EL PASO — The title curandero may not be as common as medicine man, shaman, healer or even herbologist, but with 60 percent to 70 percent of El Pasoans using herbs in their healing regimens, it is probable that you will find curandero in the vocabulary of any Sun City resident.
Dr. Jose Rivera, director of the Pharmacy program at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) says more research is needed to find out why El Pasoans use noticeably higher amounts of herbs for medicinal purposes as compared to only about 18 per cent of the U.S. population.
“If you think that something is helping you, you will continue to use it. But we take a more neutral position, learning about when an herb is harmful but more importantly when it is effective, ” says Rivera. He is quick to include safety in the discussion regarding the benefits of using herbs. “We want to emphasize safety. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean that it’s safe.”
Curanderos date back to ancient civilizations from all parts of the globe. From the ancient uses of acupuncture in China to Native American shamans, most cultures have some type of medicine man in their community. Yet, curanderos take healing a step further, reaching beyond the physical, into the realms of religion, tradition and spirituality. This includes the understanding that to heal, cure or cleanse the physical body, you must also heal the psychological and emotional wounds.
The Mexican limpia or cleansing process is popular in the El Paso region and stories of the local medicine men, or doctores —not licensed as medical doctors— are also a popular topic of discussion. One local “herbologist” has had high levels of success in treating health problems that range from allergies to insomnia.
One woman tells a story about her brother burning his esophagus after taking a drink of scalding hot coffee cup after pulling it out of the microwave. “I called several doctors around town who suggested gargling with salt and water. They said that he would heal over time but my brother was in agonizing pain. Finally my Mom said, “Habla con tu herbógolo y vas a ver que lo va a curar. Tengo mucha fe en ese señor.” The herbologist gave her brother a dry herb blend and told him to gargle even though it would taste terrible. “My brother began to feel better after the first couple of times he gargled,” she said.
It is for these reasons Dr. Rivera notes the curanderos are so popular. “If your abuelita tells you it will work and it does, you will continue to use it and you will even tell other family and friends.”