Hearing from Our Clients: Consejos en Nuestra Lengua Materna [Advice in our Mother Tongue]

I sit across the table from Concepción (her name changed in this story to protect her privacy) at a café up the street from her current home, a shelter for youth at risk of being unhoused. She immigrated to Sonoma County alone from San Martín, a region of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest.  

“The water from the river pools into a deep, clear swimming hole where I am from. I stay in the water all day.  My father and I are expert swimmers….and my mother knows all about medicinal plants. I think my father fell in love with her because of her expertise.” She brightens as she shares about a paste made from cacao and cinnamon that her mother uses for treating her acne. 

Concepción arrived in the United States early 2023 with a serious injury to her foot and hand. Unable to walk due to nerve damage, she experienced extreme hardship. “The first week I arrived was very hard. I felt so much sadness. But the next week I started to find help.” 

She first visited the Botanical Bus clinic at La Plaza: Nuestra Cultura Cura in Santa Rosa about a month after her arrival. “I had started receiving care for my injury, ex-rays and medication from the hospital, but I was in a lot of pain. I started asking around about a place to find natural medicine and someone in Roseland (Santa Rosa) told me about the Botanical Bus.”

Concepción speaks fluent Spanish and Quechua. She shares, “When I arrived at the clinic to hear people speaking Spanish, I felt more free.”

She has attended 12 clinics this year and received 36 direct healthcare services, including clinical herbalism, acupuncture and physical therapy. She tells us, “After my first few visits taking recommended herbal medicine and receiving acupuncture at the Botanical Bus, I could feel my nerves reacting to the treatments. I thought to myself, yes…this is working.”

She continues to share with pride more plant remedies: llanten [plantain] and amargon [dandelion] for stomach aches; apio [celery] and hierba larga [native plant similar to horsetail] for endurance; jengibre [ginger] and limón [lemon] for colds. I am happy to see her recovery. Over the last few months, her limp is barely noticeable and there is joy in her voice and eyes.

“My mom sent me looking for natural remedies. It is because of her advice that I found the Botanical Bus and that I am feeling better.” She smiles. “My mom always told us to trust our knowledge.” 

Concepción confirms our commitment to cultivating spaces of belonging where Botanical Bus clients can communicate in the comfort and ease of their lengua materna [mother tongue], celebrate their knowledge of herbal medicine and connect to the place- to the plants, the land and the river- where they are from. 

Our Way Back, with Maria Rivera

Maria Rivera was born in the pine forest, on a mountain twelve hours outside the nearest town in Michoacan, Mexico. “There was absolute green everywhere,” she shares. “Living in an isolated place, I felt fully accompanied by my surroundings… by the wind, the sun, the corn, the plants in our home garden. We spent our days in the open, harvesting verdolagas, nopales, quelites, plums, plátanos, y todo del jardín.”

Midsummer, I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Maria about her life and somatic therapy practice with the Botanical Bus Mobile Herb Clinic. Maria moved from her mountain home of Buena Vista to Santa Rosa, California when she was 15 years old. 

She smiles as she reflects: “Just a few days ago, I was walking down the hallway at work and I placed something on my head to move it from one office to the next. I was reminded of carrying water back home from the spring in the mountains, one bucket on my head and two in my hands. I was born drinking that water from the source. I was completely cared for by nature.”

We sit together in the shade of a fruit tree in the community garden. She continues, “I was a nervous child. I felt alone when I was not outside collecting plants or gathering firewood. I used to lay in bed at night unable to sleep with the feeling that I was disappearing, diminishing to nothing. I would place my hands on my chest, line them up there and I was able to calm myself. I see now that I was offering myself love and kindness.”

“As an adult, I continue being anxious.  But something led me back…the realization that we all know how to nurture ourselves. The knowledge is in all of us, in slightly different ways. I found my way back with breath. My breath brought me right back to earth, right back to where I began. And that continues to be a source of strength, a source of peace, a source of love, a source of grand understanding.”

At the Botanical Bus Mobile Herb Clinic, Maria leads Reposo en Respiración [Rest in Breath] workshops, in which she guides small groups in breathing practice that connects each of us to our unique sense of wellbeing. She encourages us to follow the craving to feel the wind, to sit in the sun even for just a few seconds, to listen to ourselves.

“We all crave connection to nature. The craving, the calling to be back home is with us all. The challenge is silencing ourselves long enough to hear that clearly and rest our hearts on it. It might be in prayer, desperation or joy that we take a deep breath in. That is the source. The source is within.”

Maria affirms, “We all have breath. It’s accessible to any of us at any given moment. It may be when we are sweeping the floor, smiling at a loved one, or claiming a moment alone.” Her practice centers access and self-knowing. She asks, “What about those things you do in your everyday life that somehow feel right and good, where your heart feels at ease? Stick to those, dig through those, discover those. We all are walking through life with an abundance of those connections.”

Love + Nopales with Juliana Jimenez + Norma Rico

Let me tell you a story about how plants connect us to each other and to our deepest sense of wellbeing. In a system that prioritizes individualism as productivity, we can lose touch with our intertwined roots. Interdependence underpins all healthy ecosystems. We need each other to feel good. The plants show us that. 

It’s a Thursday afternoon and I have a couple calls to make before I go home to confirm staffing for an upcoming wellness fair at Korbel Vineyards. “Hola Juliana, cómo está usted [Hi Juliana, how are you],” I begin. 

Juliana joins The Botanical Bus as founder of the Botanical Bus, Presente para Nutrirnos [Present to Nourish Us] program, wellness workshops that center whole, accessible Indigenous foods and traditional recipes for type two diabetes prevention and care.   

At a Farmworker Clinic, a client had invited us to the land where her husband tends to harvest Nopales. When I ask if Juliana can participate, she happily agrees, excited to take part in this generous invitation from a Botanical Bus client. Juliana… ¡Presente! 

The thick juicy green pads and crimson fruit of Nopal [Prickly Pear Cactus], high in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory quercetin, fiber, vitamins and minerals, can help control blood sugar level. I smile because Nopales have guided the work of our organization since our foundation. For Latine and Indigenous people, nourishment is synonymous with Nopal.  We trust her. We identify with her.  We find strength in our knowledge of her cultural importance and healing properties. 

Juliana grew up wild harvesting Nopales outside of a small town in La Mixteca, Oaxaca. She shares, “I would pierce the center of the cactus pads and spear them on two long sticks to carry over 20 at a time home with me to be peeled. We eat Nopales raw, roasted, stewed or with black beans.” 

She brings her knowledge of nutrition and powerful testimony of the impact of type two diabetes in her community, to centering Indigenous foods as medicine.

A powerful care plan is set into motion. I close my computer. There are no bounds to the work that is done beyond the limits of colonial individualism. Love for our community just grows and continues to nourish us. We will connect with our client, head out to the land for the harvest and prepare a Nopales salad for the 200 farmworkers and their families at the Korbel wellness fair.

My next call is to Doña Norma, who co-facilitates wellness workshops with Juliana. Norma manages her own diabetes with a whole-food, nutrient-dense diet full of fresh plants. She shares her recipes and lovingly prepared foods at our clinics. “It’s best we harvest the Nopales the day before we serve them at the fair,” she suggests. Norma… ¡Presente! 

In accepting our client’s offer of land access, we honor reciprocity in caregiving. In harvesting abundant nutritious plants, we share in the generosity of mother earth. In preparing and sharing cultural foods, we connect community to our common roots. We are mapping our interconnectedness and in the process, building systems of caring for each other that are profoundly effective and fulfilling.  

“I know that the farmworkers and their families will feel our love in the Nopales,” concludes Juliana. Thank you, Nopal.