Pride & Healing Series: The Flowers We Request
Written and Photographed by Heather "Brydie" Harris and Sarah Nuñez
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). This series began with a brief examination of LGBTQ2+ history. The acronym, LGBTQIA+ has many variations, however this particular ordering stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit, with the plus symbol acknowledging the many other queer and trans identities that belong within. Examples of other identities include asexual, pansexual, genderqueer, non-binary, and intersex.
Starting with a historical reflection allows us to remember what historical events Pride came out of, and what intersecting systemic oppressions existed, and continue to exist, that led queer and trans people to resist, fight back, and organize for lasting change. The posts, as well as this article, will move through ways of healing, expressions of queer love, and finally toward queer and trans celebration, joy, and pride. Herbal recipes, an explanation of the uses of each herb and the ways it can be used to further queer and trans wellness, are outlined throughout the article.
Balm in Gilead Tea
Our first herbal recipe comes in the form of a healing tea. If you grew up Black and churched, you may know the African American spiritual, There Is a Balm in Gilead, whose lyrics serve as a sweet balm themselves. “There is a balm in Gilead/to make the wounded whole/there is a balm in Gilead/to heal the sin-sick soul.” Pride month may not immediately make you think of the spirituals, but I can’t help but wonder if Stonewall-era activists, Marsha P. Johnson or Stormé DeLarverie, grew up singing these very words. Black queer, transgender, and gender non-binary people led the resistance efforts in the face of police brutality against queer and transgender persons at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, which is now referred to as the Stonewall Riots. Learn more about the uprising at the Stonewall Inn.
This community action was a catalyst for the gay rights movement, and eventually, Pride. A Black trans-led movement, Stonewall was not only about queer and trans liberation, but also about confronting systemic racism, femmephobia, cissexism, and classism that work in tandem to become life limiting. The fight that began in the 1960s still remains and needs an even deeper intersectional and social justice analysis as Pride becomes a capitalist venture (see also this article and this one), and less about human rights. Tracing where we have been and where we need to go is crucial in continuing the work of our LGBTQIA2 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and two-spirit) ancestors. We need wellness for this journey. A balm.
Our Balm in Gilead tea blend is a comforting blend that soothes the nervous system and supports emotional and somatic calm. Brew and sip in the evening. The name not only signifies the refusal of enslaved Africans to lose their spiritual core, but also Gilead, an ancient area of Palestine, and Palestinian medicinal plant knowledge. This serves as a reminder that our liberation and our healing are dependent on one another, and on our collective remembering.
Our first ingredient is lemon balm. The lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) we used for the brew was grown locally in Sarah’s garden where we live in Louisville, Kentucky. Lemon balm is used for easing anxiety, relieving stress, and supporting cognitive function and focus. A main outcome of trauma and societal stress is a loss of memory function and an increase in anxiety and depression. Lemon balm is a helpful herb for queer, trans, and otherwise marginalized persons who would benefit from its healing properties. Similarly, chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), our second ingredient, improves anxiety, aids in digestion, and reduces inflammation.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), our final tea ingredient, grown in Brydie’s garden and one of their favorite medicines, offers mild pain relief, especially related to migraines and menstruation. Feverfew works best for migraines if taken on a regular basis but offers some acute relief. Both the leaves and flowers of feverfew can be steeped for tea. Use caution before using feverfew if you are pregnant, on blood thinners, are heavily bleeding or allergic to ragweed. Consult a healthcare provider before using any new herbal medicines.
Our optional ingredient, that we particularly love, is locally sourced honey: honey, local to your area, boosts immunity, soothes allergies, and is used for its antioxidant properties. Agave nectar can be substituted for those following a vegan diet, or for those who may benefit from agave’s many health benefits, as it contains folate, vitamin k, as well as B6.
Healing Herbal Bath
In the book The Salt Eaters, Toni Cade Bambara’s character, who is a healer, asks, “Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?” Often the healing journey is too heavy, especially for queer and trans folks, particularly those of color, who have been forced to carry more than their share of harm and the burden of changing the conditions of the harm being perpetrated against them. The burden of carrying both trauma and the hardship of repairing a society oriented against you, is a daily, heavy, reality for queer and trans people. Often legal victories, such as same gender marriage, cloud the reality of how far we have to go. Communal care and allied comradeship are antidotes to the ineffectual call of “self-care” which becomes just one more thing for the individual being harmed to have to carry.
Healing must be both an individual and communal process, but we can only carry so much. What can we, queer and trans folks, put down? If you are desiring to join in comradeship with the oppressed, what can you pick up to shift the weight of the load? Audre Lorde, a Black lesbian feminist, taught us that we can use our own erotic center as power. Placing down what no longer serves us, tapping into our powerful queer erotic core, and ritualizing individual and communal care can help us on the journey to wellness. In its many forms.
In this healing bath, the second of our recipes, we invite you to awaken the senses, tap into your erotic, and get ready to spiritually cleanse from all you have been carrying; heal, get your goods, and be well. You can view this bath as a ritualized first step in taking up the serious task of individual and community supported wellness. The ingredients in the bath blend are chosen for their cleansing, anti-inflammatory, soothing, stress relieving, and detoxifying properties.
Coconut oil is used as a carrier oil for the essential oils and to moisturize the skin. Orange essential oil is anti-inflammatory, works as a mild pain reliever, it is antimicrobial, and helps to clear the skin of acne causing bacteria, and aids in lifting the symptoms caused from depression and anxiety. Precaution: some orange oils cause photosensitivity. Use caution when using citrus oils before going out into the sun. Lavender essential oil is calming, aids in relaxation and easing insomnia, helps to ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety, is anti-inflammatory, as well as antibacterial. Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, helps gently improve inflammation, aids sleep and soothes stress thanks to its high level of magnesium that is absorbed through the skin during an Epsom salt bath. The salt can also be beneficial as a gentle exfoliator used in moderation in the bath before it completely dissolves. Amethyst is a quartz that is radiantly purple. It shields from intoxication, and ushers in our higher selves. It promotes calm, tranquility, and relaxation, as well as clarity of thinking and comprehension. Amethyst is a path clearer, protecting us from becoming intoxicated by our own self-doubt, fear, and stuckness.
Herbal Awakening Bath
❤️ Mix 1 Tablespoon (14.8 ml) of coconut oil with 2-3 drops of orange and lavender essential oil
🧡 Blend oil with 1 cup (240 ml) epsom salt
💛 Have your honey/lover/friend draw a hot bath for you
💚 Mix the salt blend to your bath
💙 Add in Amethyst Crystal to the bath water
💜 Optional: Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) or Roselle/Jamaica (Hibiscus sabdariffa) for pink and red hues in the water, or violet (Viola spp.) for purple and blue. Himalayan salt can also be added to the epsom salt, and dried lavender flowers can be added to the mix. Soak and enjoy for 20 minutes, or split the recipe in half and use for two foot baths that you can give to one another.
🖤 Enjoy our playlist or a chapter from The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care Edited by Zena Sharman.
Queer Floral Adornment
We spent the first week of this month-long series on instagram talking about the fight we came from, the sweat and blood struggle of, largely, transwomen of color, willing to throw literal and figurative bricks at a society meant to kill us, both quickly, and slowly. Locally, to the individual, and malignantly, in the attempted killing off of a people, and spiritually, in the soul-death of our spirit. The killing off, at its multiple entry points, failed. The second week we wrote about things too heavy to carry, and the need for communal care. We bathed one another’s feet in magenta-hued herbal water, cleansing one another from the path we have walked and energizing each other for the road we continue to climb.
In the third post we chose pleasure. Joy functions as a radical maneuver for the oppressed. Bodily pleasure, public expressions of raw joy, unapologetic communing with nature, laughter, and love, and all that is ours to claim is in direct opposition to those things that are meant to tear us down. Queer adornment is not frivolous floral fun. It is a spatial reclamation and naming of what we know belongs to us: beauty, love, flamboyance, the femme erotic, and fashioning one another in the name of life saving joy.
Peony (Paeonia spp.) for romance, rose (Rosa spp.) for love, echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) for healing, pampas grass for sexual exploration, clematis for ingenuity, hyacinth (Hyacinthus spp.) for pride, mallow (Malva spp.) for protection, and our beloved lavender (Lavandula spp.) as a symbol who we are, in our gorgeous multiplicity, and where we have come from. Lavender was first used against us a way to pejoratively mark anyone thought of as queer, but it was reclaimed by queer and trans folks, and now serves as a symbol of our beauty and creativity. It is a symbol of a devotion to ourselves, to the struggle, and to each other. This week’s recipe is simple: love, and be love, and be loved, beloved.
In the final week, beloved, and the last post in our Pride & Healing series, we set our intentions in the form of a question, “where are we going and what do we need when we get there?” I think of those beautiful lyrics by Osibisa:
“We are going/heaven knows where we are going/we know we’re there/We will get there/heaven knows how we will get there/we know we will. It will be hard we know/and the road will be muddy and rough/but we’ll get there/heaven knows how we will get there/ we know we will.”
The goal is this: we are going, we are continuously moving forward in justice and in love, and we are not leaving anyone behind when we do. We are bringing all of our genders, desires, colors, cultures, ages, dreams, and needs, and they will be met together. We are preparing for this journey continuously, not forgetting to stop and to celebrate. This week Sarah and I are meeting in the garden, cock- and mock-tails in hand, hearts open, and minds envisioning and scheming how we will bring healing into being. We pour out libations to those who have already begun this fight and we remember them. Audre Lorde, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Bayard Rustin, James Baldwin, Ernestine Eckstein, Ruth Ellis, and so many, many others. We say their names.
For this week’s recipe we made cocktails using tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum), or holy basil. Tulsi is an adaptogenic herb that supports the body in processing emotional stress, such as anxiety and mental fatigue. As always, consult your healthcare provider before adding new medicinal herbs to your diet, especially ask your provider if tulsi is safe for you, if you have low blood sugar or are trying to conceive. Tulsi is remarkable and powerful medicine that should be taken seriously, even when enjoying celebratorily. Tulsi is magical against anxiety, exhaustion, and a fatigued system. Tulsi gives us the energy we need to dream up the world we need and the world we are building. Learn more about growing and using tulsi.
In the garden we dream of what we still need. Land, access to education about herbs and other botanicals, rootwork, and culturally appropriate natural healing and traditional medicines. We need financial and social capital so that queer and trans folks may produce their own herbs for the movement and for our collective healing. We need co-conspirators; comrades in the fight who will align their gender, sexuality, and/or race privilege to bring about the things queer and trans, and queer and trans people of color, need for our thriving, wellness, and survival.
Heaven knows where we are going. We know we will.
Cheers, L’chaim, Salud, Ashe, and Amen.
Cocktail: “Holy Kir Royale”
- ½ ounce tulsi elixir (recipe below)
- ½ ounce crème de cassis
- Fill glass with champagne
Mocktail: “Holy Persephone”
- A few leaves fresh tulsi and one sugar cube muddled in bottom of rocks glass
- 1 oz pomegranate juice
- Finish glass with Chateau de Fleur or another non-alcoholic sparkling wine or a sparkling water OR combine pomegranate juice and sparkling wine and top with fresh tulsi sprigs
- Optional: add bitters and/or simple syrup to taste. Pro-tip! I love to muddle the tulsi and sugar with a splash of orange bitters.
- 1 cup (240 ml) fresh tulsi
- ½ cup (120 ml) local honey
- 2 cups (240 ml) of favorite alcohol (vodka works well)
Combine all ingredients into a dark bottle and place in a cool dark place, like a cabinet, for two weeks. Strain and enjoy in mixed drinks or enjoy as is in tablespoon increments. Elixir, stored in a tight, dark container, in a cool place, can have a shelf life of 1 to 2 years.
For additional reading, check out some of our recommendations:
- The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care Edited by Zena Sharman
- The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love by Sonya Renee Taylor
- My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem
- Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Check out Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine’s Instagram page, @chestnutschoolherbs, for all original posts and additional photos in the Pride & Healing Series.
HEATHER "BRYDIE" HARRIS (they/them) is an independent garden enthusiast, animal lover, and academic. Brydie’s research interests are based in the Black queer experience through the framework of womanist and queer theory and theology via transcontinental social justice imaginaries and Afrofuturistic thought. Brydie is a Black, multiracial, non-binary femme, nurturer, and scholar-activist. They align themselves with the latest iteration of the Black freedom movement: Black Lives Matter, as well as indigenous communities around the globe. They like science fiction, cats, plants, and lodging spiritual warfare against fascism. Brydie is a PhD Candidate in Pan-African studies at the University of Louisville and holds a MA in Social Justice and Ethics and a BA in Women and Gender Studies.
SARAH NUÑEZ (she/her/ella) is the Director of Equity, Social Justice, and Community Engagement with the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. Her focus with the school is to increase efforts, internally and externally, that co-create policies, cultures, and programs of equity and social justice for the school, staff, students, and communities served. She loves building power in the South, playing with her puppy, Willow, and making herbal tea blends and treats for Aflorar Herb Collective.
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