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Herbal Wisdom - August 2015 - Santa Fe

An Herbal Sense of Place

By Tomas Enos and Erin Galiger


The tradition of herbal use in New Mexico is rich with a diversity of lore and plants.  The earliest evidence of human encampment in the Rio Grande basin is about 8,000 years ago.  Most of those people were probably migrating through the area from the Four Corners on hunting and gathering trips; more permanent settlements by Native Americans around 6,000 years ago have continued until the present.  The earliest inhabitants depended on wild game such as deer and elk as well as native plants for survival and wellbeing. This has been verified in a recent study at Cochiti Reservoir south of Santa Fe; 218 distinct plant species were identified with ninety six of those having food uses.  Many more can be documented which have medicinal and utilitarian value. Because many of the medicinal plants native to our area were tested and utilized on a regular basis by the Pueblo people, their knowledge is carried on today as part of their oral tradition.  Quite a few are used in ceremonies considered sacred to the Pueblos and therefore kept within the tribes.


The Spanish settlers in New Mexico brought a whole other herbal tradition from Europe that still lives on today.  Because Spain has a varied history of occupation and commerce with countries within Europe, the Middle East, and Asia knowledge regarding herbal medicine is very diverse.  For example, the Moors from northern Africa colonized Spain from the eighth to the fifteenth century bringing with them both a tribal and a rich Ayurvedic herbal medical science from India.  The common plant alfalfa which grows in the valleys of northern New Mexico came to us from the Moors who named it “the Father of all herbs”.  We now know alfalfa as a tonic food and medicine which benefits the blood, liver, kidneys, and overall digestion.  It is high in protein, calcium, and trace minerals; it is used to tonify horses, cattle, and poor soil. Its root system is extensive and runs deep underground giving us a strong grounding from the water and soil in which it is grown. Alfalfa is an ally for people who are depleted after sickness, who have a poor diet, or lack essential nutrients. It gives strength to people that have poor quality hair, skin, and finger/toe nails.


Because the native and “acculturated” plants of our state are so well adapted to our environment, I usually recommend that once living here a person ingest common tea plants of the desert on a regular basis to also become well-adapted. One of those natives is Indian Tea or Cota. It makes a delicious brown tea which benefits the kidneys, meaning it keeps us hydrated and relieves our bodies of toxins.  You may drink it hot or cool, just plain or with a bit of local honey. Indian Tea is useful for people on cleansing diets or on drug detoxification programs because it washes the kidneys clean while building inherent strength. This tea gives us stability and purpose in our desert plateau region.


During the fall season consider the potential benefits of plants such as Osha for protection and health of our lungs against colds and flu.  Many families that have lived here for centuries keep a small root or extract of Osha in the medicine cabinet to “warm the lungs” and boost immunity.  Osha has a particularly strong pungent flavor which may be softened by placing the chopped root in honey and keeping it warm for 2 weeks.  It is a documented remedy for lung and stomach infections; much success has been had using Osha for gum and mouth sores.  Consider it our native natural replacement for synthetic antibiotics.  Osha is our connection to the high sierras where the air is pure; it assists us in adapting to high altitudes where the lower oxygen levels and cool air challenge our lungs.


The native plant allies are our sisters and brothers.  We co-exist, breathe the same air, drink the same water, and live in the same soil.  Many of them direct us into balance when we feel sick, stressed, or emotionally distraught.

You may notice that after drinking a native tea herb that you become more integrated, more sensitive, and more comfortable in this place.  As you drink it remember why you are in New Mexico and give thanks to the plants for helping you be at peace here.  I also like to wish that particular plant a continued abundance and protection from harm.

Tomas Enos studied with Michael Moore in 1990 and then created Milagro Herbs. Erin Galiger has worked with herbs for 10 years.  Their philosophy of health and healing is holistic and rooted in the ancient tradition of “Solar Living,” synchronizing our bodies according to the biological time clock, circadian rhythms, and seasonal patterns found on Earth. 419 Orchard Drive (off Paseo de Peralta next to Kakawa    Chocolate House)

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