SOCORRO, New Mexico (STPNS) -- My students are here to learn the medicine of this restored river canyon. On a guided plant walk through the lush river woodland, they point to vines, twisting tree trunks and bright faced flowers, asking the name and use of each.

One woman, an aspiring herbalist and new mother, asks me what the most important indigenous medicine was to the natives.

Pointing at a sandy stretch away from the river, we walk over to a small sagebrush-like weed. I pluck a single leaf and crush it between my fingers and offer it for all to smell.



The pungent, sagey aroma wafts in the breeze, lighting up their surprised faces. She is Estafiate, I say, the grandmother herb. In Russia they call her Zabykto, meaning forgetful, because she is so often forgotten.  

Largely ignored by modern herbalists, estafiate has long been a favorite among native peoples, gypsy healers, curanderas, yerberas and old-time ?root doctors? for its broad range of uses and dependable availability.

A stubborn emblem of folk medicine in the West, estafiate?s shimmering silver-green foliage persists under the hot New Mexico summer sun long after all other greenery has withered and crisped.

Cooling and bitter, this plant is rich in vitamins and minerals including vitamin B complex, vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, potassium, phosphorous and iron.

A plant with hundreds of names, I?ve used Estafiate because of its Southwest association.

It is also sometimes referred to in Spanish as Ajenjo, Romerrillo, Istafiate and Altamisa, its many names evidence of its renown in both Mexico and the Southwest. All of the native Artemisias of the Southwest can be used more or less interchangeably without much difference.

Often best known medicinally as an herb for the stomach, Estafiate lives up to its reputation as a bitter tonic and powerful stomachic. A tea or infusion of the leaves taken daily does an admirable job of preventing and treating food poisoning or traveler?s diarrhea.

Its anti-inflammatory, bitter, antimicrobial and carminative actions also make it an extremely effective treatment for sluggish digestion, ulcerative colitis, gastritis, flatulence, dyspepsia, and almost any form of intestinal inflammation.

The bitterness of the plant makes it tonic to the liver, stimulating bile secretion, reducing elevated liver enzymes and protecting the liver from a wide variety of toxins.

Estafiate is also anti-inflammatory and soothing to the nerves and is useful as an oil in the treatment of sciatica, wounds, burns, swellings, bruises, strains, muscle and joint pain. The fresh juice is especially helpful in eliminating the irritating itch of poison ivy.

An old-time remedy for arthritis and rheumatism, it can be taken internally as sips of tea, or externally as a bath or oil to ease chronically aching joints.

We gather together to continue our plant walk, our exploration of Southwestern plant-spirit medicine.  Estafiate is a like a bent and silvery old woman, I tell my students, alternately ignored, pulled from our gardens and tossed into bonfires.  

Yet she continues to bloom most everywhere one looks in New Mexico, gracefully offering up her stories, her lessons, her powerful remedies to those with the eyes and hearts to recognize her.

Kiva Rose is an herbalist and medicine woman. She lives in a canyon on the San Francisco River near Reserve. She teaches workshops and offers healing consultations. She can be contacted at kiva@bearmedicineherbals.com.