Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia

By Weaver, Deborah L. | Nursing History Review, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia


Weaver, Deborah L., Nursing History Review


Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia By Anthony Cavender (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003) (266 pages; $55 cloth; $19.95 paper)

In Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia, Anthony Cavender aims to increase our understanding of traditional and current beliefs about illness and Healthcare practices. Using anthropological and historical methodology, he begins by giving a brief introduction and overview of the issues encountered during his research on the use of folk medicine in the area known as Southern Appalachia. In so doing, Cavender clarifies the context of the research by providing the reader with a clear picture of the sociocultural, physical, and geographic issues of the region. The relative isolation of the people and the lack of trust in allopathic, or regular, medicine make the use of folk medicine practical and first-line treatment rather than the more expensive and less-trusted care that regular healthcare providers give.

Cavender organizes the book into six chapters, each developed into a discussion of the historical and current state of health and use of healthcare providers. In the first chapter, he provides the reader with a description of the culture and values of the agrarian mountain dwellers in Southern Appalachia. Pictures from the late 180Os and early 190Os help the reader to visualize the living conditions and lifestyles of the Appalachian people. In addition, the state of medical professionals available to the people of the area clearly was seen as substandard. According to Cavender, missionary workers often provided much better health care and made themselves available in medically underserved areas.

Various folk medicine beliefs that the Appalachian people gained from Native Americans, African Americans, and European ancestors are found in Chapter 2. Folk medicine is described, and exemplars of written resources of the time, such as practitioners' notebooks, are presented. The use of what is currently known as alternative and complementary therapy is noted to be very common among the people in Southern Appalachia. In addition, the author describes the natural and supernatural domains of knowledge found in the culture. Examples of magico-religious practices, the use of plants, and other customs provide the reader with a better understanding not only of the health beliefs of the Appalachian people, but also of the beliers of many other Southern groups who migrated to these areas.

In other chapters, Cavender introduces the reader to the view of natures healing power. For example, he explains healing using the land with various plants, foods such as fish and game, and pure spring water. …

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