Folk Wisdom and Mother Wit: John Lee, an African American Herbal Healer

Folk Wisdom and Mother Wit: John Lee, an African American Herbal Healer

Folk Wisdom and Mother Wit: John Lee, an African American Herbal Healer

Folk Wisdom and Mother Wit: John Lee, an African American Herbal Healer

Synopsis

This book combines historical biography with a focus on the role of the practitioner in the folk health-care system, and ethnobotany, including a description of the active ingredients of the herbs used in African American herbal medicine. The contributions of European colonial, American Indian, and African practices to the development of contemporary African folk medicine are discussed. In addition to a close examination of John Lee's approach to folk medicine, the volume provides descriptions and illustrations of the main herbs used. Folk Wisdom and Mother Wit provides a basic historical framework and background to the continuing viability of a folk medical system based on a pluralism combining biomedicine and traditional health care. As such, it will be of value to scholars and students of medical anthropology as well as Black Studies.

Excerpt

Arvilla Payne-Jackson came to my office in 1982 requesting assistance in identifying her collection of plants used in folk medicine. The specimens were about the saddest I had ever seen. They were moldy and loosely separated on sheets of note paper torn from a spiral binder. This was a great comfort to me because to this day, colleagues in my peer group make fun of me for my miserable early collections. I am happy to report that both of us have improved and Arvilla has developed near-professional competence. Identification of the herbs was simple enough and the recorded folk usages were consonant with general knowledge of medicinal properties. There was, however, the added dimension of insight into the lives and practices of folk healers and rural usage of home remedies.

My own original work had been directed toward my doctoral dissertation, "Pisammophytes of the Carolina Sandhills" (an abbreviated title), a study of the plants in this interesting environment, which was completed thirty years after the Depression. How sorry I am that I did not meet Mr. John Lee at that time. I would have devoted even more of my efforts to the study of medicinal plants. Finally meeting Mr. Lee at a symposium entitled "The Carolina Connection" at The American University in 1987, I would have introduced him rather than followed him at the podium. I relished the wisdom and humor in his earthy delivery, a hard act to follow. Together on this panel, the African American herbalist and the European American botanist both talked about a subject in which they ardently believed, the curative powers of plants.

There were no real surprises for me in meeting and appreciating Mr. Lee. Dr. Payne-Jackson had introduced me to his thinking over the last few years. I was so interested in her subject that I was happy to pour over her specimens, common names, and field notes, sifting through all the chits to arrive at the right scientific name for the elements in Mr. Lee's pharmacopoeia. I wanted to do all in my power to help record as much as possible about the folk uses of plants, properly identified and vouchered. Now Dr. Payne-Jackson's specimens and the identifications are at least closer to perfect, if not perfect.

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