Traditional medicine, as defined by the World Health Organization, is "the sum total of all the 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."[1]

Also known as indigenous or folk medicine, it is comprised of healing technologies that has been developed by different cultures over generations before the advent of conventional or modern medicine.

When used outside the realm of the so-called modern or conventional Western medicine, these healing technologies are called alternative medicine. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines alternative medicine as "any of various systems of healing or treating disease (as homeopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, Ayurveda, or faith healing) that are not included in the traditional curricula taught in medical schools of the United States and Britain." [2]

Alternative medicine, from the perspective of modern medicine, is grouped with the Western standard terminology of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) especially in the United States. Complementary medicine refers to the same healing practices or methods used as adjuncts to conventional health care. Not all alternative medical practitioners approve of this grouping but it is widely recognized by governments, media, and in scientific literature.[3]

In the Philippines, the grouping of "traditional and alternative medicine" is legally acknowledged and integrated in the national health care policy. The Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act (TAMA) of 1997 also created the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC) to accelerate development of these healing methods and practices and to deliver them in the health care system of the country.

In some countries, alternative medicine is in legal standing as much as conventional Western medicine. Many practitioners are certified in both alternative and conventional medicine a
nd the primary health care provider for many patients is an alternative medical practitioner. [4]


Historical Development

Traditional medicinal practices date back to prehistoric periods both in Eastern and Western parts of the world. For many centuries, societies depended on "medicine men/women", or shamans who are also herbalists. Ancient medical knowledge of herbs include that of traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, Native Americans, Arabs, and Egyptians. In the Philippines, they have been called "albularyos."

The advent of modern medicine changed the public's mindset on healing methods and practices, as it was developed and backed by scientific authorities. Referred to as "conventional medicine", this era of modern medicine is largely dependent on scientific and technological discoveries about diseases and their causes that bring about methods like surgery and pharmaceutical drugs.

In the past 20 years or so, however, traditional healing practices like that of herbalism (the use of plants or plant extracts in healing) have regained scientific and public interest and thus becoming alternative methods of treating or preventing disease in the modern world. Governments around the world have recognized the role of traditional and alternative medicine in their health care delivery systems. Institutions like the National Center for Contemporary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) of the United States, and our own Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC) are tasked, along with private scientific communities, to continue research on the development of traditional and alternative healing technologies.

Wiki 1 intends to trace the historical development of the traditional healing practice of herbalism and in the process, analyze the social factors that contribute to shifting perception of such methods and their effects on society. For this discussion, see Wiki 1: Historical Development.

Life Cycle wiki_2_lagundi.jpg

In traditional and alternative healing, herbal medicine is the most prominent product. Like every product that comes out of any scientific knowledge or technological development, herbal medicine also has a life cycle. There is a production flow even in the centuries-old traditions of preparing herbs, either by mixing, crushing or boiling, and then administering to the patient. As discussed in Wiki 1, herbal medicine has been re-integrated to health systems that previously shunned these products as "quack" or part of folklore. Thus with the modern means of herbal medicine production, we see a clearer life cycle to such a product.

Wiki 2 intends to trace the life cycle of a herbal medicinal product to help us understand the interconnections and interactions of different fields of science and technology necessary to come up with such product. It will identify the processes involved in the six stages of the production of a specific herbal medicine, from design to raw materials acquisition, to manufacturing and distribution, and to consumption and disposal. For this discussion, see Wiki 2: Life Cycle.

Social Impacts

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Further Reading


  1. ^ World Health Organization. (2009).Traditional medicine. Retrieved December 2009 from
  2. ^ Merriam-Webster's Dictionary. (2009). Alternative medicine. Retrieved December 25, 2009 from
  3. ^ White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy, Chapter 2, March 2002. (incomplete citation)
  4. ^ World Health Organization. (2001). Legal Status of Traditional Medicine and Complementary/Alternative Medicine: A Worldwide Review, page 1. Retrieved December 25, 2009 from