Encyclopedia of Folk Medicine

Old World and New World Traditions

by Gabrielle Hatfield


Got whooping cough? Try fried mice. Earache? Treating it with ash sap might do the trick. The annals of English and American folk medicine are full of outlandish prescriptions. Others have proven quite sound, like treating earaches with ash sap, an ancient Roman cure that somehow became a part of British, North American, and Native American traditions.

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Cover image for Encyclopedia of Folk Medicine

December 2003


Pages 392
Volumes 1
Size 7x10
Topics Health & Wellness/Medicine
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    Hardcover: £67.00/73,00€/A$112.00

A wide-ranging compilation on the materia medica of the ordinary people of Britain and North America, comparing practices in both places.

Informative and engaging, yet authoritative and well researched, Encyclopedia of Folk Medicine reveals previously unexamined connections between folk medicine practices on either side of the Atlantic, as well as within different cultures (Celtic, Native American, etc.) in the United Kingdom and America. For students, school and public libraries, folklorists, anthropologists, or anyone interested in the history of medicine, it offers a unique way to explore the fascinating crossroads where social history, folk culture, and medical science meet.

From the 17th century to the present, the encyclopedia covers remedies from animal, vegetable, and mineral sources, as well as practices combining natural materia medica with rituals. Its over 200 alphabetically organized, fully cross-referenced entries allow readers to look up information both by ailment and by healing agent. Entries present both British and North American traditions side by side for easy comparison and identify the surprising number of overlaps between folk and scientific medicine.


  • Over 200 A–Z entries on all aspects of folk medicine from asthma and childbirth to poultice and warts
  • Primary source documents from a variety of public archives and private collections
  • Illustrations of plant, animal, and mineral sources for folk remedies
  • Complete and extensive end-of-entry references


  • The first comprehensive comparison of British and North American folk medicine practices and beliefs
  • Brings together information from a wide variety of sources, including oral traditions and manuscripts, on a theme of contemporary relevance
  • Explores areas where practical medicine overlaps with magic and myth, including elements of faith healing and hypnotic suggestion
  • Spotlights specific cultural traditions, such as Native American healing and Celtic folk medicine
Author Info

Gabrielle Hatfield, PhD, is a professional botanist. She received her doctorate in the history of medicine at Edinburgh University. Her published works include Country Remedies and Memory, Wisdom, and Healing.



"[A]n authoritative and exhaustively researched volume . . . well organized and attractively designed . . . for libraries with collections in the history of medicine, folklore, and anthropology."American Reference Books Annual

"Because oral traditions are often lost when practitioners die, this work makes a valuable contribution to folk medicine and to medical literature in general. It is also interesting to read . . . Highly recommended. All collections."Choice

"[W]ould be as much at home in folk culture collections as in a library's medical section. Public libraries with patron interest or academic libraries with collections in traditional medicine would profit from the author's historical approach."Booklist

"[T]his is a valiant effort at bringing together a considerable body of information. Even though the individual entries are short, Hatfield's catholic approach to selecting topics for articles and the thoroughness with which the entries are documented will make this a helpful source for those researching British and British-derived American folk medicine."Journal of American Folklore

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