In the novel Bless Me, Ultima, plants and certain herbs play a large role in the story, especially when it comes to the aiding of the development of Antonio and symbolism.
Herbs and other edible greenery also benefit us nowadays since a great quantity of natural resources are used in the making of modern medicine.Antonio’s story doesn’t initially start until Ultima enters the story. With the help of the curandera, plants and nature helped make Antonio who he is at the end of the book.
She helped him recognize the beauty of the llano and bring out the Márez in him. “When she came the beauty of the llano unfolded before my eyes, and the gurgling waters of the river sang to the hum of the turning earth. The magical time of childhood stood still, and the pulse of the living earth pressed its mystery into my living blood. She took my hand, and the silent, magic powers she possessed made beauty from the raw, sunbaked llano, the green river valley, and the blue bowl which was the white sun’s home. My bare feet felt the throbbing earth and my body trembled with excitement..
.” (Anaya 1).Anaya references several herbs and that Ultima collects: yerba del manso, orégano, oshá, and juniper. Yerba del manso, also known as anemopsis, can “cure burns, sores, piles, colic in babies, bleeding dysentary and even rheumatism” (Anaya 40). The herb orégano was used for coughs and fevers, as well as a spice used in cooking.
Oshá has a plethora of healing benefits, according to Anaya. He says, “It is like la yerba del manso, a cure for everything. It cures coughs or colds, cuts and bruises, rheumatism and stomach troubles, and my father once said the old sheepherders used it to keep poisonous snakes away from their bedrolls by sprinkling them with osha powder” (Anaya 40). These plants can be interpreted by their health benefits as well as their symbolic importance. The herb orégano can be a symbol of joy or tranquility (Oregano). Ultima and Antonio collect this herb on page 40, which is relatively early in the book.
At this point in the story, there have been little conflict, and their family is very happy. “My mother was a good cook and we were happy as we ate. Ultima told her of the orégano we found and that pleased her” (Anaya 42). The juniper tree has various metamorphic meanings as well. This tree can represent protection, exorcism, and healing (Plant Symbolism).
In Bless Me, Ultima, juniper is often used to repel evil spirits and as a sense of protection. In this quote from the novel, this man is trying to conquer evil (or in this case, what he thinks is evil) using juniper branches. “The man with the crossed needles on his lip waved his juniper cross towards the house” (Anaya 131). “Under the protection of the juniper they rolled and grunted and cursed” (Anaya 168).
“‘It is good to die on a hill of the llano, beneath the juniper—’ were his last words” (Anaya 170). Ultima isn’t the only curandera out there. Gabrielita Pino, age ninety-one, is considered one of New Mexico’s most notable curanderas.
She keeps twenty-three of the most commonly used plants in her medicine kit. One of them is lavender: this plant is used to ease pain and can be used as a drink. Another blossom called mugwort is used to reduce the discomfort provoked by colds, fevers, as well as to soothe the stomach. Additional plants that Pino hauls around with her include goldweed, cota, rattlesnake broom, immortal, mallow, and rue (Arellano). Though herbs are all-natural, they are double-sided; they have their benefits, as well as risks. “Yerba Mansa is an herb with a wide array of applications including chronic inflammatory conditions, digestive disorders, skin issues, urinary infections, mucus-producing colds and sore throats, sinus infections, … and many others… Recent research also suggests that water, alcohol, and ethyl acetate extracts of Yerba Mansa (all plant parts, but especially the roots) inhibit the growth and migration of certain types of cancer including two breast cancer cell lines, HCT-8, and colon cancer cells” (Going Deeper with Yerba Mansa). Lavender or lavender essential oil can be helpful in treating insomnia, stress, and anxiety because it contains an oil that causes a sedative effect that calms the muscles (Lavender). However, some experience allergic reactions to lavender.
It may induce vomiting, headaches, skin irritation, and increased appetite (Ehrlich). Orégano may relieve bloating, cramping, stomach problems, and respiratory issues since it comprises of chemicals that aid in reducing coughs/spasms, as well as help your bile flow (which increases the productivity of digesting). However, when taken in large doses it may be toxic, upset the stomach, and cause rashes (Oregano: Medical Uses and Risks). Plants also play a large impact on our lives when it comes to medically prescribed medications. Of America’s top one hundred fifty prescription drugs, one hundred eighteen come from nature: 74% are derived from plants, 18% fungi, 5% bacteria, and 3% from species with vertebrates (Roberson). About 80% of the world uses plants as a main medication (About Plant Medicines).Even though herbal medicines and supplements seem completely natural to many people since they’re sold legally, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t potentially dangerous.
When the FDA (Food Drugs Agency) classifies a hazardous product, it doesn’t possess the power to command its elimination from the market “because it must meet the very high legal requirement to demonstrate a ‘significant or unreasonable’ risk.” That is the reason why the agency took ten years to cease the selling of ephedra-containing herbal weight-loss products that lead to the hundreds of deaths (Kabat). To sum it up, plants have certainly contributed a sufficient amount to our everyday lives in the form of medicine and natural remedies, as well to the lives of Ultima and Antonio.
Our young main character’s disposition changed throughout the length of the novel, thanks to the curandera and her plants; without her and the recognized beauty of the llano, he would probably be more Luna. Plants and herbs are also important to us and in modern prescribed medications, though some natural “remedies” may be dangerous to consume or use.