Slave doctor = Herbalist
Finding Information on slave Herbalism is extremely hard. Since the laws prevented slaves from reading, writing and practicing Herbalism. Slaves hid the practice in superstitious comical mannerism. Such as amusing rituals to throw off the scent of Herbalism practice. These were added techniques to avoid detection specifically since it could result in their death.
The origins of the slave doctor are clouded in oral family history throughout many black families. Many of our African ancestors came to this knowledge of Herbalism and proof of the importance of Herbalism was signified with the jewelry they wore (made from roots and herbs and seeds). Many enslaved Africans entered the new world with bracelets, jewelry, clothing and footwear adorned with seeds, nuts and roots. The boats that transported them into slavery were loaded with long grasses with tons of herbal plant matter which most likely introduced new plants to North America.
It is known that African and Native Herbalism became intertwined through the contact of these cultures and documentation substantiates this by homesteading housewives and plantation owners who allowed their slaves to practice medicine.
Herbs like boneset, pine needles, pokeweed, May apple, red pepper and various roots were commonly used by slave doctors. Slaves preferred to treat their own ailments and make their own remedies. Herbs and remedies were used to treat a variety of ailments, including midwifery, respiratory issues, protective amulets, rheumatism and asthma.
Some of these same slave remedies you can make today. The ingredients were very simple in most cases lard was used instead of beeswax with some very strong smelling ointments using ingredients that are effective but offensive smelling. Herbal medicine was used to fight against exposure to the surroundings and the elements. Slaves had to routinely fight against parasites, working in filthy conditions, dysentery, intestinal illness and many environmental type diseases due to poor living conditions (living with animals and eating poorly cooked and stored food. Herbalism was the first defense against the cruel environment and harsh physical conditions faced in their lifetime.
Slaves continued using herbs from Africa when practicing Herbalism via methods of transplantation from the ships that carried them (loaded with seeds and native grasses). They continued to wear necklaces made of herbs to ward off illness. Tinctures, tonics and herbal blends were a daily supplement taken to maintain health. All instructions were very simple and easy to make as previously mentioned and tended to be harsh on the pallet in addition to the sense of smell. Common ailments in a slave camp would range pneumonia, fever, sore throats, sore muscles, bronchitis and respiratory issues a lot contributed to their living and working environments.
Children who worked in areas afflicted with the disease were known to adorn necklaces of asafetida to ward off disease. Castor oil was a very familiar in slave quarters mainly used as a laxative and great for the skin and hair as well. Slave medicine was well practiced on the plantation, but occasionally European doctors were called in to treat severe illness. This was a last resort, slaves preferred to treat themselves and did not like the process of bloodletting which was one of the main practices of the day.
Most of the information provided in this article has been plucked from journal entries and documents relating to university pdf’s on slave history and the study of plantations. Oral contributions were made from stories and lessons passed down from elders who still practice forms of Herbalism via baking, cooking and creating their own herbal medicine.
Nefertiti Nikolovski - Small is an Certified Master Herbalist (MH), Certified Reiki Master Level 3 Practitioner and Teacher in addition to a Certified Life Purpose Coach. She lives and operates Big Mama Small's Farm Holistic Practice and Apothecary from her 10 acre Hobby farm located in Trent Hills Ontario.
Certified Master Herbalist , Certified Life Coach, Certified Reiki Master Level 3 Practitioner & Teacher , Hippy loving, Animal Lover, Educator,