Malaria remains one of the main causes of mortality among young children in sub-Saharan Africa. In Nigeria traditional healers play an important role in health care delivery and the majority of the population depend on them for most of their ailments. The aim of this study was to investigate the perceptions of traditional healers regarding causes, symptoms, treatment of uncomplicated malaria and referral practices for severe malaria with a view to developing appropriate intervention strategies aimed at improving referral practices for severe malaria. A qualitative study was carried out in Ugwogo-Nike, a rural community in south-east Nigeria, which included in-depth interviews with 23 traditional healers. The traditional healers believed that the treatment of severe malaria, especially convulsions, with herbal remedies was very effective. Some traditional healers were familiar with the signs and symptoms of malaria, but malaria was perceived as an environmentally related disease caused by heat from the scorching sun. The majority of traditional healers believed that convulsions are inherited from parents, while a minority attributed them to evil spirits. Most (16/23) will not refer cases to a health facility because they believe in the efficacy of their herbal remedies. The few that did refer did so after several stages of traditional treatment, which resulted in long delays of about two weeks before appropriate treatment was received. The fact that traditional healers are important providers of treatment for severe malaria, especially convulsions, underlines the need to enlist their support in efforts to improve referral practices for severe malaria.