Black History Month: Black Herbalists and Their Legacies through Books
By Carolyn Jones
Black herbalism has a rich history that is rooted in the Motherland. Although enslaved Africans were forced to survive under extremely inhumane conditions, they continued their traditions of using teas, powders, and salves made from plants and animals-- also incorporated into their spiritual lives with charms, prayers, and conjurations. Their sociopolitical perspectives were shaped according to where their captors docked their ships.
The treasure trove of books by Black herbalists is exhaustive, offering a scholarship that weaves the traumatic history of a people together with the botanical medicine that sustained them.
In Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors , author Carolyn Finney acknowledges that Africans believed in “good use” of the land and the connection between the health of the land and their community.
Working the Roots: Over 400 Years of Traditional African American Healing by Michelle Elizabeth Lee offers a walk down memory lane with interviews of African American healers, illustrating how Black people survived the tests of time by merging their knowledge of healing and medicinal practices with Europeans and Native Americans.
In Secret Doctors: Ethnomedicine of African Americans, author Wonda Fontenut links traditional African beliefs and practices with current African American traditions.
Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, Kimberly Ruffin, explores a theory of “ecological burden and beauty” in her book, Black on Earth: African American Ecoliterary Traditions. She chronicles ecological insights from the antebellum era to the 21st century, documented by novels, essays, celebrated artists, and the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) slave narratives.
Clara Adams, a woman who was enslaved in Alabama, is resurrected in this passage:
“…I wants to see de dawn break over de black ridge and de twilight settle…spreadin’ a sort of orange hue over de place. I wants to walk de path th’ew de woods…an’ see de rabbits an’ watch de birds an’ listen to frogs at night.”
Sticks, Stones, Roots, and Bones: Hoodoo, Mojo, and Conjuring With Herbs by Stephanie Rose Bird brings it all home by introducing the reader to jiridon, the science of the trees. Masters of jiridon are herbalists and adept ecologists, tree whisperers who understand, live with and study a single tree and soul.
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Brooklyn, New York, USA
Carolyn Jones is a Holistic Health Educator and Chaplain who teaches the art of self-care and practices a ministry of presence. She is licensed by the New York State Chaplain Task Force and serves the community as an herbalist, a certified aromatherapist and reflexologist. Respected by her peers, she embraces and is supported by a strong community of traditional and non-traditional healers who follow uniquely different paths that merge at the crossroads of community health. Carolyn is the Coordinator of The Healing Project, a Project under HWB: The Healing Project and is on the HWB Board of Directors as Secretary.
Secret Cures of Slaves: People, Plants, and Medicine in the Eighteenth – Century Atlantic World
1 cup dried mullein leaf
2 Tbsp dried bee balm (monarda) (optional)
2 Tbsp dried sage (optional)
1 gallon water
Suitable for older children and adults only, due to the presence of hot liquid so close to the face and hands.
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