An ethnographic study of home remedy use for African-American children

Glenda Lou Smith, The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston


Background and significance. The use of herbs and other remedies by adult and elderly African-Americans has been documented. However, little is understood regarding the use of herbs for African-American children. The purpose of this study was to document and describe the historical and present day uses of herbal and other remedies, specifically for the health and illness of African-American children. This information will provide health care providers with a better understanding of their African-American patients. This information may also contribute to the emerging appreciation of indigenous uses of phytotherapeutics. Methods. A focused ethnographic approach was used to describe the cultural context, including the beliefs, values, customs, and behaviors of a particular culture. The use of intensive fieldwork, including participant observation, audiotaped formal interviews, photographs, and specimen collection of plants helped to describe herb use in this population. Information on the growing, harvesting, preparation, and storage of these plant remedies, as well as the amount and dosage of these compounds was collected in a typology. Detailed information was gathered to discern how, when, and under what conditions these remedies were used and their expected results. Further data collection focused on the history of herbal use, and explanations for how and why informants thought the herbs work. Setting and participants. The setting for this study was in East Texas and field work extended over the period of one year. Thirty African-Americans, age 38 to 98, were interviewed for the study. The African-American population in this area has been relatively stable, with roots dating back prior to the reconstruction period, which allowed excellent historical information. Informants were chosen by a nominated sampling technique starting with two key informants knowledgeable about the use of home remedies for children. Findings. The findings of this study suggest that African-American children in East Texas have a long history of receiving herbs and home remedies for health promotion and illness. Data further suggests that there is a strong connection between spirituality and the health beliefs and practices of this community. This spiritual component underlies the accuracy of oral recall for remedies that have been used over many generations and the use of natural folk remedies. A typology of the herbal remedies was developed with folk and Latin name, herb place of origin, known scientific properties, and informant folk usage and dosage information.

Subject Area

Nursing|Cultural anthropology|Ethnic studies|Black studies|African American Studies

Recommended Citation

Smith, Glenda Lou, "An ethnographic study of home remedy use for African-American children" (2001). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3003094.