I recently started taking a course in Folk Medicine based upon the use of herbs, healing rituals and prayer. The knowledge and techniques are based on experiences of the peoples of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. But the knowledge was transferred from cultures as ancient as the Conquistadors, the Moors, and the Mayans, as well as Native American tribes. This Folk Medicine is not intended to replace modern medicine, but to supplement it. Folk healers refer their patients to doctors and medical facilities when they see the need for a modern medical approach.

Many of our pharmaceutical products are based on discoveries of herbal ingredients. For example, the effectiveness of aspirin is based on chemicals found in the bark of willow trees. While pharmaceutical companies do not use these ingredients directly from nature, they attempt to duplicate them through the use of chemistry. However the use of natural medicine, such as herbs, seems to be regaining popularity.

The key to using herbs in healing is to first learn what herb is recommended for what ailment. Then it is also important to know what part of the herb to use because different parts of the same plant may contain different chemicals. For example the leaves of the Kava plant from Hawaii have been used for centuries to calm the mind. But the roots and stems have different chemicals than the leaves, chemicals which can cause illness. So it is important to know what part of the plant is in the package you buy from different companies before making them into topical treatments or teas.

While this knowledge seems new to us, the Native Americans (North and South America) have helped keep their people healthy using plants and herbs for hundreds of years. In Healing Secrets of the Native Americans (page 10), Porter Shimer quotes John Lawson’s History of North Carolina which was published in 1714. Lawson wrote “Among all the discoveries of America by the French and Spaniards, I wonder why none of them was so kind to the world to have kept a catalog of the illnesses they found the natives able to cure.” Obviously those groups were focused on treasure as opposed to healing.