The doctrine of signatures refers to two separate concepts. The first has an occult meaning, in which the arrangement of magical signatures is thought to have certain powers.
The second meaning is an ancient European philosophy that held that plants bearing parts that resembled human body parts, animals, or other objects, had useful relevancy to those parts, animals or objects. It could also refer to the environments or specific sites in which plants grew. Many of the plants that were so regarded today still carry the word root "wort", an Anglo-Saxon word meaning herb, as part of their modern name.
Some "wort" plants:
Lousewort, Pedicularis - thought to be useful in repelling lice
Spleenwort, Asplenium - thought to be useful in treating the spleen
Liverwort - thought to be useful in treating the liver
Toothwort, Dentaria - thought to be useful in treating tooth ailments
The major usage is a doctrine that the Creator had so set his mark upon Creation, that by careful observation one could find all right doctrine represented (see the detailed application to the Passionflower) and even learn the uses of a plant from some aspect of its form or place of growing.
The doctrine of signatures was given renewed thrust in the writings of the Swiss physician Paracelsus von Hohenheim (1493-1541) and continued to be embraced until the 17th century.
The doctrine of signatures was expounded in mainstream medical texts into the 19th century and has remained a working principle of homeopathic medicine.
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