By S. J. Ludescher
Some people may call the greenery that dots New Mexico’s roadsides or clings to the crevices of its arroyos “weeds,” but to those in the know, these plants are big medicine. Says certified herbalist and East Mountain resident Nancy Dunlavy, “Almost all of the things that we need to keep healthy and in balance are within a mile from our own front door.”
Many of our indigenous herbs and plants have been known worldwide for centuries for their potent curative powers. Part of the reason our plants have such strong medicinal properties, explains Dunlavy, “is due to our harsh environment. It has to be tough to live here.”
Snakeweed is a prime example. The low-growing bush with dozens of small yellow flowers is reputedly named for its ability to cure snakebites, but it’s also been known for centuries to ease joint or muscle pain, whether your drink it and/or soak in it. Fibromyalgia sufferers are also experimenting with snakeweed.
Mullein, with its tall stalk of lovely yellow flowers, is best known for its use in curing ear infections and treating asthma. It was widely used in Mexico many years before the invasion of the Conquistadors, and during the 18th and 19th centuries, it was also believed that it would ward off evil spirits.
Other plants and herbs with therapeutic uses found in the East Mountains include dandelion, globe mallow, betony, lousewort, valerian, motherwort, lemon balm, lavender, evening primrose, wild rose, berries of all sorts, and mountain mahogany
“Plant medicine, though,” warns Dunlavy, “has a more subtle effect, so it takes a little longer than traditional pharmaceutical choices. I like to say that it takes about the same amount of time to heal as it did to get out of balance.”
But before you go out and start identifying, picking, and brewing, know that those same plants that can heal can also be toxic when not handled or used correctly. Dunlavy, like all certified herbalists, is highly skilled and trained. A lifelong fascination with plants and their curative abilities led her to an apprenticeship with another East Mountain herbal guru, Beverly McFarland. That was six years ago.
After completing that course, she also enrolled in a correspondence study with world renowned Rosemary Gladstone. Dunlavy now markets a wide range of tinctures, salves, oils, and herbal teas under the name Sandia Mountain Herbals through her website, local art and farm markets, Village Apothecary, and Triangle Grocery.
There is also the case to be made for responsible, ecologically correct harvesting. Both Dunlavy and certified herbalist Melody Gonzales, who owns Cedar Crest’s Village Apothecary, call it “wild crafting.” “We obtain our herbs by wild crafting when we can,” Gonzales says, “but we are very protective and do not want any to become endangered.”
Gonzales began her love affair with herbs when she worked at the University of New Mexico Hospital more than 12 years ago. “I saw a lot of suffering and dying and thought there had to be a better way.” She enrolled at the New Mexico College of Natural Healing, earning a credential that allows her to consult on a wide range of health concerns.
Although Gonzales has only owned Village Apothecary for about 18 months, she worked for the previous owner for many years. She plans to expand offerings to include other alternative modalities such as massage therapy, naturopathy, and organic skin treatments. “My goal is to also offer bulk herbs and have a laboratory so we can create lotions, creams, and salves specific to people’s needs.”
Village Apothecary is also a drop-off site for weekly box deliveries of organic fruits and vegetables by Skarsgard Farms (formerly known as Los Poblanos Organics). Gonzales sums up her goals, “We want to bring as many alternative therapies to people as possible, because we just want them to get better.”
Photos by Daniel Dunlavy
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