Bruja Botany and My Continued Path Toward Self and Ancestral Healing



I have slowly been creating my healing path- which has required so much unpacking on my own. I never knew to ask my elders, in particular the wom*n in my family about the healing practices that they seemed to inherently know, often their ways of giving to the nurturing, nourishment and healing of our families seemed like breathing- done with ease, grace and as it was in their nature. In recent reflection and reengagement with my grandmother and my mother around my developing healing practices, I have focused in greatly on the learning of plant medicine. But often these interactions have not been the easiest to extract learning from, because as I said, their ways of healing are so matter of fact to them, they learned by the application on them from their elders before them, and since they are so far away from me now, I settle on recalling memories of their practices and the little bits they reveal to me in long conversations of me trying to find the right questions to ask to help them uncover to me their secrets of knowing.
Learning from books has been the most accessible to me in my path and sometimes it becomes a little daunting because there is so much knowledge to learn and there are not many books about Pilipino practice. However there are many books about this land, about the Americas and what medicine the land has to offer. My first book that was teacher to me in this was “Healing Herbs for Women” by Deb Soule- as I stumbled upon it at a used book store and within the first 2 pages I knew why I have been in such wonderment of plant medicine- “Herbs offer us hope, beauty, and healing and give us the opportunity to create an intimate relationship with the Earth- one based on mutual respect, care and Love…too many of us have been uprooted from our homes, our motherlands, our blood ancestors and their traditions. Making relationships with plants and trees reunites us with Earth and reminds us to acknowledge the women who went before us and gathered herbs on the land we now walk on.” I felt held by this affirmation and I began to find clarity in learning from this Land that I am settler on, and in connection also learning from my living elders and recalling memories of the herbs and plants that I grew with as a child growing up in Hawaii in an Ilokano house hold. I was reading so much, and did not know how to fully decipher the plants I was learning, or where to begin finding them and what the protocols were in relationship building.
I believe that at the root of all things whether created or grown- is medicine. The base of all elemental beings is meant to heal us, and create balance to our existence, all that is water (tubig), air (hangin), fire (apoy) and earth (lupa) is connected to our bodies’ wellness and sustenance, to its healing and its thriving. I believe this and have invested in my own journey to create opportunities for learning and understanding this holistic healing more and more.
So I opened myself, and also began to extend an invitation to sisters around me to learn with me, and to grow in understanding. At Harriet’s Apothecary I reconnected to a powerful sister Heidi López who also had begun her healing path with plant medicine and she began to invite in my mind and body and spirit the need for a teacher, for a school in botany. And I began being very intentional in the conversations I was having with my grandmother and mother, as I mentioned, working to ease them into teaching me their about the plants and herbs I watched them both grow and cook and apply for healing in their raising of me. But I still was seeking a teacher, a mentor, a guide- and one that I could afford in this beginnings of my journey.
And then by the grace of the Universe a friend sent me an invitation to join a gathering with Brujas- an uptown/Bronx based all girl skater group who was hosting an Intro to Botany course, the base of the learning being about the plants in Manhattan that are available to us- and would include the learning of practical uses. It also was financially feasible to my current situation- I was more than happy to accept the invitation. I entered the course with pure openness and wonderment and ready to be a student to this process.
This was the declaration I wrote for myself with intention of beginning the course:
“My intentions for my journey in learning plant medicine is also to understand and grow in my relationship to the lands I live and occupy in my continuous journeying and settling throughout my life. Currently I am a body, a being, a settler taking up space, energy and resources in the land originally known as Mannahatta, originally inhabited by the Lenape peoples. My intention is to give gratitude to the land and the spirits that protect and hold and sustain the sacredness Mannahatta and in sacred exchange I want to learn more from all that lives and grows around me so I might honor my co-habitation with them. I feel so blessed for this privilege to learn, and tonight I pray with the deepest gratitude. My eyes, my heart, my mind, my spirit are open to seeing the power, the medicine and the magic of the plants that provide richness to this land.”
I arrived on the first day to meet Antonia Perez, who I have been so humbled to have been our guide and our teacher on this journey. I have so much to say about the foundations she has built for my forward exploration of the medicines of the land of Mannahatta and also of the remembrance of medicines of my ancestors and the motherland I long for. My reflections and my learnings were deeply around the sacredness and abundance that the Earth provides for us. One of the first things Antonia shared with us is that the plants grow in medicine of what the people need for their wellness- like red and white clover that helps with our bronchial and respiratory wellness and aids with fevers as the city’s air can create imbalance in our wellness of breath.  She let us know that the earth grows what will aid the people that live upon it. In reflection I thought on the malunggay (mornings) tree and how it’s leaves and pods are filled with such richness of vitamins and nutrients and aids  in malnutrition and its wood is strong for building- so our people on the Philippine motherland can live off of its medicine, it’s nourishment.  The other day I visited my sister Renee after her play production and the smoothie place we went to was selling moringa as an added “super fruit” for an extra $2.00 to your drink. I thought then how absurd it was that something that grows so abundantly and freely on our motherland and I remember my grandmother growing in her garden in Hawaii would be exploited this way. Just like many of our own herbs growing freely here in Mannahatta- dandelion, plantain, mugwort, nettles, mulberry and juneberries trees being sold at Whole Foods and herbal specialization stores for so much. Why should wellness be so costly, why should we not all understand and learn to live off the land and understand the abundance that it provides.
Antonia helped me to delve deeper into this inquiry and I was so humbled by the amount of knowledge giving she provided. She not only helped us to learn the practicalities of the plants we met and also showed us ways to use and extract their medicine in food, teas, oils, and salves, but she brought in the spiritual connection and exchange that comes with looking to our plants to give to our living. On our first day she taught us how to listen deeply to what the plant has to give to us, by using all our senses, what does it say in how it visually grows, how it smells, how it feels, how it tastes and also the sounds of rustling and blowing with the wind. She taught us protocols of asking for permission and giving tobacco to the spirits of the plant and the ancestors for gratitude and exchange. Although she did not say this was what she was doing- she taught us to pray to the plants, pray to the land, to be filled with humility by the magic and power and divinity of each plant being. On that first day I remember a very special moment where a red tailed hawk flew over us, and she took pause and invited us to understand that this was a gift, that the ancestors were happy for our gathering. I knew right then I had arrived exactly where I needed to be.
For 3 weeks she brought us on a deep journey of remembering, relearning lost knowledge. She awakened my senses to enhance my awareness of healing all around, putting names and meanings to the wonderment I have felt of the earth- the way I have been so connected to the trees and the greenery and the mountains. She made meaning of my feelings, she brought truth and affirmation to begin my path of deepening relationship to plant medicine. And we learned not only about the medicine of the earth, but about the medicine of the body, and how connected our re-membering of earth is re-membering of our physical, mental and spiritual self. Wellness of land supports wellness of self. Understanding the miracle of land to nourish helps us understand the miracle of our body to receive, and to heal from its offerings and in turn we learn to care for the land and our beings with more awareness and deepened respect and love.
My conversations with my grandmother and mother around their practices and what they grow and know of plant medicine and nourishment has also become another entryway for our relationship to expand. I feel that connecting with them this way has been a new way of speaking to my ancestors through them, to learn what they have been passed down of ancestral knowledge and understandings, to become a bearer of the past remembered. They also have been so joyful in my inquiry, they never thought I’d want to know, they didn’t think I needed to know. We all should want to know, we all should see the necessity in knowing. This awareness can only strengthen our ability to love the land, the sky, the waters of the earth in connection to loving our families, our community, ourselves.
To say the least, I am thankful for this beginning and for what Antonia has given me to initiate a deepening of my relationship to plant medicine, but “Thank You” would not be enough to express my gratitude for the guidance that was offered in abundance by this sacred being. Antonia- every gathering left me full and held me in nourishment, nurturing, and upliftment. The intention of every moment we shared and your openness in answering my many questions with such care, and the material gifts you presented us in every gathering has been tremendous. You are a gift to the world and to exchange with you has been an honor.
I continue my journey, with openness and hope for future guidance from other teachers who are willing to share in this knowledge for survival, for deepened relationship to the land, for healing of self, family and community and for the gratitude and love of what the Earth provides for our wellness and the way we understand and honor nature’s gifts of medicine and magic. I will share all my learnings with those in my life, who I encounter and who choose to exchange with me and hope it will give us all the opportunity to grow and deepen our understanding of self in relation to all living things in balance, in healing.

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