WHO defines traditional medicine as including diverse health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant, animal, and/or mineral based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises applied singularly or in combination to maintain well-being, as well as to treat, diagnose or prevent illness.
According to WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002-2005 document:
"Traditional medicine is a comprehensive term used to refer both to TM systems such as traditional Chinese medicine, Indian ayurveda and Arabic unani medicine, and to various forms of indigenous medicine. TM therapies include medication therapies if they involve use of herbal medicines, animal parts and/or minerals - and non-medication therapies - if they are carried out primarily without the use of medication, as in the case of acupuncture, manual therapies and spiritual therapies."
Earlier, a group of experts convened by the WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville in 1976 defined traditional medicine as:
“...The sum total of all the knowledge and practices, whether explicable or not, used in diagnosis, prevention and elimination of physical, mental or social imbalance and relying exclusively on practical experience and observation handed down from generation to generation, whether verbally or in writing.”
The terms "complementary," "alternative," "non-conventional," or "parallel" are used to refer to a broad set of health care practices that are not part of a country's own tradition, or not integrated into its dominant health care system.
Hence, when speaking globally, WHO speaks about traditional medicine (TM) and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as TM/CAM.
For example, acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy. But many European countries define it as CAM, because it does not form part of their own health care traditions. Similarly, since homeopathy and chiropractic systems were developed in Europe in the 18th Century, after the introduction of allopathic medicine, they are not categorized as TM systems nor incorporated into the dominant modes of health care in Europe. Instead, they are regarded as a form of CAM.
Herbal medicine include herbs, herbal materials, herbal preparations and finished herbal products that contain as active ingredients parts of plants or other plant materials or combination thereof.
The laity in the Sudan designates their healing corpus as tibb and the sophisticated among them qualify it as tibb baladi, local medicine. They understand tibb as a fine skill that requires knowledge, intelligence and probably supernatural endowments such as magical powers and divine assistance. Incidentally, the word tibb also denotes magic. People would describe a sick person as matbub, bewitched, and at the same time say tabbab al-jarh, treated the wound and tabbab al-kasr, set the broken bone. Due to beliefs in the supernatural causation of ill health, local medicine in the Sudan, like almost all other similar systems throughout the world, is integral to the systems describing cosmic relations-mystical, empirical or rational. Therefore, there are in the country as many systems of traditional medicine as there are ethnic or cultural groups.