Traditional Medicine

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food - Hippocrates

Surrounded by rich forests and oceans we have often turned to the plants around us for medicine and health. Even as modern medicine enters our islands many traditional medicines remain not just part of our history but an important part in our culture and health with practises passed down through generations. This is especially important in rural settings where traditional medicines can offer an affordable treatment to many injuries as medical centres are far away. In fact, the latest research suggests that between 40-60% of Pacific Islands use traditional medicine. Even modern medicine makes use of many traditional medicinal practises and interest in investigating traditional practises in the Pacific is growing.

While traditional medicines have been used to treat wounds and temporary ailments, the most common illnesses faced by modern Pacific Islanders are now Heart Disease and Diabetes. For these illnesses traditional foods also work as kind of traditional medicine. This is evidenced from the sharp rise in diabetes and heart disease as we move away from our traditional diets and lifestyles. In fact, the most powerful and evidence based form of traditional medicine you can use is following a diet that is full of healthy local foods, everyday.

See more on healthy Pacific Eating, healthy eating in Diabetes and Heart Disease.

There are some local foods and plants that go above and beyond for our health, containing special properties and very high levels of nutrients. Check out some of these foods and plants below – you may be surprised by just how common and affordable they are!

Oily Fish

Oily Fish

Including Pacific Tuna, mackerel, sardines and salmon when available. Studying have found that just two servings a week can help lower blood pressure and reduce fat build up in the arteries (both of which can lower the risk of heart disease) and could help reduce the risk of age related macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness). Read more



Garlic has been used throughout the Pacific Islands to combat a variety of illnesses. Research has found it can be helpful in lowering blood pressure and high cholesterol when included in a healthy diet. Unfortunately there is no evidence that garlic can work as an aphrodisiac, flu prevention or to treat asthma. Garlic also shows antibacterial and antifungal activity, it is most active 10 minutes after cooking so use fresh garlic in your cooking. Read more



Ango tonga renga cooks, re’a niue avea Fiji ago samoa. Traditionally used to treat rashes and bruising, especially in newborns, food poisoning, fish poisoning and eye infections. Research has supported its use in the treatment of acid reflux (indigestion), flatulence and atonic dyspepsia. Turmeric also has anti-inflammatory properties (inflammation can cause NCDs and arthritis).. Read more



This humble leafy green is loaded with iron, potassium, folic acid and many more vitamins as well as some healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Planted by Hippocrates himself in the very first hospital in 400BC and credited with helping prevent scurvy in James Cooks voyages watercress can be found in markets, creeks and homes around the islands. Watercress has the potential to help prevent the progression of breast and lung cancer and its high iron content makes it a powerful food in preventing the Pacific’s most prominent deficiency.


Pawpaw TM

Pawpaw thrives all around the pacific. Traditionally its leaves, sap and fermented fruit has been used in wound treatment it now plays an important role, along with other orange coloured tropical fruits and vegetables in providing Pacific Islanders with vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency is the second most common vitamin deficiency in the Pacific and severely impacts on the health development of children.

Noni Juice

Noni Juice

While Noni Juice has been promoted to do everything from cure cancer to HIV unfortunately no evidence exists to support such claims. The juice does contain many antioxidants and a lot of potassium but these can be found in all fruits and vegetables. Due to its high potassium levels pregnant women, people with a history of liver problems and people with kidney problems are advised against drinking it. Read more


Additional Resources

who rs

The World Health Organisations Regional Strategy for Traditional Medicine for the Western Pacific 2011-2020

Provides advice to countries on how to maximise the health potential of Traditional Medicine.

APIA Action Plan

Apia Action Plan on Traditional Medicine in the Pacific Island Countries 2000

This Plan aimed to promote traditional medicine and its integration into the health system.

Medicinal Plants

Medicinal Plants of the South Pacific

A guide to over 100 traditional medicines and their uses throughout the Pacific Islands.

Guide Common Edible Medicinal Sea Plants

A Guide to the Common Edible and Medicinal Sea Plants of the Pacific Islands

Includes the traditional uses, harvesting techniques and health benefits of common sea plants in the Pacific.