ISSUE 18  |  The Handywoman

Shopper’s Diary: Ancient Remedies From a Modern Apothecary

May 08, 2014 10:00 AM

BY Leigh Patterson

Inside a tiny shed studio at the back of a sprawling artists’ compound in East Austin, Texas, Tamara Becerra Valdez is surrounded by nature. Dried and drying herbs and wildflowers are everywhere–stacked on shelves, arrayed in baskets, and hanging from the ceiling. Other works in progress are drying on the floor–a series of delicate, hand-formed ceramic roses, created by Valdez for an upcoming art show.

Inspired by folk legend, tradition and the expansive Texas landscape, Valdez has created her own line of apothecary products, Botanicals Folklorica. And she’s pouring her art into this project–even the packaging.

 Photography by Leigh Patterson for Gardenista.

Botanicals Folklorica is a line of tonics, tinctures, and other herbal remedies that Valdez makes herself using all-natural ingredients and traditional recipes. But Valdez isn’t operating a quirky, one-woman apothecary: In everything she does, she’s exploring the natural world, art, and the intrinsic relationship between the two.

Above: Valdez’s products include incense sticks called Palo Santo Bundles (at left; $16) and medicinal honeys. She starts with raw herbal honeys sourced from independent Central Texas beekeepers, then infuses them with such unexpected ingredients as cardamom seeds, dandelion blossoms, ginger, turmeric, and Texas wildflowers. A jar of her Medicinal Mushroom Honey, made with reishi and maitake mushrooms and rosehips, sells for $24.

Above: A shelf of Botanicals Folklorica oils and herbal tinctures. 

Valdez’s background is varied and far-reaching. Over the years she has studied studio art and anthropology, and worked at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington, DC. When she attended Austin’s Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine, she learned about the healing properties of the native flora around her. 

Above: A jar of leaves from the spiny bush called agarita, believed to help heal digestive disorders. “I collect native plants that can be used for first aid,” Valdez says. “This spring I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for agarita and for Indian paintbrush, the wildflower. I’m also looking for chaparral [Larrea tridentata], which grows in West Texas. You know when you’re near it because the air smells like rain.”

Above: One of Valdez’s products, Four Storms Fire Water ($13). A tincture based on an ancient recipe for boosting the immune system, it contains 12 ingredients, including burdock and turmeric root, ginger, garlic, thyme, and elderberries. 

Above: Local wildflowers and herbs make up Valdez’s beautiful Smudge Bundles ($22), meant to be burned so their smoke will purify a space. “I’m lucky to have friends and farms that can supply me with large amounts of the plants I use,” she says. “When I’m gathering them myself, I carry a notebook so I can jot down the locations, time of year, and descriptions of the plants I find. This season, I’m collecting native grasses that I’ll braid and use to tie up packages.” 

Above: A tea for spring, made from violet, nettles, horsetail, dandelion, and clover. 

Above: A packaging idea germinates. “I’m always interested in the act of opening up a parcel or a present,” Valdez says. “Lately, I’ve been working with translucent papers, rope, and ceramic vessels. I like the way gracefully layered elements can create a lovely package.” 

Above: Items at the workstation–some ready for shipping, others still at the experimentation stage. 

Above: Valdez takes down medicinal plants that were hung to dry. 

Above: Some of the many dried herbs and other plants that go into Botanicals Folklorica products.

Above: Valdez finds inspiration for her remedies everywhere: in traditional crafts, folklore stories, and the heritage of a community. “I read a lot and take note of what intrigues me,” she says. “Most often, I find the beauty in necessity and ritual.”

Looking for other herbal remedies? Browse our archive of Health & Beauty posts. Prefer to explore Austin a bit more? See In Austin, a Woodworker Takes Affordable Creativity to New Heights on Remodelista.