Miranda Aponte is an herbalist-in-training of the Puerto Rican diaspora sharing the intersections of healing + eco + social co liberation on Mariposa. With the passing of her curandera grandmother, she got the courage to create a space to share healing modalities, practitioners, and an apothecary. Mariposa uplifts ancient, ancestral, and indigenous wisdoms with reverence and the respect that these sacred practices come from communities that have been targeted for centuries. The hope is to provide support in tapping back into our innate wisdom and returning to our roots as Earth stewards.
In this episode, we talk about the commercialization of herbalism, working with plant spirits, responsibly connecting with the land, elemental medicine, and the relationship between plants and death.
Referenced in this episode:
- Where to Find Miranda
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The written version of this interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Kristen Ciccolini: Could you share a little bit about yourself with our listeners?
Miranda Aponte: I created Mariposa, which is a space I wanted to have mainly in the digital sphere. Mariposa is dedicated to sharing healing modalities. I am studying herbalism and bring that in as well. There’s an apothecary, a podcast dedicated to healers and different practitioners I like to highlight. It’s centered around healing in different ways.
KC: How did you come into this work?
MA: I had to go outside of myself to come back home to myself. What that means for me is growing up, my grandmother — I call her curandera, not in the traditional South American sense, but in the sense of having all the remedies you need through soul food cooking, knowing when you come to her with any ailment, being able to give you something from her garden or kitchen, always having that on hand. It was something I grew up with.
Then the world swooped me away. I ended up in the business of fashion. I’ve studied in New York, and Paris, that brought me to Ibiza. I ended up falling in love with an ecological center there and that showed me a whole new world. As I was studying the business of fashion, I didn’t realize the strain on earth’s resources that it would be doing, especially in mainstream fashion.
When I got to the ecological center and saw how people were living in harmony with earth, and wanting to love on her and protect her through solar power, composting toilets, water systems, tending to the land around you, using adobe clay materials to create houses, tree houses we lived in. Very earth-friendly materials and ways of living and being.
That opened up my eyes and I fell in love with the plants. That led me back to my roots and wanting to be where I am now, a bridge for people and the plants. Herbalists are a bridge between the client and translating the language of the plant. Long story short, that’s what brought me here.
KC: Is there anything you can share about having a more sustainable relationship to fashion?
MA: If I were to give an example, the brand Christy Dawn is a sustainable brand. At first, she started out using fabrics that fashion houses no longer wanted, so fabrics that would end up in the landfill, and that business model grew to where she grows the cotton on a sustainable farm in India. They do it in very regenerative-practice ways. It really comes from indigenous wisdom, it has deeper roots and comes from a sacred and reverent place. She even has supporters of the brand being able to pay for the plot of land it grows on. She pays the farmers fair wages, they work together very collaboratively. It’s done with Mother Earth in mind. To me, that is an amazing model. I get chills for how we can do things in a sustainable way.
I want models like that to start coming in. We can do that in every single industry. We have the technology, we have the knowledge, we have the awareness, we have the resources to turn these industries around.
KC: Herbalism is becoming more mainstream. You can tell by all the companies wanting to get in on adaptogens and mushrooms, and they’re adding all these things to their products, sometimes not even in functional amounts, just for marketing purposes. More people are learning to get back to nature and get back into communion with plants — could you share a little about your training and how you came into it?
MA: I want to speak to what you said earlier, it brings up so many emotions for me thinking about herbalism getting mainstream. It’s really sacred knowledge and of course it’s meant to be accessible and worked with. When you see the way capitalism and our colonized western world extracts from these places and doesn’t really know what they’re talking about but because it’s cool — I saw sage on Five Below’s website. It just broke my heart. Where are they getting that sage? Do people even know where sage comes from? White sage specifically, which is usually what people are burning, comes from Kumeyaay land.
And I also want to highlight something one of my teachers taught me. You don’t burn the whole bundle. The sacred way that it’s done from the people that it comes from, you take one leaf and that’s enough for one person. I share that from a place of just learning that myself and realizing that I was using it in a way that it could have been better used. Not only for its sacredness but also for its reverence and holiness.
The one that taught me that is Marysia Miernowska. She offers the School of the Sacred Wild. It’s an apprenticeship program mainly for folk herbalism. She’s who I’m currently studying with. Where I started was a school called Well of Indigenous Wisdom. My teacher Olatokunboh Obasi is a spiritual elder and an Afro-Indigenous woman based in Puerto Rico, which is my mother land, so when I found her, I felt so much resonance. Also because she teaches a lot from the perspectives of ancient wisdoms like Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and brings that into clinical herbalism. That one’s very community-based and based on working with clients 1:1 in a clinical way.
Those are my two main studies right now, and I’m also a student of Maryam Hasnaa, her New Earth Mystery School, which is more energetic work, but I think it lends to the plants as well because the plants have their own energies.
KC: What was coming to mind when you were talking about mainstream herbalism was that capitalism complicates things for people. With all these new products coming out, it feels like people think they need to buy all these expensive things when really it’s not the sexy marketing and fancy products you can buy that will really help you, but it’s the unsexy things where you just go to your health store for bulk herbs and get your bulk herbs and that’s it, rather than having some fancy branded thing. Are you finding that people are coming to you with that complicated sense of how they think it should be and you’re helping them unlearn those things?
MA: It’s totally sexy to go to the co-op. It’s sexy to us, but to some people [it might not be]. Even your backyard, there’s so many resources and tools. I have found so much peace and solace working at a community garden. Finding what is accessible, on the land level, on the economic level, is so important. I get questions a lot about “Where do you source your herbs?” which are extremely important. I give full disclosure on the farms that I like.
Remember that it can be as simple as having a potted herb garden, even in your kitchen. People say, “Oh, but I don’t have a green thumb.” Your thumb is never gonna get green if you don’t try and practice, and maybe kill some plants. That sounds really harsh and I say that with so much tenderness in my heart because watching plants die and having killed quite a few of my own, I get so distraught. My partner is a Scorpio and he just gets death. He’s like, “Sometimes they don’t last, then they become compost and feed the earth and go into that cycle.”
All of that to say is that there are plenty of ways to enter into this world and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy or complicated. Also, you don’t even have to ingest plants sometimes. I just call in plant spirits. For example, rose is a plant spirit that I’ve called on many a time, and I just say “Hey, rose, I’m needing your support and your protection. I’d like to work with you.”
You can just work with a plant energetically. They exist in the ethereal realms and they’re there for us to call on. That’s the simplest way. You don’t have to buy anything, you don’t have to extract anything. You use your power of intention, energy, and vision.
KC: Do you have any other suggestions for how people can start to develop a personal herbal practice or relationship with plants?
MA: Listen to yourself and listen to what is truly coming from your heart. It’s so easy to even just listen to me and take what I say and run with that, but really if you’ve been called to sit by a rose bush that’s by your house, or if you’ve been called to add a certain spice to your dishes, really listen to that and follow that thread before anything else’s.
Something I like to personally go by — three is a really magical number to me. Because we receive so much information, for me, I’m like “If you want me to work with a plant, spirits, I need to see it three times.” When I see something three times and it resonates in my heart and in my spirit, that’s a calling for me to work with it deeper.
The biggest piece of advice I would give is to follow the threads as much as you can. I have a lot of resources on mariposa-journal.com, things about bitters and nervines, different accessible herbs you can work with, but trust your intuition and what’s leading you from a very internal place.
KC: Do you tend to work with herbs for a certain amount of time? What I’ve been taught is to do an herb of the week or month and work with it in all these different types of ways during that period of time in order to learn as much as you can about it. Do you work with herbs in that way as you learn, or is there a cyclical nature to how you work?
MA: My apprenticeship does ask us to work with one herb for 30 days, typically in an infusion. I use a 16oz jar and do the infusion overnight. For example, I just did reishi for 30 days. On top of ingesting it every single day (which I didn’t do every single day, I’m telling y’all the truth, I did it when I could over the span of a month), we also started with a plant spirit meditation for it. You can rotate that and see what plants are calling you and do it on your own.
The other way that I personally do it is very intuitive because I’m so comfortable with the herbs at this point. I just ask “What herb wants to work with me?” and then I’ll make a tea.
The other way I also work with the plants in the flower kingdom is with flower essences. For example, I’m drinking skullcap, tulsi, lavender, and passion vine, and I also have the passionflower essence [in my apothecary]. That’s a way for me to stay connected with the passionflower throughout the day.
You don’t have to have 20 herbs. You could have three herbs that you work with, because they all have multiple powers and they work with each person differently so it can be as simple as rotating between rose, calendula, and lavender, and those are your three go-tos and you do tea with them, infusions, electuaries (powdered honeys), or oxymels (apple cider vinegar with the herb infused). I’ll stop there!
KC: You mentioned flower essence and I was thinking on my experience with those. I have a few and I really enjoy them but when I first started, I thought you were supposed to take the whole dropper full rather than just a couple drops because that’s how you take a tincture, and I didn’t realize the difference. It reminds me of what you were saying about sage, you only need a leaf rather than the whole bundle. It’s important to have knowledge about the different types of forms you can have herbs in so you can use them responsibly. We want to get the most out of them and use them to their full potential rather than wasting them when it could last so much longer.
MA: I did the same exact thing with flower essences. I think it was a blessing in disguise because it showed me how powerful they can be. It also speaks to how herbalism is a slow, consistent, and continual medicine, and we’re taught that more is better a lot of times. In the case of the flower essences, it’s not about more, it’s about consistency. It’s interesting our views on quantity over quality because of our societal conditioning and the medical-industrial complex.
KC: What are some things we can keep in mind in order for us to responsibly connect with the land around us?
MA: Listen. It’s something that you cultivate, that deep listening. I’ll give an example. There is a patch of sad dirt outside of my apartment and I started touching it and talking to it and asking, “What do you want from me? How can I help you? Because you’re a piece of earth that’s sitting outside of my apartment that I look at every day.” We know the earth needs our touch, that we can help support its healing as we heal ourselves.
Through listening to it, it led me to my teacher, for example. In Marysia’s apprenticeship, there is land stewardship and walking us through the ways to restore the earth. One of the ways is putting compost on it, which is something I do, and giving it mulch, doing a cover crop so the roots are able to heal what’s underneath. This particular patch of land has no protection, my offering to it, by listening to it and taking the steps of what it wants of me because once you ask the question, you’ll receive the answer. That’s guaranteed. You just have to be patient and listen and wait and keep yourself open to receiving it.
KC: How long did it take for you to learn to listen?
MA: Probably a couple years. There’s the kind of listening where I’m paying attention, but the deep listening that I’ve cultivated now has taken years. I hope that doesn’t deter anyone, I just hope that it shows to give yourself grace. The deeper you go, the easier the listening becomes. Now it’s not even a practice I have to cultivate, it’s just here.
It takes so long because we’re unlearning not listening to ourselves, going outside of ourselves for answers.
KC: One thing I’ve seen you talk about that draws from herbalism but also incorporates other healing modalities is elemental medicine. Can you define that for us and take us through each of the elements?
MA: Elemental medicine is medicine within the elements — earth, air, fire, water, and spirit. We all have the elements existing within us, around us, they’re in every single plant. Working with the elements is a mundane practice. You wake up in the morning, you have the sun (part of the fire element). You turn on your stove or heat up your coffee, again with the fire element. The breeze, working with the air. The elements are in our everyday experience, and elemental medicine is within us and around us. A lot of ancestral and ancient cosmologies are based on the elements.
Within people, certain things are aggravated. It speaks to Ayurveda, when we talk about the doshas, those reflect certain elements. Pitta is fire, kapha is earth and water, and air is vata. It exists within a lot of these ancient wisdoms and knowledge.
Elemental medicine to me is the most practical way of healing. It just depends how we want to bring that balance in on a daily basis. For me, it’s when I turn on the water to wash my dishes, it’s thanking the water from where it came from up in northern California. It’s very simple but can also be a sacred act.
KC: You mention Ayurveda and I know when the doshas are out of place, you take the qualities of the other doshas to help balance you out — is it similar the way you work with the elements?
MA: I would agree to that. It’s definitely similar. In Ayurveda, it’s lesser-known, but there is a state that you’re born with. As an Aries, pitta is my most prominent dosha, so it’s very important to balance out my pitta, for me personally, with earth, because I also have vata as my second highlighted dosha. What that looks like for me is getting my feet in the soil, taking walks, doing things that ground me, because if not, my flame and my air start to go-go-go, and I can be very much out of my body.
Working with the earth, working with more kaphic medicine, which could be like abhyanga (the hot oil Ayurvedic practice) to really bring me back into my body. For someone else, it could be that they’re very vata and always spacey and anxious, and a way to bring them down would also be earth.
We can work with these elements and allow them to balance us out because to me that’s what healing is. It’s about bringing things into balance, and that’s not a one-time thing, it’s a lifelong practice. So these ancient wisdoms and knowledge teach us that and we can work with that on a daily basis. There’s kaphic herbs, tridoshic herbs, pitta herbs — paying attention, understanding, seeing which herbs have more of a fiery nature if we’re feeling sluggish, maybe we call on that for the day.
An example I’ll give is nettles, one that carries a lot of the elements. I find that it has earth, water, and fire. In medical astrology, it’s related to Mars, which can get us going, feeling extremely nourished and extremely boundaried.
KC: I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about death. Back in the fall, you sent out a newsletter that was all about this topic, a Guide to the Thin Veil. You went through different cultural views, the origins around Halloween, you shared rituals and tarot musings. I’ll read what you wrote:
“In Western culture, death is not really respected or even talked about. That’s because we live in a society that tries to vilify the aging process in an attempt to consume and produce more. That’s one thing I’ve admired in learning about ancient and indigenous cultures, is the way they create sacred containers to process the feelings of the inevitable death of our flesh and bones.”
Do you have a current practice around death? Death acceptance, death preparation — what is your relationship to it like?
MA: For me, when it comes to death, I look at it from a very spiritual perspective. Looking at nature has really helped me. As I mentioned earlier, having a hard time letting things die has been hard for me. We’re not taught about this as a transitional aspect. Death is a necessary precursor to life.
You can’t have light without darkness. It’s a daily acknowledgment. My grandma passed, I have an altar for her. I wake up in the morning and I say, “Good morning, Grandma.” It’s not necessarily a specific ritual, that is my relationship to death. Because she is gone in the physical realm, and that is something we have to grapple with. There is a death that occurred, and also she’s transitioned in such a way that I can still feel her spirit.
Again, thinking about the plants and how when they die, you can compost them and then they feed the earth. It’s a cyclical process. Winter is the season of death, of hibernation, when we go into the dark, and emerge in the spring — looking at that as holy and sacred and reverent. There are so many ways to do that and I’m still learning as well.
KC: When you mention death as a precursor to life, can you elaborate on that?
MA: A good way for me to explain it is the womb. You have the womb, which is this dark, watery place, and from that place comes life. I’m not saying that the womb is dead, but when we think about our bleed time, we’re letting go of something and that part of the cycle has to happen in order for birth to happen, in order for something to fertilize in there. That is part of the process, it’s not separate from it.
What I’m thinking about when it comes to this is death goddesses and how they’re not only creators, but a lot of them are destroyers. The death goddess is not only the bringer of death, but she’s also the creator, the force. My teacher said these dualities are ever-present in life and every single indigenous culture acknowledges that they are not only part of life, but part of healing. They have to co-exist for us to exist.
KC: Does your work and study on death influence how you work with the plants?
MA: Definitely. When I go to harvest the plants, thanking it for its life. The plants want to be worked with, they want to continue on their life, whether that’s creating a tincture or an oil or salve or however you’re working with them. That is their life being reverently coming full circle.
The main word that I feel is that it’s about transition. Being part of the cycle and not separate from it. Consumption and capitalism has taught us that death is on its own and separate and isn’t part of the cycle of life, but it’s inherent to it.
KC: Do you have any suggestions on how we can become more comfortable with death?
MA: Definitely. Looking at the natural world is the best way to confront it. When we look at the ecosystems around us, even just having a plant and experience that, watching that and seeing that cycle go, we can become more comfortable with it because we know we are nature and we are an extension of the earth. Learning about compost, which may sound really silly, has been really important for me because I see the breakdown of a fruit gone bad or whatever it is, and I see how it takes time to dissolve into material that then feeds the earth. Looking at death in a way, not to extract from it, but knowing that in some bizarre otherworldly way, death feeds the earth.
This is a personal spiritual practice that I don’t know will help anyone, but believing and seeing and feeling reincarnation has also been an important part of my personal practice with death. But for sure, looking at nature teaches us cycles of life and death and become more comfortable with it.