What is Folk Medicine?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2019
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Folk medicine is a form of healthcare that involves the use of remedies and practices that are handed down from one generation to the next. These remedies make use of herbs and other natural elements to aid in caring for the infirm, as well as helping individuals maintain good health. Just about every major culture over the centuries has developed some form of indigenous or folk medicine, with many of those home remedies and treatments still in use today.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of folk medicine is that this type of healing is not institutionalized in any manner. There are no medical schools to attend or healthcare practitioner credentials that must be obtained before an individual can begin to make use of the remedies and time-honored practices associated with this type of medicine. The purest forms of folk medicine are handed down orally from one generation to the next, with some written documents containing recipes for specific blends of herbs and other strategies passed along from a parent to a child. In some cultures, this collected body of knowledge was passed from the matriarchs of the community to young women at the time they would marry and begin their own families.


At its core, folk medicine is about making use of what nature has provided in order to restore and maintain health. To this end, some herbs are identified as helping to keep the body and mind healthy, and are included in the daily diet. Other herbs are used, singly or in combinations, to treat a specific ailment and its symptoms. For example, someone who suffers from a weak heart may be given a cup of hot tea that is infused with cayenne and garlic. A daily cup of this type of brew is hailed by some proponents of folk medicine as not only helpful for nourishing the heart, but also in keeping blood flow at proper levels, thus minimizing the presence of toxins in the body.

Along with dealing with matters of body physiology, folk medicine is also understood to be effective with emotional woes as well. A strong tea made with chamomile and peppermint leaves is sometimes recommended to calm an individual suffering from anxiety. Crushed hot peppers steeped in hot water and apple cider vinegar are thought by some to aid in alleviating minor depression. For calming the mind and allowing recuperative sleep to occur, drinking a tea infused with passion flower, lady’s slipper, and valerian root may be recommended.

Many different forms of folk medicine include the use of different varieties of mushrooms. Depending on the type of ailment, these medicinal mushrooms may be boiled, steeped in hot water or grain alcohol, or consumed raw. Many practitioners of indigenous medicine are adept at identifying mushrooms that are toxic and therefore unsuitable for treating certain illnesses, as well as knowing how to prepare the collected mushrooms for best effect.

As with most forms of alternative medicine, the claims for the efficacy of folk medicine are generally supported by anecdotal evidence. While there is no doubt that the nutrients contained in the herbs used to prepare teas, tinctures, and poultices as part of this type of healing can help with many ailments, practitioners of Western medicine tend to discourage the use of folk remedies. This is often due to the fact that folk remedies, if they are effective, tend to take longer to bring about healing, and may or may not completely rid the body of the infection or bacteria that triggered the ailment initially.


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