Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz is sharing her wisdom for holistic wellness in a new book, ‘Earth Medicines.’

Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz in the Garden
Thomas J. Story

Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz cradles a piece of freshly cut aloe vera between her fingers, delicately holding the plant she’s plucked from outside her home. Its dirt-clad roots stretch outward, its green leaves upward, almost as if it’s reaching out to touch her, too. 

The Phoenix-based curandera can often be found with plants in her pockets—aloe vera gel has a variety of uses beyond being a widely known salve for sunburnt skin. For Ruiz, it’s an ingredient that can be added to cucumber medicine water or a calendula mist for sensitive skin, even hair gel. In her practice of curanderismo, which is rooted in generations-old, traditional Mexican healing ways, Ruiz says, aloe vera placed near your front door is believed to spiritually protect the home. 

Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz
Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz holds a piece of aloe vera in Arizona.

Thomas J. Story

This is the type of wisdom in her new book, Earth Medicines: Ancestral Wisdom, Healing Recipes, and Wellness Rituals from a Curandera. Flip through the pages and you’ll find an array of thoughtful remedies collected and crafted over decades as an indigenous foods activist and natural foods chef in the Sonoran Desert—“one of the most edible and medicinal landscapes of North America,” as Ruiz writes. Her practice has garnered a following in the region and beyond, from author and television host Padma Lakshmi to celebrated publications such as Food & Wine

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The book is organized according to four elements—water, air, fire, and earth—and recipes range from “hydrating skin food,” such as cucumber salad, and nopales medicine water to facial mists, hair moisturizers, mouth rinses, and more.

Through it all, Ruiz shares stories and insight from her time in the desert, “living on this land and later working with this land,” as she writes, which has allowed her to “come full circle” not only professionally but also “as a person reclaiming their Indigenous roots.” Ruiz traces her own Mexican, Spanish, and Tewa lineage “far into Northern New Mexico” in the book, and her passion for plant medicine to her great-grandmother who crafted remedios in Old Town Albuquerque. 

Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz holds new book "Earth Medicines"
Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz’s new book Earth Medicines

Thomas J. Story

“Holistic living, holistic wellness, that’s so trendy to talk about now. But all it is is Indigenous living,” Ruiz tells me. “It’s going to be plant medicine. It’s going to be food. It’s going to be breathing and being outside, walking and getting sunshine. All of those things are not new. But the book, I’m hoping, will help people recognize that we all come from somewhere. This is all in our DNA. We just need to remember.” 

Here, we’re grateful to excerpt a few recipes from Earth Medicines—one from each element—to help you get started, or continue, on that journey. 

Healing Recipes From a Curandera