Black History Month: The Contribution of Black Herbalists Past and Present

Black History Month: The Contribution of Black Herbalists Past and Present

The term “Herbalist“ originated in western society and was established a few hundred years ago; while the practice of herbalism has been around much longer. Traditional African Medicine is found to be one of the oldest forms of herbalism around. It contains a combination of indigenous practices surrounding mentality, spirituality and the physical body. Herbs are incorporated in teas, brews, salves, baths and cuisine. African herbalists have been known as doctors, voodoo priests, shamans, healers, diviners, midwives, chefs, and much more. These are contributions that we honor today.

During the historical transitions of Africans being taken from their homeland to America, there was another transition happening. The enslaved brought seeds of fruits and vegetables and medicine plants with them creating a new era of Folk medicine. America would not be where it is today without these iconic game changers like cotton, coffee beans, watermelon, cassava, figs, black eye peas, hibiscus, aloe and carrots. Africans also brought their knowledge of agriculture to the mix. 

It is fascinating how African folk medicine has been passed down from generation to generation and is still being used today. 

My late grandmother Irma Walker, was born and raised in a tiny town in Alabama. Like many from the south she had a green thumb and could cook like nobody's business. As a child I would watch her in her garden seeding, pruning and picking all kinds of fruits, vegetables and herbs. She taught all the kids to pick and pluck and clean the harvest in preparation for the meal. She would also share folk medicine tips - they often sounded like stories to me. Some of her tips and stories were about healing the body from a variety of ailments and some were about the best forms of personal care. 


For example: 

1. Place a thick slice of onion in the sock to help treat a cold.

2. Pregnant women should eat a spoon of red clay dirt daily during their pregnancy for the vitamins, minerals and iron. Granted I do understand the nutrient rich soil of the south I could not understand why anyone would intentionally eat dirt. It just does not sound tasty at all.

3. My personal favorite, ladies should always wash their hair in the southern rains. That’s right you heard me, southern rains.  It was said that the southern rains don’t harbor as much pollution and chemicals as the northern states therefore it’s excellent for hair growth.

      Contributions of Black Herbalists Today:

      Today there has been an increase in Black Farmers and Black Herbalists. It is well known that the African American community has excellent cuisine. Though delicious, a lot consists of too much meat, too much salt, too much sugar and too much oil. This kind of consistent diet has caused a noticeable decline in the health of African Americans. The increase in the herbism and agriculture movement is to begin to change this. We have a duty to one another to help support strong and balanced health and nutrition. Birthing people who have decided to live a holistic lifestyle and I love it! One herbalist I want to highlight is Geo the owner of Grain & Pestle located in Detroit, Michigan. Geo originally majored in ceramics and pottery. His upbringing was in agriculture, from his father's side who were farmers. He didn’t get into herbalism until his 2nd born son was diagnosed with severe asthma. He was sick and tired of watching his son suffer constantly with no healing from the doctors. One day he said enough is enough and went to school to study plants and plant medicine. He also studied Chinese medicine which led to training of additional methods of healing, like acupuncture. He established Nu Healing Arts in 2012 as a herbalist and art studio. After relocating to Detroit he revamped his business into an Apothecary known as Grain & Pestle. Geo is impacting his community in a new and different way by offering herbal medicine, gardening tips, acupuncture services and holistic healing through art. The community has responded very well to Grain & Pestle.

      Another dope herbalist impacting her community is Asha Dickens of October Lotus. October Lotus a Total body wellness practice that supports herbal medicine, yoni health and doula services and reiki sessions. Asha first began looking into holistic healing when she was diagnosed with a gynecological condition called endometriosis, as well as fibroids and ovarian cysts. She did not want to leave her fate to the doctors alone without doing her own research. She learned that other women with endometriosis were finding healing through herbs. She figured that if herbs had this much power, there must be some way to link elements that cause health challenges to a specific herb. She continued her studies through The Herbal Academy and classes with Divine Bailey-Nicholas of Divine Birth Wisdom and began to formulate blends that were actually helping her. She shared this with other women having similar challenges, as well as fertility issues and birthing complications. I asked Asha, did she ever imagine she would be doing this kind of work. She said “I never imagined I would be doing this kind of work for a living. Prior to starting October Lotus, I had a 12 year career in advertising. I thought I would work in that industry for the remainder of my working days. I cannot imagine doing anything else at this point. Like the quote says, "if you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans." 

      I got my herbal start during the year 2020, in Milwaukee, WI. I’ve always loved nature and had decided we were going to start a garden. Well that same year the Corona virus appeared on a large scale and caused a full blown panic. My biggest concern was the wellbeing of my family and friends. Not knowing how this virus was going to affect the immune system I got to work. I researched, I went to local apothecaries, I made calls to other herbalists across the country and grasped the concept of a few key herbs and how they benefit and react in our bodies. Next step was to get in the kitchen and begin to create blends. I spent hours working on recipes and tested them out on my family. Once Covid-19 came we were ready for it. I not only made sure I have teas and brews stocked up for my own family, I also supplied them to other families and friends that shared my same concerns. The feedback on the effectiveness of these blends only solidified my belief in the power of herbal medicine. I made the decision at that time that I needed to share this with others, I wanted to do it in a way that highlighted my drive to help others and my love for relaxation. I grabbed my massage table and my herbal knowledge and created Edwards Wellness LLC. Immunity health is important but so is mental health, by providing a calm relaxing safe for others to recharge and reset themselves is a huge honor for me and I could not be happier about my decision to start Edwards Wellness LLC.

      I hope you have enjoyed this small sample into the world of black herbalism. It is challenging, it is rewarding, it is truly a blessing to do this important work.  

      Until next time, 

      Adrienna McNeal


      This blog was written by Adrienna McNeal, please click here to learn more about the author.

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