What is medicine?

If the worldview of a society governs what we think of as medicine what is the worldview that informed the development of biomedicine and how does this differ from Irish indigenous medicine? 
 Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon were two of the most influential scholars whose thought influenced the development of modern medicine. This was because they considered nothing to be true unless it could be objectively proven. This need for certainty, immediately blew any subjective experience such as fear, joy, intuition and dreams beyond the realm of  the new science.

What is medicine?

I thought about this question recently as I watched the 'Black Lives Matter' protests in the US.  The question came to mind because I realised that how we see the world is dominated by the culture in which we live, or more importantly, by the dominant culture within a country.  Our perception of medicine is  derived from our social values and beliefs. 
If we examine what medicine is, we can see that it is made up of three components,  ill health, diagnosis, and treatment. No matter where we are in the world, be it the depths of the Amazon,, the bronx in New York or a  village in the Turkana, these three components remain.  
The differences come in the diagnosis of the illness and its treatment. Both of these are governed by the knowledge of the person diagnosing and treating  and his/her insights into the illness. This knowledge is governed by the worldview / cosmology of the society to which he/she belongs.

Plantain/ Plantago major

Plantago major or Plantain may now be seen growing at the side of the road or in old pasture. It is often seen in areas where there is a quite a bit of gravel. It is also called waybread as it was eaten by travellers on the road to ward off hunger.

It is herb that has many uses and is used in all traditional medical systems. All parts of the plant may be used. It needs to be washed carefully as the cup shape of the leaf can harbour a lot of dust. It is a herb that is cold and dry, so it is not a herb to chew if you’re feeling cold as it will make it make you feel even colder. However, the cold nature of plantain is useful if you have a bruised leg or other injury as it will reduce the swelling and inflammation very quickly. To use it, pour boiling water over a leaf and when the leaf has cooled, lay it on the injured part and keep in place with a bandage. Replace every three hours if necessary. Woundworth is another name for it because of its ability to staunch bleeding. It may also be used in burns and in this case, pound the herb and put the pounded herb through the white of an egg. Apply to the burn

Prunella vulgaris/ Self heal/All heal

Prunella vulgaris, also known as self-heal or heal all, and  Duán ceannchosach in Irish, is familiar to almost everyone, even if they do not know the name. Those who wish for perfect lawns dislike this plant as it invades their velvet sward. If left to its own devices and not mown into the ground it will reach a height of 5 – 30 cm. For those interested in its family tree it is a member of the mint family.

This ‘weed’ is edible and can be used in salads, soups, stews, and boiled as a pot herb. Some Native American peoples cooked and ate the young leaves or drank a cold infusion of the whole plant. This use is not surprising as the plant contains vitamin A, C, and K as well as flavonoids and rutin.

To make a cold infusion, simply add a loose fistful of this herb to a non-metal tea pot (china or clay pottery). Let water come to the boil and then let it cool for about two minutes before pouring over the herb in the tea pot. Let herb infuse in water for ten minutes and then strain. When cooled sufficiently, place in fridge and enjoy, when fully chilled.

Its health benefits are many and it rightly deserves the name, ‘Heal all’. Perhaps its use in the treatment of Herpes simplex 1 or ‘cold sores’ is what will be of interest to many people who are plagued with this viral infection. There is a particular carbohydrate  in Prunella vulgaris that stops the replication of HSV cells (1) or at least that is what they found in laboratory research even though any person half versed in the use of ‘weeds’ could have told them.  It even helps the kind that are resistant to Acyclovir the usual product recommended to treat the Herpes virus. Prunella will also help to reduce the severity of genital herpes but is not as good here as with HSV1.

(1) Chiua, LawrenceChi-Ming, WenZhub, and VincentEng-Choon Ooia. 2004. 

A polysaccharide fraction from medicinal herb Prunella vulgaris downregulates the expression of herpes simplex virus antigen in Vero cells. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 93(1):63-68. 


Halloween, being the start of winter, is also the time when the veil between the spirit world and our world is at its most transparent. It is the time when we remember the dead and there is the lovely custom of laying a place at the table for those loved ones who have died during the year.  this allows an opportunity to reminisce about the person and to share the void that has been left by their passing.