Script 27.7

Notes to broadcasters

Content:  Many people around the world are rediscovering traditional health practices, including the use of plants as medicine.  Medicinal plants are a smart alternative to costly, hard‑to‑get commercial drugs.

Note: Some of the suggestions in this script might be most appropriate as the basis for classroom projects.  They might also be used as part of a general community health promotion project


When someone in your family or community gets sick or injured, what do you do? Buying medicine can be expensive. And if you live far from a clinic or medical centre, it may be difficult to find the drugs you need. Commercial drugs may seem like a good idea, but if you cannot afford to buy them, or if they simply are not available, what use are they? What you need is medicine that is cheap, reliable, and easy to get.

Pills, syrups, and powders that come in bottles, tins, and foil wrappers are not the only medicines. Many plants can help cure illnesses, or alleviate discomfort and pain. In fact, many of the drugs we buy are effective because they contain chemicals that come from medicinal plants.

Traditional healers:
In the days before there were trained doctors or health care workers, traditional healers looked after people’s health. In many places there are still healers who know how to use plants to treat health problems. Traditional medical practices are different in different parts of the world. Sometimes they take a holistic approach to health. For example, they may pay a lot of attention to the connection between mental and physical health.

Many doctors and health professionals are beginning to realize how much they can learn from traditional medicine. Traditional medical knowledge is passed down from one generation to the next. But now, some people think that such knowledge is old‑fashioned and out of date. They think that only doctors and other health care professionals can treat illnesses. So many traditional ways of curing people, such as using locally‑grown medicinal plants, are being forgotten.

Plants as medicine:
But the truth is, medicinal plants are really useful. For example, lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) grows in many parts of the world. The root of this plant, made into an infusion, or strong “tea”, will bring down a fever by helping the person who has the fever to perspire. And boils and skin infections can be treated by applying the crushed seeds and flowers of balsam flower (Impatiens balsamifera) to the affected areas of the skin. These are cheaper, easier ways to look after fever or skin infection than using expensive drugs from a store or clinic far from your home.

But if you and the people in your community think that commercial drugs are better than traditional methods, you may not know about plants like lemon grass or balsam flower that you can use this way. Maybe your parents or grandparents know, but you and your children do not. So it is important to try to find out as much as you can about traditional medicine and to learn which plants that grow nearby have medicinal uses.

Gathering information about medicinal plants:
Talk to your friends, families, and neighbours to find out if they know about any medicinal plants you could use. If there is a traditional healer in your community, that person might share information with you if you show that you are really interested. And sometimes older people know a lot about how to use plants to treat illnesses. Getting together with a group of people to share the information each of you has is one way you might be able to learn more about local medicinal plants and how to use them.

Perhaps you could collect samples of leaves, flowers and fruits of medicinal plants. Press them between old newspapers. Then, when they dry, mount them on sheets of paper and label them with their names and uses so that you can refer to them easily when you need to. Health workers in your community, or who visit from time to time, might be interested in learning with you. Together you may be able to find the best ways of combining traditional healing with new medical practices and drugs.

Of course, you need to be careful. Some plants are poisonous and can make you sick. And some medicinal plants are very strong, and should only be used in certain ways or in small amounts. Some are suitable for adults but not for children. So you need to talk with as many people as you can and gather as much information about each plant as possible to make sure you use it safely.

Once you know which local plants are useful as medicines, you might want to start a garden especially for medicinal plants. Maybe this could be a garden that everyone in your community works on and uses. That way you can all have close at hand a cheap way to look after your families’ health, without relying on expensive or scarce outside help.

Medicinal plants cannot cure all illnesses. Sometimes seeing a doctor or health care worker and taking the drugs they prescribe is the best way to look after a health problem. But you can cut down on costs and have more control over your own and your family’s health by learning how to use the medicinal plants that grow in your area.

Information Sources

Fichas Populares Sobre Plantas Medicinales.  1a serie (Nos. 1‑40) 2a edición (1990).  Published by Centro Mesoamericano de Estudios

Sobre Tecnologia Apropriada (CEMAT), 1a Avenida 32‑21, Zona 12, Apartado Postal 1160 Guatemala, GUATEMALA.

“Health and Traditional Medicine,” Development and Cooperation No. 4, 1990.  Published by German Foundation for International Development, Hans‑Bockler‑Strasse 5 D‑5300 Bonn 3, GERMANY.

“Medicinal Plants,” World Neighbors in Action Volume 15, No. 4E.  Published by World Neighbors, International Headquarters, 4127 NW 122 Street, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73120‑8869 U.S.A.

Understanding Medicinal Plants, World Neighbors filmstrip transcript.  Published by World Neighbors, Development Communications, 4127 NW 122 Street, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73120‑ 8869 U.S.A. and produced in co‑operation with AKAP Research, 66 J.P. Rizal Street Project 4, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES.