Curanderismo Gaining Steam?

Everyday items can be folk medicine.

By Rayes Gallegos / New Mexico News Port

Body on fire, lungs lathered in a light complected forest green mucus and the fatigue of a sprinter completing a marathon. Tightly compressed into the covers of my grandmother’s bed I was dealing with a cold.

Soup and liquids kept me replenished but the smell of vinegar in the kitchen entered the room and snuck into my nostrils. Kerfuffling the bacteria in my nose. As I turned over the corner of my eye caught grandma slicing potatoes and putting them into the pan with vinegar.

She placed the potatoes dipped in vinegar onto my body and its texture quickly gave me the creepy crawlies but comforted me over time. As minutes passed my fever steadily decreased. These traditional healing remedies were practices my grandma became familiar with in Mexico known as curanderismo.

Potatoes dipped in vinegar is a common home remedy used to reduce fevers

The UNM curanderismo program begins its two-week hands-on summer course Jun. 13. Students will get to hear presentations from curanderos. The class has been taught by Eliseo Torres for over 20 years. Highlighting week one students will do an herb walk in the botanical garden. 

A curandero is a healer who uses folk remedies. In Mexico,  it is believed to be a three-level healing approach involving the mind, body and spirit.

 “How can you prove that your spirit has been helped or healed with an herb or your mind?” curandero Mario Del Angel Guevara asked. “It’s our belief.”

Herbs located at Duran Central Pharmacy.

Del Angel Guevara grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, where his mother and grandmother would perform limpias, traditional spiritual cleansing ceremonies involving herbs and sometimes smoke. There he became familiar with the work of famous curandero El Niño Fidencio.

Interest in curanderismo is on the rise, said UNM’s Eliseo Torres, who has written several books on the subject and created the university’s first curanderismo class in 2000.

Herbs for remedial purposes.

“The best thing for COVID is a vaccine right now,” Torres said, but there are some traditional remedies that can help alleviate symptoms of a respiratory virus. Torres specifically mentioned borage, passionflower and eucalyptus. 

Borage is used to treat fever and inflammation, eucalyptus leaves are used to promote relaxation and relieve cough and congestion, and passionflower is used for insomnia anxiety

During the pandemic’s early lockdown stages, Torres said he gave frequently gave Zoom presentations via Zoom on using traditional medicines during times of stress and anxiety.

The class is being offered in person this summer and offers four and a half continuing education units. The class will be held in half-day sessions June 13–24.

“Students are going to have a great experience for the two weeks,” Torres said. “In the second week there will be a health fair where students and those who opt to participate will be able to receive treatment from healers.”

Students who register for the course will understand the history of curanderismo and learn about folk remedies in the Southwest. Guest speakers from all over the world will give sessions on traditional medicine.

Needing a couple of classes to graduate, Antonia Montoya took a Curanderismo class because she thought it would be an easy two-week course. Before receiving her scheduled limpia her healer told her she had the gift of a healer.

However, Montoya wasn’t completely bought into the idea. Her healer told her she needed to get her life together “It was a kind of a slap in the face. I really like you know went on my own and kind of dealt with my stuff,” Montoya said. 

Years later Montoya met curandera Tonita Gonzales and first told her she wasn’t interested in plant medicine but now Montoya grows all sorts of plants and makes tinctures.

“I had no idea what I was kind of getting myself into just this what I thought was some easy credits to graduate,” Montoya said. 

Today Montoya is an active practitioner who grows her own herbs. She advises interested people to be cautious of information they see online about herbal remedies. She urges people to seek advice from trained herbalists and curanderos. 

She also recommends Los Remedios de la Gente by Michael Moore, which identifies helpful plants and how to use them.

“You can be your best healer yourself,” said Torres.

Rayes Gallegos is a reporter for New Mexico News Port and can be reached at