African American Herbalism: A Practical Guide to Healing Plants and Folk Traditions
by Lucretia VanDyke, Ulysses Press, 2022
-Review by Arati Ursus
I loved this book! VanDyke starts off by looking at the history of African American herbalism, including prominent herbalists and midwives and the roots of their practices. Later on in the book she shares the work and wisdom of modern day, African American herbalists. This book includes how-to’s on medicine making, a materia medica including herbalism for physical wellness, warnings, and magical uses of the same herbs, and many of enticing recipes. It isna wonderful addition to my herbal knowledge and would be a great first herb book for any new herb enthusiast. The best part was hearing VanDyke’s way of expressing her connection with the plants themselves. They offer a tender, intelligent, & magical interconnection. It is sweet to hear those personal experiences described poetically.
VanDyke looks back to African roots, including sound healing, hoodoo, plant medicine recipes that inform African American herbalism, past and present. In their early years in the US, African Americans often provided herbal healing and midwifery to their enslavers. There was an interplay between those in power being fearful of their herbal knowledge, resulting in trying to dominate their practices, and dependency on their ability to heal and catch their babies. You can’t understand “traditional western herbalism” without learning from African American herbalist ancestors and the way the law restricted the practice. Many people are thirsting for more resources, more voices in herbalism. I wished only for more information about all the herbalists she introduced! It provides the beginning of a journey.
I enjoyed learning about new uses for familiar herb friends. My new adventure in herbalism will be exploring the spiritual bath recipes and intentions for ourselves and spaces. I am already a lover of bathing with flowers and gemstones and love having this resource. I am also eager to try out the Fried Dandelion Flower Fritters recipe. I love seasonal recipes and this sounds like it will soon become a summertime tradition.
These pages offer many introductions to plants and people. Let their wisdom remind you to honor your own bloodline, as well as to help you find new chosen ancestors and sources of nature magic. Without these connections we are lonely people. Through the practice of learning plant medicine, healing ourselves, and helping others heal, we develop interconnectedness, a sense of oneness with the world. Oneness with the plants that speak to us, and oneness with those bodies we communicate with and connect to plants. As we nurture oneness it becomes easy to see how much more we have in common than things that separate us. It is so easy to see how we can make great healing magic in our global community by setting our intentions for increasing health and lifting each other up together.
In the words of Alice Walker:
“To acknowledge our ancestors means we are aware that we did not make ourselves, that the line stretches all the way back, perhaps to God; or to Gods. We remember them because it is an easy thing to forget: that we are not the first to suffer, rebel, fight, love and die. The grace with which we embrace life, in spite of the pain, the sorrow, is always a measure of what has gone before.”
Thank you for the introductions to new ancestors, Lucretia VanDyke, and directing us to the magic of the many ways to “work the roots”: hoodoo, literal roots of plants, and delving into our ancestry.
#herbalistswithoutborders #africanamericanherbalism #lucretiavandyke #herbalismeducation #plantmedicine #rootwork
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.
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