Got a headache? You’ll probably take an aspirin. Got a stomachache? An antacid will likely do the trick. But you might not realize that many medicines found in modern pharmacies actually stem from age-old cultural healing practices. “For example, aspirin, which is commonly used, is actually a Native American plant from the willow bark,” according to Dr. Dennis Wiedman, a medical anthropologist and Associate Professor at Florida International University. The bark of the white willow contains salicin, a chemical similar to acetylsalicylic acid, known commonly as aspirin. While the willow bark has been used for centuries, we only began packaging, processing, and selling it in pharmacies as aspirin at the turn of the 20th century.
“This shows that many cultures and societies have a rich and deep understanding of the plants and minerals that have enabled [humans] to survive for thousands and thousands of years,” Wiedman said. “That knowledge is passed down from person to person and when they migrate they still seek out those plants and herbs.”
Home to more than 2.6 million people, Miami-Dade County’s residents represent cultures from all around the world. And each of these cultures have their own healing practices. My Indian mom, for example, applies a turmeric paste to burns or wounds — an age old tradition that takes advantage of the herb’s proven anti-inflammatory properties. She also makes a tea with tulsi, an Indian holy basil plant, which she claims is “the remedy for everything.”
For Haitian-American Alain Pierre-Louis, “L’huile mascreti — castor oil — is the cure-all for everything.” While he often uses it to soften his hair, it can also be used to help soothe muscle pain, or even cure a cold. Whenever he got sick, the matriarch of the family would “beat the cold out of you with a massage,” he said. “This stuff works… You feel great afterwards, you’re not congested anymore, and your throat is clear.”
Cuban-American Yorkys Rodriguez, has been using medicinal herbs her whole life because it is the “foundation of how she grew up.” She makes and sells her own soaps, teas, and tinctures using the herbs she grows in her own front yard as the owner and founder of Bodhi’s Garden Delights.
Native Americans of various tribes also use herbs to heal both physical and mental ailments. Jerome Rockwell of the Mowhawk nation leads a weekly Lakota sweat lodge ceremony. During the ceremony, people sit in a circle around a fire using stones to heat up medicinal herbs, allowing the detoxifying steam to envelop them. “The basic philosophy … is that we’re all related,” Rockwell said. “Through that connection and understanding [we consider] why is water related to me? Why is the air? Why is the fire? Then all of those elements are in the sweat lodge … so, it’s really unlimited to what it can do.”
From herbal tonics to sweat lodges, here’s a peek at how some Miamians heal themselves.
What are some of your favorite at-home remedies?