What is Popular Medicine?

Article Details
  • Written By: D. Messmer
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
Part of Grand Central Station, there is a secret railway platform underneath the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.  more...

October 22 ,  1962 :  US President John F. Kennedy ordered an air and naval blockade in Cuba.  more...

Popular medicine, also known as folk medicine, is any form of medical treatment that does not fall within the bounds of professional medical services. Popular medicine usually includes remedies that families have passed down over several generations. With the advent of modern medicine, popular medicine has become less common in many nations and is often considered to lack legitimacy, but prior to the 20th century, it was far more common than treatment by a medical professional.

Popular medicine was very common in the 18th and 19th centuries. Trained professionals often were too far away or too expensive, so many people relied on friends and relatives, as well as their own knowledge, to provide treatments for their illnesses. There were many printed texts whose aim was to assist people in treating themselves when they were ill. The quality of care varied tremendously, but there were practitioners of popular medicine who were quite well versed in the medical knowledge of the time.

Still, many of the treatments that derived from knowledge that was passed down from generation to generation or that was part of a cultural tradition had little grounding in scientific knowledge. Several non-professional practitioners of the healing arts resorted to spiritual methods of treatment, including prayer and, in some cases, elaborate rituals. Herbal remedies were common, as were prohibitions against certain behaviors.


Researchers have divided popular medicine into four categories, or "worlds," based on the source of the ailment. Treatments for the "patient world" involve altering those factors that the patient can control, such as diet, smoking or drinking. Treatments involving the "natural world" aim to cure ailments that are the result of natural causes, which include infection, insect and animal bites and even natural disasters. Treatments for the "social world" involve ailments that result from other people either through physical injury or through curses or witchcraft. The "supernatural world" is a branch of popular medicine that deals with illnesses believed to be the result of the spiritual influences of spirits, gods or ancestors.

The place of popular medicine changed significantly with the rise of the medical industry during the 20th century. It became much easier for the sick to have access to professional medical care, so popular medicine came to refer specifically to alternative therapies whose potential benefits Western medicine has not formally recognized. Today, the term includes a wide array of alternative therapy treatments. Herbal remedies still are a common form of popular medicine, as are many spiritual forms of treatment.


You might also Like


Discuss this Article

Post 3

@Sierra02 - The NCCAM or National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine classified popular medicine treatments into five categories.

First is Alternative Medical Systems which is the healing through acupuncture, homeopathy, Native American healing and Chinese medicine.

Next is mind-body interventions which are behavioral therapies, patient support groups and mind-body interventions.

Third is the biological based therapies which are healing from the substances found in natural herbs, foods and vitamins.

Manipulative and Body Based Therapy is fourth and it's a method that uses manipulation such as acupuncture, reflexology, chiropractor, and even massage therapy.

And the fifth type is Energy Therapies. There are two types practiced in this category. The first is a biofield therapy that manipulates

the energy by placing their hands through the biofield. An example of this is therapeutic touch or Reiki.

And the second energy therapy has been categorized as bioelectromagnetic based therapy. There are two theories behind the healing process of magnets. One suggests the magnet increases blood flow while the other believes it stimulates the nerve endings.

Post 2

@babylove - Thanks for sharing that information about the green tea oil. I'll have to remember that the next time I get a toothache. I've always used crushed garlic around the tooth and gargled with salt water.

I'm always fascinated with the kinds of home remedies people use to cure common aches and pains. I believe much of what our bodies need is provided to us by nature already.

I've been experimenting with alternative herbal medicine for awhile, but I know there are other types of popular medicine being practiced today as well. Does anyone know what they're called?

Post 1

I was first introduced to the use of alternative medicine from my sister a few months ago. I had an abscess tooth that was causing me a great deal of pain.

I remember it was a long holiday weekend and there wasn't a dentist to be found for three days. When I told my sister about my tooth she came right over carrying a little bottle of green tea oil.

She dipped a q-tip in the solution and allowed me to massage it and around the aching tooth and gums. I'm telling you that within seconds, not minutes, but seconds the pain was gone!

I'd never found anything over the counter or by prescription that worked so quickly and so well. I have since seen my dentist about the abscess, but to anyone who is in dire straights like I was, try using the green tea oil for temporary relief.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?