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Is Folk Medicine Still Valid?

OrganizedKhaos's picture

                 Folk medicine is defined and most commonly known as "house remedies." They are also mostly associated with countries such as China, India, and other Caribbean islands where spices, barks, and flowers are used to cure illness and other maladies everyday. But, this style of treatment was not only herbs and teas or solely attributed to those cultures. Many other places such as the first English colonies in North America found natural medicine to be a valid way to cure. Obviously the backwoodsman and settlers of the previous centuries did not have the technologies to invent penicillin and other medications that line the aisles of our grocery stores but many of the plants used then are the basis for the medications produced today. Lately, folk medicine has taken a back seat to the brightly colored packages of modern medications. Although twenty five percent of modern medicines are developed from nature, it seems as though folk medicine is no longer seen as being a valid way of treatment to many physicians. Even though modern medicine has inadvertently replaced folk medicine should it be out ruled completely? 

             Sassafras, catnip, and pennyroyal are all plants that were brewed into teas and used to treat coughs and colds. Leaves and twigs of red cedar were boiled and inhaled for bronchitis. White and black willow leaves and bark were made into a tea to break up a fever which makes perfect sense today since it's been discovered that willow is very abundant in salicylic acid, which makes up aspirin. Here we can see how folk medicine was in fact effective then but also now.

              In addition to the black willow Aloe Vera is a plant used to treat skin conditions. It helps ease pain and reduce inflammation. However, evidence of Aloe Vera's healing power has been at odds. A study performed in the 1990s showed that healing time of a moderate to severe burn was reduced when the wound was treated regularly with Aloe Vera gel compared to healing time of a severe wound covered in gauze bandage (1). In contrast another study suggests wounds treated with Aloe Vera healed much more slowly (2). Unlike the black willow plant Aloe Vera did not aid in making a major medical break through but it is one of the many folk medicines still used to this day for things such as sunburns and other skin conditions. Whether these remedies were effective or not, is not recorded, this makes it hard to decipher whether folk medicine should be taught in medical schools across the nation or simply made an independent topic of study. 

                 Modern medicine began to develop when new technologies came about. Bacteria were observed, tests were performed, and scientists thought of new ways to treat people using certain chemicals. Yes, initially plants were being used in the medicines but as science advanced so did the treatments used. Other scientists and physicians from other countries came about and ideas were exchanged. Folk medicine was no longer the main line thing. Cough syrups which consisted of putting a few leaves into some boiled water now have glycerin, sodium benzoate, and other unnatural active and inactive ingredients. Seeing that there are modern medicines which derived from folk medicine and some that may not have is it alright for physicians to solely use one and not cater to other patients who prefer the more natural medicines?

                 Recently, they have been trying to make it possible for physicians to study both modern medicine taught in medical schools all over but to also incorporate folk medicine which many people still use and believe in. The thought behind this incorporation of folk medicine came together when doctors began to realize that each patient should be looked at individually. The idea that everyone could be treated the same worked for a while but with the increasing amount of foreigners and alternative medicine many physicians thought it would be worthwhile to be able to cater to their patients on an individual basis. For example, if someone comes from a household or culture where aspirin was not used to treat their maladies using medications such as Tylenol and Advil may be very strong compared to a tea that they were used to drinking for pain. One Doctor Lowe stated that "patients are people with very different bodies, we're not cookie cut outs and often times cannot be treated with the same methods as the patient before." (3)

                     Folk medicine works for many different ailments and can be an alternate way of looking at medicine which can widen the medical world and offer great advantages. But physicians are at a dispute where they cannot decide whether folk medicine is a valid way to treat patients. Should they even have to cater to every single patient when there are so many different folk remedies around? This question stems off the basis of this paper on whether folk medicine is even accredited. From the examples provided one can see that although records weren't kept for certain treatments and whether they worked or not many are still used and even put into modern medications. So, if they cannot choose if it can stand alone incorporating folk medicine into the workings of modern medicine would not be a bad idea.

1.) "Medicinal Plants." November 10, 2007. Farrar, 2005

2.) "UCLA Folklore Archive Medicine." November 11, 2007. Schmidt, 1991

3.) "10 Lies about Health Your Doctor Taught You." November 10, 2007. Mike Adams, 2005