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Soustelle - Aztecs and Mexica - Healing with plants

Identifier

011458

Type of spiritual experience

Background

Bllod stones - These days, the mineral heliotrope, is known as bloodstone,it is a form of chalcedony and contains quartz – so it is a quartz crystal.  According to Wikipedia it is not to be found in Mexico,  ‘The primary source of the stone is India. It is also found in Brazil, China, Australia and the United States’, but there does appear to be a link at least with the use of quartz crystals here, as there is in Australia, North America and so on.  Quartz was used for healing in general.

Jalap is a cathartic drug, in other words a plant used to help with constipation and also to remove the body of toxins, viruses, bacteria etc.  During the 1918 flu epidemic, cathartics were used to try to rid the body of the virus.  Jalap itself is the tuberous roots of Ipomoea purga, a convolvulaceous plant growing on the eastern declivities of the Sierra Madre Oriental of Mexico at an elevation of 5000 to 8000 ft.

Psoralea is a genus in the legume family (Fabaceae). Although most species are poisonous, the starchy roots of P. esculenta (breadroot, tipsin, or prairie turnip) and P. hypogaea are edible. Common names include tumble-weed

Garrya is a genus of about 18 species of flowering plants in the family Garryaceae, native to North and Central America and the Caribbean. Common names include silk tassel, and tassel bush.

Commelina is a genus of approximately 170 species commonly called dayflowers due to the short lives of their flowers.

A description of the experience

The Daily Life of the Aztecs – Jacques Soustelle

Once the nature and the cause of the malady had been decided, the treatment began. If it were an illness sent by a god, they tried to appease him with offerings.  In other cases, the treatment including magical operations to a greater or a less degree -  invocations, insufflations, laying on of hands, 'drawing out' of stones, worms, or pieces of paper that were supposed to have been put into the patient's body – and medical treatment based upon  - bleeding, baths, purges,- dressings, plasters and the giving of extracts or infusions of plants'…………..

Their pharmacopoeia included certain minerals, the flesh of certain animals, and above all a very great number of plants. The good Father Sahagrin goes so far as to warrant the virtues of some stones -'There are also,' he writes, 'certain stones called eztetl, blood-stones, which have the power of stopping bleeding from the nose. I have tried the virtue of this stone myself, for I have a piece of it the size of a fist or a little less, and in that year of 1576, during the epidemic, I revived many people who were losing their blood and their lives through their nostrils. It was enough to take it in one's hand and to hold it for some moments, to stop the bleeding, and the patients were cured of this disease which killed and still does kill so many in New Spain. And there are many witnesses of these facts in this town of Santiago Tlatelolco.'

The same historian reports that a certain stone called quiauhteocuitlatl ('gold of rain') 'is good for those who are terrified by a thunder-clap….  and also for those who have an inward heat (fever). This stone is found in the neighbour-hood of Jalapa, Itztepec and Tlatlauhquitepec, and the natives of these parts say that when it begins to thunder and rain in the mountains, these stones fall from the clouds, plunge into the earth, and so grow year by year; and the Indians look for them…..they dig the ground and bring out these stones.'

It is certain that fantastic properties were attributed to stones, to animals … and to plants: but it is equally certain that the Indians had been able to amass a considerable amount of positive experimental knowledge of the plants of their country, in the course of time. In this respect, if their medicine is compared with that which raged in western Europe at the same period, it may be asked whether that of the Aztecs were not the more scientific: …., there was without any doubt more true science in their usage of medicinal plants than in the prescriptions of the European Diafoirus of that time.

The conquistadores were certainly much impressed by the efficacy of some of the native medicines. In 1570 Philip II of Spain sent his doctor, Francisco Hernandez, to Mexico; and he, in seven years of strenuous labour, spending the vast sum (for that age) of sixty thousand ducats, brought together a considerable body of information upon the medicinal plants of the country, and collected a magnificent herbal. Unfortunately, he died before he could publish his work, and part of his manuscripts was destroyed in the burning of the Escurial in 1671: nevertheless, large extracts were published in Mexico and Italy, and they give an idea of the extraordinary wealth of the Mexican materia medica in the sixteenth century: Hernandez enumerated no less than some twelve hundred plants used in medicinal treatment.

Sahagun devotes much of his eleventh book to herbs and healing plants, and modern research has shown that in many cases the ltztec physicians had very accurately, …., distinguished the properties of the plants which they used as purges, emetics, diuretics, sedatives, febrifuges, etc.

Among others may be mentioned Peruvian balm, jalap, sarsaparilla, iztacpatli (psoralea pentaphylla L.), which was successfully used against fever, chichiquauitl (garrya laurifolia Hartw.) effective against dysentery, iztacoanenepilli, a diuretic, nixtamalaxochitl, a counter-irritant, valerian, which they used as an anti-spasmodic, and matlalitztic (commelina pallida) an antihaemorrhagic; but the field is still largely unexplored, and there is a great deal that remains to be done in the way of identifying the countless species mentioned in the texts and verifying their curative properties.

The source of the experience

Aztecs and the Mexica

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image

Activities