It is believed that Yucatán is the only place in America where a considerable amount of medical literature in native language can be found. The medical manuscripts compiled with hieroglyphics, seem to have existed before the arrival of the Spanish.
When the conquerors stepped onto these lands, the Maya already had knowledge of the medicinal properties of the native plants, and they had already learned their medicinal value.
In the former Yucalpetén, now Yucatán, there were already individuals especially dedicated to fighting the illnesses using herbs with medicinal properties: h-men (priest), the dza-dzac (herbalist), and the pulyah (witch doctor).
This information is contained in the essay Maya Pharmacopoeia, by Dr. Narciso Souza Novelo (1875-1952), the most prolific researcher of Yucatecan flora from the XX century.
His studies reveal that one single plant had various medicinal properties; and also that the same curative property was found in several varieties of plant. At the same time, various ailments are cured by mixing several plants, or by adding ingredients of animal and mineral origin.
Dr. Souza Novelo observed that native medicine was connected to magic or witchcraft; upon carrying out certain ceremonies with the plants, those plants acquired therapeutic properties.
Not only that, but in order to obtain the intended results, the treatment was prescribed for a certain day of the week, almost always a Friday, or time of day, or lunar phase. Number of units was also important: nine “flor de mayo” flowers, nine x-kakaltum leaves, nine grains of corn…
In one of the remedies which cures snakebite, ten different plant varieties are combined, and the majority of those include the word “kan” in their name, which means “snake”; perhaps in the belief that those “dedicated” plants, or those which looked something like snakes, could better help to combat the harm caused by snakes.
The writer went on to explain that the empirical knowledge of the Yucatecan Indigenous people about “green” medicine takes into account the shape and color of the species in question. Those flowers, leaves, bark, resin, or root which are yellow, would be useful in curing “yellow” illnesses, such as “k´anchik´in” (jaundice)…while those plants or feathers with red tones were effective in the treatment of “red” ailments, such as “xe k’llk” (vomiting of blood).
Yucatán Today does not endorse or guarantee any treatment for any illness. You are responsible for your own medical choices.
Article by Yurina Fernández Noa
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