Sunday, September 28, 2008

Infusions of Healing

In San Antonio we went to hear Frances Evans talk about Folk Medicine, Mexican-American Herbal Remedies. She told us about mal d'ojo and skunk oil, moldy bread (penicillin) and milagros, spider webs to stop bleeding, sugar and honey for bed sores, garlic for high blood pressure, vinegar and brown paper for sprains and burns. Beans from the mesquite tree, steeped to make tea, for an upset stomach, mud for an insect sting. The early Sears catalogs advertisied opium and cures for addiction.

This is one of the books she recommended. Joie Davidow describes hundreds of plants and their uses, how to prepare them, where and when to find them. Early chapters tell five hundred years of history, from the arrival in 1519 of Hernando Cortes at Vera Cruz up to the present day. My ears perked up at this because I lived for three years on Cortes Island in British Columbia. The island was named in 1792 during the expedition of Galiano and Valdes, presumably after Hernando Cortes.

Today, almost everyone in Mexico uses the traditional herbal remedies to some extent. The old medicines have never fallen of of use. Urban Mexicans use both ancient herbs and modern pharmaceuticals.

In south Texas many botanicas sell traditional herbs. Like their wandering Aztec ancestors, Mexican Americans are resourcesful people, learning to make use of whatever is available

Que magicas infusiones
de indios herbolarios
de mi patria, entre mis letras
el bechizo derramaron?

What are these magical infusions
of the Indian herbalists of my homeland,
that spill enchantment
over my pages?
- Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1648-1695)