Costa Rican Rainforest Herbalism Finds a Home in Brooklyn

© Anima Mundi
Photo of Esme Benjamin
Wellness Editor19 September 2018

Tucked away down a side street in Greenpoint, a stone’s throw from the East River, Anima Mundi herbal apothecary has a hidden-gem quality about it.

The interior of Anima Mundi is decorated like a hipster’s lounge, with string chairs and macramé wall hangings. At the back of the store, caffeinated wellness beverages are served from behind a beautiful – and beautifully arranged – countertop. Brooklyn has many independent coffee shops, but only this one serves a cup of joe with a scoop of medicinal mushroom powder and a glug of home-made almond milk.

Anima Mundi (which translates as ‘soul of the world’) was just ahead of the herbalism revival when it opened four years ago. It’s since grown into one of the most trusted herbal apothecaries and wholesalers in the city, sourcing huge vats of ingredients from around the world: from India and Vietnam to Australia, Peru and Costa Rica – home of the company’s founder, Adriana Ayales.

Ayales was exposed to a wide range of healing modalities from a young age thanks to her grandmother, whom she describes as “always very present, talking to spirits and energies and seeing auras.” While most of us were busy watching cartoons and playing computer games, Ayales was dabbling in meditation and having transcendent experiences in the rainforest.

Anima Mundi apothecary and cafe, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn | © Anima Mundi

“I was really intrigued by [the herbal world] and started working with shamans, doing ayahuasca ceremonies when I was pretty young,” she explains. “[I got] into this whole dieta lifestyle, which is basically taking herbs to assimilate certain forms of consciousness and just kind of being attuned.”

The Costa Rican shamans, or awa, are tucked away in the mountainous Talamanca region of the country. They were a reclusive and somewhat reluctant group of mentors, taking Ayales under their wing to teach her about indigenous plant medicine and healing methods.

“They’re very protective of their land. They don’t have governmental IDs and they don’t work with money,” says Ayales. “If they like you energetically you’re welcome to maybe be on the perimeter, but that’s about it. So it was amazing to have first-hand access to that [knowledge].”

After moving to New York she launched Anima Mundi Apothecary – her Brooklyn herbal laboratory and “showroom” where customers can stop by to learn about the medicines and interact with them. Ayales makes her diagnosis by examining body shapes: the clarity of eyes, textures of skin, furriness of tongues and pace of pulses – indigenous methods that dictate which powder, tincture or tonic will do the trick.

For the average New Yorker she recommends reishi mushroom (said to be great for the lungs, which is key in a congested city like this) and passion flower – a calming, sedating herb that’s useful for nervous-system repair and insomnia.

“Staying up late [in New York is the norm] because the city is vibrating,” she says. “I get to sleep at 2am here. It’s insane.”

Adriana Ayales mixes herbal beverages at the Anima Mundi cafe | © Anima Mundi

These days Ayales lives with her husband and two children in Lake San Mateo, an eco-village in the Costa Rican mountains where connection to nature is as much a part of daily life as connection to Wi-Fi. She has a trusted team of managers to handle business in Brooklyn while she’s away, and returns to the city every few weeks for meetings.

Watching her pour coffee from a gold-framed cafetière – stirring in the mushroom-cocoa powder with an ornate spoon – is pleasant in itself. There’s something reassuring about the ritual of carefully preparing and consuming a medicinal mixture. The simplicity of the action is a contrast to most of modern life.

“I’m excited to keep bringing that indigenous component,” Ayales explains, steam from her mug coiling upwards into a sunbeam. “That mindfulness, that steadiness and that ancient knowledge of botanical wisdom – we need that to survive in today’s world.”

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