More and more folks are beginning to catch on that when you plant a garden, you get more than just food for the body. You are also planting and harvesting food for your soul. Can you imagine then, the breadth of sovereignty and satisfaction that can be accessed by additionally growing your own medicine?
The following is an excerpt from Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz’s book, Earth Medicines: Ancestral Wisdom, Healing Recipes, and Wellness Rituals from a Curandera, taken from the “Fire” chapter. It’s an easy recipe for iced hibiscus tea using fresh mint (Mentha spp.) and dried rose petals (Rosa spp.), harnessing the power of the Sun. She calls it Isis Sun Tea. The main ingredient in Isis Sun Tea are the calyces of the Hibiscus sabdariffa shrub, also known as roselle or by its common name, hibiscus.
One of my favorite ways to use hibiscus (oh, count the ways!) is in fire cider. Fire cider is basically a spicy herbal vinegar, often sweetened with a little honey. It’s taken by the dropperful or spoonful, depending on the cider’s strength and imbiber’s palette. Fire cider helps to clear out the sinuses and wake up the immune and circulatory systems. It can be taken to ward off a cold or other respiratory infection.
Back in the day, when I ran an in-person herbal school, my students would pick one herb and give a presentation on its medicinal qualities along with a sample: a spot of tea, a taste of tincture, or sometimes a nibble of the plant. When a student told me she’d be preparing lemon balm pesto, I gave an encouraging smile, belying my apprehension. I am a decidedly adventurous eater, but this pesto felt wrong. Never have I been so happy to eat crow.
With its citrusy aroma and quilted lime-green leaves, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) brightens our gardens and kitchens alike. This mint family medicinal is known as the “gladdening herb” for the uplifting qualities it brings to the spirit. Children have a particular fondness for its sunny aroma and sour flavor. Bees are equally fond of the herb—so much so that the Greek word for bee, melissa, is another name for the plant.
The emerald nettles queen reigns over the herbal realms with vim and vigor. The leaves of this legendary herb are packed with vitamins, minerals, and chlorophyll, and this vitality infuses into nutritive herbal teas, vinegars, and medicinal foods. It’s true that nettles (Urtica dioica, Urticaceae) wears a crown of nearly invisible silver prickles, primed to sting any who might dare to trespass, but the sting is disarmed when the leaves are dried or cooked.
Happy Pride! This blog post serves as an accompaniment to our month-long LGBTQ2+ Pride month series that has been posted weekly to Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine’s Instagram page throughout the month of June. The series, The Flowers We Request: Pride & Healing, has been written by Brydie (they/them) and Sarah (she/her/ella).
A plethora of resources are available for one interested in the rich traditions related to African American herbalism. Below are a few lists in various media. Included are books, conferences, Facebook groups, herbalists, organizations, and websites. This is of course only a subset of items in this field but will hopefully get you well on your way if you’re just starting to explore this area, and will be helpful to all one way or another.
Many new or modified herbal traditions arose within Black communities in North America. These traditions were most celebrated, documented, and depended upon in the Southeast, where slavery was most concentrated. Typical elements included a combination of African, European, and Indigenous healing modalities, medicinal herbs, spiritual practices, and folklore.
African American herbalism is part of the backbone of a multitude of healing traditions in many parts of the Americas. However, it is often underappreciated, as are the rich herbal traditions of the African continent. Thankfully, a time has come where lineages such as these are being lifted up and celebrated as part of the rich tapestry of healing formed over thousands of years and thousands of miles of transition and transformation.