I rise before my sleeping children every Saturday morning to prepare Horchata for The Botanical Bus Farmworker Clinic. The sweet almonds, dates, cinnamon, and rice plump from soaking in water overnight. This recipe for Horchata is a simple preparation, with traditions in Latin America and origins in North Africa, that carries the slow, deep knowing of nourishment. Horchata is a plant-based drink, enjoyed for generations at family celebrations, that reminds us of our power to care for one another.
The Botanical Bus (501c3) is a bilingual mobile herb clinic that empowers holistic health by-and-for Latinx and Indigenous people through culturally centered, community driven programs. We meet our Latinx and Indigenous clients where they are — at vineyard worksites and family service center hubs — to provide bilingual, bicultural health services including massage, acupuncture, somatic therapy, clinical nutrition, and herbalism. Our programs, which include Farmworkers Clinics and Wellness Workshops, are founded and led by Promotoras (Community Health Workers). Their recipes, deep knowledge of herbalism, and commitment to community-care are power.
I usually wake my children up to the sound of the blender, the sweet, soaked ingredients turned to cinnamon-infused rice milk. They ask to help by tasting the froth. Horchata is traditionally made from rice milk, cinnamon, sugar, and delicious additions depending on the region, such as sesame seeds, coconut, and licorice flavored semilla de jicaro. Our version is sweetened with dates and full of medicinal herbs to bolster immunity and respiratory health.
I pour the mixture through a strainer and add ice. Loaded up into the back of the bus, the icy blend sloshes at the sides of its insulated container as we follow our route to the vineyard worksite. It’s mid-morning when our team arrives, and Lu Lú, cofounder of the clinic, calls us into our opening circle. We raise our left fists as we repeat “juchari uinapekua” or “our power” in her Purépecha language of Michoacán, Mexico. At each clinic, we welcome 24 on-shift vineyard workers to take a break, to share their knowledge and power to care for themselves. Lu Lú reminds us that “todxs somos medicina” or “we are all medicine”.
The Horchata tastes good between the hot dusty vineyard rows. In California, we now anticipate fire season, which comes at the same time as grape harvest. The injustice of vineyard workers forced to cross evacuation lines to make ends meet is a call to action. We stand for change, for health equity, and human rights.
The sign at the tea station translates to “Herbal Horchata for Lung Health.” Ingredients include marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) and mullein (Verbascum thapsus) to tone the epithelial lining of the nasal cavity, trachea, and bronchi. Cinnamon, soaked overnight, also acts as a demulcent to soothe inflamed mucosal tissue. Keeping this tissue healthy allows for balanced production of secretory IgA, a powerful antibody that can protect against viral infection.
I like to let cinnamon lead, as it has in our grandmothers’ recipes. The touch of warm spice tastes like love to me. My grandmother was an Indigenous woman from the borderlands, who worked with her sisters as migrant workers picking fruit from state-to-state. I am glad that my children join me in the preparation of the Horchata before I head out for my day of work. We stay connected to each other and the earth through herbal medicine.
I believe that herbalism is activism. It shows us that we have the power to care for ourselves, our families, and our communities.
The Botanical Bus Recipe: Herbal Horchata for Lung Health
Horchata is traditionally made from rice milk, cinnamon, sugar, and delicious additions depending on the region, such as sesame seeds, coconut, and licorice flavored semilla de jicaro. Our version is sweetened with dates and full of medicinal herbs to bolster immunity and respiratory health.
What you’ll need…
- 1 cup organic brown rice (or rice of choice)
- 1 cup almonds
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1/4 cup dried marshmallow root (chopped root or powder)
- 8 cups water (or medicinal tea of choice… we suggest mullein)
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup pitted Medjool dates
- 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- A pinch of salt
- 1 cup almond milk (or milk of choice… we also like coconut and oat)
- Optional: 6 tbsp dried mullein leaves
- If using tea in place of water, add 6 tbsp of dried mullein leaves to a medium-large pot. Pour 8 cups freshly boiled water over the leaves and let steep around 20 minutes. Strain and let cool completely.
- Soak the rice, almonds, cinnamon sticks, and marshmallow root in the cooled tea (or water) 6–8 hours or overnight. Make sure to refrigerate.
- Transfer the soaked mixture to a high-speed blender along with all of the remaining ingredients except for the almond milk and blend for 2 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding more dates for more sweetness if needed. If you like a sweeter Horchata, you can always add some honey by dissolving the desired amount into warmed water before adding in.
- Pour the blended liquid through a mesh strainer to remove any solids. Once strained, stir the almond milk to the liquid and mix throughout.
- Transfer the mixture to an airtight container and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
- Serve in glasses over ice. Your Horchata can be stored in the refrigerator for 2–3 days.
Yield: makes about 6 tall cups of Horchata.