I just returned from the Southwest Conference on Botanical Medicine, which was held in Tempe, AZ from April 13th – 15th, 2012. Organized by and held at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, it was a wonderful conference – with an array of excellent herbalists, and doctors of many traditions of medicine.
Local botanical medicine is one of our best assets, when it comes to health! But unfortunately, most of us have grown up with a limited knowledge of how to pick plants and other medicinal substances from our respective regions and to employ these simple but powerful remedies to our benefit. Or perhaps we grew up in one region, but have transplanted ourselves to another – and we don’t really know the medicinal plants in our fields and yards. Of course, treating more serious problems has traditionally been the province of the medicine men and women in our midst — but readers would be shocked to know how many therapeutic plants are growing all around – and are not being utilized!
Because I’ve been gathering and using herbs since childhood for a wide range of purposes, l felt immediately at home with this crowd. I’m gratified to be expanding my knowledge of Chinese Herbology to the plants of the Sonoran Desert and the Southwest region…bringing the knowledge full-circle, for the benefit of myself and my patients.
Right now, so many flowers are blooming in the desert – and it’s a great time to be making flower essences, and harvesting plants for healing teas and tinctures. One of my favorite ideas from the conference is to decoct branches of our desert chaparral, Larrea tridentata, and fill wine bottles (or similar) full of the tea to have ready to add to evening baths. Larrea stimulates detoxification on many levels, and is a potent anti-inflammatory herb that aids liver function, helps alleviate toxicity in the digestive tract, acts as an anti-oxidant and free-radical scavenger, and is a good anti-fungal agent as well. Detoxification of the body has a similar effect on the emotions – and bathing in Larrea may help one to release emotions that feel particularly toxic or difficult to clear. I do not recommend that you drink the tea however, without being in the care of a competent herbal practitioner that recommends internal use…and its taste is unlikely to encourage you, anyway…
And if you don’t have a bathtub, consider soaking your feet in a similar manner!
Other desert plants can provide teas for after the bath, or skin-nourishing rituals… and many of our forms of Salvia and Artemesia can be used as “smudge” to clear stagnant energies in and around one’s home — or can be incorporated into prayer bundles (despacho) to use in ceremony, and/or clarify and brighten one’s spirits and energy field.
Our mineral-rich soils produce dynamic phytochemicals that can augment a healthy diet, and reduce the number of vitamins and nutraceuticals we purchase ready-made, in stores. In my view, the more we can gather around us – and trade/purchase locally – the better off we are!
I spent a day doing field studies in the Superstition Mountains with herbalist Mimi Kamp, who lives in Naco, AZ and produces a number of wonderful flower essences and infused oils from the desert. Mimi’s a genuine “plant whisperer” and taught me many valuable lessons over the course of the day. Her line is called Essence of the Desert – Find Mimi at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Another gem was ethnobotanist Martha Ames Burgess, who teaches for Native Seed Search and makes medicines and other products through her line, Flor de Mayo. (flordemayoarts.com) On the retail end, I also want to give a nod to the Tucson Herb Store on 4th Ave, where Chinese Medicine colleague/student Amanda Brown provides a nice range of remedies and products from the Sonoran desert. And check out the wonderful products produced by molera Amy Valdés Schwemm, at Mano y Metate – (www.manoymetate.com) – and sold in many “locavore” shops and markets.Let’s all consider making our medicinal choices even more local, and sustainable – and let’s share the culinary and healing bounty of Sonora with our neighbors!