Black communities are more susceptible to deadly diseases, from diabetes to asthma, heart disease to strokes. For example, despite less tobacco exposure, Black men are 50 percent more likely than white men to get lung cancer.
Overcoming these disparities is a complex process. It asks us to rethink healthcare, invest in genetic research, uplift Black health services, and improve health education. However, it also encourages us to revisit traditional healing practices, listen to Black health and wellness leaders, and embrace natural remedies that sustained generations before us.
In this article, we're intentionally taking a look at health and nature and how they can work together since in April we celebrate World Health Day and Earth Day. By discussing African American folk healing practices and Caribbean natural remedies, we will explore how these Black health traditions might fit into modern-day life.
Who was Dr. Sebi?
Dr. Sebi — whose real name is Alfredo Bowman — was a self-taught herbalist and healer who believed disease was acidity in the body. Born in Honduras in 1933, he immigrated to the United States, where he was unsuccessfully treated for asthma, diabetes, obesity, and impotence, among other conditions.
Frustrated, he turned to herbal remedies. Inspired by the traditional healing practices of Mexico, he developed a plant-based diet that aimed to detoxify the body and achieve an alkaline state, which he claimed reduced the risk and severity of various diseases.
In addition, Dr. Sebi packaged and sold his own herbal mixtures under the brand name 'Dr. Sebi's Cell Food.' It was a success. Although Dr. Sebi was not a certified doctor, nor did he hold a Ph.D., he attracted a loyal following of people seeking alternative treatments for their ailments.
The Western medical and scientific community has a history of ignoring and demonizing natural, traditional or inexpensive medicine because it doesn't fit into the profit structure of medicine today. For this reason, Dr Sebi, like many other doctors who use or create alternative therapies to mainstream medicine, have to prove their claims by publishing their own results as the scientific community will not support claims such as Dr. Sebi's strict diet can prevent or treat medical conditions. This doesn't mean there isn't a place for various types of medicine, but it does mean we can benefit by incorporating natural remedies and passion for healthy living into our lives.
What is traditional medicine in the Caribbean?
Caribbean people have relied on herbal remedies for centuries to treat various ailments, from minor illnesses to chronic diseases.
For instance, arrowroot — a starchy vegetable widely used in the Caribbean — is traditionally used as a poultice for smallpox sores and to treat digestive issues such as heartburn.
Breadfruit is another traditional healing ingredient. The leaves are brewed into a tea to alleviate high blood pressure or crushed and worn over the forehead to cure headaches.
Rich in nutrients and with proven healing properties, ginger is used to relieve nausea, aid digestion, protect against the flu, and minimize menstrual cramps and muscular pain.
These remedies come from ages of actual use and testing. It is crucial to safeguard this knowledge so that these communities are able to care for themselves without the interference of foreign corporations and cultures who often profit off of their illness.
What is an example of African American folk healing?
African American folk healing is a rich tradition that blends European and African beliefs with Christian and voodoo elements. Passed down through word of mouth, Black folk often adopted these traditional concepts and methods when conventional medicine failed to support their community.
One example of African American folk healing is Spanish Moss, also known as Crape-moss or old man's beard. When boiled, this moss can be used to bathe swellings, relieve rheumatism pains, and promote easy childbirth.
Cayenne pepper is also commonly used in African American folk healing. Mixed with aloe juice, it can be rubbed over sore muscles or arthritic joints to provide relief.
What are the traditional methods of healing in African American culture?
Traditional healing methods in African American culture are rooted in spirituality and natural remedies, with women typically adopting the role of healers. Healing methods often include music, herbal mixtures, and rituals underpinned by a foundation of hope, faith, and a belief in the natural world's healing power.
One example of a traditional African American healing method is to place a silver quarter on the back of the neck to cure a nosebleed. Another is to use sweet oil drops to treat earaches. Adorning oneself in plant roots keeps one from catching a cold.
Being able to connect your physical experience with your spiritual nature is an essential ingredient in healing yourself, and that is in direct clash with western medicine that treats your body as a soulless physical matter.
How can we embrace folk healing practices today?
Embracing folk healing practices can be a wonderful way to connect with your culture and improve your overall well-being. Consuming herbal medicines, supplements, and nourishing foods — even embracing plant-based alternatives in line with Dr. Sebi's diet guidelines — can promote good health. For example, incorporating ginger into your diet can help reduce inflammation and promote healthy digestion.
Movement is another natural way to boost your well-being without reliance on conventional medicine. Find a form of exercise you enjoy — walks, bike rides, yoga, martial arts, and resistance training are all excellent forms of healthy movement.
Folk healing practices are not all about the physical. They have spiritual and emotional elements, too. Because sage practitioners knew that the spirit affects the body and the body affects the spirit. Meditation, mindfulness, and affirmations can promote mental clarity and emotional stability which lessen stressors that create physical disease. The next time you have a health issue, do some research and connect to the long line of knowledge from your heritage or other ancient cultures so you too can deepen your understanding of what being healthy truly means and how you can achieve it.
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