UCLA Archive of Healing Promotes & Protects Indigenous Folk Medicine

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“Folk medicine [includes] the beliefs and practices that we learn and teach in our first-hand interactions with one another in our everyday lives.”

By Arielle Tiangco for The Optimist Daily: Making Solutions the News

As western medicine expands, we’ve lost sight of some of the natural healing methods that indigenous communities have used for thousands of years.

This ancient medicinal wisdom which humanity relied on for thousands of years before the institutionalization of medicine is often overlooked, meaning some of this knowledge risks being lost forever. This includes medicinal folklore, herbal treatments, and ritual healing from a plentitude of cultures across the globe.

To preserve this valuable knowledge, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have created an online platform called the Archive of Healing which features thousands of previously delegitimized traditional therapies spanning seven continents and 200 years.

David Shorter, director of the digital archive, states that their priority “is to democratize what we think of as healing and knowledge about healing and take it across cultures in a way that’s respectful and gives attention to intellectual property rights.”

Wayland Hand, a former faculty member at UCLA actually launched the database over 40 years ago. Folklorist Michael Owen Jones started digitizing the collection (called the Archive of Traditional Medicine at the time) after receiving a grant in 1996, but once Jones retired in 2007, the database sat largely untouched for many years.

It wasn’t until 2012 that the database was brought to Shorter’s attention by a university librarian. With the help of programmer Michael Lynch and students enrolled in a specialized course that zoned in on interdisciplinary studies of healing, the data was re-coded and an online interface was built to show visitors personalized results based on whether they are a health care provider, researcher, or general user.

If you register to the site, you can expect to easily search for cures to common colds, bee stings, burns, etc. You can also refine your search based on treatment type like “plant-based” or “consumable,” depending on your specific needs.

The team is careful to emphasize that the medicinal advice that is featured in the database is not medicine that requires a license, and that you shouldn’t expect to substitute expert medical counsel for what is found in the Archive of Healing. Rather, like Jones said in 2005 for UCLA’s independent student newspaper, “Folk medicine [includes] the beliefs and practices that we learn and teach in our first-hand interactions with one another in our everyday lives.”

Shorter and his team hopes that they will be able to accept new contributions by late 2021 or early 2022, allowing users to swap information and leave comments or suggestions.

By Arielle Tiangco for The Optimist Daily: Making Solutions the News

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