According to TikTok, herbalism is the newest glow-up trick. Herbalists have been using plants for centuries to heal and study the effects of different herbs on the human body. As more people, particularly Black herbalists, testify to the non-toxic healing properties of herbalism, herbalism is gaining popularity. Many herbalists use the platform to share their recipes, from skin care and hair growth to diet and spiritual practices. Although herbalism is rapidly gaining popularity due to increased demand for restorative and herbal care services, it has been a part of my heritage for generations as an Afro Latina. It’s been a way of survival in many ways.
My family and my community saw herbalism as a way to stay out of medical debt. We couldn’t afford to get the best medical care. Most of us were brought up on Medicaid. These insurances are often provided by doctors who don’t live in the same areas as their patients. These doctors often work in low-funded areas and are often overworked. We often feel helpless and depressed due to the long waits. Herbalism can be a way to reclaim traditional roots and provide the compassion and healthcare we deserve.
Brooklyn Guillebeau, a herbalist, says that there is a lot of mistrust in the medical field. People of color are black and brown. “Racial inequalities have poisoned our healthcare system. Many Black people have been misinformed and ignored by the ‘professionals’ we are supposed to trust. She says, “We couldn’t depend on healthcare system to take care of our emotional and physical health.” Many doctors treat Black people as if they are just another statistic. ”
Many Black and brown women, like me on TikTok know that herbalism goes beyond the #foryoupage. Afya, a nutritionist and author, said that herbalism is a way to keep in touch with your African heritage. Black women enslaved in slavery used herbalism to keep connected to their African heritage, much like today. Black women have been chefs, gardeners and herbalists throughout American history. They also served as nurses and midwives. Ibomu says, “We brought rice from Africa to the United States when we were taken by Europeans.” “Black women were forced to adapt their cooking styles to European tastes during the enslavement and exploitation of Africans.” “We used our knowledge of herbs, spices and other culinary techniques to make their meals delicious.”
Enslaved Black women could also cook for their families and for themselves. Black women used their culinary skills to express their love for their families. This cuisine was known as soul food. It’s now a common practice in America and the Black community. Black women do their best no matter what circumstances they are placed in.
The days of growing fresh food in the United States ended as the country became more industrialized. People started to buy more processed foods. Black women also began to choose more soul food options. Afya says, “Naturally this caused a movement away form herbalistic traditions.” Over the years, the herbalist lifestyle has been lost in the Black American community. There are still smaller communities that hold on to their roots, such as the Rastafarian spirituality practice.
Today, herbalism is dominated today by western, white herbalists. Many of these are adopting and benefiting from Black, Asian, and Indigenous practices. Brianna Cherniak and Guillebeau, both herbalists, have used TikTok platforms to connect with their roots and help Black women heal from herbalism. They see herbalism as a way to reclaim their bodies and ancestral ancestry.
Cherniak told us that all we know about western herbalism is derived from African and indigenous peoples. “Herbalism has been brought to the west, repackaged and sold to the masses. This knowledge is ours. It is important to connect with this truth.
Guillebeau and her partner in business are the owners and operators of Bee and Tee’s Botanicals, an internet plant-based product shop. “We were surprised to see that holistic health care does not have Black representation. They share that it’s time to reclaim our traditional roots, and heal one another. We have so many innovative Black people who are interested in becoming herbalists. They are eager to learn. They want to pass on their knowledge to their families. This is where it all begins. Start with the youth. This knowledge will be passed on to future generations.
Ibomu says, “I believe there is a new generation in Black community of herbalists and doulas as well as holistic healers.” “Our inner knowing of our ancestors is awakening us to reclaim our indigenous healing methods. The beautiful thing is that both herbal and ancient healing methods are working.” This is the belief I have seen in Black women and the Black community.
Despite herbalism being passed down through generations, there is a huge disconnect between urban dwellers and those who have access to information. The beginning of a new era in herbalism is the rediscovery and reconnection with what was. “We are reclaiming what is ours. We are becoming the person our ancestors imagined us to be. Cherniak states that if you’re of African descent, there is a possibility that you have a healer or a medicine woman in your family.
The Black Tiktok community is not shy about voicing their concerns on the app. Many people have expressed their dismay at being robbed of their culture, creativity, or content by white creators. The Black community on TikTok has blossomed, particularly Black women, as authentic and unapologetically reclaiming the culture and creativity that was passed down through generations. Herbal medicine is a great example. Many Black women have been inspired by the TikTok herbalist movement to consider the importance of deep healing after a difficult year. I am one of many women of color who see the beauty in not being the “strong woman”. We are now facing our traumas, and allowing ourselves the freedom to feel.
Cherniak says, “Herbalism taught me that everything is interconnected.” “We are not independent from nature. Nature is all that exists. All of our bodies are connected in the same way that trees have roots, a trunk and branches, as well as leaves.”
Guillebeau shared, “Herbalism is about mending Black women together.” “We are natural-born healers and we are returning to the ways our ancestors used. Black women are releasing themselves from the limitations of this world that hold them back. We are taking back healthcare by using herbs and healing those around us. We need to look at ourselves. It’s time to unite our community. It’s time to be free.”