Botanical Bus heals through herbalism

Botanical Bus offers bilingual services for Latinx and Indigenous communities including massage therapy, somatic therapy and acupuncture.|

Read more stories celebrating the local Latino community here.

Haz clic aquí para leer la versión en Español.

Nearly all Botanical Bus workshops or health clinics begin with a blessing conducted by María de Lourdes Pérez Centurión, a promotora de saluda, known as “LuLu.” She burns copal incense in a bowl, cleanses the space, and speaks of cultural roots and shared humanity.

“If you listen to what LuLu says, she talks about how we're all connected and it's a big circle and how in our present we're giving things to our present, to our past and our future,” said Yatziry Galvan, Botanical Bus program coordinator.

Working for the Botanical Bus and witnessing LuLu’s blessings ignited a spark in Galvan, who immigrated from Mexico to the U.S. when she was little, to reconnect with her roots. The blessings reminded Galvan of her grandmother in Oaxaca, who used plants to help heal when family members were sick.

“It brings a sense of home and community,” Galvan said of the blessings.

The Botanical Bus is a bilingual and bicultural mobile herb clinic for Latinx and Indigenous communities in Sonoma and Napa counties. The nonprofit empowers clients not only in holistic health practices, but also in being culturally relevant.

“We really believe in the power of people to access care, all forms of care, that they believe to be most valued,” said Jocelyn Boreta, Botanical Bus co-founder and executive director.

Boreta co-founded the Botanical Bus in 2017, initially offering wellness workshops drawing from knowledge of herbal medicine and nutrition. By 2019, Boreta and a founding team of promotora community health advocates formed the clinic, which rotates locations, to bring bilingual “direct integrative and culturally relative health services.”

Services offered through the clinic include massage therapy, somatic therapy, acupuncture, support for diabetes prevention and care, art therapy, clinical herbalism and foot care.

Teaching the importance of herbalism

Herbalism, the practice of using plants for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, helps Latinx and Indigenous people identify themselves culturally through deep knowledge of herbal medicine and nutrition and recognize it as an invaluable and unlimited resource.

“In this way it really empowers access to all kinds of care and to starting from a place of power and humanity and connecting people to place and culture,” Boreta said of herbalism.

Over the last two years during the coronavirus pandemic, the Botanical Bus distributed garden kits. Everyone who attends the clinic now receives an herbal care kit which includes herbal teas for building immunity, helping with sleep and digestion, along with a healing salve for muscles.

Last month over 50 people attended an online skincare and detox workshop. Attendees were mostly Latina women. They tuned in to learn about how white clay can tighten skin and the usefulness of sage, a sacred ingredient.

“It shows how these individuals really care about the information that we're covering and they obviously find it culturally relevant, which is one of our missions, to offer culturally relevant care to our community,” Galvan said.

From the recording of the workshop, it appeared simple. Spanish-speaking instructors taught attendees how to make facials using natural ingredients. But Galvan was moved by the session and said, “more than anything, this is a revolution.”

“We are empowering these individuals to take time out of their day to take care of themselves, which is not something that a lot of us think about, especially women,” she said. “We're busy and when we have kids, that takes priority, but making sure that we set a little bit of time to take care of our bodies and of our souls is really important and it's also a very revolutionary idea.”

Replanting cultural roots

Galvan was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and immigrated to the U.S. when she was around 6 or 7 years old. Moving to a new country, she said she felt disconnected from her cultural roots, but the Botanical Bus has helped her reconnect.

“It's been really moving to be able to work for the Botanical Bus because I feel like I'm also able to reconnect to my roots,” Galvan said. “Working for these promoters has inspired me to really just get to know myself and where I come from.”

Also reconnecting with her Oaxaca roots is Naya Barretto, a nurse practitioner who has volunteered for the last eight months as a Botanical Bus promotora for one or two Saturday clinics per month.

Outside a meeting room at a Saturday clinic in Healdsburg in February was a sign that said “prevención y manejo de la diabetes,” which Barretto specializes in.

When it comes to diabetes care and prevention, there isn’t a rush to get people in and out for a group session or one-on-one care. Barretto takes her time listening to each individual’s stories, figuring out stressors, obstacles and dietary choices. Some come in with a sense of hopelessness of what can be done about diabetes, which can lead to kidney failure or blindness.

Common obstacles in a farm worker’s life, for example, include possible isolation from family and an overcrowded living situation that makes it difficult to cook. It can lead to a downward spiral and less motivation and energy towards diabetes care.

“We have the time. We want to hear their stories,” she said. “Diabetes care takes time. The message I hope we can provide is there’s so much you can do to prevent diabetes. You’re not alone.”

'Granito de arena’

People who attend the clinic are often surprised that health and wellness services are free or donation-based, and many are happy with access to bicultural services, she said.

“The feedback I’ve gotten is (patients) feel comfortable here,” Barretto said.

Barretto said she also appreciates the Botanical Bus for the way it brings the community together. She likened everyone who works and volunteers there as “granito de arena,” or a grain of sand, building together.

“Everyone has an impact. Everyone’s voices are taken into account. The goal is to raise these Indigenous and Latinx voices,” she said.

This year the Botanical Bus plans to provide 864 clients with 2,592 direct integrative health services through 36 Farmworker Clinics, reach 1,080 community members through 45 wellness workshops and distribute 1,000 mutual-aid herbal care kits to farmworkers and their families, according to its website.

Community members can donate funds on the Botanical Bus website. The nonprofit is also actively recruiting practitioners in integrative health. They work with volunteer practitioners including massage therapists and acupuncturists. The promotora team currently includes eight Indigenous and Latina women.

In 2021, there were 19 clinic sessions offered and Boreta said clinics were always full and there was a waitlist. This year the Botanical Bus offers 36 clinics, usually held on Saturdays.

“We will expand this year to meet critical demand,” Boreta said.

Read more stories celebrating the local Latino community here.

Haz clic aquí para leer la versión en Español.

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