Collected by Lulu Martinez
Maria de Lourdes Martinez is a 50 year old Mexican immigrant who has lived in Chicago for the last twenty years. As a young girl, she watched her mother use home remedies to nurture her, her siblings and neighborhood friends and family back to health. Home remedies were used in combination with prayer and mutual faith and trust in relationships as well as in divine intervention. Divine intervention was thought of to manifest itself through ordinary conversations, interactions and dreams. Miracles and wisdom bestowed on oneself were seldom questioned.
Maria was raised among eleven brothers and sisters, and healthcare and food access was always limited. Maria shares that part of the healing process requires believing in what you do, trusting the wisdom and love of those caring for you and not just as an alternative to western medicinal practices. She explains how these practices used to come naturally because a person in the family/community was recognized as a healer and holder of a special truth. Over time, Maria’s mother gained the trust of her family and community although she never identified herself as acurandera, a role traditionally given to cultural/spiritual healers in Mexico. Because she lived in multiple-unit apartment buildings, one knew which neighbor to go to for any specific household product--te de manzanilla for stomach aches, hoja de laurel for headaches, eggs for una limpia.
Among the home remedies that Maria and her mother used, los tomates, tomatoes were considered to hold curative abilities. Tomates were used for resfriados (colds), bronquitis (bronchitis), and toz (coughing). A tomato is cut in half and roasted lightly. Each half is placed on the bottom of one’s feet and wrapped to keep them in place and then covered with socks to maintain the feet warm. This must be done only if and once the individual has planned to stay in for the rest of the night so as not to be exposed to water (rain/shower) or cold. In the morning, the tomatoes are removed, and this method is repeated as necessary.
Maria explains that there is no scientific understanding added to shared conversations about how specific plants and herbs work that legitimizes these cultural practices to a stranger.
“Well, we know that the genetic and chemical makeup of the plant, its nutrients can be curative. That wasn’t part of the knowledge that was passed down, however, we just know and believe that it works, and it does. It’s the pharmaceutical companies that don’t want you to have access to that kind of knowledge.” [translated from Spanish]
It’s been years since the passing of Maria’s mother, and the geographical distance has taken a toll on the cultural practices that once were more prevalent when Maria first migrated to the U.S.
“It’s difficult to maintain these practices. We are not as close to our neighbors and my family has had different types of access to food and health care. We don’t ask each other about our individual wisdom as much anymore, or we use them in addition to bottled-medicine.”[translated from Spanish]
Maria raised her children on cultural and herbal healing practices. She continues to believe in them, however, she now consults elders she is referred to for these knowledges. Maria believes in the healing energies of plants and that it is important to maintain a healthy relationship to our bodies by respecting the earth and all of its children including plants, trees, and animals.