Finding health in our heritage: Embracing traditional remedies in 2023

What it means to get back to our roots

Manasa Rao

5/22/20236 min read

Field worker digs up a coconut from the forest floor
Field worker digs up a coconut from the forest floor

Horticulture, ayurveda, agriculture, and the use of herbs and spices in food have been deeply ingrained in my family's knowledge and traditions. One of my most cherished memories involves walking behind my grandfather in his backyard, where he proudly pointed out and named various plants and fruits. I vividly recall his collection of newspaper clippings spanning years, all dedicated to medicinal plants and their benefits. He meticulously preserved these articles in large, blank books and donated them to the ayurvedic hospital in our village.

Remarkably, despite his heavy drinking and smoking in his youth, my grandfather lived to be 87 years old without any major illnesses. Although he dealt with slightly elevated blood pressure, he managed it by consuming a raw garlic clove with every meal and relying on a traditional ayurvedic blend known as Triphala Guggula—his only remedies.

Another vivid childhood memory revolves around my grandmother. During a stay at their home, I encountered a bout of constipation that lasted several days (forgive the TMI, but I was just a child!). One day, my grandmother entered the house holding a delicate plant resembling a blade of grass. The mere touch of this plant against my skin worked wonders, swiftly alleviating the issue. Its efficacy rivaled even the best of enemas, if you can believe it!

From my teen years, I recall a turmeric-based dish my mother prepared to soothe an upset stomach. To my astonishment, it successfully expelled worms from my digestive system within a few hours, allowing me to witness the unwanted parasites firsthand. I also fondly remember my other grandma's ritual of applying coconut oil on all her grandchildren's hair before we went to bed. She was another strong, healthy grandparent who worked hard and had glowing, youthful skin and demeaner even into her late 80s.

Some of my not so fond memories? A round of very potent antibiotics I had taken for an infection in my hand that resulted in my hair falling out in chunks. My father-in-law’s nearly 30 year battle with diabetes, that all began with sleeping pills. Getting multiple opinions, painful bone marrow and other tests and still not knowing what sudden illness caused my perfectly healthy father to pass away. Several of my friends and family struggling to get steady cycles or facing infertility due to PCOS from prolonged use of birth control.

I am grateful everyday for hospitals and healthcare workers who performed a cesarean on me to safely deliver my little boy. I am thankful for the dentists that keep my teeth in good condition. I am so glad for medicine that relieves symptoms when sorely needed. It’s a true blessing to get lifesaving care, especially when others may not have access to such.

This is not about pointing fingers but sharing my own experiences and knowledge and passing along a bit of wisdom.

While our parents and grandparents may have held onto some ancestral and traditional remedies, it has become a lost art in our present generation. Years ago, it was allopathic (conventional) medicine that was considered an "alternative" treatment and only as needed. It is a much older method of supporting the body's own healing properties for holistic wellbeing.

In fact, natural remedies were wildly popular in America in the early 1900s, where they were used to treat most ailments. Some vitamins that were found to be essential to the body, such as vitamin C were even being artificially synthesized. Medical treatments like chiropractic, homeopathy, acupressure and others were being taught and applied in institutions and hospitals across the country. An oil magnate named John D. Rockefeller, who had already amassed great wealth through petrochemicals, saw this as an opportunity to expand his business into chemical and medical fields. In his greed, he began to publicly discredit and disgrace natural remedies. Being of great influence and power, he gathered other influential voices to his side and sought the standardization of medical education. Even with very little evidence and scientific advancements in conventional medicine at the time, Rockefeller was able to change the medical field's sole focus to allopathy. This included the injection of toxic and heavy metals into patients in the name of pushing out diseases. Rockefeller teamed up with Andrew Carnegie and began to sponsor and fund medical institutes that were doing away with teaching natural remedies or nutritional education as part of their programs. He continued to influence the opinion of the public against them. Some doctors, who continued to use remedies used for centuries that were known to be safe and effective, were jailed. It didn't take long for medicine to make the shift over to pills, though they were not known to actually cure any ills. Rockefeller bought out large pharmaceutical companies, and set his sights on international markets as well. He was single minded in his pursuit to stamp out naturopathy from the world. Interestingly enough, the American Cancer Society was founded by Rockefeller. Surprise, surprise.

In less than a century we have completely done away with an ancient, reliable and time-honed art to make way for a younger and untried (at the time) system of healthcare. The convenience of hospitals and modern treatments, along with the standardization of it throughout the world are some of the only reasons we lean on it over and over again. Today, the average cost of cancer treatment is nearly $150,000. Even if in a few years we do find a cure for cancer, it may be difficult to financially afford it. Many modern medicines and treatments are not accessible to medium or lower wage citizens. Many of us barely make ends meet without a severe illness or even labor and delivery, root canals or special needs to add to our burdens.

Recently, I was reminded how the world was forced to change and adapt in 2020. In the face of a global pandemic and a lack of vaccines, known medicines and knowledge of Covid, there was a fear of the unknown. Then began people sharing what they did know to work: That our immune systems needed to be strengthened and supported so we didn't succumb to the virus. There was an intentionality then to take Vitamin C and supplements, get plenty of sleep and sunlight, maintain strict hygiene, drink elderberry syrup, exercise, drink herbal teas and plenty of water, meditate and inhale steam every day. We began to value our health, time spent with family, in prayer and connecting with nature. It was almost like history was repeating itself.

white folded paper on brown wooden table
white folded paper on brown wooden table
man and woman holding hands together with boy and girl looking at green trees during day
man and woman holding hands together with boy and girl looking at green trees during day

There is a saying: "There’s no such thing as alternative medicine; if it works, it’s just called medicine." This is what is most important for each of us to remember. Medicine is meant to support our bodies, slowly leading to true and lasting healing. Medicine should make us feel better, not worse. It is also an art that should be weaved into the daily fabric of our lives, into our diets, movement, sleep, mental balance, homemaking, spirituality and hygiene. If we do not make time, gain wisdom and create discipline for our self care, we will wake up one day realizing we have been wasting away in front of computers, phones and social media. We have one life to live and one body to care for.

There is another saying that if we do not make food our medicine, medicine will become our food. This is not a battle between conventional vs traditional medicine. Between allopathy and ayurveda. It is not us doing away with pills and surgeries for good. It is about respecting that those need to be second to naturally caring for our bodies. The goal is to arm ourselves with knowledge so that even if we do have to take medicine for an illness, we will know how to slowly come off of them. It is about getting back to what our ancestors did and live off the gifts that God gives us and meant for our good.

It is not our generation that is actually living longer or healthier than previous generations. It is actually our parents and grandparents that are living longer and contributing to the statistics of longer life. Most countries now have a problem of higher elderly population, especially in rural areas that work and depend on the earth. There are less births and people are unnaturally getting ill and passing away in their youth. And if we are living longer despite all odds, how is our quality of life? Anxiety, depression, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer is attacking our children, relatives, coworkers and ourselves with no end in sight. It is time for us as individuals to fight for our loved ones and do our due diligence regarding ancestral medicines. It is time for us to bring them back into the public as a lifestyle and not as alternative medicine. It is time for us to teach our children and their children what herbs and spices are anti-cancerous, antibiotic, immune supporting and detoxing. We need to restore and renew our lives through fasting, prayer, walking and slowing down versus dieting, making more money to pay more health bills, spending precious spare time at the gym away from family.

"Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well." 3 John 1:2

man holding his hands on open book
man holding his hands on open book