Overview Of Traditional Medicine – By Dr Muzammil Irshad.


Hi, I am Dr. Muzammil Irshad (MBBS, Punjab, Pakistan), working as a house officer at Nishtar Medical College and Hospital Multan. I am a medical writer and I have written medical papers, original articles, proposals, theses/dissertations, case studies, review articles, meta-analyses, systematic reviews and brief communications for the last two years. From my point of view, I must say that “Nothing is better than the Nature or something natural”. In the same way, natural medicine or food offers the best treatment to our illnesses. Moreover, an axiom “Food is the best Medicine” demonstrates everything I mean. I would like to go through a little introduction to traditional medicine or ethnomedicine and its importance in our lives here.

Traditional Medicine or Ethnomedicine

Traditional medicine or Ethnomedicine is the subdivision of ethnobotany that deals with the traditional medicines. It does not only include Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and Siddha but also focuses on the knowledge of those preparations which are not available in the written forms but transferred from mouth to mouth [1]. Scientifically, ethnomedicine is characterized by strong anthropological or biomedical approach. Anthropological approach focuses on the perception and use of traditional medicines while biomedical approach intends to discover new therapeutic molecules and focuses on the research studies [2]. The knowledge of effectiveness of ethnomedicine is limited and requires more discoveries and research. However, acupuncture, and some manual therapies and herbal medicinal preparations have been reported effective for specific conditions [3].

In 2008, World Health Organization (WHO) described traditional medicine as “Traditional medicine is the total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illnesses [4].” Professor Andrea Pieroni (Editor-in-chief of journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine) quotes ethnobiology and ethnomedicine as “Ethnobiology and ethnomedicine are exciting and revolutionary multidisciplinary fields at the center of many current debates on culturally appropriate management of the biodiversity and the human and animal health [5].”
Medicinal Plants

Regarding ethnomedicine, medicinal plants are of prime importance among all nations for tens, if not hundreds and thousands of years. It is crystal clear that people always depended on plants for their basic needs such as food, shelter, warmth and medicine, and thus learned a lot about plants and their uses. This knowledge of plants continued to be transferred from tribe to tribe and nation to nation, and eventually expanded over the world. Looking at the recent records, Arabs were famous for having vivid interest in plants. On their journey to the East, Arabs collected useful information about local plants’ use, and brought those plants to their indigenous area. Similarly, the Romans employed local herbalists for the services of their troops during their crusade through Europe. Then as well, the Spanish conquistadores collected details of the plants used by the indigenous people they came across in the New World [6].

Medicinal plants are in the use of ethnomedicine since ancient times and are still an important source of ingredients used by many populations and in the modern health care system around the world [7,8,9]. It has been estimated that about 70-80% of people all over the world rely on ethnomedicine in some way to meet their health care needs [10,11]. Outside its indigenous culture, traditional medicine adopted by other areas of the world is also termed as alternative or complementary medicine. Traditional medicines includes practices like Ancient, Ayurvedic, Herbal, Iranian, Islamic, Siddha, Unani and traditional Chinese medicine, Acupuncture, Ifa, Muti and other medical knowledge and practices all over the world. Many people rely on the herbal medicines as they consider them natural and therefore safe to use. However, traditional medicines can harm the body if they are of poor quality or handled inappropriately during their preparation [4]. That is why, strong awareness and collaboration among the providers of ethnomedines and other medicines are required. Now-a-days, traditional medicine is practiced in the form of home remedies.

As described in the introduction to ethnomedicine, traditional medicine is the knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures, used in the maintenance of health and in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness [4,12]. Actually, traditional medicine is the other name of ethnomedicine that covers a variety of practices and therapies which vary from region to region. Outside the indigenous places, in some countries of the modern world, traditional medicine is also referred as “complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) [4,11,12,13]”. However, traditional medicine is widespread in the developing counties while CAM is surging rapidly in the developed countries. Traditional medicine has travelled thousands of years and it has been contributed by many great primary health care providers. It has maintained its popularity throughout the world and its use has been increased in the modern world since 1990 [12,14].

CAM practices and related therapies are classified into natural products, mind and body medicine, and manipulative and body-based practices [13,15]. Natural products include herbal medicines such as botanicals, dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals and probiotics. Mind and body medicine focuses on the interactions among brain, body, mind and behavior, and their effect on the health and physical functioning. Meditation techniques, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, guided imagery, yoga, qi-gong and tai chi are some examples of mind and body practices. Manipulative and body-based practices include spinal manipulation, massage therapies and reflexology [13,15].

Use of CAM natural products has increased considerably in the past few decades. In 2007, it was estimated that 17.7% adult Americans used non-mineral natural products to cope with their primary health care needs [15,16]. Herbal preparations, in fact, reflect some of the primary and first attempts to combat with health conditions. Probiotics are available in foods like yogurt and in the dietary supplements which they intend to stimulate the activity of the useful microorganisms in the body. Practices like meditation [17,18] techniques, yoga [19,20] and acupuncture [21,22] procedures enhance brain and body functioning, thus promoting physical health. Meditation techniques offer calmness, psychological balance, enhanced overall health and well-being by specific postures with focused attention. Yoga is now a part of general health regimen and helps improve a variety of health problems. Acupuncture procedures are included among the oldest health practices and are the key components of traditional Chinese medicine [22].

Concept of mind and body is an part of healing approaches in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, about dating back 2000 years. Hippocrates also remarked that attitude, environmental influences, and natural remedies affect the healing processes [13]. Deep breathing exercises, meditation and yoga are ranked among top 10 CAM practices. Also, yoga, tai chi [23,24,25] and qi-gong [25,26] practices combine movements, meditation and controlled breathing to have an enhanced and better effect on the health conditions.
Spinal manipulation [27] is one of the most common practices in chiropractic care system. It has been used since the time of ancient Greeks [28] by chiropractors, osteopathic and naturopathic physicians, physical therapists, and medical doctors. Practitioners manipulate the patients’ spine manually or by applying a device with controlled force to the joints of the spine. Similarly, massage therapy covers a variety of healing techniques. Therapists or massagers simply press, rub or manipulate muscles and soft tissues of the body to relieve pain, improve relaxation, and reduce stress and to address anxiety and depression.

CAM practices evolved basically from traditional medicine. However, traditional medicine widely encompasses the techniques and manipulations based on indigenous theories, beliefs, and experiences passed down from tribe to tribe. Anyhow, the purpose of the both practices is same and both are intermingled. Moreover, both of these terms are being used interchangeably [29,30].

It is evident that the human being always relied on the plants for his shelter, food and medicines [6]. Since the ancient times, men are interested in obtaining medicines from plants [7,8,9]. Traditional medicines obtained from plants are called phytomedicines. Phytomedicines are usually plant extracts which contain mixture of chemicals that act on human body tissues to prevent disorders or restore primary health [31]. South Africa is the most abundant region with temperate flora having up to 19581 indigenous species. Of these plant species, about 3000 species are being used to prepare traditional medicines [32,33]. According to WHO report about 80% African people and 65% overall world population use ethnomedicine or traditional medicine [34].

Indigenous and local communities who used traditional medicine are being recognized widely. Traditional knowledge has played an important role in the development of communities. Traditional medicine does not only helped the indigenous people but also benefited the nearby tribes and nations or the regions where the indigenous people traveled or migrated [35,36,37,38]. Traditional knowledge built upon the years of experiences of the communities and human efforts, and applied in social, spiritual, political and environmental practices. Traditional knowledge, in fact, is an important source to search new drugs as it has been screened through a long trial and error.






1/ Acharya, D. and Shrivastava, A., 2008. Indigenous herbal medicines: tribal formulations and traditional herbal practices. Jaipur: Aavishkar.
    2/ Bashir, M., Yusuf, I. and Kutama, A.S., 2010. In-vitro studies on the sensitivity of staphylococcus aureus to some ethno-medical preparations sold around Kano, Nigeria. Bayero journal of pure applied sciences, 4(1), 22-25.
    3/ Filshie, J., 2001. Safety aspects of acupuncture in palliative care. Acupuncture in medicine, 19(2), 117-122.
    4/ World Health Organization, 2008. Traditional medicine. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 August 2012].
    5/ Pieroni, A. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 August 2012].
    6/ Sacred Earth (Ethnobotany & Ethnotravel), 2001. What is ethnobotany? [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 August, 2012].
    7/ Iwu, MM., 1993. Handbook of African medicinal plants. London: CRC Press.
    8/ Leaman, DJ., 2006. Sustainable wild collection of medicinal and aromatic plants. In:  RJ. Bogers, LE. Craker and D. Lange, eds. 2006. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants. The Netherlands: Springer, pp. 97-107.
    9/ Carvalho, AR., 2004. Popular use, chemical composition and trade of cerrado’s medicinal plants (Goias, Brazil). Environment, Development, Sustainability, 6(1), 307-316.
    10/ Farnsworth, NR., and Soejarto, DD., 1991. Global importance of medicinal plants. In: O. Akerele, V. Heywood, and H. Synge, eds. 1996. The Conservation of Medicinal Plants. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 25-51.
    11/ World Health Organization, 2002. WHO traditional medicine strategy 2002-2005. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 August 2012].
    12/ World Health Organization, 2012. Traditional medicine. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 August 2012].
    13/ NCCAM, 2008. What is complementary and alternative medicine? [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 August 2012].
    14/ Willcox, M., et al, 2012. Improved traditional medicines in Mali. Journal of complementary and alternative medicine, 18(3), 212-220.
    15/ NIHSeniorHealth, 2012. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 August 2012].
    16/ NCCAM, 2008. The use of complementary and alternative medicine in the United States. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 August 2012].
    17/ NCCAM, 2012. Meditation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 August 2012].
    18/ BBC News, 2003. Meditation ‘good for brain’. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 August 2012].
    19/ NCCAM, 2008. Yoga for health. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 August 2012].
    20/ Pandey, A., et al, 2011. Alternative therapies useful in the management of diabetes: a systemic review. Journal of pharmacy & bioallied sciences, 3(4), 504-512.
    21/ Highfield, ES., et al, 2012. Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine for survivors of torture and refugee trauma: a descriptive report. Journal of immigrant and minority health, 14(3), 433-440.
    22/ Gori, L. and Firenzuoli F., 2007. Ear acupuncture in European traditional medicine. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM, 4(1), 13-16.
    23/ Hall, AM., et al, 2011. Tai chi exercise for treatment of pain and disability in people with persistent low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Arthritis care and research, 63(11), 1576-1583.
    24/ Song, R., et al, 2003. Effects of tai chi exercise on pain, balance, muscle strength, and perceived difficulties in physical functioning in older women with osteoarthritis: a randomized clinical trial. The journal of rheumatology, 30(9), 2039-2044.
    25/ Jahnke, R., et al, 2010. A comprehensive review of health benefits of qigong and tai chi. American Journal of health promotion, 24(6), 1-25.
    26/ Biesinger, E., et al, 2012. Qigong for the treatment of tinnitus: a prospective randomized controlled study. Journal of psychosomatic research, 69(3), 299-304.
    27/ Lisi, AJ., 2006. Chiropractic spinal manipulation for low back pain of pregnancy: a retrospective case series. Journal of midwifery and women’s health, 51(1), 7-10.
    28/ Trijffel, EV., et al, 2007. A history of manipulative therapy. The journal of manual and manipulative therapy, 15(3), 165-174.
    29/ Straus, S. E., 2004. Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In:  L. Goldman and D. Ausiello, eds. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 22nd ed. Philadelphia: Saunders.
    30/ Kaptchuk, T.J. and Eisenberg, D.M., 2001. Varieties of healing. 2: a taxonomy of unconventional practices. Annals of internal medicine, 135(2), 196-204.
    31/ Wyk B.E.V. and Wink M., 2004. Medicinal Plants of the World. Pretoria, South Africa: Briza Publications.
    32/ Germishuizen, G., et al, 2006. A checklist of South African plants. [online] Pretoria, South Africa: Sabonet. Available at: [Accessed 13 August 2012].
    33/ Taylor, J.L.S., et al, 2001. Towards the scientific validation of traditional medicinal plants. Plant Growth Regulation, 34(1), 23-37.
    34/ Fabricant, D.S. and Farnsworth, N.R., 2001. The value of plants used in traditional medicine for drug discovery. Environmental Health Perspectives, 109(1), 69-75.
    35/ Benz, B., 2996. Ethnobotany serving society: a case study from the Sierra de Manantlan Biosphere Reserve. Sida, 17, 1-16.
    36/ Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992. Traditional Knowledge and the Convention on Biological Diversity. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 August 2012].
    37/ Gerritsen, P.R.W., 1998. Community development, natural resource management and biodiversity conservation in the Sierra de Manantlan biosphere reserve, Mexico. Community Development Journal, 33, 314-324.
    38/ Twang, S. and Kapoor, P., 2004. Protecting and Promoting Traditional Knowledge: Systems, National Experiences and International Dimensions. New York and Geneva, 2004. New York: United Nations.

Dr Muzammil Irshad writes for Home Remedies Log which is one of the best websites dealing with natural treatments, traditional therapies and home remedies. No doubt, natural medicine benefits our body without causing any serious side-effects. Check the knowledge available on this website on natural or home remedies, get an advice from your health care provider, have faith and use natural products as per recommendations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. • Free Website Templates - Downlaod Full Themes
Real Time Analytics