, 2002. Pg. 920-924.
5. Many thanks to Roland Guenther for his comments on Daphne Mezereum’s botanical properties and insights on the inner lesson this remedy can offer.