Working the earth for this year’s garden was special. This year I am planting with the purpose of incorporating herbs and plants that are culturally familiar. I recently read a book that flooded my mind with memories of my Elders. Working The Roots – Over 400 Years Of Traditional African American Healing by Michele E. Lee is a welcome addition to my bookshelf.
Michele E. Lee has brought to light the cultural practices found in the African American community. The author has written an amazing book that captures memories we really must not forget. Many of us have grown up with syrup, a tea, or a salve made by an Elder. Each of these concoctions had a story attached. Recipes and wisdom passed down over the years are in this book. A few of these traditional recipes are currently still in use today.
In the African American culture going to the doctor was often not an option. Utilizing the practices passed down from slavery we had to find ways to heal ourselves. Identifying plant material and roots in a new land is an amazing act of resilience. Our history is more than slavery, but a story of knowing what plant can heal. Life was dependant on knowing what berries were poisonous and what leaves were healing agents. The African American story speaks of family solidarity, survival in meager times, and staying healthy. We often looked to nature to provide the natural medicine that worked and was affordable. I often wonder how the Ancestors were able to do this in unfamiliar conditions, in a new land? Michele Lee has written a refresher course on how we healed our bodies naturally.
If we paid attention to the Elders, simple statements carry so much truth. One of the people interviewed by Michele made a statement that I will not forget. Ms. McCloud stated “…God Made the roots…He made them and we didn’t…He made them so you don’t have to run to the doctor for everything.”
Throughout the book, Michele interviews many old souls over ten plus years and their stories were very familiar. I remember my Mom sharing how sassafras was a regular drink in her household as a child. Her South Carolinian ancestry believed in the working of the roots. I remember walking around the property and my Mother identifying the healing plants found on the property. My Mom shared the knowledge she remembered from my ancestors.
Working The Roots is more about recognizing our connectivity to the land. It is also a reminder of how nature is our medicine cabinet. Some of the mentions and memories of this book conjure up tales hear at the knees of my Elders. The story of the Wadastickman, Mr. Joe Hayes to finding bunch grass with Ms. Dot, you can feel that ancestors smiling as these stories are shared.
This book has a plethora of information that identifies plant materials commonly used for healing. As I continued to read, memories flooded my mind. My Dad gifted me with a jar of senna tea after giving birth. An Elder gardener in Virginia told me to drink Mullein tea. It would help my sinus congestion. I look at Mullein along the roadsides quite differently now. My paternal grandmother always gave my parents a jar of Black draught tea. We drank this over the winter months for colds. To this day, I drink the juice from the greens. That is where the nutrients were, my Dad would remind us. I am quite familiar with the familial pharmacy.
A terrific addition to any bookshelf, Michele E. Lee has written quite the manuscript. Filled with historical memories and practices from the Elders, this book is essential in my home. While traditional medicine is readily available, cultural memories of these practices will always be with us. Working The Roots – Over 400 Years of Traditional African American Healing will help us remember these practices for generations to come. Thank you Michele Lee for documenting our history.
Starting more seeds for growing Tulsi (Holy Basil) in my garden,
Teri, Cottage in The Court
Click to find out more about Michele E. Lee
To find out the health benefits of Tulsi tea, click here
DISCLAIMER: Check with a medical professional before trying anything in this book.by
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