Black’s Temple of Earth Apothecary opens near Lake Merritt

Black's Temple of Earth Apothecary opens near Lake Merritt

In the Grand Lake neighborhood near the Oakland Public Library’s Lakeview branch, you might see a group of community members putting the finishing touches to the storefront that sits between Coach Sushi and Gregg’s Grand Salon. One member of the community is Danielle Benjamin—a mother, herbalist, healing artist, and founder and executive director of the Earth Temple Apothecary.

Located across the street from Lake Merritt, the Temple of Earth Apothecary is much more than a brick and mortar store selling medicinal plants and metaphysical items; it’s also a co-op, a “freedom school,” and a community healing space. Customers can stop by for a variety of services, including individual healing consultations, tarot and birth chart readings, and bodywork. According to the store’s website, Temple of Earth Apothecary celebrates and “centers Indigenous and African plant and land use stewardship, teachers, practitioners, parents, children, and physicians.”

The soft opening of the pharmacy is taking place on August 1, with the grand opening date to be determined.

The location may be familiar to some residents; the storefront used to house The Raven’s Wing, a self-described “witch shop” offering readings, crystals, and ritual tools. It closed permanently at the end of May due to financial difficulties, opening up space for the Earth Temple. (Benjamin worked as co-owner and herbalist at The Raven’s Wing for about a year before closing.)

Benjamin calls the chain of events leading up to the opening of his pharmacy “magic thunder”.

“After years of dreaming of this, of being in a space that wasn’t really designed for us and our medicine, and wanting our own physical space, it all came together,” he said.

Born in Oakland and raised in Richmond, Benjamin earned a master’s degree in special education from CUNY Hunter College while working as a high school special education teacher in New York. After living on the East Coast for five years, he returned to the Bay Area in 2016.

The story behind the shop

Products for sale and decorative items are displayed around the shop. Credit: Amir Aziz

Benjamin’s journey to become an herbalist started when he was a child. As a child, he sought refuge in the creeks and forests of the East Bay. His family, whom he describes as “teachers, cultural archivers and organic scholars,” instilled in him the importance of reclaiming his ancestral roots through prayer, ceremony and connecting with nature.

“That was a big deal to little me,” says Benjamin, “and it’s part of the job I do now: summoning ancestors, making history, seeing things in the context of how we got there, and creating spaces where people blacks feel it. At home.”

Then, just before giving birth to her son, two of her grandparents passed away. Losing, he felt, was an opportunity to start over.

“That confused me,” he said. “Having felt a strong connection with my ancestors, when they died, it was like a reset for me.”

After giving birth to her son, Benjamin said, she came across a plant called yarrow. Yarrow’s scientific name is Achillea millefolium, named after the legendary hero Achilles. According to ancient Greek mythology, Achilles used the plant to help heal the wounds of his warriors during the Trojan War. Today, many Afro-Indigenous herbalists believe that the yarrow represents boundaries, which Benjamin says he really needed at that time.

“Having just become a new parent and having to live with the person I made children with, I really needed to learn boundaries in a new way,” she says. “That started my curiosity about my ancestral relationship to plants—which plants my body knows and which plants my body remembers.”

Her spiritual connection with plants deepened during the postpartum period when she used herbs—specifically, cotton root bark—in self-administered abortions.

“It still makes me emotional because it’s a plant that has a strange connection to our ancestors, tending to it by force on this land when it was enslaved,” he said. “It was the first time I witnessed the potential and effectiveness of plants to create such a level of physical change.”

Opening of the Temple of Earth Apothecary

Danielle Benjamin inside her shop, Temple of Earth Apothecary, on Grand Avenue in Oakland. Credit: Amir Aziz

While working towards his master’s degree at CUNY, Benjamin frequented several herb shops throughout New York City and found a vibrant community of herbalists and healers. But he noticed none of the stores were owned by Black. Since then, he has dreamed of having his own herbal medicine cooperative which concentrates the healing modalities of Afro-Indigenous ancestors.

In the years leading up to the opening of Temple of Earth, Benjamin met fellow herbalists in the Bay Area who shared his vision and eventually volunteered at a pharmacy. One of those volunteers is Fatima Nasiyr, another Afro-Indigenous healer who Benjamin met in 2018 at Ancestral Apothecary, a former Oakland school and resource center for practitioners of herbal medicine. While the idea of ​​the Earth Temple was still in its infancy, Nasiyr reconnected with Benjamin to discuss how to combine their healing practices into one.

“It’s been wonderful to have the experience of crafting a vision for what it would be like for us to work together,” Nasiyr said.

Another helper, Ryan Thurston, is an old family friend of Benjamin. After experiencing depression and feeling disoriented during the COVID-19 pandemic, he now sees his work at the Temple of Earth Apothecary as a tribal act.

“From the point of view of collectivism, since [Benjamin] doing something that aligns with what I believe in, what else is there to do but put all my energy into this? said Thurston. “When you got the call, you just showed up.”

When The Oaklandside went to the Temple of Earth Apothecary in early August, the shop was still a work in progress. Benjamin, along with other volunteers, had finished repainting the previously rust-colored walls to light green and brought plants and herbs from the local community garden. Near the entrance stands a bookshelf filled with famous works by black authors such as Octavia Butler, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, and a bell ring. The inside of the shop smells of palo santo incense, which is often used in smearing rituals to rid the room of negative energy.

While America’s healthcare system provides critical and life-saving procedures, part of what Benjamin hopes through his pharmacy is to offer alternative pathways to cures when Western medicine fails.

“We are conditioned to believe in the medical industrial complex, even when its limitations are glaring,” he said. “Certain pharmaceuticals and medical interventions are not designed to truly cure at the source. Indigenous peoples—and all of us—have ancestors who understood this.”

With modern technology making health care services more accessible to the public, Nasiyr further emphasizes the need for holistic and preventive healing through herbal medicine.

“This is the most ancient way that people around the world take care of themselves,” Nasiyr added. “Because we are part of nature, nature provides a way for us to maintain balance and harmony in our bodies.”

Danielle, owner of the Temple of Earth Apothecary, checks on customers Kumi (L) and Miyuki during the store’s opening on August 16, 2023. Credit: Amir Aziz

Benjamin invites the public to donate to fund store openings on GoFundMe. The goal is to raise $75,000 to build a strong foothold for pharmacists and their staff. At the time of publication, fundraising efforts had raised nearly 150 donations totaling more than $40,000.

In addition to donating through GoFundMe and spreading the word, Benjamin, Nasiyr and Thurston hope members of the community will see the Temple of Earth Apothecary as a welcoming space for everyone, regardless of race or creed.

“I think Black and Indigenous healing is not just for Black and Indigenous people,” said Thurston. “I think the Black and Indigenous experience overlaps with the Asian experience, the South American experience, the European experience, and even the experience of rural white South Americans. We all have something to give and share.

“When black people use our voice, when we shine, when we take root, when we come together, when we are boldly free together, everyone benefits,” Benjamin added.

Earth Apothecary Temple536 Grand Ave.
Tuesday to Friday, 12-5pm Saturday and Sunday, 12-7pm Closed on Mondays.


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