The term domestic medicine refers to self-care, or familial care, practices informed by popular knowledge. Historically, domestic medicine was grounded in autonomous self-care and common production of locally available remedies. Today in the US, people are more likely to grab some OTC medications such as ibuprofen and cough drops, unless they are inclined towards natural remedies.

The Materia Medica used by both professional and domestic practitioners was plant based throughout much of human existence. I would argue it still is. There has been and always will be self-help material geared toward the “poorer sort of people that are not of abilitie to go to the physitions” [2] as well as those calling for exotic ingredients accessible only to the wealthy elite.

People were not put on trial for simply using plant medicine nor was it exclusively professional knowledge. Medicinal receipts were recorded in household manuscripts before there were even printing presses.

During the printing explosion of the 1500’s, household management and gardening books mentioning the medicinal uses of plants were widely published. There was a whole genre of “Book of Secrets” marketed that shared many medicinal and cosmetic receipts. Women even authored some, but I am going to wager that many of you have never heard of the authors.

As people of means became more valued as consumers rather than producers this slowly changed.  By the Victorian era too much “coarse” knowledge was considered unattractive in a woman. Doctors told wealthy parents that schooling might damage their daughters’ ovaries and that they should focus their daughters’ education in areas such as music and the arts. Well-to-do consumers went rushing down a path in which they became entirely dependent on the marketplace.

In rural areas and in families that could not afford access to the new healthcare marketplace, things carried on the way they always had. Families continued to grow most of their own food and herbs and mothers handed down their “choice” remedies. I know this because in 1919 my grandmother was 12 years old and helping her mother care for her father who had influenza. I grew up raised on home remedies and “closets” full of home-preserved food, as had always been the way of things in my poor rural family.

When I went to college, I made it a point to take a lot of classes to figure out when those paths diverged. I wrote a thesis in 2014 – most of which was not amazing. We won’t talk much about it, but I still believe in my conclusion which proposed that a strong popular healthcare culture grounded in sustainable practices contributes to the resiliency of a community. It has certainly contributed to the resiliency of my family.


[1] A.T., practitioner in physicke. A Rich Store-House or Treasury for the Diseased Wherein, … By A.T. 2005th-12 (EEBO-TCP Phase 1). ed. London, England: Printed for Thomas Purfoot, and Raph Blower, Ann., 1596. http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A13300.0001.001.