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Ancestral Medicine

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

My studies began years ago as an undergrad studying medical anthropology. I was fascinated by how cultural strategies kept people safe – and how their beliefs and relationships with the outside world impacted their health. The deeper I dig, the more insightful, impactful, and transformational indigenous medicine has become to me. When I say indigenous medicine, for this article, I am casting a wide net to include medicine with uncolonized roots – a people’s medicine. Fortunately, advanced systems of Ayurvedic and Chinese and some European traditions have been recorded over thousands of years and are now even widely accepted (though not entirely without stigma or prosecution).

I continue to dig deep into my French roots, to understand the plants and traditions that have kept them safe and nourished. Much has been lost with the modern development of convenient drug stores, pre-packaged foods, mill housing with no soil to till – and the most significant threat – the degradation of confidence in oneself to heal lifestyle-related diseases. We lost this confidence over the generations, and it will take generations to rekindle it.

Clues have been left behind. Sometimes crumbs that lead to beaten trails. Sometimes an initiated spark from a brush with bad health to seek something greater for which the dominant health care system knows little.

This week I ask my students, clients, family, and friends to take a pause and record the medicine of their ancestors. Here are some places to start:

Record strategies your parents and grandparents did to nurse you back to health. Maybe your mother used to give you ginger ale soda; that’s a clue! It used to contain the actual root. Or did your grandmother once plop a big piece of onion on your bee stings? Record it all, and trace the origins – there is wisdom behind these strategies.

Cookbooks. Herbal medicine is often undistinguishable from nutrition, and you can find gems in old family cookbooks or cookbooks centered around your cultural traditions. Take note of the preparations, when foods are seasonally enjoyed, and the herbs dishes contain.

Research plants from your mother country (i.e., the seat of your culture). What plants would your ancestors have used? Do you still use them today? How has the use of these plants changed? If you no longer connect to your plant ancestors, how might you incorporate them into your everyday life? Plants are restorative, nutritive, and anti-inflammatory.

Traditions. Culturally learn more about how food was/is enjoyed, medicinal preparations, and how life is lived to the fullest. Pleasure is medicine, as is the connection to the earth and other people. Were meals made together and enjoyed together in a calm environment? Did your ancestors grow particular foods and enjoy in holiday celebrations at certain times of the year? Evening storytelling by warm fires (i.e., light therapy)? Coping mechanisms to sustain long-winters or warm summers?

Limit modern distractions. Go ahead, shut off the news and let the fear-inducing media go – focus on what is around you, cultivate gratitude, and listen to your needs (your ancestors were never this distracted). Cook wholesome meals at home and ditch mindless snacking. Go for walks, learn games, and other forms of cultural movement (i.e., dances, sports, etc. chances are your ancestors did not go to the gym). Put down the phone to look around you and make a connection to nature. Follow natural circadian rhythms (daily and seasonal rhythms). Get in healing rest, and find peace in the silence. Learn the spiritual practices of your ancestors. Hope and faith are part of healing.

Take on some of these strategies to cultivate a connection to your ancestral medicine.

Health & healing,


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