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Published by the American Botanical Council
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Botanicas A Truly Holistic Alternative Medicine Health Care Option
08-31-2005

HerbClip 040351-287 describes a recent exhibit at the Fowler Museum University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) entitled "Botánicas Los Angeles: Latino Popular Religious Art in the City of Angels" which ran from September 12, 2004 to February 27, 2005. Between 400-500 botánicas are located in the greater Los Angeles area alone. [A recent article in Whole Life Times puts the number closer to 1,000.] Researchers state that in any major U.S. city with a large Hispanic population one can find a botánica. Some stores cater to the more magico-spiritual aspect of healing and sell mostly religious products while others emphasize naturo-spiritual healing and sell primarily herbs, vitamins, and homeopathic and natural medicine.

Patrick Polk, a visiting professor at UCLA's Department of World Arts and Cultures and the exhibition curator stated, "[t]his exhibition is a manifestation of how folk religions and folk art come together, and how artistic creativity becomes central to people's rituals and identities." At the exhibit, Winnie-the-Pooh sat comfortably next to a smiling Buddha overlooked by a poster of the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh. Also on display were a variety of potions to attract love, win court cases, and obtain a peaceful home life. Dr. Ysamur Flores-Peña, a Puerto Rican folklorist who participated in the exhibit, said "Botánicas provide a way of looking at religion and spirituality that is not right or wrong, it's just there. You can find Chinese iconography, alongside Native American, alongside Catholic, alongside Hindu. All heavens coexist together in a very democratic way."

Botánicas offer spiritual and communal solace in ways Western conventional medicine and much of Complementary and Alternative Medicine do not. The amulets, oils, and candles sold in botánicas address the spiritual malaise of the customers, while the botánica itself is a meeting place for the community to connect and share pain, problems, joy, and remedies. Yet, these stores are still a complement to conventional medicine. As Flores-Peña explains, "[d]octors are not trained to see spirits and [traditional healers] can't perform operations."

Lori Glenn, Coordinator