Every month we catch up with an alumni of the Berkeley Herbal Center certification programs in our Alumni Series.
This month we caught up with Francisca Santibanez! She tells us her story beautifully, sharing her medicinal journey, her connection with the planet, and how BHC continues to impact her life every day, along with her newest 9 month healing program through her business, Plant Spirit Talk.
We’re grateful for the chance to share Francisca’s story with you in our Alumni Series Spotlight.
Plant Love Started at the Beginning
It all began as far back as my memories take me…I remember being captivated and entranced by the lush blossoms of Hibiscus. In the midst of the concrete jungles of Sao Paulo, Brazil these vibrant and elegantly flamboyant flowers would jump out from the green and gray background to dance and sing to me. Still an infant in a stroller, I would spend what seemed like hours staring at them as they transmitted their beauty and high frequencies. This is my earliest childhood memory.
While plants were my closest friends and companions growing up, becoming an herbalist wasn’t something I imagined doing as a career. I had not met anyone that solely dedicated their work to herbalism while I was growing up. My relationship with plants was intimate. They were my family, my confidants, my most precious and reliable relationships. Instead I followed my other passion for art and became a jewelry designer. I sadly, slowly and eventually began growing distant from the plants. In the midst of this path, life also granted me the gift of motherhood and a whole new chapter of homemaking and increased responsibility began.
A Journey to Herbalism
In 2010, my body began a process. I felt like a switch went off and I went into utter break down for the next few years.
I began having migraines accompanied by recurrent episodes of temporary blindness. Shortly after, my doctors diagnosed me with pigment dispersion syndrome, a type of Glaucoma. In 2012 I severely injured my spine, in a job related accident. I was disabled with limited mobility for nearly 2 years. With bouts of severe pain and fatigue, I was taking pain medications and going to doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists 3-4 times a week. While I was being treated for the symptoms, I wasn’t getting any better. On top of the back injury and glaucoma, I felt exhausted and extremely cold all the time. My thyroid was struggling to function.
In 2013 I was blessed to meet a Naturopath visiting from Australia, that gently reminded me that there was a different way to go about healing and treating all my ailments. He recommended I work with mineral supplements and HERBS. I began his protocol and within a month, my vitality began to return to my body as my pain began to slowly seize. He recommended that I find a local herbalist to continue working holistically on my healing.
This is when I discovered the Berkeley Herbal Center Clinic. I began working weekly with one of the Clinicians at their Community Clinic. Within a month I knew that herbal medicine was the path I was meant to take, and I enrolled in their Clinical Program.
The Berkeley Herbal Center Clinical Program
The moment that I stepped into the classroom, I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be. The place was welcoming and warm with its exposed brick walls, freshly brewed tea, and friendly faces from my teachers and fellow students. Set up like a comfortable living room with seats all around in a circle- where people gather to share and rejoice with one another- except here the focus and topic was always plants, our bodies and healing. It was my dream (that I didn’t know I could have)- come true!
I clearly remember meeting Pam for the first time at that very first class. With her loving, calm, yet passionate presence she shared about her vision and mission for the school. A focus on creating a whole new health care system that was earth/plant based, affordable, empowering and that actually served the people. Her dedication for community and for forming an army of healers was incredibly inspiring and magnetic. I felt deep resonance and so much hope with this perspective.
In the following months, I reacquainted myself with the plants. Getting to know so much more about their identity, origins, make up, their healing qualities, and their magic- revolutionized my life. While I was still early in my physical healing journey, my emotional and spiritual healing journey were just about to take off.
For me, Berkeley Herbal School was the catalyst and the container for this profound phase in my life. Working so closely with the plants, developing a daily practice of taking them internally to get to know them, allowing myself to return to my senses to fully experience them as I studied them… All led me to a deep journey of self-discovery.
The plants guided me back to my roots- showing me that I needed to return home to South America and embrace the plants and the ways of my ancestors. The day after I graduated from the program at BHC, I took off to the Amazon on my first journey back to South America in 23 years.
Since that first journey in 2014, I have returned to South America almost every year and have deepened in the study of Vegetalismo- an Amazonian indigenous and mestizo practice of receiving teachings, guidance and healing power directly from the plants. In this cosmology, plants are seen as flora embodied master teachers, with character, spirit, and sentience. In order to be in right relationship with these master plant teachers, Vegetalismo teaches that one must purify(cleanse) and show dedication to be a good host to the plant spirit. A Dieta (or special protocol) must be followed for cleansing body, mind and spirit.
Working with plants at this intimate capacity is the most natural, potent and comforting way of relating to plants for me. Clinical Herbalism and the teachings that I received from Berkeley Herbal Center have served as a solid foundation for me to have the scientific reliance to the experiences and teachings that I receive directly from the plants.
Life After Graduation
Since completing the program at Berkeley Herbal Center, I have cultivated my private practice offering a range of clinical and spiritual support with plant based medicines and ritualistic protocols, including Dieta facilitation. I also began teaching at BHC about South American Folk Medicine, Andean-Amazonian Cosmology and Shamanism, Ancestral Healing and Plant Spirit Communion.
I had the honor to serve as Student Services Coordinator for BHC for over five years. It was such a privilege to witness so many students finding themselves and their healing with herbal medicine, and such a pleasure to watch them grow and extend their herbal wisdom to their families and communities in the various ways herbalists do.
In 2018, I started Plant Spirit Talk course. A six month journey combining the various healing modalities and practices that I teach, dedicated to connecting and awakening the inner healer, our wisdom and relationship to our medicines.
I also began offering a yearly Medicine Immersion Journey to the Amazon to small groups of my students and clients. We get to learn directly from my Shipibo teacher and other indigenous masters that hold plant and earth based wisdom and traditions that have been kept alive for centuries. This year we’ll also be journeying to sacred sites in the Andes and learn from the Q’eros and Quechua teachers.
This year I started Earth, Blood and Soul, a nine month course focused on studying, assessing and healing our ancestral inheritances including physical, mental and spiritual ailments, liabilities, relationship to lands, cultures, traditions and of course plants!
This path with the plants, has granted me not only physical and spiritual healing; it’s led me to my life’s authentic path and purpose. And for that I’m forever humbled and in gratitude to the plants and all the human teachers at BHC and all others, that have shared with me along the way.
To find out more go to www.plantspirittalk.com or follow me on instagram at @plantspirittalk.
If you’re interested in being featured in our Alumni Series, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org