Traditional medicine is a subject that touches everyone, since we are all interested in our own health. All of us are likely to have experienced some kind of traditional medicine from childhood onwards. Herbal remedies form part of our cultures, but such knowledge is often rapidly being lost. Modern medicine has most of the answers to health problems, but is not always available or affordable. In addition, many countries experience considerable difficulties in obtaining medical supplies.

In the Bible in Revelation 22:1-2, we read that God has provided the leaves of the tree of life for the healing of the nations. So far only 1% of the world’s forest plant species have been screened for their chemicals. Many more are likely to have healing properties. The biodiversity of our world that we considered in Footsteps 47 has many more secrets to discover, unless we are careless of our inheritance.

An estimated 80% of the world’s population still depends on traditional medicines for their health security. Many modern drugs are made from natural sources, often impossible to manufacture synthetically. A quarter of all drugs sold in the United States, for example, come from plants.

Encouraging the use of traditional medicines is far from straightforward and we need careful consideration and discussion to ensure that only the beneficial aspects are used with safety. However, very little research has been carried out into the effectiveness and safety of their use. Always first consult qualified medical expertise. We hope we have provided enough information to encourage both wisdom and caution. The value of traditional medicines was encouraged by the World Health Organisation back in 1987 when it was stated that ‘Member states should: involve traditional healers in community based healthcare, support research into traditionally used healing plants and develop an exchange with other countries in the field of traditional medicine.’

Our contributors have all had many years of experience in this area and have much to teach us.

Data from Conserving Indigenous Knowledge – a study commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme

Isabel Carter