In the Peruvian Andes we live a close relationship with nature which we call the Pachamama, or Mother Earth. We interact with it, communicate with it, share with it and learn from it each day.
We understand that through this, the Pachamama offers us different medicinal and holy plants, including herbs and flowers, which we use for various things. They are part of our living each day. This is a legacy of rich knowledge and wisdom that were left for us by our ancestors, the Incas, and it has been passed down generation by generation.
A clear example, every morning from very early, a drink called emollient (emoliente), an herb and barley tea is sold that is very good for your health. It is made from a variety of medicinal herbs. We call these fresh teas, because the herbs they are made from are cooling and help with digestion and with inflammation.
These medicinal herbs are sold in all of the markets of Cusco, such as for example the San Pedro Market in the center of town. There, our wise mothers sell a great diversity of medicinal herbs that are either native to our highlands or come from the Amazonian area. They are our advisers and often diagnose and help us with advice when we suffer any kind of pain or illness.
In our Andean world we understand health as being about a balance in your whole being, your physical and spiritual coming together as a whole being.
In the various communities of Cusco is found a great variety of plants and they are easily at hand. For this we see a mutual relationship existing between plants and us, that we consider reciprocity. We should take care of them and respect them. In this they will give us their healing spirit and power.
As Andeans, we know first of all that food is medicine and gives us health. It does not just satisfy our hunger. Our ingredients, such as potatoes, corn, quinoa and others, also have medicinal value. As such we use them to heal as well as to feed ourselves. They help provide equilibrium, prevent infections and reinforce against against threats to our health.
The people who have the gift of healing are called hampiqrunas, or hambirunas. They are people who have a strong relationship with plants and rely on a being well acquainted with medicinal plants. Almost every community has at least one. They are called the people’s doctors.
We consider that plants have a spirit and we relate to them so that they can give us their healing spirit. In the plants as in the Andean world we see duality. We classify plants as either fresh (cold) or hot.
Each plant has its own uses and ways of preparation, as does each of its parts: flowers, leaves, stems, and roots. For example, flowers and roses should rest in hot water to make an infusion while roots and stems, since they are tougher, should be boiled. There are also various healing preparations you can make, according to the different kinds of illness, such as poultices, massages, infusions, and fermentations.
Many illnesses are not just of the body but they also come from the bad energy that other people send you, whether these are envy, witchcraft, evil wind, or la pacha. These illnesses are of bad and of good, they are from god and from the devil, they o of the evil and the divine.
The Andean deities can help in your healing. These include the apus, the mountain guardians, especially snow-clad peaks, and the Pachamama are those who help us transmit the plants’ spirit to effect a cure. Before anything else, we must notice the Pachamama is hungry and people give her an offering before any healing and as part of the healing, two offerings, one for the earth and one for the ill person.
Herbs are tools for the curers to heal their patients. The healers also use guinea pigs (cuyes) and the reading of coca leaves in order to diagnose an illness. Afterwards they give you plants. In this way they know to combine different herbs.
Finally, we also have the sacred leaves of the Andes, the coca leaf which is also a spirit. It has different uses both medicinal and ceremonial. Today we use it in teas where it has a sedative and calming effect which is good for headache. It is also used for divination.