The Amish religion does not entirely reject the use of conventional medicine. However, Amish culture tends to value naturopathic and low-tech remedies over pharmaceutical drugs. Most Amish folk remedies are based in traditional German medical techniques, but Amish folk medicine also borrows from indigenous American culture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Amish folk medicine is taught through word-of-mouth, farmer’s almanacs and community newsletters like the “Sugar Creek Budget.” Popular folk remedies within Amish culture include prayer, herbal medicine, chiropractic care, iridology and specialized dietary programs.
Herbal remedies are popular within Amish communities and are used to treat dozens of diseases and conditions. The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) reports that herbal remedies can take the form of poultices, salves, teas, ointments and tonics. The Amish may use bitter herbs, peppermint or ginger to aid in digestion. Immunostimulant herbs like echinacea and garlic are used for battling infection, while herbal anti-inflammatories may be used to treat arthritis. Because the Amish traditionally value large families, many herbal blends are designed to improve sexual health and fertility for both men and women.
The medical journal “Complementary Therapies in Medicine” reports that over one-third of Amish women use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) during pregnancy. The journal notes that chiropractic care is a popular practice within the Amish community; however, GAMEO notes that Amish “quasi-chiropractic” centers are actually based in methods such as massage and reflexology. The Amish may use chiropractic care and massage to treat pain, inflammation, arthritis, malaise and complications of pregnancy. Related practices like acupuncture and acupressure are also popular among the Amish.
In 1981, the New York Times published an article about an Amish herbalist, Solomon Wickey, who was the subject of controversy because he practiced medical therapies without a license. Wickey diagnosed his clients by observing patterns and shapes in the iris of the eye—a practice known as iridology. While this technique is popular within the Amish community and many European CAM centers, it is widely dismissed as pseudoscientific by the mainstream medical community in the United States. Iridology may be used as a diagnostic tool by some Amish practitioners; others use it to determine which folk medicine should be given to the patient.
Alternative Cancer Treatment
The Amish tend to be skeptical of chemotherapy, radiation treatment and other potentially hazardous forms of cancer treatment. Because of this, the Amish community has helped to pioneer new research regarding alternative cancer treatment. Many of the methods practiced at the controversial Hoxsey Cancer Clinic are based in traditional Amish folk medicine. Faith healing, specialized diets and tumor-fighting herbs like red clover may be used to help the body battle cancer. Corn silk and pumpkin seeds are consumed routinely by Amish men as a traditional method for preventing prostate cancer.
Other CAM Techniques
GAMEO notes that, while most Amish folk medicines are European in origin, the Amish are also likely to “borrow” methods from exotic cultures. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices are relatively common and may include the use of exotic herbs like ginseng. The Amish may also use folk remedies that are endemic to Amish and Mennonite communities—such as sitting in a uranium mine to treat arthritis. Hydrotherapy, vitamins, juices and specialized diets may also be used within Amish communities. Additionally, while the Amish rarely rely on faith healing alone, prayer and spiritual healing are intrinsic to all traditional medical techniques.