Éste Lo Sano Yo Coño: Dominican Healing Wisdom
I don’t get sick often. It’s something I’ve always been proud of and grateful for. It’s the main reason I had perfect attendance through all my years of school; the only one time I was ever absent was in high school for an errand I had to run with my mother. Even when my siblings and I did get sick, my mother knew exactly what to do to heal us. In contemporary times, the things my mother and other Dominican women have done to prevent and treat illness are sometimes seen as dique “new age;” the remedies that I now use to keep myself well without allopathic medicine are in my blood. They are ancestral traditions passed from generation to generation.
Before the advent of modern medicine, indigenous and Afro-descendant people were familiar with the knowledge of plant medicine. We have always known how to heal ourselves, and it was usually the women who had this information. Never formally written down, mothers, daughters, grandmothers and women in their daily lives would cook and concoct together remedies for the common cold, flu, stomach aches, migraines, muscle pains and more. Parteras traditionally use herbs for the childbearing year and the reproductive system in general. My mother actually told me in conversation about how women in the Dominican countryside would gather plants like magüey and leaves from the higüero tree to help the postpartum woman’s uterus expel residual blood.
The story of the loss of this information is one of destruction and subjugation. In “Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year” by Susun Weed, the author affirms the fact that women have used herbs for millions of years, but men tortured and burned these wise women in Europe. In the Americas, that legacy came down on the medicine-women, curanderas and herbalistas. This destruction and then later denial of ancestral wisdom gave rise to Western medicine and the overdependence on allopathic medicine and doctors. But, “we are the granddaughters of the witches that they couldn’t burn.” I told my mother one Saturday as I asked her about some remedies for the cold and flu season that I’ve always had an interest in remedios caseros. She chuckled and said, “Tu eres herbalista; no eres ningun bruja.”
Whether or not I’m a bruja is not something I need to debate with my mother. She acknowledges that I have inherited some of her wisdom. “De mi mamá. Y inventando,” Mami responded when I asked her how she learned. Coming to this country with her family, homegrown experiences from the Dominican Republic, and learning an entire new culture, she like many immigrant Dominican mothers had to figure out how to keep her children well. “Éste lo sano yo, coño!” she exclaimed as she told me about using carrots and honey to loosen up my little sister’s congestion as a baby.* Babies can’t really cough up that phlegm on their own, she commented, so that concoction would make it so that my infant sister could spit it up. “Yo se que en este pais dique no se le puede dar miel a los bebes, pero yo se lo di. Y ustedes se murieron?” she quipped.
Echoing the article by my paisana Mechi from Una Vaina Bien, my mother knows basic but effective ways to take care of an upset stomach. For example, she’d use lime juice with sometimes a bit of salt to settle an upset stomach. If I have a sore throat, a jarabe of honey and lemon will soothe it. Ajo (garlic), apio (celery), and cilantro can be made into broth to warm up the body and heal a cold, along with ginger tea. If you let red onions sit in honey overnight in the fridge, it becomes a homemade cough syrup (jarabe) that reduces congestion. These are basic elements in our kitchen and cooking that become medicine without much thought. Out of curiosity and from my appetite for acquiring medicinal plant knowledge, I’ve learned that onions work as an expectorant, garlic is a natural antibiotic, cilantro removes heavy metals from the body, and so on. Yet, our mothers and grandmothers (as well as fathers, grandfathers and gender nonconforming people throughout history) never cracked open a book nor consulted with doctors to cure themselves.
As Dominican Americans and other immigrant groups assimilate into this culture, we will find that nuestros remedios caseros are being repackaged and sold to us as new discoveries in the current holistic health trend. Our parents are not new to this. My mother prevented illness in our home by giving us cod liver oil pills and emulsion, as well as keeping our early diets close to that of folks back en el campo where she’s from. I humbly listen to my mother’s recommendations on how to keep my immune system strong and remedies she offers when I call for advice. I listened to the library security guard who told me about using cayenne pepper in my food to keep myself warm in the winter and that it can heal my arthritis if I should ever have it. I know now that I should have always listened to most of this advice before ever trusting a doctor in this country.
In the United States, the medical industrial complex makes a profit off of keeping people sick. It is the reason preventative medicine is not promoted and instead medication is constantly pushed on us. Some of us second generation folks have bought into this, thinking it is better and more effective than our grandparents’ and parents’ remedies. As a result, our remedios caseros are threatened with the fate of dying with the last remaining people here who still remember. One good thing about the resurgence of plant-based medicine is that some of us have gone back to our roots to protect and document this knowledge, hungrily searching and asking for it so that we may share it amongst each other. I know I will keep my children and clients well with the basics that I have retained. Being a daughter of an immigrant whose knowledge is often undocumentable, it is my duty to remember. It is my duty to heal.
*Honey should not be fed to babies under one. It is extremely risky and can be fatal; the baby can develop botulism. The information shared in this article is completely anecdotal and should NOT be taken as medical advice or a recommendation (in regards to babies and honey).
Links for Further Reference:
1 head of garlic
3 stalks of celery
½ bunch of cilantro
Peel the garlic cloves and smash them in a pilón. Slice the celery stalks and wash them. Break the cilantro with your hands and wash as well. Fill a pot about halfway with water. Put all ingredients in the pot and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for 10 minutes and strain the liquid.
1 whole onion
Get a glass jar, preferably not too big. Cut up the red onion and put it in the jar. Fill up the jar with honey until it covers the onion. Close the jar and put in the fridge. When taking it, it is only necessary to take the liquid itself. Do not strain this. Take as needed.