C-Force: When Herbal Medicine Becomes Mainstream
It appears that we are seeing a cultural shift in this a country. It is one of many. It comes in the form of the continued rise in the preference for natural, herbal goods, says a recent Market Research Future report. It is a claim backed by a herbal medicine market valued at $148.5 billion in 2022 and projected to grow to $165.13 billion by the end of the year. This "growing" trend toward herbal goods and medicines has also led to accelerated interest by modern medicine in the practices of indigenous people and systems of medicine, many dating back to ancient times, and the examination of the therapeutic experiences of the time. Medical researchers are now looking at comparisons between which plants were used in the past and the current drugs of choice to treat similar conditions.
Says Market Research Future, this heightened interest in herbal medicine also coincides with the general population's increased interest in self-medication, combined with public awareness of "the advantages of herbal medicines, which have been used for many years without any negative side effects. ... More people are choosing to use them to treat common health problems like fever, headache, cough, cold, lower-degree burns, digestive problems, and other similar issues."
According to the World Health Organization, "60% of the world's population relies on herbal medicine and about 80% of the population in developing countries depends almost totally on it for their primary health care needs." Reports ScienceDirect, researchers continue to search for newer therapeutic agents from medicinal plants. "The WHO has stated that trade in medicinal plants, herbal raw materials, and herbal drugs is growing at annual growth rate of about 15%," says the ScienceDirect report.
I have always viewed my heritage as equal parts Irish and Cherokee. My paternal grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee. These indigenous Americans have effectively utilized their environment throughout history in supplying the needs of the people. As to medical needs, the natural world around them was their pharmacy. "Many practices and treatments are still used today," reports ScienceDirect. "In the Cherokee use of ethnomedicine (the medical terms for the bioactive compounds in plants and healing practices of indigenous people), it is not just the plants that instilled the healing but rather the combination of plants, prayer, ritual, diet and mindset that all contributed to the methods of application of the medicines on each person," the report reminds us.
In a world without "doctors" or pharmaceuticals, the Cherokee people somehow thrived based on medicinal herbs and plants used by Cherokee healers, passed down through generations that date back to the 1500's. As reported by NaturalOn, nature's pharmacy consisted of things like Feverwort, a common plant used to stop fevers by making a tea of the leaves and flowers. It is still in use today.
Goldenseal, another herb used, has become so popular that it has been harvested to near extinction, says the NaturalOn report. Used as an overall healing tonic, stimulant, and healing potion, it is today widely known for its powerful immune-boosting and antibiotic compounds. Knowing the value of preserving this and other plants, the Cherokee way is to harvest only every third plant to "ensure the survival of the species," says NaturalOn.
Another plant that has super medicinal properties, and is found nearly everywhere, is Common Sumac. "Boiling the bark and then straining the liquid makes a terrific concoction to stop store throats," says NaturalOn. "You can also drink this liquid as a remedy for diarrhea." A tea made from its berries was used to stop fevers, as well as being a good source of vitamin C.
In addition, the Cherokee had many uses for blackberry bushes, says the report: "For relieving the pain and inflammation of joints or damaged tissues, a strong tea was made from the roots of wild blackberry plans. An infusion of the leaves was used as a stimulating tonic. The roots were also boiled, and then the water mixed with a bit of honey to act as an expectorant. Chewing the leaves was found to heal sore throats and stop bleeding gums."
The above are but a few examples. The Cherokee had hundreds of plants they used as medicine and still use today. But an interesting question to consider is whether this connection between modern medicine and the cures of ancient cultures will create any better understanding or acceptance of that culture and its people.
Everett R. Rhoades is professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. In a recent opinion piece in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, he writes that the federal government's assumption of responsibility for American Indian health care "brought together two fundamentally different systems: centuries-old traditional Indian medicine and modern Western medicine. Early physicians, while acknowledging extensive Indian use of herbal remedies and certain successful therapeutic procedures, generally regarded Indian healing as based primarily on superstition."
While it is hoped that this will change, Rhoades concludes by saying "it is not possible to predict the future, but it seems clear that support for traditional Indian medicine will continue to occupy the attention of both the Indian Health Service (IHS) and tribal programs and efforts to accommodate each of the systems will continue to evolve."
Stacy Weiner, a reporter for the Association of American Medical Colleges, stated in a 2017 report at that time that "many indigenous people throughout the United States face major health disparities and suffer disproportionately from diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and substance abuse compared with other racial and ethnic groups." Weiner was reporting at the time about a breakthrough creation of the country's first required medical school curriculum on Native American health by the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Missouri School of Medicine. "The curriculum was greatly needed in Minnesota, where American Indians constitute the largest minority in parts of the state," she reported.
Said Melissa Lewis, who led the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus, the goal was "a curriculum to improve understanding of the historical, cultural, and spiritual factors that influence Indian health. ... The curriculum has had a measurable impact."
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