Hierbas Curativas  

Healing Herbs of the Mexican Curandero Tradition

By Lotus McElfish

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist - Volume 18, Issue 3


A series of columns that highlight the work of members pursuing and promoting an educational awareness of native plants through individual initiatives and projects.

Native plants function as more than beautiful botanicals. They are used as healing herbs, local seasonings, and in many other beneficial and ritual settings. This project by Lotus McElfish was a work of exploration and understanding. Her dedication to furthering the awareness of native species of the southwest and their cultural and social connections to native traditions is represented through many exhibitions and field projects.


Ibegan this project after hearing “Curanderisma: Herbs for Healing,” by Don Jacinto Madrigal (a curandero, a traditional healer), and his translator and colleague, Dr. Elizabeth de la Portilla, keynote speakers at the Land Heritage Institute, during the San Antonio Native Plant event in March, where I had a booth.

I walked away with the Mexican Mint plant which Don Madrigal grows, and I knew immediately I would create a series of botanical paintings of the herbs most meaningful to the healing rituals of curanderismo. For hundreds of years, indigenous healing wisdom has been preserved. I wanted this series to honor that. 

To start, for several months I visited botanicas (herb shops) on San Antonio’s south side. I communicated with de la Portilla, an anthropologist at San Antonio College and the author of They All Want

Magic; Curanderas and Folk Healing, as part of my research into curanderismo.  There is a large community in San Antonio. I consulted with Don Madrigal, using a translator, at the flea market where he sells his herbs and medicine out of the back of his truck! I chose six herbs from the many they use in their healing practice.

Throughout 2012 I did a painting of each, modifying my usual style of plant portraiture, adding borders and ancient symbols and ink drawings of the plant habit, all with an accordion book in mind.

This project then became a collaborative creation with my husband, Victor Summers, woodworker, photographer and graphic artist. For the originals we designed decorative tin frames that we had custom made in Mexico. Then using archival quality giclée prints, we designed and handcrafted a limited edition accordion book. The 7x9” book contains the six images, with exotic hardwood covers that have laser-cut Mexican designs on the front, and with information about the herbs and their uses on the back. We also had a pouch made of Zapotec weaving with a suede leather back.

My project was very well received when I launched the paintings and accordion book at the Annual Herbal Conference in Austin, and I am now in the process of painting more herbs to expand this collection for a possible exhibit in one of the many San Antonio cultural and art venues.

After seeing the response to this artistic presentation, we added another limited edition book to the portfolio, with six images of Texas Wildflowers and a longhorn concho attaching the leather laces which hold it closed. It is protected in a handcrafted leather carrying pouch.

When I display at art festivals, many customers say “I don’t have any wall space”, so this is an alternative for those people. Also, we call this traveling art because you can close it up, stick it in your bag, and then open it up for display on the desk or table in your hotel room - just in case you need an herbal reference or get homesick for Texas wildflowers!

You can contact Lotus at:  www.lotusmcelfish.com  If you have a tale to tell we’d love to hear it. Please e-mail your story to Derek Norman at dereknorman@comcast.net.  Please be sure to put “Wildflower Watch” in the subject line.

Thank you.

  • Tooled wooden cover
  • Taraxacum officinale, Dandelion, 6x8.5”, watercolor, ink and graphite on paper, ©Lotus McElfish 2012
  • Accordion Book opens to a complete