What is Traditional Latino Herbalism?
Using plants to restore health is an ancient tradition common to cultures around the world. Some systems of herbal medicine are more prominent and documented than others. The Spice Trade popularized the use of European culinary and medicinal herbs like rosemary, oregano and basil in Latin America, in addition to Asian plants, like turmeric, ginger and cardamom. Another example is the rapid dispersion of Chinese Traditional Medicine, including herbs and acupuncture, now more widely accepted in the U.S. than the herbalism of the indigenous North Americans.
Latin America has a thriving wellness culture that includes somatic modalities, psychotherapy, and spirituality in addition to the use of medicinal plants. Some of these plants have become world-renowned: Wild Yam was used to make some of the first birth control pills, Chia is now considered a superfood for weight loss and Ayahuasca is being used to combat drug addiction, an illness that has challenged allopathic medicine for decades. However, there are dozens of common plants that the people of Latin America and the Caribbean integrate into their daily routines to prevent disease, restore health, and increase overall well-being.
The continent is home to many varieties of wellness traditions, just like the colorful tapestry of cuisine, music, literature and art. In defining Latino Herbalism, we focus on the similarities in botanical theory, preparation and cosmological context. For example, all Latino herbalists will have plants that are categorized as “blood cleansers,” and are likely to include bitters, mucilaginous and red-colored plants in that category. Which herbs are chosen, how they are prepared and dispensed will depend on the individual herbalist, the region, the climate, cultural sustainability, economics, politics and ethnicity.
When we compare the botanical medicine of Latin America to that of other continents, we see a deficit of documentation and conservation. It is easier to find a Chinese Medicine school in Latin America than it is to find a school for local herbalism. There are a handful of projects which are hoping to change this trend and to start to conserve the plants used, interview traditional healers, write books and create educational experiences. Hidden Garden supports this movement of bringing the wellness traditions of Latin America back to the people and sharing them proudly with the rest of the world. We hope that you will too!