The Lost Glory of Folk medicine
Folk medicine is significant source of Ayurvedic, Unani, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Medical herbalism. Folk medicine incorporates crude medicinal herbs, decoctions and infusions and syrups. Folk medicine is still practiced by some vendors, hakims and vaids in remote areas and some folk preparations are of surprisingly high curative value. A large proportion of the population in a number of developing countries still relies on traditional practitioners, including traditional birth attendants, herbalists and bonesetters and on local medicinal plants to satisfy their primary health care needs. Vincristine and vinblastine, the potent anti cancer drugs were derived from folk plant, Vinca rosea (periwinkle) used traditionally for the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Today herbal medicine is making dramatic comeback and scientists are turning to natural products for answer to ailments like cancer, Aids, hepatitis and rheumatoid arthritis. The article reviews the history and possible role of folklore drugs in modern drug industry.
Keywords: Folk medicine/ Medicinal herbs/ Natural products).
systems of medicine have become increasingly popular in recent years. It is
very difficult to define such systems because of their diverse origins and
different beliefs. A broad, generalizable definition of such systems is widely
accepted: “Systems of medicine not taught in the medical schools”. They
include a number of systems like homeopathy, acupuncture, traditional remedies,
herbal medicine, etc. A study from the
has maintained its popularity in a number of Asian countries, such as
the last decade, there has also been a growing interest in traditional and alternative
systems of medicine in many developed countries. One-third of American adults
have used alternative treatment and 60% of the public in the
A genuine interest in various traditional practices now exists among practitioners of modern medicine and growing numbers of practitioners of traditional, indigenous or alternative systems are beginning to accept and use some of the modern technology. This will help foster teamwork among all categories of health workers within the framework of primary health care. The reasons for the inclusion of traditional healers in primary health care are manifold: the healers know the sociocultural background of the people; they are highly respected and experienced in their work; economic considerations; the distances to be covered in some countries; the strength of traditional beliefs; the shortage of health professionals, particularly in rural areas, to name just a few.
Medicinal plants are the oldest known health-care products. Their importance is still growing although it varies depending on the ethnological, medical and historical background of each country. Medicinal plants are also important for pharmacological research and drug development, not only when plant constituents are used directly as therapeutic agents, but also when they are used as basic materials for the synthesis of drugs or as models for pharmacologically active compounds.
The history of the
relationship between products from living plants and healing medications goes
back to the very beginnings of medicine itself, from 3700 B.C.
Folk healers are unlicensed but not necessarily untrained. Like physicians, they pursue their specialties, learning by observation and imitation. Often healing is considered a gift that runs in a family and is passed down from mother to daughter or from father to son. The ability to set bones, for example, is thought to be hereditary as is the power to stop bleeding. Charms are often recited by the healer and jealously guarded.
Faith healers make use of prayer and touch to treat disease. Most other healers use some combination of prayer, charms, and rubbing or massage; or they prescribe herbal teas or decoctions of animal parts and vegetables. There are also magical rituals, or procedures, such as pulling a person through the cleft of a tree or a bramble bush to be divested of disease. Then there is putting a bag containing a mixture of worms and human hair under a threshold to cause disease. The person who steps over the hidden bag will get ill because folk healers can cause disease as well as cure it.
Herbal medicines were used with magical practices, sometimes alone. Many of the herbs used by the American Indians--such as datura, coca, cinchona, curare, cascara sagrada, and the like--are now used as drugs in modern scientific medicine. Herbal medicines are assuming greater importance in the primary health care of individuals and communities in many developing countries and there has been an increase in international trade in herbal medicines. However, in most countries the herbal medicines market is not adequately regulated, and the products are therefore unregistered and often not controlled by regulatory bodies.
Chinese medicine has also continued many traditional practices. Most of
the knowledge of early Chinese medicine has been gleaned from the Yellow
Emperor's Nei Ching
(Classic of Internal Medicine), which formerly was thought to date from before
the year 2000 BC but is now
believed to be from the 2nd century BC. Artemisinin, a potent Antimalarial drug was derived from Artemisia
annua, a plant traditionally used in
Indian medical systems, among them the ancient science of Ayurveda, have always been aware of the medicinal value of plants. To cite but one example, for at least 2500 years before the West recognized the medicinal properties of the Rauwolfia serpentina (sarpagandha) root, used by folk healers to calm violently disturbed patients. In the 1940's Indian scientists isolated the active substances from rauwolfia and discovered its added benefit as a remedy for high blood pressure.
The Madagascar periwinkle with its pink/white flowers is a hardy
perennial that grows without fuss in countless Indian gardens. So persistent is
the flowering that the shrub has come to be known as sadabahar, meaning `ever
bloom'. In the 1950's, the periwinkle yielded some alkaloids, particularly
useful in the treatment of leukaemia. Great piles of crushed periwinkle leaves
are now exported from
In 1500 B. C. Hippocrates, a
Greek physician, prescribed leaves and bark from willow tree to relieve fever
and pain. In 200 B.C, native people of
Folk medicine describes a drug Ati-bala [confirmed to be Sida rhombodifolia] to be most powerful immnunomodulator and modern investigations prove that the drug, stimulates phagocytosis, acts as anticomplementary agent, immune stimulant and hypoglycemic. According to the latest development the drug has been found to be effective in enhancing immunity in AIDS patients.
Plaunotol isolated from Croton sublyratus is a potent ulcer-healing agent. A number of plant derivatives have shown anti-Aids activity. Ancistrocladus korupensis (michellamine-b), Caulophyllum langigerum (calanolide), Caulophyllum teymani (costatolide), Homalanthus nutans (prostratin), Conospermum species (concurvone) are the medicinal herbs from African countries find application in research for exploring a suitable cure for Aids. All these drugs are derived from African folklore.
Bacopa monniera is a medicinal herb used in ancient system of medicine, Ayurveda. Recent clinical research has highlighted the role of the herb as ‘brain tonic’. Bacopa monniera is mentioned in old texts as Medhyarasayana [in allusion to brain tonic]. Initially there was confusion regarding the identity of the drug. The drug is widely prescribed by folk healers in loss of memory. Saponins known as bacosides are the active principles of the herb.
With onset of scientific research in herbals, it is becoming clearer that the medicinal herbs have a potential in today’s synthetic era, as numbers of medicines are becoming resistant. According to one estimate only 20% of the plant flora has been studied and 60%of synthetic medicines owe their origin to plants. Ancient knowledge coupled with scientific principles can come to the forefront and provide us with powerful remedies to eradicate the dreadful diseases.
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