Native Plants and the Art of Traditional Medicine

This week’s Workshop Wednesday features an interesting presentation I heard while at the Water Conservation and Xeriscape Conference in Albuquerque earlier this year. Dr. Cheo Torres, of the University of New Mexico, discussed traditional medicine and its varied botanical treatments.

So much of what I write about for this blog, other websites, newspapers and magazines is about how to grow plants or how to use them in the kitchen.

That’s why I’m so glad I get the chance to introduce you to Dr. Cheo Torres, one of the interesting, enlightening and entertaining speakers I heard at the Xeriscape Conference in February. Dr. Torres may be the vice president for student affairs at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, but  he clearly has a talent for engaging an audience.

He presented a compelling program called “Native Plants, Traditional Medicine and Human Health” that focused on the traditional medicines of the rural culture in the Southwest. He brought along samples of the herbs used for making medicines and explained a bit about each one.

For example, Rosemary branches are used to sweep away negative vibrations, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Aloe Vera is the best plant for burns and skin problems, but it can also be tied with a red ribbon and hung over a door to absorb negative energy.

And then there’s the Evil Eye…

Dr. Torres gave a short history lesson that started in 1552, when an Aztec Indian doctor by the name of Martin de la Cruz wrote the first book on medicinal plants. He included 251 different herbs in this important text. The book was translated into Latin and named Codex Badiano after its translator, Juan Badiano.

Dr. Torres is an expert in Curanderismo y Yerbas Medicinales or the Art of Mexican Folk Healing. He is well-versed in this holistic approach for healing and treating the body, mind and spirit.

He said much of the alternative healing revival we’re now experiencing has its roots in these herbal traditions. He pointed to all the therapeutic herbs, olive oil, garlic and ginger we use every day.

In the summer he leads a two-week course at UNM called “Traditional Medicine Without Borders: Curanderismo in the Southwest & Mexico. ” The course is about the history, traditions, rituals, herbs and remedies of the folk healing tradition of the Southwest and Mexico and explores an integrative approach to medicine.  I think it’s interesting to note this class is cross-listed with four different departments at the university.

As part of the program, he brings in instructors (called Curanderos) from around the Southwest and Mexico who are the healers and health practitioners.

The Curanderos have three levels of knowledge, he said:

  • The material, which includes plants, herbs, animals, water and candles
  • The spiritual, where the Curanderos are the medium or soul concept
  • The mental, where they channel mental vibrations to their patients

Students in the class have the chance to visit an Albuquerque drug store and talk with an herbalist. They also get to observe healers at work with real patients.

Lectures on medicinal plants and the preparation of the plants in tinctures is also part of the program. Dr. Torres said it costs only pennies to make medicines from herbs by combining them with distilled water and Mexican alcohol.

Dr. Torres ended his talk by inviting members of the audience to receive a touch of tincture and each had a choice between one that would bring money and one that would bring love.

I’ll let you guess which one had the longest line.


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I wish I could find such a course here, in NorthEast Texas. It would probably focus on Cherokee herbal arts, as they are the dominant users of such products in this area.

Very informative post.

What a great article…and a great site! I plan to visit again when I have a moment! I was looking for information re Dr. Torres, and loved your write up of his presentation and his approach. I am a medicinal aromatherapist who works with plant and tree medicines, and I honor those who are keeping the old ways alive. This is the original medicine of the planet!

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