By: Dominique Boyette and Leticia Vaca
Happy Black History Month!
Even as a Black person, I continue to learn new things about the contributions, advancements, and creations made by Black people. Black History Month is a built-in reminder to continue to seek to uncover the hidden history of Black people.
Traditional systems, like schools, have shown limited learning and understanding--at times a complete omission-- of the expansive and diverse history of Black people. There is still so much impressive, innovative, and celebratory history of Black people.
This week we honor the wealth of knowledge of Black medicine & homeopathy discovered by African and Indigenous herbalists. One of the many pivotal & vital positions the BIPOC community has had in world and American history is that of the healer.
While many medical firsts and breakthroughs were made by the Black community, 1st heart operation, inventing surgical techniques, developing treatment tests, or simply being the key to life, ; there are many more medicinal contributions and practices brought by slaves & indigenous peoples before modern medicine throughout US History. (sidenote: we will also highlight these pioneers on our social media pages).
Western herbalism, and medicine at large, appropriated and sought to destroy Native, Indigenous and African medicinal practices. By the time of slavery in the United States it had become fully stigmatized, made unsafe, and even illegal to teach or practice. It’s because of systematic racism and the historic cultural erasure that we have lost so much of our Ancestral knowledge.
Indigenous Americans and enslaved Africans would share their agricultural expertise based on their knowledge of the land. Plants like nutrient rich Mullein could be used as an anti-inflammatory or to ease colds and respiratory conditions like bronchitis and whooping cough. Or simply used aloe vera on cuts and burns and ate raw garlic. Many simple common practices lost their spiritual and medical explanations, but remained a staple healing and restorative tradition.
We still can find the threads of our histories and teachings and undoubtedly see B.I.P.O.C. doctors and patients at the helm of major medical discoveries.
I am in constant awe of the observational beauty and simplicity of herbalism created by African & Indigenous peoples. To think over 400 years ago you could find an elder that knew how to heal specific ailments with herbs in our backyard. It gives me an indescribable ache I feel I can only remedy by trying to educate myself with what the effects colonization took from African and Native people.
I don’t get sick that often, but when I do I go to the internet searching for an herbal or all natural alternative to remedy my issue. Give me a tea, a balm, or a pressure point and I’m all over it.
It was a common practice for enslaved communities--and later African american communities at large--to use water infusions or decoctions as oral or topical remedies. Decoction is the liquor resulting from concentrating the essence of a substance by heating or boiling, especially a medicinal preparation made from a plant. This practice reminds me of tinctures we see today, cute little bottles with diligent little droppers.Tinctures are a Western adaptation and were not prominent or traditional in the African diaspora at all because of their high cost to produce and their use of alcohol, a product restricted to slaves.
Black People have shown resourcefulness and innovation in the medicinal practice of healing physical ailments. “Healthcare” was a practice shared within our communities. Today's healthcare systems, the practice of Western medicine and pharmacies, benefits and earns a hefty profit from the generational knowledge that was intended to be shared and taught for free.
There is a great opportunity to explore and integrate ancestral healing practice into our traditional western healthcare systems. We do that by honoring individual cultural identities, values, and expressions.
In other words - We invite you to do your own research.
Ask your family
Ask your friends
Ask your doctor as many questions as possible about their knowledge and recommendations; share the stories, read the books, write down the recipes again and rebuild what was once so sacred, and always consult with your doctor first about how you can incorporate these practices in your care.
Here are some of my favorite herbal remedies taught & shared with me from family & friends, and some I discovered along the way.
Hope you enjoy & begin to find new ways of healing through discovering your own roots and taking the lead in your own health & well-being .
Please take these remedies with a grain salt…and maybe gargle it with some warm water!
Disclaimer: Always consult your primary care doctor for addressing your physical and mental health needs.
What remedies have been shared and passed down through your family? Share in the Comment section.
PLEASE CONSULT A MEDICAL PROVIDER PRIOR TO TRYING THESE REMEDIES.
“Black History Month: A Medical Perspective: Chronology of Achievements”
Duke University Medical Center LIbrary & Archives
“The History of Midwifery”
Our bodies ourselves
“ROOTS OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HERBALISM: HERBAL USE BY ENSLAVED AFRICANS”
The Herbal Academy
“The Reclamation of Ancestral Herbalism”
“The Legacy of Henrietta Lacks”
John Hopkins Medicine
Mildred Jackson/Handbook for Alternatives to Chemical Medicine