by Kiva Rose —
They have come from all over to learn the medicine of this restored river canyon. On a guided plant walk through the lush river woodland, they point to vines, twisting tree trunks and bright flowers, inquiring about the use of each. The rich smell of cottonwood leaves and wild mint mingles with the ever-present undertones of sand and sage.
One woman asks our guide what the most important indigenous medicine was to the natives. Pointing at a sandy stretch away from the river, the guide walks us over to a small, scraggly sagebrush-like weed. She plucks a leaf and crushes it between her fingers and offers it for all to smell. The pungent, sagey aroma wafts in the breeze. “She is estafiate,” the guide says, “the grandmother herb.”
Largely ignored by modern herbalists, estafiate has long been a favorite among native peoples, gypsy healers and old-time “root doctors” for its broad range of uses and dependable availability. A plant traditionally associated with dreaming and magic by Europeans and indigenous Americans alike, estafiate has been held sacred since ancient times, and it is still burned as a pungent smudge or ceremonial smoke.
Called women’s sage by some native tribes, estafiate is a wonderful ally for women of all ages, as it can greatly ease common PMS symptoms; also, a tea or infusion encourages delayed menses to return to their natural rhythm. The plant is antimicrobial when used either internally or topically as a salve. Estafiate is also anti-inflammatory and is useful as an oil in the treatment of wounds, burns, bruises, and muscle or joint pain. A powerful stomachic, estafiate can be used as a tea; also, an infusion of the leaves taken daily does an admirable job of preventing and treating food poisoning.
We gather together to continue our plant walk. Estafiate is like a bent and silvery old woman, our guide tells us, alternately ignored and pulled from our gardens. Yet she continues to bloom throughout the desert, gracefully offering up her stories, her lessons, her powerful remedies to those with the eyes and hearts to recognize her.
Various species of plants are known commonly as estafiate or istafiate throughout Mexico and the Southwestern portion of the United States. Due to their very similar appearances, some species are difficult to identify, and they do not all contain exactly the same active principles. For this reason, use caution when taking any herb known as estafiate. Always consult a professional for advice, as there is no guarantee that the tea/herbal product you believe you are ingesting is made from the proper medicinal species.
Be sure to consult with your healthcare professional before taking any medicinal herb or herbal supplement. Avoid self-diagnosis and self-medication: always be on the safe side.
Kiva Rose is an herbalist, poet and teacher living in a restored river canyon in the Saliz Mountain of New Mexico where she and her partners lead vision quests, host private retreats and group events, including the Wild Women’s Gathering. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 3, June/July 2006.