Life is such a wild ride. One moment I make a miraculous breakthrough in my health using natural medicine and the next, I am in an emergency room with a cervical fibroid the size of a baby’s head. One moment I am told I am on the verge of a stroke, the next, I am breastfeeding a newborn child at age 37. And through it all, my faith in herbal medicine is unwavering.
My grandmother, who all twenty something of her grandchildren affectionately refer to as “Gramis,” is my first teacher and greatest inspiration. For whatever may ail us, she has an herb or root or “menjurje” to cure it. And she certainly always did. Once, I had swollen lymph glands under my jawline and before you knew it, she grilled tomatoes on an open flame and placed them on my lymph nodes, wrapped me in an ace bandage like a burn victim and sent me on my way. I woke up completely healed. And all of us have experienced the comfort of her “gordolobo” (mullein flowers) tea on a sore throat. Herbs and concoctions unfamiliar to many were and continue to be commonplace in our family.
My Gramis has been an uncertified herbalist with a certifiably impressive track list of healing my entire life. And I am completely invested in learning about and utilizing herbs thanks to her. Our phone conversations are three parts talking shop, one part talking chisme.
This love for herbs and earth medicine runs through my DNA and is a natural preference over allopathic medicine for me. My grandmother talks about her own mother, Francisca, who was an incredibly skilled and resourceful culinary goddess that would even make and fire her own clay pots for cooking. She knew the medicinal properties of different tree barks and regional herbs and used them to heal her children. Her husband – my great grandfather – planted and cultivated everything they ate. Francisca would coil slivered, freshly harvested squash around a clothesline to be dried by the sun to be preserved or candied. They collected shrimp and fished for their dinner at the river near the village they lived in just outside of Culiacan, Sinaloa. They truly “lived off the land” and are only three generations removed from the industrialized food system I have become hyper aware of and try to limit my participation in. She was a Libra like me, and sometimes I feel so connected to her when I create culinary deliciousness or when I create a functional piece of art.
Today is Dia de los Muertos, a day to reflect upon the stories of ancestors that swirl around me and through my veins in the form of preferences and proclivities, whether or not I ever knew them in the flesh. Besides this beautiful great grandmother I never had the pleasure of knowing, I have two loved ones I did know very well whom I honor today. Interestingly, both lived in my childhood home for brief seasons, both were gay doctors, and both were the source of some of the most painfully hilarious belly laughs of my youth. They are my uncles Victor and Arturo and I remember their smell, their voice, their humor.
I remember the traditional medicine they infused into their clinical practice in and out of the office. As a teenager, my uncle Victor told me that if I ever got any type of vaginal itch or infection, I was to soak oatmeal in warm water, put it in cheesecloth, and gently pat the moistened cheesecloth on my vagina and it would clear. It was a random, unsolicited tip, but I’ve passed that wisdom along to friends and will eventually share it with my little girl. It is this wisdom of the earth conveyed through ancestors that I am lighting candles for on this special day of remembrance. May I never forget the magic in simple herbs and so called 'weeds'. May I never sacrifice tradition for convenience. And may I never forget that love in any concoction is always the active ingredient.
 Menjurje: the correct word is “menjunje,” but we hear our elders pronounce it as “menjurje.” Menjurjes are combinations of natural substances to ne drank or eaten for healing purposes. It is a Spanish word for a medicinal “concoction.”