For a growing number of Latinx people throughout the US, Latin America, and the Caribbean, the personal wellness journey involves the exploration of our ancestral roots, including the regional plant medicines and healing practices used by our abuelas and those before them.
Herbalist Dani Solorio, the founder of Compton Health Bar, has made it their personal mission to bring accessible medicine to people in their Los Angeles neighborhood.
"My first encounter with medicine in general was my grandma treating me with basil and peppermint," Solorio said in a Zoom interview. "Once my grandma passed the torch, it felt like I could continue the tradition as a business."
"I grew up in Lynwood right next to Compton, and there's no health stores," said Solorio. "For a lot of our parents when they [immigrated], much like my family, assimilation kind of became the goal, and so we left a lot of our traditions behind. At Compton Health Bar, a big part of the mission was helping people remember our connection, because the connection has always been there."
Across the globe, more people are turning to plant medicines for treating different diseases. Indigenous groups in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have been utilizing traditional herbal remedies — derived from leaves, bark, roots, and berries with therapeutic benefits — for centuries.
But the West has only recently focused on "alternative wellness" with the spotlighting of plant medicines. Here in the United States, paying for healthcare is impossible for many citizens, and plant medicines provide an affordable alternative to those suffering from all kinds of ailments.
Ancestral Medicine in the Latinx Community
Latinx people today are the descendants of different blends of indigenous peoples, European settler-colonialists, enslaved Africans, and Asian immigrants. Those who have immigrated or been forcefully taken across lands have found themselves removed from traditional ways of knowing and interacting with the earth.
Solorio, who studied under traditional Mesoamerican healers known as curanderas in Mexico and California, believes this severed connection contributes to mental, emotional, and physical health issues experienced by many Latinx folks today. However, we can begin to repair this connection with an action as simple as making an herbal tea.
"The key to our wellness is knowing who we are in the world," said Solorio. "When you look at folks suffering from severe anxiety and depression, a lot of it is that their root or the root chakra causes it to be broken. When we're torn from the root, taken from our traditions, our countries, where we were, we suffer that disconnection and that affects our body."
"When we create a connection with the plant, that starts a portal to reconnecting with our ancestors and helps our psyche reconnect with our true essence."
While many Latinx have grown up around plant medicine, others found themselves turning to it after disappointing experiences with Western medicine. Born-and-raised New Yorker Suhaly Bautista-Carolina began her formal study of plant medicine when her wife began suffering from debilitating migraines. Doctors prescribed her seizure medications with multiple concerning side effects, so she began searching for another way and enrolled in the Sacred Vibes Spiritual Herbalism apprenticeship program.
In 2018, Bautista-Carolina started Moon Mother Apothecary to share her own herbal creations. Through this journey, she realized she was returning to her own roots, where plant medicine had a constant presence in her childhood.
"As a child, I didn’t know our traditional AfroCaribbean and AfroDominican healing practices as 'plant medicine,' but the universe made sure to bring me full circle to my starting point," Bautista-Carolina said.
"I was raised by an AfroKisqueyan mother. Growing up, it was common for all 4 burners in my mother’s kitchen to be going at all times: rice and pollo guisao (stew chicken) on the two front burners, and beans plus a mysterious boiling pot of plants or peels on the two back burners," said Bautista-Carolina in an email. "No one named it for us then, but we trusted my mother’s inherited plant wisdom.”
How to Explore Plant Medicine
Thanks to the abundance of internet knowledge, connecting with plant medicines is easier than ever. You can create your own tinctures, teas, baths, or poultices using TikTok tutorials by Bautista-Carolina and other herbalists, brujas, and curanderas. Or you can purchase ready-made herbal blends from small businesses like Moon Mother Apothecary and Compton Health Bar, which is preparing to launch its own CBD line of products.
"I think hemp is one of the greatest gifts from the universe that we've ever received," said Solorio. "Aside from the anti-inflammatory properties, the nerve calming properties, the immune system protection, there's so much the plant has to offer."
"We personally always recommend for people an immune system formula that consists of hemp with garlic, turmeric, and vitamin C that comes from oranges."
Those who identify as Latinx and are interested in exploring ancestral practices can begin by asking living family questions about their ancestors’ lineage and history. Researching native plants within the ancestral family’s region can lead to working with those herbs.
For those who want to deepen their knowledge, books by curanderas or herbalism courses offer more insights. The journey looks different for everyone, so having patience and self-compassion is key.
"Our ancestors came here after fleeing trauma from their own countries, and when they cut themselves off from their homeland, it also cut off future generations from their history and practices. This history of migration makes us resilient but also makes us curious to fit the pieces together for ourselves," Bautista-Carolina said. "My journey into plantwork has revealed a collective hunger for this type of healing. We are turning and returning to our ancestral and indigenous wisdom and what a beautiful thing to witness that has been. I am proud to step into the arena and contribute my medicine and knowledge."