Unfortunately, traditional Mayan medicine does not have books, treaties or manuals since Mayan texts were destroyed during the Spanish conquest, which is why only a popular Mayan medicine that lives mainly in the communities has remained.
In today’s article I will try to expose some of the information collected that I consider more reliable according to impartial narratives, and that is closer to what we know today as that great culture lost in time.
Traditional Mayan medicine was based on a culture, worldview and spirituality of its own. Balance of mind and body, meridians of energy, biodynamic and holistic approaches. These are concepts that have gained ground in recent decades. The so-called alternative medicine or naturopathy has become a standardized option to achieve health without secondary costs.
Slowly and silently, the different disciplines included within naturopathy or natural medicine, have conquered the trust of thousands of people. Whether through Herbalism, Essential Oils or free and outdoor therapies such as Sun-gazing, Grounding, Forest Bathing, etc., we have managed to return to the forgotten and healthy contact with nature.
Use of Plants in Traditional Mayan Medicine
There is a knowledge acquired through time to work with plants. Beyond recognizing its healing properties, it is also important to know its spiritual, vibratory and benefactor connection, among others.
For Mayan Medicine, nature is above men, determining their lives and their health-disease process. For this reason it is venerated and deified.
The environment and the cosmos have an influence on life, as well as explain the functioning of the body through the laws of nature.
Traditional Mayan medicine considers people as an integral and interacting part of the cosmos and society, so any activity done by an individual will have an impact on them.
Likewise, any change or action in the nature, community and family, will affect the individual at the same time, provoking his or her health or illness.
This worldview has repercussions on Mayan medical practice and gives rise to specific mechanisms for diagnosis and treatment.
The Concept Cold-Heat for Traditional Mayan Medicine
The holistic thought of Mayan medicine intimately relates body and soul, also relates all parts and organs of the body as well as relates the body to cosmic time. However, the most relevant in its medicine is the relationship of the body with cold and heat.
This relationship directly influences the “vital principles”, and conceptualizes the disease as an imbalance, which can be caused mainly by elements with cold or hot properties.
The causes that attempt against the corporal balance of a person can be produced by the organism itself, by its family, by the community, by nature or by different divinities.
Health, then, is the result of living according to the laws of nature and society, and disease, is the result of the transgression of those laws.
Colonial Maya Yucatec documents, specially from XVI century, speak of healing “cold” and “hot” illnesses as a gift given by the sun. On the other hand, “warmth” (kinam), transmitted to medicinal elements of nature, mainly the plants.
This fundamental gift, received directly and daily for the survival and perfection of the individual, faced the danger of being taken away.
Also, the selection of herbs, as with the doses and frequency of the medicinal treatments, pay tribute to the sun by means of a ritualistic numeration that represents it, and is closely related to the cardinal points. The most important direction is the east, from where the sun rises.
In this sense, the mechanisms to achieve balance (healing) are linked to various elements such as the use of medicinal plants, making offerings, performing ceremonies and go to indigenous therapists such as: herbalists, midwives, spiritual guides, bonesetters and priests.
Controversy about the origin of the meaning Cold-Heat
In Mexico, the origin of the cold-heat taxonomy is a matter of debate among researchers. G. M. Foster (1972) proposes that this binomial comes from the European humoral theory, and was brought by Spanish doctors.
With the passage of time, the dyad -according to the same author- was incorporated into the popular culture of New Spain. However, the popular assimilation of the European theory for the four humors was not complete.
This one contemplated the following categories: cold, hot, humid and dry. The possible combinations to determine a pathological state, a therapeutic resource or an organ of the body were: cold-dry, cold-wet, hot-dry and hot-wet.
In addition, the Spanish medical theory presented the thermal qualities in four levels of intensity. Foster argues that the concepts of dry and wet, as well as strict graduation in four intensities, were lost when humoral doctrine was incorporated into popular medical practices. This author denies the American origin of said taxonomy.
In opposition to Foster, A. López Austin (1984), although it recognizes the undoubted Spanish influence in the current cold-hot system, it maintains its American origin.
The dissertation that is part of the pre-Hispanic worldview, where the cosmos was divided by a horizontal plane that separated the great father (the sky and the Sun) from the great mother (the earth); where the first encompassed everything hot, and the second (which included rains and airs) was conceived as cold.
The data from current ethnographic literature indicate that this dichotomy in the natural environment of man is still valid. In addition, Lopez Austin takes up the argument of Foster and poses a question, which is a powerful argument for the American origin of hot-cold: “If the binomial was introduced, and then degenerated, losing the notions of the dry and wet. How is it possible that such a degeneration was so perfect and so uniform throughout the territory of New Spain?”.
Mayan heritage in the Yucatan Peninsula
Like Foster and Lopez Austin, there are many more who have their own opinion about the origin of the concept of traditional Mayan medicine when it refers to cold-heat.
Some think that it is focused on a more subtle and spiritual meaning than a physical one, and others even relate it to witchcraft and ill-intentioned spells.
Anyways, those who currently live in Yucatan and have verbally inherited this knowledge, the Kuch kaab Yéetel J-men Maaya’ob, A.C. (Council of Elders and Mayan Priests), perform an enormous task in the Yucatan Peninsula, alongside the herbalists or traditional doctors (H-men), who are social servants by family inheritance.
In addition, they are responsible for the health of the community since ancient times, and recognized by the SSA (Secretary of Health and Assistance). Even today we can access them, who are always willing to receive us and share their cosmogony and worldview. Giving us health and showing us a way of living in harmony with mother nature, the cosmos and our fellow human beings.
These are invaluable principles of the Mayan culture and its representatives. So, should we also draw our own conclusions about what the ancestral Mayans referred to the cold-heat concept, what do you think?.
Home Remedies with Traditional Mayan Medicine
- 1 Guarumbo leaf (Cecropia Peltata L.)
- 1 Bunch of Neem leaves (Azadirachta indica A. Juss)
- 7 Flowers of Xkanlol / Thorn plant (Tecoma Stans)
Preparation: Boil the ingredients in 2 liters of water for 13 min.
Dosage: Take Infusions for 3 weeks. Rest for a week and resume. Continue the process until you get results (Variable according to patient).
The preparation of 2 liters should be consumed on the same day it is prepared, and not consume alcoholic beverages during the treatment.
Maximum eradication time of diabetes: 3 months approx.
- 1 Bunch of Eucalyptus Leaves
- 7 Cow’s paw flowers (Bauhinia holophylla)
- 1 Bunch of Orejon Oregano (Coleus Blumei)
- ½ Bunch of Oregano / Marjoram (Origanum Vulgaris)
- 7 Lemongrass Leaves (Cymbopogon citratus)
- 7 Leaves of Guanabana / Brazilian paw-paw (Annona muricata L)
Preparation: Boil the ingredients in 2 liters of water for 7 min. (Take the time when it begins to boil), cover it and let it warm. You can sweeten with honey for a better flavor.
Dosage: Take warm infusions every 6 hours, for 3 weeks. Rest for a week and resume. Continue the same process until you get results (Variable according to patient). It is recommended not to consume anything cold during the treatment, and avoid environments with low temperatures.
Maximum time for asthma eradication: 52 days approx.
- A bunch of Chaya / Tree spinach (Cnidoscolus chayamansa McVaughn)
- A bunch of Lalmuch / Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Preparation: Add the ingredients in 4 liters of water, let it boil for 13 min. Remove the preparation from the heat and cover it to cool.
Dosage: Drink one cup every 6 hrs. for 7 days. Then, rest for 5 days and repeat the process until obtaining results (Variables according to each case).
The eradication time of anemia is 3 months approx.
- A bunch of Avocado Tree leaves
- A bunch of leaves of Indian Zapote / Mamey Tree (Pouteria sapota)
Preparation: Put the ingredients in 2 liters of water and let them boil for 7 min. Remove from heat and cover until cooled.
Dosage: Drink one cup of the preparation every 8 hrs. for 9 days. Then, rest for 7 days and repeat the process until you get results. Variables according to each case.
Eradication time of the problem, 3 months approx.
Onion syrup for cough and bronchitis
Chop a medium size white or purple onion, and add two tablespoons of honey.
Let stand in a bowl or plate (not metal), so that the onion is hydrated and expelled its juice, which will be the syrup to use.
After 15 minutes, you can consume the first spoonful of syrup.
Take 1-2 tablespoons three times a day (morning, afternoon and evening). The amount will depend on the severity of the cough. For children, use teaspoons doses.
This remedy is excellent for treating cough problems, whether dry or purulent cough.
To treat chronic bronchitis three chopped garlics should be added to the syrup preparation.
Common herbs used in Traditional Mayan Medicine
Among some of the herbs that Mayan healers use are:
Azahar (Neroli): It is the flower of the sour orange tree. Mix a handful of orange leaves with a handful of flowers from the same tree, then, add half a handful of mint leaves and simmer. Let stand and drink warm or at room temperature.
It is a tranquilizer for those who suffer from nervous tension and is also useful as a diuretic.
Pomolche (Jatropha Curcas): The sap of this plant is used for the treatment of skin regeneration, difficult pimples and smallpox. This milky solution is also used to wash and heal inflammations in the mouth.
Besides, it is currently used in the Yucatan region as an alternative therapy to relieve heart disease, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides conditions.
Guava: The decoction of leaves of this plant is used to treat scabies (skin disease caused by mites). The treatment consists in bathing with the warm water of the guava leaves. Additionally, when drinking it as an infusion, it serves to lose weight.
Plum: The leaves of this tree are used to eliminate rashes. These are cooked in plenty of water for about 7 minutes. Then, the leaves are strained and the water is reserved until warm.
When it reaches a comfortable temperature for the patient, it is applied by washing the affected area. It is important that after the bath the patient stays away from drafts, as it could cancel out the effect of the treatment.
Angel’s trumpet / Belladonna (Datura Arborea): Used for the treatment of mumps. Lightly roast the leaves to apply on the affected area. Then, they are covered with bandages to keep them in place.
While this treatment is being followed, the patient should not be exposed to drafts.
Eucalyptus: When boiling eucalyptus with honey, we will obtain an effective cough remedy. After boiling the ingredients for approximately 8 minutes, we will wait until it reaches room temperature to consume it.
This natural medicine should be drunk during the course of the day, and until the cough disappears. Also, patients should refrain from consuming too cold drinks and extremely hot foods during the treatment.
Kitinché and Bel sinik ché (Caesalpinia gaumeri and Alvaradoa amorphoides): The leaves of these plants are mixed and baths are prepared with the water produced by its cooking. This water is used to eliminate the bad smell of sweat.
Ramon Tree (Brosimum alicastrum): For this recipe, boil twelve leaves in half a liter of water. Let stand and strain the leaves to begin to gradually drink the beverage at room temperature.
This natural medicine has a very high nutritional value, almost comparable to breast milk. In addition, it is excellent for bronchial conditions and asthma.
It is recommended not to consume extremely cold or hot drinks during the treatment.
Basil: Serves as an additional natural remedy in the treatment of eye diseases such as conjunctivitis. Squeeze the leaves in water, strain and wash the affected area abundantly.
Peppermint / Mint: To relieve colics, the mint leaves are cooked in a liter of water, left to stand and reach room temperature for rationed consumption.
Melissa / Lemon balm: (Melissa Officinalis): It is an effective antispasmodic. Prepare an infusion with the leaves and drink rationing.
Other natural resources used in traditional Mayan medicine:
Corn grains: These were very important in rituals related to Mayan spiritual medicine. Likewise, corn hair was used for kidney diseases.
Copal: The resin extracted by decoction of the roots and bark of copal, was used as incense in rituals of purification, and spiritual, physical and mental healing. Nowadays it is still used by its descendants.
Along with the copal, Mayans also used resins from other trees in the region to perform their rituals.
However, its use is delicate, since it is said that it removes the “cold” from the inside. In addition, it carries a taboo in which it is forbidden to bathe the days after the ritual.
The honey of wild bees: This honey is produced by varieties of bees native to the region, such as jimerito and large honey.
As we see, the resources applied in Traditional Mayan Medicine are extensive. It also happens with other ancestral cultures around the world.
Fortunately, science has also taken an interest in the study of the therapeutic properties of many ancestral medicinal plants. Thanks to this, every so often there are more proven benefits to cure our affections, without the serious side effects that conventional medicine sometimes causes.
Below, you will find some interesting reading about Traditional Mayan Medicine, which surely delves much more into its benefits, properties and uses:
- Ix Hmen U Tzaco Ah Maya: Maya Herbal Medicine by Aurora Garcia Saqui
- Fire Heart: The Life and Teachings of Traditional Healer of Belize by Beatrice Torres Waight