Ethnomedicine- Traditional medicine system

Ethnomedicine- Traditional medicine system

The most important part of human life is health. Here health does not mean only physical health but also mental and social health. To understand the healthcare system, the Medical field is developed. It is not a modern concept but it is a practice that is followed since ancient times. Our ancestors were well aware of the medicines. They found various medicinal plants and animal species around them.

Tribal people mostly live in forests and use various plant and animal species that are well-known to them. For their survival, they keep on finding the usage of their surrounding environment. Various studies have been conducted to understand the relationship between man and the environment.

To know more about the relationship between man and the environment go through the link- Ecological Anthropology


The term ethnomedicine is also used as a synonym for traditional medicine. It is a part of the folk or traditional knowledge system. Ethnomedical research is the study of traditional medicines based on bioactive compounds found in plants and animals.

It is a branch of medical anthropology. Anthropological studies examine people’s perceptions of traditional medicines. It is practised by various ethnic groups found all over the world.

Every indigenous culture has a different healthcare system, structure, practices, beliefs, and treatment techniques. All society has their medical system as a part of their culture. There is a national and regional differences in practising ethnomedicine. The nature, cause, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of disease vary from culture to culture. For example, different culture has their technique of childbirth, treating similar diseases etc.

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The ethnomedical system includes the use of various treatment techniques like the use as massage therapy, exercise, species, herbs, food, etc.

According to Merriam- Webster dictionary– Ethnomedicine is the comparative study of how different cultures view disease and how they treat or prevent it.

It is the medical beliefs and practices of indigenous culture.

According to Collins dictionary– Ethnomedicine is the study of different cultural approaches to health, disease,

and illness, and the nature of local healing systems.

Definition of Conventional medicine– the usual method of healing or treating disease that is taught in Western medical schools (Merriam- Webster dictionary). Also known as Biomedicine or Western medicine or mainstream medicine.

Features of ethnomedicine

  • Local and specialized- It is particular in its own culture. It is used differently in different cultures.  
  • Orally transmitted- There are no written documents. People inherit knowledge from generation to generation.
  • Learned by living in a culture
  • Practical knowledge related to daily life
  • Existing in a fragmented form
  • Less scientific- ethnomedicine viewpoint is different from the scientific approach
  • They also know treatment for female health issues like childbirth, menstrual pain, menopause, infertility, abortion etc.

Why do we need ethnomedicine?

Healthcare issues aren’t going anytime soon. And in today’s world during the pandemic, medicine is of great importance.

It is significant to discover new drugs from traditional medicinal plants. Ethnomedical knowledge helps improve the healthcare system regionally as well as globally.

It works as alternative healthcare practice.

Ethnomedicine also focuses on the use of the environment for healing purposes.

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Reason for Extinction of ethnomedicine practice

  • Limitation of knowledge
  • Oral tradition
  • Absence of written documents
  • Cure only small-scale diseases
  • Attraction towards jobs in urban areas
  • Displacement of tribal communities
  • Loss of medicinal plants and animal species
  • Not effective in deadly diseases like cancer, diabetes, blood pressure.


There is a need to preserve this traditional medical knowledge. It can be done by-

  • Lowering the exploitation of natural resources
  • Documentation of the knowledge
  • Awareness regarding the benefits of ethnomedicine shortly
  • Linking of both conventional medicine system and traditional medicine system
  • Choosing it as a career option

In the present era, there is a loss of natural resources and ethnomedicine involves the sustainable use of natural resources. Tribal people fear the conventional medicine system. It is high time to remove their fear of conventional medicine and make them aware of the benefits of both traditional and conventional medical systems.

By linking the medical system we can preserve our traditions as well as combat deadly diseases. It helps in the economic upliftment and sustainable development of tribal society as well as a modern society. Many tribal groups started studying both conventional and traditional medicine systems together.



Global Journal of Archaeology and Anthropology

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