A couple weeks ago I shared about my visit to the Pharmacy Museum in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Despite the fact our modern pharmacies lack the true communal aspect of the old time pharmacies, all is not lost. In our journey we came across a place you might be familiar with that’s keeping with the pharmacies of old.
For many the botanica plays a familiar role in the life of the community. The botanica is a place to get advice, and perhaps a helpful tincture, to work with a particular trouble or issue. They can be very spiritual places, where people go to find renewal and support for the challenges of daily life. I’ve seen them be places to get Tarot readings so as to connect to insights from wisdom outside our usual way of thinking.
In this moment we find ourselves in Bayamon, a region just southwest of San Juan. The spot is Botanica Elegua. Although the area hosts several different botanicas, Botanica Elegua comes recommended. A few moments after arriving it is clear why. The store is filled with remedies, tinctures, religious items, incense and candles for any issue or occasion you can think of. You could easily spend hours exploring all the various items and still have much to learn.
More importantly, there is a clear sense of welcoming from the owners. Quickly they inquire how they can help and what particular challenge we are working with. I share some issues with digestion and quickly I’m provided with a Yerba Buena plant to take with us. The owner guides us in how to make a simple drink with the plant and some warm milk. Not only does the remedy work when I try it later that day, but it comes in handy throughout the trip. A simple remedy from nature that works well.
No pharmaceuticals required.
On the shelves sit various small bottles filled with tinctures and healing remedies. They are quite colorful, with compelling labels affixed to them describing their purpose. Some of them are for heartbreak, others for calming the nerves. Some simply function as perfume. Clearly time and care went into creating them and each seem imbued with a healing quality.
Botanicas are not limited to the island of Puerto Rico. I’ve been to ones in California, Louisianna and even Florida. Not all Botanicas are created equal however, and Botanica Elegua impressed. The store itself is modest. Shelves line the walls, packed with various sized bottles and candles. There is a good selection of religious items, prayer cards and statues of saints. Incense and other items to assist with ritual or clearing stuck energy cover the different display cabinets.
Curious we talk with Willie, one of the owners, about the art of creating these different items. He shares that to learn how to do it takes time and patience. Learning about the various herbs and their qualities is an interactive process, one benefitted by a command of Spanish if you study with someone on the island. People spend years to perfect their understanding of plants and how they counter different conditions. You can learn from a book, but usually learning from a master is best. He shares that most importantly it requires someone to be open to learning and open to spirit. You need to be able to let spirit come into you and patience is the best way towards that.
He gestures with his hands showing us energy coming from above and entering into our heart and mind. Let the spirit in!
Then the lights go out.
Truly. It’s the best accent to a point being made that I can think of.
The power comes back on a moment later and he continues as if nothing fantastic just occurred to blow our minds. His encouragement to have humility and respect for this art form of healing inspired confidence in their work. He continued his discussion with us about healing arts and the power of medicinal herbs. All the while, his mother would chime in to accent a point or add an insight. As other people entered the shop they would work with them to understand their issues and find good solutions for each.
Standing there stirred the words Yolanda from the Pharmacy Museum shared with us just days before. Words describing how the community came for support and guidance with their health. Words about people receiving support that was more than just a pill or prescription. That the best remedy required the person to talk about what was going on for them.
So much of what we struggle with in illness contains emotional elements. It contains a story that needs expression. Someone like Willie is there to witness the story as much as suggest a remedy or treatment. In fact the story often guides what is chosen.
Regardless of what you may feel about this type of medicine and healing, it plays a strong role in many parts of the world. More importantly it often runs alongside other faith beliefs and practices. I’ve seen so many members of large faith communities also seek guidance from someone at a botanica like this one, in addition to speaking with their priest or pastor. It’s not a competition, or at least it shouldn’t be. The wisdom of the world is vast and healing can take many forms. People know this instinctively and they keep coming back. Somehow these remedies help them to heal.
Still amazed the power in the building went off right at the right moment, we collect our goodies and wander back into the heat of the Puerto Rican day. Sadly we journey on from here, otherwise I think both my wife and I would never leave. We both felt like camping out right there, demanding to be taught everything they knew about the different plants. Another time perhaps, especially since patience is required.
If you find yourself in the area, check out Botanica Elegua. They are located at 3-39 Calle 35, Sierra Bayamon, Bayamon. Their Facebook page is Super Botanica Elegua.
Ever visited a botanica? Then tell us about it! Share a comment below and give us the scoop.
We look forward to hearing your adventures. To Your Health.