yerba nomadica

Growth Hurts : Embodying Transformation by Embracing the Darkness

Carla FrankComment
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Growing Pains?

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”
Anaïs Nin

Here in the desert southwest, we've already been experiencing the momentum of spring for months. Other places in world are just waking up to it.

And while the energy of spring embodies rebirth, growth, and the active outward energy of sun - we would be missing one of the biggest lessons of the season if we simplified the significance of this cacophony of spontaneous emergence into the finality of the fully actualized bloom.

The truth is that the rumble of change begins underground.

In the complete darkness, shrouded from view, the radicle emerges from a buried seed...

This first embryonic shoot serves to ground the developing plant into the earth before any upward and outward growth can occur.

A seed's radicle shares etomological roots (botany pun intended) with the socio-politically applied "radical," both meaning "returning to the origin" or literally "to have roots."

The analogy of the radicle as an essential step for our personal, spiritual and dare I say professional growth, is particularly apt considering the excessive visibility that is at best the norm and at worst required in our culture for social and professional engagement.

It can seem that taking the necessary time out of perpetual view ranges from rebellious to irresponsible depending on our sources of income.

And yet, we too require an amount of darkness & privacy to rejuvenate emotionally, creatively, spiritually - and even physically.

As two-legged, upright, brain dominant animals, we need periods of darkness to germinate into new stages and forms. Particularly during sleep, a time when total darkness signals our hormones to begin its natural proceses of healing, our body's energy should be necessarily and disproportionately focused on regenerating and rebuilding after a day of stress and activity.

But many fear "going dark." Whether that means pausing engagement on devices, or sitting with the discomforts that often accompanies deep growth and transformation.

And then there's spring....

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Ahh, spring-time, when the energies do an "about-face" from the cozy, though stagnant, season of winter into full blown action, genisis, and expansion.

For those of us intent on catching the wave of this new energy, all too ready to wield new projects and self awakenings - it can be a rude awakening when it proves not to be as effortless as a butterfly on the cross-breeze* when we find ourselves faced with setbacks, illness, existential labyrinths, or "bad luck" instead of a clear road to newly manifested actualization.

*Or maybe it is just that easy! Remember that a caterpillar literally had to become soup before it could float effortlessly on that breeze (another transformation done in the dark).

Of course we love the promise of new birth, but literally no one I've ever spoken to has told me that birthing is easy. And I'm sure that if we could only remember that far back, we might agree that being born is no picnic either. I've yet to see a baby come out laughing - shot from the void into this new, extraordinary, and previously inconceivable reality.

So let's be gentle and facilitate our growth by embracing the dark.

May we allow ourselves the permission, not only to withdraw into our own private darkness in order to get back in touch with our origins, but to experience the discomfort or struggle as a necessary milestone rather than rejecting it as a failure to launch.

So in those moments, those dark juicy initiations, when the new self/reality/manifestation is still completely unimaginable and the fear of the unknown or anxiety of the setback causes us pain and doubt...I invite you to reframe this stage of the transformation by asking yourself these four questions:

1. What am I on the verge of?
2. What parts of my intuition am I resisting?
3. What do I need (or need to let go of) in order to make the leap?
4. What are the tough lessons that this moment is asking me to receive?

Below I've shared just a few of my favorite herbs and essences for easing through difficult growth and transitions:

Skullcap Scutellaria lateriflora

Both a bitter tonic and calming nervine, Skullcap may be used to sooth frayed nerves and ease both emotional and physical reactivity. Whether you're irritable and quick to anger, your allergies are acting up, and all the while the world just. feels. like. too. much. I reach for skullcap for sensitivity and overwhelm; be it work, relationship, or pollen related. As a bitter herb, it exhibits action on the liver - helping to clear toxins, including stress hormones, from the body. Accompanied by rest and nourishment, skullcap has been a trusted ally when in need of a little extra calm resiliency.

Saguaro Cactus Essence

Truly the quintessential icon of the Sonoran Desert, the long lived and slow growing Saguaro cactus is easy to anthropomorphize due to its thick, elephant like flesh and its tall stance with extended arms. Change can be isolating, especially when we realize that we have grown out of a situation, job, or relationships. Saguaro flower essence can be called upon in times when extra support and backbone is just what we need. It can be utilized not only to help to restore our will to heal, but empower us to honor our inner wisdom in order to trust the process, follow our truths, and stick to our guns.
You can find Saguaro Cactus Flower Essence from Desert Alchemy & Essences of the Desert.

Calamus Root Acorus calamus

A stand of fresh calamus is about the most heavenly scent that I have ever experienced - like a fresh citrus blossom from another planet. Calamus root can help to relieve gas & bloating, indigestion, and poor assimilation of nutrients. When we experience stress and tension, our fight or flight instincts can cause various body systems that are not immediately necessary for running or brawling, to shut down. Our digestive capabilities can become severely compromised, and yet a healthy gut and assimilation of nutrients is something that is essential to our physical, mental and emotional well being. On an energetic level, calamus has time and again helped me to see the bigger picture of my situation, including my own motives, biases, and engraved patterns - non-judgmentally. I think of it for times when we feel stuck in a situation and our emotional state prevents us from finding peace and solutions.

Pitcher Plant Flower Essence

Pitcher plant has somewhat of a testy personality themself. Perhaps it's like the crotchety retired master artist who has to be approached in the right way to coerce their mentorship - so do approach Pitcher Plant with a healthy respect. To me, Pitcher Plant allows an ease and groundedness when the winds of change (and the world at large) seem to be whipping and whirling around you. Sometimes its not enough to weather the storm, we have to become the calm eye in the center. This allows us to have the inspired endurance and willingness to make difficult decisions that ensure our forward motion. That is what Darlingtonia (possibly the most charming scientific name I've heard) can conjure.
Pitcher Plant Flower essence can be found at FES Flowers. Please do not disturb the plants themselves, they are incredibly sensitive and may not take very kindly to the clumsy and often rude invasion of the human kind.

In light + darkness, may you thrive,



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Conversation with a Curandera: Mi Maestra y Amiga Maria Elena Martinez

Carla FrankComment

I was incredibly lucky to meet Maria Elena Martinez at a time when I was far from my own family in Arizona, during an almost-seven-year stint that I spent living in Austin, Texas. At the time I was devouring any and all information I could get my hands on about Mexican healing traditions. I read books, watched youtube videos of limpias, and stalked the insides of botanicas that were scattered about the city.

I was also actively pursuing my own journey into herbalism by attending school for botanical medicine when our paths first crossed at Alma de Mujer, the Indigenous Women’s Center for Social Change, on the banks of Cypress Creek in Austin.

After that meeting I somewhat presumptuously "adopted" Maria Elena as my surrogate Texas grandmother and began visiting her for limpias, journey sessions, and moon-circles as a student and as a fellow seeker on the path. I began to facilitate workshops at the Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine where Maria Elena could share her spiritual healing philosophies and methods with those students who were interested to sit at her feet and listen.

In our modern western society it can prove difficult to find great mentors.

...especially when we are seeking those who can help us learn the old ways of ceremony and traditional healing. We generally don’t have one assigned to us based on the innate gifts we display as a child the way many cultures have done in the past, or grow up in multi-generational households. Or else, the desire for their children to assimilate (in order to protect them in an era of intolerance and prejudice) deterred our grandparents from passing down practices, knowledge and even language particular to our cultural heritage.

And although today we find ourselves living in a golden age of information, much of the information we find at our fingertips cannot be trusted or may not actually be coming from those who protect and practice those traditions, but outsider academics who study it, often without the proper context.

Too often, many of us miss out on the chance to ENGAGE with our own histories and traditions face to face - and therefore neglect to experience it as the living dynamic birthright that it is.

..and that is why, my friends, it is truly my honor to share some of Maria Elena's thoughts on this with you today.

CVF: Maria Elena, thank you for agreeing to have this conversation with me and your willingness to give your perspective. I think that many of our young people can feel somewhat lost at this time without the mentorship of their grandparents or other elders in their communities. Many of us are missing out on valuable traditions and lessons that they have to teach us

MEM: I have powerful and loving memories of my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather who did curaciones and [I] had the privilege to witness these events as a young girl. But these teachings were not transmitted verbally nor taught to the next generation.

My paternal gradmother, Josefina Alanis Martinez always had an alter with the Virgen de Guadalupe and a special place for a framed picture of Santo Niño de Atoche. On one occasion as a 4 year old girl, I have a vivid memory of my grandmother Josefina Martinez standing facing a thunder storm coming from the north as she prays to honor the storm, but also asks for protection of her home and blessings for the land. She uses a kitchen knife and makes the sign of the cross as she prays and symbolically cuts the clouds with the sign of the cross. My aunts and mother cover the mirros and gather to pray with my abuelita Josefina Martinez by the altar.


On another occasion my maternal grandfather, Pedro Cuellar, did a healing ceremony for my brother, Alejandro Martinez, when he was several months old. One night during a thunder storm, Alejandro gets a very high fever and the family becomes concerned when he has a convulsion. My grandfather Pedro picks up Alejandro and begins to pray with him. As he walks in the house praying and holds Alejandra towards the sky...he prays for a while and my brother becomes calm again. Papa Grande Pedro places my brother Alejandro back in the crib. The women break a fertilized egg in a small dish and makes the sign of the cross with a broom straw. The dish is placed under the crib. The teaching is that a fertilized egg is a living organism which absorbs the negative energies. I do not know how long the egg stayed under the crib. My brother did recover.

CVF: Did you have any significant mentors in your life, either in your childhood or as an adult, that particularly stand out to you today as having a hand in shaping your journey?

MEM: For sure the memories of Mama Pepa and Papa Grande Pedro are my bedrock and tap root as I started my own Journey in the Shamanic Tradition. My practice is diverse and inclusive as I meet different teachers who share generously their teaching and healing practice.

My shamanic teachers include: Dana Kilgore, Sandra Ingerman and Hank Wesselman. Both Sandra Ingerman and Hank Wesselman have published books and continue to teach. I have also worked with two curanderas from Oaxaca, Doña Modesta Lavana and Doña Enriqueta Contreras.

CVF: Maria Elena, I truly admire how you give yourself so freely to your community - serving on the board of Alma de Mujer, leading full moon gatherings, welcoming individuals into your home for limpias (spiritual cleansing), and drummings. You even lead workshops on shamanic healing practices occasionally for the Wildflower School in Austin...and all free of charge.
How did you arrive to this position of sacred service to the earth and her living things? Have you always felt called to this, and if not, how were you drawn to this path?

MEM: I definitely feel that my seed and tap root is Mama Pepa Josefina Alnis Martinez and Papa Grande Pedro Cuellar. I feel that they planted the seeds in my heart and soul and I found the other teachers in my path. I did not have to search very long because Dana Kilgore lived and taught in Austin. Later I became a member of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies and attended gatherings and other events sponsored by the Foundation [for Shamanic Studies]. I became a member of Society for Shamanic Practitioners that sponsors an annual meeting each year. Doña Modesta Lavana and Doña Enriqueta Contreras came to Austin to teach and do healing work and later I went to Oaxaca to visit and work with them in their communities.

I was a classroom teacher for many years and later worked as an instructional coordinator for bilingual and multi-cultural instruction in Austin ISD. I have been teaching all my life, so teaching shamanism and offering healing sessions was a natural path for me. I am grateful to the community of teachers and healers who are now walking this path.

CVF: What do you consider your own healing tradition? Where do the ceremonies and rituals that you practice come from, and how did you learn them?    

MEM: My healing tradition is Shamanic but includes healing practices from the Mexican Curandera tradition. The ceremonies and rituals include both traditional practices and spirit inspired celebrations.

CVF:  You have also traveled the world, participate in community politics - you seem to do it all with such genuine passion and a sincere heart. Do you see your work in the community, specifically your political activism as a part of your healing practice?

MEM: Yes, all nations of all the people have to heal in order to heal our planet. We have to return to the ancient contract that we made with the creator and live in harmony with nature and all of creation. We are fortunate that indigenous peoples all over the world have held and protected the ancient understandings and are now sharing their knowledge with the world. It is time to connect the circle that includes all of the creation and acknowledge that everything has a spirit and everything is sacred. It is a spiritual obligation to participate in the political process for that is our commitment with the community to give all members the right to be happy, healthy, educated and secure.

CVF: We have chatted many times before about the transition that the world is going through today; from environmental disasters and widespread droughts, to continued social injustice. What is your intuition about where we are headed as a world society - is there a lesson in all of this, are you still hopeful? And what can our young people do to help bring about positive changes?

Yes, I am hopeful and have learned to accept this dimension for what it is. We have the old knowledge that is still on the planet in many indigenous cultures and we must seek that knowledge and understanding and begin to transmute the negative energy that is on the planet. It is not going to be easy, but we all agreed, I believe, to come at this time on the planet. It is also time for us to go into dream time or altered state of mind and ask spirit to guide us and that is why special spiritual teachers that come to us in dreams or journey time are important. That is why you speak to the spirit of the plant and acknowledge its sacredness and gifts. We must change our way of engaging with the sacred mother earth and talking with her to see what she has to teach us. We must re-connect with the planet and spiritual teachers that are waiting for us to re-connect. We are mending and re-connecting the web of life. That is also why it is important to acknowledge and re-connect to wild animal spirits.



CVF:  In times past, the new generations of healers were identified and singled out by the elders of their communities, for most of us living in the US today, that is not the case. In your opinion, how might one know that their life path is to be one of healing, and how would you suggest that they begin to prepare themselves for that journey?

MEM: The first step [is] to go into nature and state your intention and desire to be of service to the planet and all living things. You set and intention and it will be fulfilled. after my first journey with the drum I knew that.

Shamanism was my path and my first teacher was living in Austin. Once the path and intention is open, everything falls into motion and you just walk and live it. You will find your community. Many blessings.

CVF: Maria Elena, you have been such an inspiration and a wonderful example for all of those who you help, teach, and serve. I truly do feel honored to have been able to learn from you and to call you a dear friend. Thank you for taking this time to share with us. Do you have any sentiments that you would like to impart before we go?  

Just walk your path with love and consciousness, find a loving community to share your gifts and begin to create ceremony that celebrates life and pray with the spirits of the land and the heavens. I do want to come visit you in the near future. Blessings to you and your community.

Bouganvillea Flower & Apricot Syrup Recipe for Summer Soothing

Carla FrankComment
 [Photo by Carla Vargas-Frank]

[Photo by Carla Vargas-Frank]

The Sonoran desert may be most well known to outsiders by our cactus and other injurious species of plant life, rattlesnakes, tumbleweeds, and the powerful unrelenting sun which shines about 290 days a year. In other words, a sun-soaked landscape of briary natural beauty.

But not to be reduced to the sum of its most severe parts - as many herbalists will repeat, “the medicine that is needed is growing nearby.”In the desert, remedies for the the zealous sunshine and triple digit temperatures are slimy, cooling, and emollient and they are in great abundance right here in one of the driest and hottest regions in the US.

Cactus and aloe, of course, are the most well known, with innards all slippery and slimy and perfectly suited for burns caused by overexposure to our most bountiful natural resource, the sun.  The fruits of the Opuntia cactus, popularly known as prickly pear, even exhibit a refrigerant effect, helping to lower the body’s temperature so much so that over-consumption may even cause flu-like chills and residual body aches in some individuals.

 Opuntia cactus in fruit. "Tunas," or prickly pears are edible and delicious, typically ripe enough to be harvested in mid to late summer. [Photo by Carla Vargas-Frank]

Opuntia cactus in fruit. "Tunas," or prickly pears are edible and delicious, typically ripe enough to be harvested in mid to late summer. [Photo by Carla Vargas-Frank]

But let's not stop there, lots of other plants are treasures to the dry and irritated individual in mid July….one way to determine which plant allies are there to help at this particular time of year is to look around and see who seems to be thriving in the harsh summer conditions. Hollyhocks, Palo Verdes, Desert Willows and Bouganvilleas are  putting off radiant blossoms in the spring and summer. Not be outdone, of course, cacti and certain trees begin putting off fruits! If it wasn’t so familiar it would seem counter intuitive that at the most brutal time of year, so many of our luscious plant species would be flourishing!

The result is a proper cornucopia of summer vegetation to complement our most sizzling season.

 Dad helping to gather fresh apricots for syrup from my grandfather's tree in Cottonwood, Arizona. [Photo by Susan Vargas-Frank]

Dad helping to gather fresh apricots for syrup from my grandfather's tree in Cottonwood, Arizona. [Photo by Susan Vargas-Frank]

This summer, I collected a few of my favorite summer allies and mixed up one of the most sumptuous syrups that I’ve tasted for Nomadica's BOTÁNICA SONORA SHARE. Our new Bouganvillea Cordial is an opulent companion to helados, respados, cocktails sipped on warm breezy nights, and even pancakes! This blend includes bougainvillea flowers to sooth throats and dry coughs, juicy apricots, tart lime and spicy chiltipín peppers to help to release heat, and extracts of Passionflower and Motherwort to calm the spirit and pacify the heart (the organ associated with summer according to traditional Chinese medicine, and easily over stimulated at this time of year).

I encourage anyone in search of a sweet respite to make the recipe at home and find your own favorite ways to enjoy the desert’s own Bouganvillea Cordial - and if locally crafted Sonoran remedies like this one peak your interest, treat yourself to our Botánica Sonora subscription.

Fall season is now available for purchase on our Remedios page, but only a fixed number of subscriptions are available, so don’t delay if you’d like to receive one of our folk-inspired single run botanical remedies each month at your door!

 Flowers and fruit simmering together to make a luscious scarlet summer treat. [Photo by Carla Vargas-Frank]

Flowers and fruit simmering together to make a luscious scarlet summer treat. [Photo by Carla Vargas-Frank]

The following recipe makes about a quart of syrup - plenty to share with friends!

2 hand fulls of fresh bouganvillea flower
1 cup of pitted and fresh apricots
1 fresh lime
3 cups water
1 cups local honey or organic sugar
4-6 (or more, if you like heat) chiltepín peppers
1 cup Brandy (less if you like, more will help preserve the syrup and prolong the shelf life)
Optional: your favorite nervines and heart appeasing herbal extracts (ie passionflower, motherwort, desert lavender, hawthorn berry or Mimosa bark. *Up to 1 ml of total extracts per serving depending on the suggested dosage of the herb)

Pulp the apricots by hand or in a blender and simmer with bouganvillea blossoms on low heat until the water is reduced to a third.

While the botanicals decoct, blend the chiltepíns into the brandy (you can do this in the blender for a couple seconds - OR - grind dry peppers in a coffee grinder, add to brandy in a sealed glass jar and shake well), let sit for 10 minutes and strain out particulate.

Separate the flowers and fruit from the liquid infusion and, while still warm, dissolve the sugar or honey into the mixture.

Stir in the brandy and add fresh squeezed lime juice

…refrigerate & enjoy!

*The syrup will thicken-up considerably once it is sufficiently cooled.

How would you love to enjoy this summer time syrup? Share your favorites in the comments below!


Dreaming in the Desert

Carla FrankComment



Nomadica Apothecary’s

Desert Dream Flower Salve is a homage to that distinct smell of the monsoons

as they roll over the desert - from el Día de San Juan

         and in ceasing, signals the end of summer.

With this offering, I honor the visions and ghosts that made themselves

so readily accessible to me while living in that quietly commanding landscape.

The recipe is a special blend of herbs that through plant spirit, constituent, and lore

recalls the enchantment

                    unique to that golden corner of the universe

Creasote Bush, Chaparral

>>Larrea Tridentata<<

THE smell of the desert. Give a sprig of its small resinous leaves to any native of the Sonoran desert and watch their eyes close & their chest raise in bliss as they take in profound lung-fulls of its unmistakable fragrance. It smells like home, like renewal, and patient strength. Creasote is among one of the longest living individual plants on earth, and it carries init the wisdom and patience relative to its longevity.  It is, in a word, ancestry, and holds all the memory allocated to such in its oily foliage and relentless roots.


Passion Flower

 >>Passiflora incarnata<<

I wasn’t formally introduced to Passiflora until I moved to central Texas.

 Its elaborate blossom mirrors the worried, and circularly active mind that its medicine seems to tame. It has been a wonderful ally to me in my self-management of anxiety, which is complementary to facilitating deep sleep and dream work. It is reportedly one of the plants able to cross the blood brain barrier, and, in that way I feel “activates” the other herbs in the formula.


                                           Mugwort >>Artemesia Vulgaris<<

 The famous catalyst for dreaming and dream work! Mugwort is associated with the moon & feminine energy, as is Artemis, the moon goddess from whom mugwort gets its name. Its silvery foliage is renowned for encouraging lucid dreaming and unlocking the subconscious mind. All members of this family are regarded as magical if not divinatory including the independently illustrious Artemesia absinthium the key ingredient in Absinthe.

 & finally

  Sage essential oil is added for its prominent use in prayer, protection, and for clearing energy. Rose essential oil is included for its uplifting and heart softening qualities and finally, a single Jasmine blossom for psychic awareness and lunar prophecy.

Sweet Dreams!








I am Chicana Herbalism

Carla FrankComment

Nomadica Apothecary is Chicana Herbalism in both philosophy and practice.

The natural healing traditions of the land were an early presence in my childhood. My first memories of herbs consisted of my great grandmother, Lupe, simmering fresh Yerba Buena, from our back yard in Phoenix, for tea – and of her son, my grandpa Angel Antonio Vargas, offering my cousins and I the mucilaginous innards of a barrel cactus while hiking through the mountains of the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona.

My most magical memories consist of running through the fields of our family’s original homestead in Sycamore Canyon, Arizona,while our parents yelled after us to watch for the snakes that hid the high grass. There was a bucket on a pulley that scooped fresh water from the river far below, freely roaming peacocks, and the one hundred year old adobe house that now still stands more firmly than the newer construction which housed my tío Mingo and tía Leonor.

Those are the summers that I remember best; where brown half naked children littered the fields – posing for a photograph by the well, slipping colorful beads onto the razor sharp horns of a devils claw (Proboscidea sp.), or resting under the shade of a pomegranate tree.


For me, Chicanismo carries with it an aspect of the Mestizo/a; mixed blood, intertwined histories, displacement.I embody both the conqueror and the conquerored.

...and yet, I find a home within it and despite of it. It is a sense of historical identity and the mindful adaptation of tradition. I give my friends a limpia from time to time, when they have left an insensitive lover or moved into a heavy house. I greet the day with white sage and blue cornmeal.

I call down the moon with song and a rattle.

I prefer fresh preparations of herbs because I can feel their life and vitality buzzing within. I consider the creasote and the saguaro, who shared the same upbringing of galloping dust storms and electrifying monsoons, as family of my own.

And still, I incorporate aspects of Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine into my practice because their ancient wisdom also resonates with me. I recognize Vata/Pitta/Kapha in others and cross reference by checking pulse and tongue for indications of imbalance.

My Chicana herbalism is an inclusive and dynamic practice, rooted in my own understanding of my raíces, and connecting with others’ to make the whole stronger.

Still, nothing can stir me quite like the cry of a hawk above a lonely high-desert canyon, or the sound of cumbia from a passing car.