Do herbalism products actually help anxiety or other mind obstacles? What can someone do if they’re too nervous to try any for fear of an allergic reaction? We chatted with herbalist Natali Gonzalez, and sampled their Firme Arte anti-anxiety items to find out.
Natali Gonzalez (they/them and he/his) is a 31-year old “indigenous, queer, gender non-conforming two-spirited Hopi-Xican@ artist & Bruj@.” Plus, they’re a second generation RCAF (Royal Chicano Air Force) artist. While they struggle with chronic pain, trauma, anxiety, depression, and body dysphoria, they created Firme Arte to help heal others.
Firme Arte is herbal items such as elixirs, candles, oils, soaps, scrubs and sprays made during ritual that they call “queer indigenous alchemy.” It’s intended for QTPOC (queer, trans, people of color) community who are “dedicated to the pursuit of truth, self-growth and a divine cosmic connection to the multiverse.” Besides this, they offer crystals, incense and other smoke magick. In all their work, they mix their love for art and music with ancestral healing.
This piece on Gonzalez and Firme Arte covers a lot – from their life, to reviews of their anti-anxiety products, to a Q&A packed with self-care advice. When we received their items in the mail, we were uncomfortable that they don’t list the ingredients on them (they list only a few on their site). We felt this to be a necessary conversation to have in the alternative medicine and QTPOC community. Therefore, in this piece, we discuss their controversial decision to not list their ingredients, including opinions from other POC (people of color) and QTPOC herbalists. And for those who have been too anxious to try herbal medicine, we also reveal how to test for allergies.
Table of Contents
Below is a table of contents for you to see what lies ahead. Click on the title to skip to that section.
1. Q&A with Natali #1
a) Routines, Rituals and Self-Care for Their Mind Obstacles
b) Advice for Negative Self-Talk
2. Firme Arte’s Past:
Moving Back in With Trauma
3. Their Controversial Decision To Not List Their Ingredients
4. Q&A with Natali #2
a) Running a Business with Mind Obstacles
b) How They Communicate With Their Ancestors
5. Allergies and How to Test for Them
6. Q&A with Natali #3
a) Advice for LGBTQ+
b) Sadcore Sundays Playlist
7. Our Reviews of Three Firme Arte Products
8. Firme Arte’s Future:
QTPOC Employment and Safe Skate Spaces
Q&A with Natali #1
What mind obstacles do you currently struggle with, and what routines, rituals, or self-care / self-love practices do you do for them?
I suffer with lots of anxiety, always have since I was a child. It stems from being a highly sensitive empathic person with heightened intuition. I also go through severe body dysphoria, chronic pain and depression.
For the anxiety I use a variety of ancestral medicines such as crystals, cannabis, herbal tinctures, teas and smoke blends.
I try to conquer my mind obstacles with remedies that have been passed down through ancestral knowledge.
I like to use herbs such as chamomile and lavender which have been amazing plant companions to work with through some of my worst panicked episodes.
Black Tourmaline stone has been a lifesaver for me in social situations as it induces grounding a psychic shield around its carrier.
My depression usually stems from my struggle with my gender, image & weight and simply feeling at home within the vessel I was assigned.
I am finding new ways to access more of my true self through my devotional magick with Santa Muerte, my studies in spiritual & occult sciences, herbalism, deep meditation and masturbation.
Sex Magick as self care has been something that has really allowed me to heal and access some of the deep rooted hurts I have inherited through ancestral traumas and ones from this version of my soul’s journey. Lots of my past hurts have been channeled through my body within bad relationships with sex & food and how I treated myself when I was younger. Now at 31 fixing the physical and energetic blockages within my body has become high priority and I am grateful for the progress I’ve made through simple acts in loving myself.
Also working with the water spirit through river visits or even baths has been an amazing tool for me when learning about myself. The elements (earth air fire water and spirit) will speak to you if you create space for them. There is much ancient and personal knowledge within these forces.
Lastly, astrology has opened my eyes to so many realizations and truths about myself. If you’ve never looked up your birth chart I highly recommend doing it. It can be incredibly insightful to see yourself mapped out in the stars in such a powerful way.
You mentioned in an interview that you used to be one of the most negative human beings. What is your advice to others who are struggling with negativity or negative self-talk?
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Start waking up and think about the things you’re grateful for, gratitude changed it all for me. I have been in some really low, disgusting situations in my days and I have even gone back in my mind and head space for gratitude in those situations. Seriously get a notebook and write down 1 to 3 things every day in the morning that you’re grateful for. You have to write them down no matter how mundane or cosmic.
Also start reminding yourself of small traits you like about yourself, start disconnecting your idea of self admiration as a purely physical aspect or that your self worth comes from others.
Also start fucking asking yourself what really makes you happy. It’s a heavy question for most of us and lots of us aren’t even ready to take on the task of manifesting such truths but I found that my personal struggles with negativity were stemming from always being in situations I never truly loved.
I was always operating out of survival and once I stopped saying yes to shit I didn’t really want to do (social events, old friends, shitty jobs, lovers, roommates) I stared finding myself in a way better place and head space, a place where I made space to actually say yes to things that fueled my soul and made me feel grounded and accomplished instead of guilty, uncomfortable and negative. When I was in that headspace everyone suffered, my empathic gifts work as a amplifier for my own energy, not just as a sponge for others vibrations.
Remember that you are alive, you are here for a reason, even if that reason is to simply heal before your souls next vessel.
You are important and this planet needs you, start looking at the magick that is abundant in the simple everyday shit.
Be grateful for the breath you take, the water you drink, the laughter you express, the wind that often gets ignored and most of all for your ability to evolve into whoever you wish to be.
You have the power to shift your reality. I believe in you.
Firme Arte’s Past: Moving Back in With Trauma
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Hey babes 🤘🏽 so we just wanted to say what’s good to all the new members of our Community! We recently hit 15.8k here on IG & there’s hella new babes here & we couldn’t be happier to see this community grow in this way✨ We are two indigenous sibling dudes from Sacramento, Califas who have a desire to change the world & it’s inherited mental programming by destigmatizing the use of occult & indigenous healing methods & magicks that have been stripped away from us through rigorous eras of colonization. We are super stoked to have you apart of this space. Welcome & remember when you heal we all heal 🤘🏽 . Left = Natali (they/them + He/his) Right = Hek (he/his) . Feel free to please introduce yourself (with pronouns please if you feel comfortable!) below! Just a community check in even if you’ve been here a while just comment something cool below! (4 words or more or else it doesn’t count unfortunately 🙁) . It would also HELLA help us try our best to boost through the gross IG algorithm that is severely hurting our Internet traffic which is so important to us as a online entity. . Also!! This was the first time I (Natalí) successfully wore my chest binder outside my house for a longish period of time. I felt more comfortable than if I didn’t have it. It’s becoming a big part of my ability to exist comfortably until im able to afford top surgery. So big shoutout to @gc2b for making binders to fit oddly shaped babes like myself 🏳️🌈✨🤘🏽 . 📸 by the homie @incircles . #firmearte #firmearteinternetbodega #queerindigenousalchemy
Currently residing in Sacra, Califas (Sacramento, CA) in their childhood home, Gonzalez created Firme Arte at age 24 while living by themselves in San Antonio, Texas, struggling to make ends meet at a job they hated.
“I was always drawn to the esoteric nature of the universe and my heritage. I have always had a desire to do something great with these interests,” said Gonzalez.
In their childhood home, they endured a lot of trauma and loved being away from it, however, they weren’t able to pursue Firme Arte full-time while on their own, so they moved back. The first year after that was spent deconstructing and falling apart, and Gonzalez had to “feel and time travel back” to the times they had been trying to escape. Upon returning, they developed “gnarly hand issues,” so their sibling, Hek (he, him, his), stepped in to help create Firme Arte products while they recovered, and still does today. They considered giving up on Firme Arte a few times because of these struggles, and because of bootleggers.
Their Controversial Decision To Not List Their Ingredients
Also because of bootleggers, they don’t display the ingredients to their products, explained Gonzalez in an Instagram DM to us after we’d requested them for the items they sent us. In the interview, we asked them about it again and they said:
“We do have the listings up with ingredients for some of our products, lots of our magical curio items will not have then as they are sold as curios. Any allergy and ingredient inquiries can be emailed to us and we can make sure that our product are right for you!”
There are many reasons as to why people list their ingredients. Firstly, it is a liability to the company in case something happens that they won’t be sued because they can say that they were transparent about the ingredients. Secondly, it is important to be transparent to customers, and to not withhold information about what they are putting into their body. Thirdly, many people have allergies, and might not want to take that extra step to request the ingredients and wait for their reply. Lastly, in every field, there is competition. Competition isn’t a reason to not be transparent with your customers.
But maybe there is more to the practice of not listing the ingredients. So we dug a little further.
Before the 21st century, herbal supplements could not be sold as medicines, but were regulated as foods or additives. However, in 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) that forbade the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from treating herbal supplements as food chemicals or drugs. Currently, herbal supplements are not required to get approval from the FDA, but they must follow good manufacturing practices to ensure that harmful ingredients and contaminants are not included in their products. The FDA is still responsible for monitoring “dietary supplements,” the category herbal supplements falls under, on the market. If they find a product to be unsafe, they can issue a warning or remove the product from the market. One thing we found is that the FDA requires five things to be on a label: name of the dietary supplement, amount of it, nutrition labeling, name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor, and a complete list of ingredients in any herbal supplement – requirements that Firme Arte does not fulfill.
On herbalist Ron Teegarden’s Dragon Herb’s FAQ page, it explains, “Herbal extracts are not registered with the FDA but manufacturers, including Dragon Herbs, are regulated by the FDA. We work closely with the FDA at all times, and frequently submit testing, documentation, or samples to them when we are importing herbs and extracts.”
We asked a few POC herbalists if they think it is necessary to list all the ingredients they use, and received some insightful and varied responses.
Similar to Firme Arte, Layla Kristy Feghali of River Rose Apothecary (Instagram: @riverroseapothecary) chooses to not list all ingredients every time.
“I chose to list the ingredients on my public line of products to give greater agency to people who I might never meet about what they put in their bodies or not,” said Feghali, “as well as to protect the integrity of my line of medicine within the context of the capitalist market unfortunately, where this is the standard and expected practice.”
For Feghali, listing ingredients of herbalism products stems from a capitalistic and Western norm, and should not be required.
“I respect the self-determination of herbalists to figure out how much or how little of their formulas they would like to reveal to the public. Because, on one hand, I think it is mostly within the western contemporary culture that we are expected to reveal all or any of the contents in our medicines. In many more traditional parts and practices of the world, medicine is administered with no notification of ingredients at all, and it is understood that the person preparing it has their own science and craft they are tending and there are mysteries within it that people respect and consult them for, and do not expect to be exposed,” said Feghali.
There is something to be said about the huge cultural differences in medicine and healthcare globally, but is leaving your health blindly in the hands of a practitioner good? Often in Western healthcare, doctors are called out for not giving enough time, attention, and information to patients. So should herbalists be held accountable too? Besides this, Feghali explained a second reason as to why herbalists should not have to list their ingredients.
“On another note, I think there is so much pressure and competition within the capitalist market that a list of ingredients can make an herbalist vulnerable to having their work stolen or reproduced or even trademarked by other often larger companies, without any credit or rights to their own offerings (such as what recently happened with the very popular folk remedy called Fire Cider), which can make exposing ingredients a vulnerable process.”
The Fire Cider lawsuit was where Rosemary Gladstar’s recipe for a commonly used herbalism remedy called fire cider was trademarked by a big company called “Shire City Herbals.” HuffPost compared the trademarked “fire cider” to if someone tried to trademark “coffee cake.” It is ridiculous that an herbal tradition was stolen through trademarking, however, I think in the context of Firme Arte, that wouldn’t be an issue. As Feghali mentions later, the most important ingredients that aren’t listed on an ingredients’ label are the herbalists’ “energy, process, and intention” when creating the products. Those are things that cannot be stolen by a huge company…unless human cloning becomes a thing…then we’ll have a problem. Firme Arte’s unique, edgy packaging, their business name, their genuine mission to aid QTPOC, and their honest self vulnerably revealed on Instagram each week, would still draw the same loyal customers and community, even if a larger company attempted to reproduce their products. There truly isn’t enough emphasis on the importance of the invisible ingredients of products. I’m sure you’ve tasted the difference of a large corporation’s cake, versus a small mom-and-pop’s bakery. It’s similar to that. The love and tenderness put into each item is crucial to the impact of it.
However, three other herbalists, Tara Torres of Xol y Luna (Instagram: @xolyluna), Ellenie Cruz of Asc3nsion Art (Instagram’s: @asc3nsion_art and @nolaherbgathering), and Nancy Luna of Medicina Plantcestral (Instagram: @medicinaplantcestral) had an opposing view. They believe all herbalists should show their full ingredients list at all times.
“Labeling the products with the plants used is also an invitation for people to do more research because connecting with plants is a political movement of remembering our ancestors knowledge which was violently taken from our communities,” said Luna.
A few other reasons they gave were it’s “important for allergies,” said Torres, and to give their clients “agency and choice,” said Cruz. Cruz added that it protects them against mixing herbs that could be harmful with any prescriptions or hormone therapy they are using.
Overall, the main takeaway is to choose herbal products that feel intuitively right and safe for you. Maybe that means they have to list all the ingredients, and maybe it doesn’t. Furthermore, ask the herbalist as many questions as you need regarding their ingredients, process and intention.
Q&A with Natali #2
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What obstacles do you face running a business while having mind obstacles?
My mind obstacles usually come in these fucked up cycles, my chronic pain will trigger my ability to craft and work for short periods of time and then the stress and guilt from that will trigger guilt for having these long periods when I need rest or for not having a body that will allow me to manifest all the projects and plans I have in my head. I also get really really low about being trapped in a body I don’t quite understand or feel comfortable in so when my dysphoria is heightened everything suffers. Sometimes I have weeks of these really intense dark bouts of sadness that I have to just go through to see what’s on the other end. I used to be afraid of my darkness, now I know it’s a very potent part in my evolution over all. I trust in my ability to heal what’s ahead. Healers need healing too and after my days of creating for others it can really leave no room for myself for magick. So finding a balance between being a healer for myself and my family before others has been challenging but I know it’s my calling.
You mentioned before that you meditate to communicate with your ancestors. Can you provide an example of what you usually do?
I am lucky enough to have a room to myself where I have created a beautiful altar and safe space for my meditation work. Almost always it involves me sitting on the floor to ground myself surrounded by at least a few of my favorite crystal companions. I’m always incorporating candles into everything and often find that gazing into the fire helps me access the vibrations I’m searching for in my meditation. I use deep breathing techniques to tune my energy into the space that I’ve created, breath is absolutely key with my meditations. Sometimes I need musical guidance to help me tune in to the space that I am ultimately trying to access and will spend 20 to 30 minutes just searching my headspace until I see a purple haze of energy create in my mind. From there I sit with the violet field and start asking simple questions to see where my mind takes me once the question is introduced. I also pay attention to the way certain words, feelings or statements affect my physical body. Amateur body testing if you will. I try to map where these emotions emerge from within myself and then try and navigate how to heal it by experiencing and reliving it in that moment or by purging it by wishing those thoughts well, thanking them for their service and releasing them from my psyche. Through this process I call upon my angels, ancestors, guardians and guides to come through and allow their messages to guide me through this process of evolving into the best version of myself.
Allergies and How to Test for Them
For those concerned about allergic reactions, or have food, herbal, or medicine phobias <3 <3 <3
Similar to when someone tries a new makeup, a new food, or a new drug within Western medicine, there is the possibility of allergies. Even if all the ingredients are listed, someone might not have tried them before, so they won’t know if they’re allergic until they use it. Also, not all ingredients are accessible to the general public to obtain and test with an allergist. In Western medicine specifically, when a doctor gives someone a prescription, people tend to not second guess it and just take it. And if there’s an allergic reaction, people don’t find out until after they’ve taken the drug. When we asked Gonzalez whether or not they’ve had complaints of allergies, they said no and that it is probably due to the fact that they use “natural” ingredients.
“I’m happy to say that we haven’t received any feedback regarding allergic reactions before. We try to keep our products as natural as possible. We feel it’s very important for our mission to use local, sustainable and natural ingredients for our magical concoctions.”
We don’t doubt that their products aren’t natural, but how natural a product is has nothing to do with allergies. People can have allergies to anything and everything.
“I’ve had people tell me they’re allergic to chamomile, and even olives so they cant have olive oil on their skin,” said Tara Torres of Xol y Luna.
Since they offer medicinal items without listing ingredients, we assumed they would have tips on how to check for allergic reactions prior to trying their items. They didn’t, and again responded with how natural their products are.
“Our face masks are made with very gentle naturals ingredients and are a good way to introduce yourself to our line of self care products. Our oils all contain natural essential oils and are great aroma therapy aides.
“Also all of our crystal companion candles are crafted with 100% vegan unscented soy wax for babes with scent allergies.”
So what do you do if you’re worried of having an allergic reaction to a Firme Arte product, or other herbal supplement? Here are a couple of recommendations.
Three Things to Do For Allergy Fears of Herbal Products
1. Test it with an allergist first.
Dr. Michelle Yasharpour, an allergist in Beverly Hills, says the best way to find out if you’re allergic to a product is by completing an allergy test.
“So what we will sometimes do is have them bring in the herbal supplement and we’ll do prick testing and intradermal testing to the actual supplement,” said Dr. Yasharpour.
“Sometimes I’ll put the testing on myself or on some of the medical assistants or nurses just to make sure it’s not an irritant reaction. That’s how we use controls in the office. And once we do confirm that yes, there’s a reaction to that herbal supplement, what we can sometimes do is break that supplement. You know, people will go out and get some of the ingredients just to see what the actual allergen is, and the trigger is.
“To do all of this before you start taking a supplement can sometimes be very difficult just because if you have an irritant reaction and you’ve never taken it, you can’t really tell if you’re actually allergic to it, so most times it happens after the person starts taking a supplement and then reacts to it, to confirm that that’s the case.”
2. Listen closely to your body when you take in something new.
Layla Kristy Feghali of River Rose Apothecary suggests an introspective and body scan method.
“I always recommend that people pay extra attention to their energetic and physical bodies when taking anything new in, and really honor the knowings present there. If it doesn’t feel quite right taking something, I suggest they trust themselves and stop doing so.
“I think as far as products where ingredients are not listed, a person can consult the maker about any known allergies they have to verify it is not a problem, but it is ALWAYS important- even when we know what’s in something- to listen more closely to ourselves about if it is sitting well with us or not. This requires us to deepen our relationship with our bodies and spirits and how they communicate with us, which can be hard sometimes, but is a really important healing journey of it’s own that I think the plants can help us profoundly in.”
3. Keep track of what you take and how it affects you.
Similar to Feghali’s advice, Mayo Clinic gives some safety tips for using herbal supplements, including only trying one dose at a time and noticing if it helps or not.
Q&A with Natali #3
Advice for those struggling or confused with their gender identity or sexual orientation?
*We added the numbers to their answer for ease of reading.*
1. It’s not a race, you evolve and come into your own at your own pace.
2. You are as vast and complex as the multiverse and you are allowed to shapeshift in ways that finally make you feel comfort.
3. Try your best to leave those behind who do not appreciate your gifts.
4. You are beautiful and not alone and are allowed to want to change.
5. Remember when we’re born we’re given soooo many automatic roles to play based off of some bullshit spectrum of gender that was used as a tool by the colonizers. Gender is a colonialistic concept and was not often something used in ancient indigenous cultures. Start learning about the queerness in your lineage and bloodline.
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6. Always hold space for those who came before and paved the way for the worlds slow yet evolving acceptance of “alternative” existences.
7. Start speaking the things you want into existence by literally speaking them aloud to the universe.
8. Remember you are powerful as fuck, you are love, you are loved and there is a community of like minded babes out there waiting to empower you with open arms. I love you.
You also mentioned that you love spending time with nature. What are your favorite nature spots?
Stinson Beach California
Vashon island WA
Hog Back Island CA
Nevada Beach (south Lake Tahoe/NV border)
Natali’s Sadcore Sundays Playlist
Lastly, we asked Gonzalez to share with us her own Sadcore Sundays playlist! “Sadcore Sundays” songs are music you listen to when you’re sad. It’s meant for you to set time to indulge in your sad feelings and find relief. <3
Our Reviews of Three Firme Arte Products
Gonzalez sent us some of their products: the Hella Sensitive Babe anti-anxiety oil and inhaler, and the Palo Santo (Holy Wood) bundle. Before trying them though, we noticed that their wasn’t an ingredients list. When we saw there was an inhaler, it made us a little skeptical as we weren’t sure if it would be safe to try. So, we asked Gonzalez through Instagram to send us a list of all the ingredients before we tested the products. Feeling more at ease after knowing what we would be using, these were some of our experiences.
“The inhaler instantly put me in a euphoric mind state. The stress went away very quickly, and I felt relaxed for a long period of time. The oil gave me the same results, but it took a few minutes to feel that good mood,” said Genevieve Munroe about her own experience.
For myself, in the midst of studying for finals, I felt a lot of anxiety build up, so I decided to try out the oil. After a few minutes, I felt myself relax. The scent was soothing to me, and my anxiety level went down. I was able to go into my finals with a little more ease and confidence.
Although we were satisfied with the anti-anxiety oil and inhaler, our experience with the Palo Santo was, unfortunately, a little underwhelming.
“I used the Brazilian Palo Santo (Holy Wood). I still wasn’t finished with my college applications, which was really stressful for me. So, after school, I placed the Brazilian Palo Santo around my room a few days before my college applications were due. For a little bit, I enjoyed the scent, but I don’t think it helped with the stress I was feeling that much,” said Nataline Ziola.
Firme Arte’s Future: QTPOC Employment and Safe Skate Spaces
Though we feel Firme Arte needs to be transparent about their ingredients, it doesn’t seem to be a problem for their customers and bodega. The bigger picture is that not only does Gonzalez concoct products that genuinely aim to help others with healing and self-care, they focus on creating a safe space for people to “dive deep into the unknown depth that is yourself.”
In the next ten years, Gonzalez has several visions for Firme Arte. They hope to own a warehouse where they employ QTPOC, and to publish a line of divination tools and reading and study materials. A tour around the US in a van “bringing the bodega to babes all over” is another one. And they intend to build safe skate spaces for those who feel vulnerable at skate parks. Gonzalez anticipates big growth over the next several years to establish more hands-on developments and birth physical spaces for their community.
It was a pleasure to learn about Firme Arte’s business, their struggle with mind obstacles, and their ways of coping, as well as advice for those dealing with the same struggles. Whether you’re a consumer or an herbalist, we hope you gained knowledge on safety when using herbal medicine products, and learned from Gonzalez’s experiences and their business Firme Arte too! Check out their online bodega below.
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Gender Bender Crystal Companion Candle | Queer + Non Binary Celebration ✨ . QUEER CELEBRATION | CREATIVITY | HEALING | EVOLUTION . The imagery represented on this candle is meant to embody the energy of comfort & home that one feels when finding acceptance within themselves. This candle celebrates the cosmic creative energy that radiates from a balance of masculine & feminine forces. A harmonic balance of these two forces of energy creates a safe space for the self to unapologetically exist in love, truth and in personal & cultural evolution. . Mano made during ritual in small batches & available in the bodega! . #firmearteinternetbodega #queerindigenousalchemy #digitalwitchtv #genderbender
Interview answers from Gonzalez were received 12/12/18.
Products received by mail from Gonzalez on 11/5/18.
Staff Contributor: Lily Ren
Editor and Co-Writer: Shannen Roberts
Artwork: Divya Seshadri
Lily Ren (she/her) is an introverted girl who has a lot of opinions.
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Divya Seshadri (she/her) is an Indian feminist, currently living and working out of Austin, TX, fighting one stigma at a time.
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Shannen Roberts (she/her) is the Peruvian-American, founding editor-in-chief of The Strange is Beautiful, musician and yogi.
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