my ancestors stories
last january i lost my mother, and for almost a year, one of the most significant parts of my grieving process has been to write; to write about her and our grandmothers, culture, traditions and rituals. to write about the plants, tastes, and recipes of my childhood and above all to write proudly and unapologetically about who i am and where i come from.
western herbalism has proven time and time again that it's anti-black, anti-indigenous, anti-Iranian. Iran has a rich tradition and history of herbal medicine dating back to 8,000 b.c. that most of the western world knows little to nothing about. Iran having 11 climates out of 13 world climates, makes it one of the most biodiverse regions of the world. Though 6 times smaller than the u.s. it's home to over 8,000 species of plants, many of which are unknown to western herbalism. Most picture Iran as a vast desert, one in which terrorists roam, not of forests and fields of wildflowers.
many prominent western herbalists speak of the importance of historical text, highlighting texts that only date back to the european tradition, texts that recognizes Hippocrates as the father of medicine. As though, Iranian herbal medicine and many other traditions don't pre-date Hippocrates by 7,000 years. As though, texts are the authority of knowledge and understanding for all peoples and traditions. Like so many, I didn't learn about angelica, calamus, cardamom, or rose from a book. I learned of each through oral story, touch, taste, ritual, food, and medicine. more importantly herbs were a way of life, they were fluid, active, alive: pomegranate rinds for gum aches, rose syrup for cranky babies, violets for the heart, and of course saffron, saffron for everything.
and the difficult reality that america's anti-iranian attitude is currently devastating Iran. the economic crisis causing catastrophic shortages of food and water, the sobering reality of talking to relatives, whose voices sound shakey and scared through the phone, as they reassure me everything will be ok.
and here in america, i have to read about herbal surprise boxes that glamorize my people ("mystic caravans") and culture (tea leaf reading), claiming it (the recipes), selling it (for lots of money), without acknowledgement (it's always been mine for the taking).
this is what western herbalism looks like. it's a tradition that centers white power, power attained through violence, theft and unthinkable horrors. but, we know its unraveling, the tatters and threads exposing the rot and stagnation of a dilapidated foundation, of what is left.
their elders, frightened, demanding supreme authority as if being an elder was a noun; stationed direct, unwavering.
my elders, so different, moving like a dancing verb, showing the possibility of what it can mean to be an elder. my mother i remember, like a child seeing the world with eyes that sparkled brightly, shining defiantly through old bones and dividing cells. my mother i remember, her joyous laughter, deeply listening, proud of her stories but eager for more, so much more.
we are already creating beauty and realness out of the compost and shit of the this decaying system. i see the cotton people, the corn people, the acorn people, the rice people rising and flying. i'm listening happily. and i am writing my way through it all.
and so I wrote as many stories I could remember. I wrote of all those first herbs; rose on the day i was born, nigella seed, the medicine for everything, the barberry my grandfather called the blood, the violet my mother rubbed on my teething gums. i wrote of the memories of tending plants, burning plants, eating plants, talking to plants, living with plants.
i wrote the stories of my ancestors.
"Raise your word, not your voice. It’s the rain that makes the flowers grow not thunder- Rumi"