Title

Indigenous concepts of medicinal plants in Oaxaca, Mexico: Lowland Mixe plant classification based on organoleptic characteristics

Document Type

Article

Publication details

Heinrich, M 1998, 'Indigenous concepts of medicinal plants in Oaxaca, Mexico: Lowland Mixe plant classification based on organoleptic characteristics', Journal of Applied Botany, vol. 72, no. 3-4, pp. 75-81.

Abstract

For the Lowland Mixe of Oaxaca (Mexico), plants are a central part of their medical system. Direct access to the natural environment is - among other possibilities - made feasible by sensory perceptions of plants and plant products. This is interpreted according to cultural expectations. The Mixe judge uses of a plant based on its characteristic smell and taste. These are used in the decision process on whether a plant may be a potential medicinal and for which particular illness it may be used. Generally, astringent drugs (especially the bark of various trees) are valued to treat diarrhea and dysentery, bitter plants being used as supplementary therapy for these indications. Bitter, aromatic and aromatic-bitter plants are valued in the treatment of gastrointestinal cramps and pain. Cough and other respiratory complaints are treated mostly with sweet, sometimes sour drugs. This form of perception is central to the Mixe's medicinal plant concepts while the classification based on the humoral 'hot/cold' dichotomy is of minor importance. Taste and smell properties thus open natural resources to human use. Cultural interpretations of the therapeutic results achieved with these plants are additional criteria for deciding whether the use of a specific plant should be continued and for changes in its use profile.

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