Part spirit healing and part natural healing, the aim of this book is to improve the mental and physical health of the African American community through culturally relevant information.  Covering African food, herbal traditions and spiritual practices from a variety of places, times and cultures, this extremely eclectic book proves to be both interesting and inclusive. One of Stephanie Rose Bird’s strengths is taking scholarly topics that could be difficult to understand and discussing them in a way that is clear and approachable.

African American spirituality is not one belief system. A lot of people will automatically think of the Black Church but Bird is delving into spiritual sources from pre-Christian Africa and the African derived spiritual traditions which may or may not have Christian influences. Bird introduces hoodoo, a folk magic practice, differentiating it from voudon, a religion. Spiritual topics cover animism, ashe and tree whisperers to name a few. Healing is viewed as a holistic process involving the spirit and body.  

Herbs and foods are described in their African and African American cultural context. Bird speaks about roots as history, roots as magick, roots as food, roots as medicine. An entire chapter is devoted to blood, both literal and symbolic, from Yoruban cultural ideas about foods with a symbolic relation to blood to traditional Jamaican views on curing blood.

The African diasporic cultural context flows through everything. For example, garlic is used worldwide but Bird tells the specific medicinal uses of garlic in South Africa and Botswana. Then she adds in a cultural element, “Garlic is the health warrior of all warriors: no wonder it is the ewe (herb) that traditionally represents Ogun,” before listing its many scientifically documented health benefits. An overview of the healing uses and health benefits of each food and plant may provide a history lesson as well.

The Healing Power of African American Spirituality could almost be described as an African cultural herbal guide given how many pages discuss plants and herbs but that wouldn’t be accurate. The inclusion of multiple spiritual practices can’t be downplayed. Recommended

~review by Larissa Carlson

Author: Stephanie Rose Bird
Red Wheel Weiser, 2022 (2010)
pp. 246, $ 19.95