Ethnomedicine is a study or comparison of the traditional medicine based on bioactive compounds in plants and animals and practiced by various ethnic groups, especially those with little access to western medicines, e.g., indigenous peoples. The word ethnomedicine is sometimes used as a synonym for traditional medicine.[1]

Ethnomedical research is interdisciplinary; in its study of traditional medicines, it applies the methods of ethnobotany and medical anthropology. Often, the medicine traditions it studies are preserved only by oral tradition.[1] In addition to plants, some of these traditions constitute significant interactions with insects on the Indian Subcontinent,[2][3] in Africa, or elsewhere around the globe.[citation needed]

Scientific ethnomedical studies constitute either anthropological research or drug discovery research. Anthropological studies examine the cultural perception and context of a traditional medicine. Ethnomedicine has been used as a starting point in drug discovery, specifically those using reverse pharmacological techniques.


This section needs more reliable medical references for verification or relies too heavily on primary sources. Please review the contents of the section and add the appropriate references if you can. Unsourced or poorly sourced material may be challenged and removed. Find sources: "Ethnomedicine" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (July 2019)
The opium poppy Papaver somniferum, used in traditional medicine for millennia, is the source of the alkaloids Opium, morphine, codeine and heroin.

Ethnopharmacology is a related field which studies ethnic groups and their use of plant compounds. It is linked to pharmacognosy, phytotherapy (study of medicinal plants) use and ethnobotany, as this is a source of lead compounds for drug discovery.[4] Emphasis has long been on traditional medicines, although the approach also has proven useful to the study of modern pharmaceuticals.[5][6]

It involves studies of the:

  1. identification and ethnotaxonomy (cognitive categorisation) of the (eventual) natural material, from which the candidate compound will be produced
  2. traditional preparation of the pharmaceutical forms
  3. bio-evaluation of the possible pharmacological action of such preparations (ethnopharmacology)
  4. their potential for clinical effectiveness
  5. socio-medical aspects implied in the uses of these compounds (medical anthropology).

See also


  1. ^ a b Acharya, Deepak and Shrivastava Anshu: Indigenous Herbal Medicines: Tribal Formulations and Traditional Herbal Practices. Aavishkar Publishers Distributor, Jaipur / India 2008, ISBN 978-81-7910-252-7, p. 440.
  2. ^ Mozhui, Lobeno; Kakati, L. N.; Meyer-Rochow, Victor Benno (2021-03-22). "Entomotherapy: a study of medicinal insects of seven ethnic groups in Nagaland, North-East India". Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 17 (1): 17. doi:10.1186/s13002-021-00444-1. ISSN 1746-4269. PMC 7986042. PMID 33752694.
  3. ^ Wilsanand, V; Varghese, P; Rajitha, P (October 2007). "Therapeutics of insects and insect products in South Indian traditional medicine". Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge. 6 (4): 563–568. ISSN 0972-5938.
  4. ^ Thomas M. Johnson; Carolyn F. Sargent (1996). "Ethnopharmacology: The Conjunction of Medical Ethnography and the Biology of Therapeutic Action". Medical Anthropology: Contemporary Theory and Method. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers. pp. 132–133, 151.
  5. ^ Buer, Jonas Kure (2015). "A history of the term "DMARD"". Inflammopharmacology. 23 (4): 163–171. doi:10.1007/s10787-015-0232-5. PMC 4508364. PMID 26002695.
  6. ^ Buer JK (Oct 2014). "Origins and impact of the term 'NSAID'". Inflammopharmacology. 22 (5): 263–7. doi:10.1007/s10787-014-0211-2. hdl:10852/45403. PMID 25064056. S2CID 16777111.

Further reading