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A patient’s decision to use home remedies may be based on personal, cultural, and historical reasons, with one of the most prevalent reasons being the lack of access to conventional healthcare. Although home remedies have been embedded into certain cultures and families, doctors question the effectiveness and medicinal content in home remedies. Due to socioeconomic influence and burden, individuals feel obligated to use home remedies out of necessity, rather than preferences. Many poor families are faced with a difficult dilemma: choosing conventional medicine with high healthcare costs or choosing home remedies that are much cheaper in comparison. Therefore, poorer families use home remedies at a higher rate because poverty and home remedies are passed down from generation to generation. Overall, the prevalent use of home remedies among poor families stems from socioeconomic restraints, thus highlighting an intergenerational trend and a systemic issue where minority groups are more likely to be limited by financial barriers and access to healthcare.

Home Remedies in Poor Families

First, poor families tend to use home remedies at a higher rate. For example, Eleanor, a 77-year-old African American woman, explains how her family were poor cotton farmers and she grew up with nine siblings in Scotland County, North Carolina. As a result, when she became sick, she “didn’t go to the doctor, I assume that we couldn’t afford it, but they had those home remedies”.1  She further elaborates on how her family’s home remedies included sweet oil for earaches and spider webs for cuts. Her story demonstrates how home remedy use is rooted in economic barriers. It also reflects the need for resourcefulness when money and supplies are limited. Overall, her family’s home remedy use reflects a common trend faced by poor families who lack access to healthcare due to financial limitations.

Similarly, according to a recent study conducted on home remedy use by elderly rural adults, an increase in financial hardship is correlated with an increase in home remedy use. 35.9% of individuals making a household income of less than $10,000 use home remedies, compared to 21.4% of those between $10,000 to $14,999, 20.8% of those between $15,000 to $24,999, and 21.9% of those above $25,000.2 Grzywacz’s study suggests that the statistical differences in home remedy use are explained by economic hardship because poor individuals often live in rural areas with few physicians. In addition, they need to travel longer distances and leave work early to go to a hospital, which reduces their daily income. Therefore, this study highlights how poor families can stretch their limited financial resources by seeking cheaper home remedies instead.

Intergenerational Poverty and Home Remedy Use

Furthermore, there is a trend of home remedies being passed down from generation to generation. Oftentimes, families are trapped in a perpetual cycle of poverty, thus their children are more likely to use home remedies because they also cannot afford it financially. For example, Meranda explains how her grandparents and older people in her community “always knew how to take care of it at home, passed that along throughout generations… I mean, you do what you can”.3 Essentially, she was trying everything but seeking actual professional medical advice, including putting rice socks to treat sore cramps or a capful of whiskey in tea to treat fevers. As a poor college student who struggled with paying for healthcare, she felt a need to follow her grandparents’ home remedies, thus demonstrating a generational influence. In the future, Meranda’s children and grandchildren will also be trapped in the same cycle of poverty, which forces them to save money and use home remedies when they are sick.

In addition, families reported that 80% of their knowledge about home remedies “came primarily from family members”.4 This statistic further establishes the trend of home remedies being passed down through families and communities. When individuals find themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty, they turn to their ancestors’ practices and home remedies as a cost-effective alternative. From their perspective, home remedies are seen as a lifeline that provides pain relief and healing, especially when traditional medicine is inaccessible.

Disproportionate Rates in Minority Groups

Lastly, minority groups are more likely to use home remedies because they are limited by financial barriers and access to healthcare. For example, a study was conducted on older adults ages 65+ from rural North Carolina. It revealed that 60% of African Americans and 46% of white Americans used food home remedies, including vinegar, lemon, and honey.5 Similarly, 66% of African Americans and 40% of white Americans used non-food home remedies such as Vaseline, alcohol, and Epsom salts.5 The majority of participants reported that “knowledge about the home remedies was frequently passed on to the respondents when they were children,” which illustrates an intergenerational trend between all three factors: race, poverty, and home remedies.5 Furthermore, African American reported the greatest use of home remedies, which Quandt suggests may be associated with their caregiving role in traditional family dynamics.

Expanding beyond North Carolina, African American adults (27.9%) were still statistically significantly more likely to use home remedies than white adults (14.7%) on a national scale.6 The study also emphasized that African Americans have a long history of home remedies, which originates from when they were denied access to healthcare. Even today, they have lower access to healthcare compared to their wealthier White counterparts. Overall, this statistic explains how minority groups depend on home remedies because traditional medical care was less accessible and affordable.


In conclusion, many poor families are left with no choice but to choose home remedies that are much cheaper than conventional medicine. Subsequently, since minority groups are more likely to be affected by intergenerational poverty, it also implies that home remedy use will be higher for minority groups. Therefore, we cannot ignore the widening gap in access to traditional healthcare between different racial and socioeconomic groups. In the future, it is important to pass policies to improve healthcare coverage and lower prescription medications for all groups. It is unfortunate that home remedies are the only access to healthcare for poor families. However, rather than removing home remedies entirely, the government should work on improving public healthcare so the families have a choice and not an obligation to use home remedies out of necessity.


1. Eleanor. Interview with Madelaine Katz. 30 July 2019 (Y-0111). Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007), Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

2. Grzywacz, Joseph G et al. “Ethnic Differences in Elders’ Home Remedy Use: Sociostructural Explanations.” American Journal of Health Behavior, vol. 30, no. 1, 2006, 39-50.

3. Bennett, Meranda. Interview with Joanna Ramirez. 15 June 2018 (Y-0009). Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007), Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

4. Parisius, Lisa M et al. “Use of Home Remedies: A Cross-Sectional Survey of Patients in Germany.” BMC Fam Pract, vol. 15, no. 116, 2014.

5. Quandt, Sara A et al. “Home Remedy Use Among African American and White Older Adults.” Journal of the National Medical Association vol. 107, no. 2, 2015, pp. 121-129.

6. Foster, Pamela P et al. “Physician Trust and Home Remedy Use Among Low-Income Blacks and Whites with Hypertension: Findings from the TRUST Study.” Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, vol. 6, 2019, pp. 830–835.

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