By Myfoodformula Nutritionist, Hannah Gentle
I had been pestering my Coloradan host all week long about finding some local foods to try during my month’s stay in the USA. It was during our Southern loop from the Grand Canyon to Zion National Park that we finally came across a Navajo Market in Tuba City.
Muddled with food, clothing and jewellery stalls, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting traditional medicine woman Cimi Boone from Navajo Herbs halfway around the market circle. Seated and gently sifting through a fresh batch of Anaji Yilbeezh, a herb collected from the wild and used to treat high blood pressure and diabetes as well as raise energy levels, Cimi was happy to share her journey and evident passion for natural healing and health.
Cimi left an Anthropology degree at Arizona State University to learn her art from her father, a man determined to reunite the knowledge and appreciation for these wild remedies in the local community. After two years of constant emersion, Cimi could identify over 150 different medicinal plants and had memorized the prayers needed to be spoken upon picking them from the wild. For Cimi, this switch in education was a welcome change.
“This is Anthropology. This is people and culture. Why study when it is all here right in front of you?”
Taking just enough from the wild to ensure some remains for next season, Cimi picks these wild herbs, leaves and stems from all over Arizona, from alpine to desert lands. Over the years, buildings have wiped out entire plant populations to make way for an expanding human presence, but this doesn’t worry Cimi in the slightest - in fact she smiles.
“We believe the Creator when they tell us that these plants know how to, and will, move themselves and create a new home to flourish. They will always find a way to stick around”
Indeed, Cimi insists that through her work she has realised that spiritual connection to plant and place are the beginning of each individual’s journey to finding freedom, purpose, and long-lasting health. Having utilized these wild plants to naturally welcome 5 children into this world, Cimi chuckles as she tells of handling one of these five welcomings alone, then getting up to finish doing the dishes! She beams at my reaction and tells me it is all in one’s state of mind.
“Pollution starts in the mind. If we can cleanse here then the rest will follow. Find others who share in your passion and purpose, and don’t worry about those who don’t”
In terms of the future power of these biodiverse local remedies to improve health, Cimi is confident that awareness and appreciation for them is ever growing.
“When my father first started selling these at this market, he was the only one doing so. But now, there are at least 20 vendors around this market doing the same, and that shows great promise and hope for the future. The younger generation is also more interested in natural medicine, and are beginning to appreciate that food is in fact preventative medicine”
After picking out some very safe mint tea leaves, I braved a scoop of Tseghaanitchiih (above), used to improve breathing and to treat stomach ache and diarrhoea. Double-checking the pronunciation with Cimi, it was time to head north towards Zion. The buzz gained from my all-too-short encounter with this incredible woman will remain a highlight of my US experience thus far, as the prickly pear cider I had been dreaming of is unfortunately out of season. A heartfelt thank you to Cimi for allowing me to share her story and help raise awareness about these precious traditional Navajo medicines.
Yours sustainably from Zion National Park,
You can find Cimi and other medicinal herb providers at the Tuba City Flea Market, every Friday 8am - 1pm
Peshlakai Avenue, Tuba City, AZ 86045