Herban Cura is a collective of healers and herbalists who equip city dwellers with the tools and knowledge to survive and thrive in New York City’s urban environment. By offering sliding scale pricing, hosting events across the five boroughs, and working with teachers who share knowledge from their own lineages, the collective ensure their work is inclusive, accessible, culturally sensitive, and not just for those who can afford a commodified “wellness” lifestyle. We spoke with Herban Cura founders Ana Ratner, a doula, sculptor, and herbalist, and Antonia Estela Pérez, an herbalist and environmental justice educator, about their mission, and small ways to connect to ourselves and our environment.
“Antonia and I met in the community garden of our college in upstate New York and immediately started talking about plants and healing. It was interesting to meet someone who not only also had plant-based healing in their ancestry, but wanted to make sure it didn’t get lost,” says Ana.
“We eventually started a club called Preservation Nation where we hosted workshops about fermenting and preserving food, and survival skills. After graduating neither of us were ready to live upstate full time, but bringing some of the completely new way of life we had learned back to the city felt like an important interchange. In cities it can be very difficult to access a healthy life, and wellness can become another source of anxiety.”
Connecting to nature in New York – a stronghold of capitalist consumption and concrete – poses unique challenges.
“In New York, nature is understood as a space with a fence around it that you can go into and interact with if you want – even community gardens are cordoned off like this. There’s a whole feminist literature around how “Mother Nature” is feminised and understood as something that needs to be contained and controlled,” says Ana.
“I think we need to broaden our understanding of what nature is and is not. For example, a rat in the subway is nature but most people don’t think of it like that. If we see cities as separate from nature, then we build them to be waste producing, toxic environments. If we can shift to see them as part of nature, we can build them to be regenerative and part of the larger earth ecosystem. On a personal level, it can be easier to connect with a tree or an animal than it is to connect with yourself. Maybe the ultimate goal is to realise it’s all nature and connect back to yourself and be grounded….”
Human bodies respond to and mimic environmental patterns, even when they live in the city. While the idea of syncing your body to natural cycles might feel unattainable in an urban environment, Herban Cura believes that there is much work to be done around being aware of and mitigating how the city affects your internal health and wellbeing.
This can start with something as simple as a cup of tea or coffee:
Morning tea recipe:
1tsp. Oat straw
A few dry rose petals
A cup of boiling water
Tulsi is stimulating and brings healing to every system of your body.
Nettle is full of vitamins and minerals.
Oat straw soothes and calms restlessness in the body and mind.
Rose will open your heart while helping to maintain boundaries.
Mushroom Coffee Recipe:
After making your coffee, mix in a tsp of mushroom powder.
Use either, Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps or Turkey Tail, or any combination of these.
Add a healthy fat such as, ghee, grass-fed butter or heavy cream, organic coconut oil, or MCT oil.
Blend if you want a smooth consistency.
Reishi will make your immune system fall in love with you.
Lion’s Mane is the best thing for brain function and nerve regeneration.
Cordyceps helps with kidney disease, stress and depression.
Turkey Tail helps with autoimmune disease and virus prevention.
Sit with your cup of tea or coffee in the morning. It is best to do this before looking at your phone or any other screens. This can be for anywhere between five minutes and 45 minutes, depending on your morning. Try to make this a daily practice as a way to be grounded throughout your day.
Pour boiling water over your herbal tea mix, and try and use a favourite, beautiful mug. Sit as you watch the steam, breathing deeply as it flows up and into the air. Once the tea is cool enough to drink, take a slow breath in and out and have your first sip. Taste the flavour, move it around in your mouth, and notice how your muscles react to swallowing. Notice how it feels going down your throat and the warmth it bring into your stomach. Imagine the medicinal qualities being absorbed through your gut and into your organs and blood stream. Imagine the molecules going to a spot in you that needs healing.
Try and do this for each sip while breathing slowly in between. Focus on being in the moment and what sensations you are noticing. Be kind to yourself if your mind starts to wander, or if you feel the need to move or drink quickly. Bring awareness to whatever happens, especially to judgement, anxiety and other small demons: they need morning coziness more than you do.
An exercise for meeting your non-human neighbours:
Find the plants that are growing through the cracks. When we begin to recognize the plants that grow around us we become cognizant that we are not the only living forms in the environment. The plants that tend to grow through the cracks are medicinal herbs that can help support our liver, digestion, nervous system, reproductive health, and more. While we might not harvest these exact plants, by creeping through they are letting us know that they can grow here! When we see them, hopefully it will inspire us to start a small garden in our neighbourhood or start caretaking a green space near us, where these plants can thrive.
Go find a plant in your neighbourhood (it is okay if you do not know what it is). Bring a pencil and paper.
Sit with this plant for at least five minutes, and observe as much as you can from all angles. Introduce yourself to the plant, and in your way begin to communicate with them. Take a moment to draw this plant, and once you have finished write down any questions you have about them.
Once you get home you can use a plant guide or the internet to find out what the name of the plant is, although that is not the most essential thing. The time you just spent with the plant is the beginning of your relationship with them.