While the Botany & Wildcrafting Course from Herbal Academy Courses that I recently completed was spectacular and I have more confidence in using my plant identification skills, I still run into the problem of not being able to transfer the identification from Mexican Spanish to English. This has been frustrating to me since my little Aztec Remedy books say use such and such a plant, but I have no idea what the botanical name is.
One of my friends recommended Infusions of Healing–A Treasury of Mexican-American Herbal Remedies by Joie Davidow. I ordered it from Amazon and finished it in a week. In it, hundreds of herbal remedies are included as well as a chart that gives the English name, Spanish name, Botanical name and other names it might be called. Fabulous!
Recipes were included that used plants that I can identify in La Yacata, like mesquite, sábila, and huizache and I can’t wait to investigate more about their medicinal properties.
Furthermore, more 1/3 of the book talked about indigenous healing traditions. Thousands of years of medicinal tradition were lost when the Catholic church ordered the codices to be burnt, only a handful of others were preserved. Spanish priests and naturalists compiled various tomes about the conquered peoples that were sent to Europe and lost for hundreds of years, only having been recently rediscovered.
These rediscovered accounts helped me to put the curandero tradition still alive and flourishing into perspective. Not only were curanderos skilled with herbs but they were also doctors of the soul. Some of those long-ago spiritual beliefs about health still exist in Mexico today.
Let me give you an example. It was an extremely hot month, hotter than I can remember since moving to Mexico. So now that we have electricity, albeit limited, we bought a fan. I had my husband install it so that we would get a nice breeze while we slept. My sister-in-law, who has also been suffering from the heat, asked to see our fan since it doesn’t use too much power. She thought it was good but said she’d never have the fan blowing on her in the night because she’d wake up “chueca” (wry-necked).
So what does this have to do with ancient Aztec beliefs? Well, the Aztecs believed that body ailments were either “hot” or “cold”, “wet” or “dry”. Therefore, a cramp would be an ailment caused by a “cold” source, the fan which cooled the tonalli (energy center also connected to the heat of the sun) of a person that is centered in the head.
Other things suddenly became clear as well. The sacred novena (9-day prayer session for the deceased) is 9 days because there are 9 levels to Mictlan, the underworld and 9 levels in the celestial kingdom above. Bilis, an illness caused by excessive coraje (rage) occurs when there is something wrong in the ihiyotl, another energy center located in the liver. The belief that not only must the physical body be treated, but the God who sent the infirmity must also be appeased continues with pilgrimages, prayer, candles, and offering found throughout Mexico.
While the book didn’t specifically mention going barefoot in the house as a potential cause of sickness, I bet the reason is mentioned in one of those lost books that I’d love to get my hands on.
So if you are at all interested in herbal uses of plants found in Mexico, this is the book I would recommend to you to start with. Having read it through once, I feel that I have finally entered the pre-school level in my local plant study.