Maya medicine

To celebrate my finally registering the domain name, something I am still proud of naming, I will write about something simple yet complicated: how people devised to use plants as medicine has always fascinated me. While no doubt Ayurvedic medicine is perhaps the most detailed form of natural medicine (in so far that it is based on plant products, otherwise natural medicine is sort of a misnomer), despite being Indian, other than home remedies and some stuff all Indian kids just imbibe culturally, I don’t have much to write about Ayurvedic medicine. Instead, I will write what I learned about Maya medicine from a 18 yr old Mestizo boy in Belize, on a mayan medicine trail.

It has been a year, but I remember Abdul’s engaging smile as he led us on to the medicine trail,  within the boundaries of the Lamanai outpost, as the lodge has been built to be a part of the rainforest. The trees, plants or shrubs he stopped to show us were all very ordinary looking and therefore, while I am quite confident about my notes on the trail, I imagine that the accompanying photographs of the said flora will not be very distinguishable to the non-nuanced eye. On the other hand, some of the medicinal plants are so well known that I think their medicinal use amazed me!

(Please note: any errors in plant photographs are my own, please correct them if you notice any, it has been a year since I went on the fascinating Maya Medicine trail after all).

  1. Provision tree: The bark of the this tree can be used to treat anemia.img_1067
  2. Crocodile tail vine: Boiled in water to make an antifungal

    Crocodile tail vine
  3. Jasmine plant: This is one of the common plants- 5 leaves chewed in mouth can numb the tooth, prior to taking it out. I ate one leaf and that numbed my lips and tongue!
  4. Copal tree: Like the famous Ceiba tree, the Copal tree (copal is the fragrant resin from the tree Protium copal) is also a tree sacred to the Mayas and copal was used in fires or as incense. While the sap is still liquid it can also be applied to tooth decay and I think Abdul said that the tooth can falls apart once the sap solidifies.. making it easier to extract it

    Copal tree ( the tree in foreground, not the tree with the large ornamental leaves)
  5. Bacat tree: The pod of this tree has jelly that is also good for anemia (Abdul said, for the blood, it maybe rich in iron but I am not sure how it is good for blood).

    Bacat tree nut
  6. Cahoon nut: One of the most common trees I saw at Lamanai, the fruits hang in bunches. This nut provides oil for cooking.

    Cahoon nuts in a bunch
  7. Nopal cactus: It is a prickly pear and the fleshy insides can be applied on burns for a cooling effect. But the surprising part is that when applied topically , I believe, it can also slow down balding! It is a commonly eaten vegetable otherwise.

    Nopal Cactus
  8. Snake plant, or mother-in-law’s tongue: This was yet another surprise for me, as apparently after mashing and grinding the leaves, it can be used as a poultice on  snake bites.

    Snake plant
  9. Gumbo-Limbo: Another tree, like the copal tree, that belongs to the Bursera family, also called Tourist tree as its bark peels off like sunburnt skin (not this tourist, I told Abdul and he agreed :D). The sap of this tree is an antidote to rashes caused by poison ivy/oak etc .. The bark and sap can be boiled in water before taking a bath in it.
  10. Hibiscus: They have huge red hibiscus flowers at Lamanai, and other than the tea I already knew people made from the flowers, the petals can be mashed and mixed in water to be later used as shampoo! Not only that. The ordinary hibiscus flower can relieve PMS related cramps if ONE-TWO of its petals are eaten raw. After that Abdul blushed and said, well, if you eat more than two then it is like, female viagra (some previous tourist had suggested he say that instead of aphrodisiac). Not sure why it is specific to females..
  11. Bay cedar fruits- The seeds of these dark brown fruit stops diarrhea, locally it is called butt plugger!img_1109
  12. Cockspur / bull horn plant (The featured image): The bark of this plant is apparently a great antidote for snake bite that can contain the symptoms to about 3 hrs (hopefully time enough to get to a hospital).
  13. Santa maria: Another plant for tooth numbing or for application on insect bites..

    Santa Maria plant
  14. Ishkazan: thats a mayan name for a plant that Abdul said sounded like my name.. It can be applied on insect bites as well. And mixed with oregano leaves (1:3) to make a drops for ear infection.


15. Finally: the Trumpet tree’s driest leaves were smoked (by the Mayas) using its own hollow branches as pipes,  possibly to get high (I don’t remember what Abdul said about that, clearly ;))

Hollow tree branch (the tree is hollow throughout)
The trumpet tree’s driest leaf

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