Friends and clients joined in celebrating the launch of herbalist Kiva Rose’s mobile Village-Herbalist Clinic at her office in Catron County, New Mexico, in a formalizing of her years of providing herbal health consultations to the residents of this singularly remote region of the American Southwest.
The Medicine Woman Mobile Clinic:
What it Means to Be a Village Herbalist
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Natural healing and self sufficiency can benefit anyone, no matter where we might live. That said, self care and community health care are in some ways even more vital in rural areas than they are in cities, given the few regular medical services available and the many miles from town, farm or ranch to the nearest well equipped hospital. Relative isolation requires increased self reliance, manifest from vehicle repair and garden skills to the ability to treat their family’s less serious conditions as well as provide first-aid in the case of an emergency. And along with the need, also comes an unusual degree of receptivity to natural and so-called alternative healing methods, with folks inspired to avail themselves of the medicinal and edible plant varieties thriving all around them, predisposed against the excessive or automatic use of pharmaceuticals, resentful of what they view as an increasing expensive and depersonalized medical industry, distrustful of any kind of official certification, and characteristically leaning towards what they consider the deliberate gifts of nature and creator.
Such folks are not, at least out here in the West, the kind to readily ask for help or advice of any kind. The knowledge that many of them have about local indigenous herbs is gathered not through visible study so much as taking in information without appearing to do so, watching what grandparents and neighbors use, and often surreptitiously testing it and proving its effects to themselves before allowing even silent witnesses to their methods. Nor are they comfortable going into offices of any kind, whether a lawyer’s, banker’s, doctor’s or herbalist’s. They may instead invite old fashioned house calls to a trusted practitioner, bringing out food and beverages while apologizing for the trouble and venturing to describe their symptoms or needs. And often what they prefer is to wait until they run into the area’s curandera, “grannywoman” or village herbalist at a local event, in front of the gas station or in the aisles of the country store. The most effective healers solicit health information in a relaxed manner such as one discusses the best feed for a fair-bound lamb, and emphasizes the many entirely practical reasons they might have to make the necessary effort to heal, tend and nourish their bodies. Any tinctures or other preparations are offered the way one offers a present, too imbued with their sincere concern and obvious effort for anyone to ever turn them down. And even if there is a set value for the medicine, the healer accepts payment as though it were a personal gift and acknowledgment of much appreciated help.
Rather than depending on bumping into her many local clients, my partner Kiva is now seeing them primarily by advance appointment. The sign I drew for her Medicine Woman mobile clinic rests in a portable iron base, so that it can rolled out and set up in front of outdoor tables at our friend’s local café, or announce her location anywhere she ever feels like setting up. One advantage that the unincorporated practitioner has is that she or he can advise clients wherever she is most needed or most wants to be, whether that be the herbalist’s own home, or a park or camping area with a backdrop of greenery or creek. If having a permanent office building seems to say “stable”, “credible” or “official”, a partly mobile practice communicates a sense of the “adaptive”, “personal”… and “traditional”.
Local clients email or call Kiva’s voicemail to arrange for their appointment, and she gets back to them as soon as she can. Given that we live 7 river crossings from not only pavement but cellphone reception or available land lines, this means a message recorded on the same iPod that holds her ever-present progressive Americana recordings, downloaded through our solar powered satellite connection whenever she is home, and replied to on her twice weekly trips to town.
With its scarce few hundred residents, however, it not so much a town but as a “village”, as the highway department makes clear with the signs posted on either side, a modern village with a common need, calling for a both uncommon and old-timey approach. Herein exists the classic province of the democratized, self empowered healer. It is places similar to this all over the world, where one comes to know not only the names but the histories and lifestyle habits of those whom we seek to assist. The expect of us not “cures” but insights, tools and aids, an opportunity and means to regain balance and wholeness, the knowledge and help of the beneficial plants growing in the nearest mountains and deserts, in their backyard gardens and wily weed patches, and laced through the wild unkempt edges of neighborhood streets.
-Jesse Wolf Hardin
(for information on Village Herbalism, The Medicine Woman Tradition and Kiva’s Online Herbal Foundations Courses, go to: