Studying medicinal herbs with a local expert

Who knew that 1 kg blocks of vegetable fat could be so effective for treating congestion?

Wait.  I’ll back up.

We had a guest speaker at Friday’s  community health worker (promotora) training — Oscar Olazabal, who  works for the Ollantaytambo municipality, shared his expertise in natural medicines.  We met him at a general assembly a few months ago and he offered to teach our promotoras about their most abundant local medicinal resource.  He predicted that the promotoras would know which plants were medicinal and where to find them, but likely wouldn’t know how each should be prepared and what ailment each would treat.

Stirring the pot of medicinal plants.

Oscar is an engaging and effective teacher and he led the group through four different preparations and their uses. Tinturas, which are alcohol based distillations, are great for muscle and bone pain.  Mates  (teas) are great for stomach and throat pain, while jarabes, which are sugar based syrups, work well for cough.  Pomades, which are made from fat, are great for bruises or, if made with eucalyptus, function just like the VapoRub many North Americans know and love.  After describing the preparations, Oscar explained which plants could be used in each.  He then had the promotoras help him prepare  treatments, working with double boilers, mortar and pestle, and cheese cloth.  At the end of the day, the promotoras were trying jarabes and smelling pomadas, excitedly discussing what they would each present at future general assemblies and in smaller community meetings.

Promotoras Teresa and Ana Cecilia take notes.
Promotoras Teresa and Ana Cecilia take notes and a child watches Oscar teach.

Oscar volunteered to take the promotoras on a herb-finding walk in January, when the plants are growing the thickest.  We are all looking forward to practicing picking out the cures which grow right under our noses. Until then, I know what to do with the Crisco, bought in the midst of a pie making frenzy, that has been sitting unused on my shelf.

– Written by Stewart Decker

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