The practice of curanderismo is a traditional healing practice of Mexican and Mexican-American cultures, which treats illnesses on three levels: material, spiritual, and mental. A curandera is a natural healer. The word comes from the Spanish word curar, meaning to heal. A curandera is a female healer, and a curandero is a male healer.
Ruiz's love of medicine-making started as a child, as she followed her great-grandmother (who Ruiz lovingly calls Grandma Chiquita), holding a paper bag to help as her great-grandmother gathered plants.
“I understood early on how, all around the world, traditional healing systems included the elements,” says Ruiz. “So, I brought that into the book.”
People often ask her what's in the book. Is it a cookbook, a biography, an herbal book, or a lifestyle book? “It’s all of the above,” says Ruiz. “All of me.”
Although Ruiz grew up in Arizona, her background is Mexican, Spanish, and Tewa. Her extended family lives in New Mexico. Her diverse background made her evaluate her understanding of Eastern versus Western medicine. She even discusses Ayurveda in her book, an alternative medicine system with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent.
“I wondered, if I’m from here, what is our medicine?” she says. She soon realized that "earth" and "medicine" best described her healing practices.
The book is written in four sections, one for each element: water, air, earth, fire. Each section starts with a prayer for the element, and further divides into recipes and rituals for mind, body, and spirit. In each chapter, as she recommends herbs for recipes, she explains its “scientific” properties (as an antihistamine or an antioxidant, etc.). She says the information comes from research and personal experience.
“People say, ‘I want to see the science behind it.’ My answer is, 'What is the word science? A study of things.' For me, this is indigenous science that has withstood generations. It comes from trial and error, and it works.”
As an indigenous food activist, she is helping people reclaim and rediscover the food sovereignty of indigenous foods, she says.
“We have long been here in our country and just in the past five years are we starting to get noticed for our Indigenous foods.”
But more importantly, Ruiz wants her readers to uplift their ancestors by using their own ingredients and rituals, “because that’s where your strongest medicine is.” For example, in her Salt of the Earth deodorant recipe, she specifies if you are of Greek heritage, you should look closer at regional items, like Greek sea salt.
She says, even if you are American, don’t think life started when your grandparents moved to the States. Go back farther.
“I’m letting you peek into my notebook, but I’m inviting you to investigate your own culture,” Ruiz says.
In the chapter about supplies, she makes a point of reminding the readers to use what they have at home.
“Anyone who knows me knows I love thrift store shopping or exchanging,” she says. “We live in a society where everything is so throwaway, I felt uncomfortable encouraging people to go out there and buy stuff. That’s why a lot of the ingredients overlap.”
The 224-page hardcover book includes beautiful photography from Nicky Hedayatzadeh, who captures the essence of Ruiz and her work.
“We’d hop in our cars and travel to the different areas of Arizona and New Mexico to deliver the most authentic representation, Ruiz said.
Earth Medicines: Ancestral Wisdom, Healing Recipes, and Wellness Rituals from a Curandera is available on Ruiz's website.
Yerba Buena Cacao BitesMakes about 50 bites
1 cup raw cacao butter
1 cup raw cacao powder
2 tablespoons fresh spearmint, minced, or 1 tablespoon dried
½ cup raw honey
Silicone molds in your desired shape and size (I use two 1-by-1-inch molds)
Using a double boiler, melt the cacao butter. When it’s melted, add the cacao powder and stir until smooth. Next, add the spearmint, honey, and a pinch of sea salt, and mix well. Pour or spoon the mixture into the silicone molds and refrigerate at least one hour. Remove the bites from the molds and store them in the refrigerator or freezer.
Recipe excerpted from Earth Medicines: Ancestral Wisdom, Healing Recipes, and Wellness Rituals from a Curandera by Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz (Roost Books; 2021).