Concepts of medicinal plants among the Nahua of the Sierra de Zongolica, Veracruz (Mexico)

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Weimann, C & Heinrich, M 1998, 'Concepts of medicinal plants among the Nahua of the Sierra de Zongolica, Veracruz (Mexico)', Journal of Applied Botany, vol. 72, no. 3-4, pp. 87-91.

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As for all Mexican peasant cultures, plants are an essential part of everyday life for Nahua of the Sierra de Zongolica, Veracruz, Mexico. The economic basis of the Sierra is subsistence agriculture relying on foods like corn, beans, chili, and the commercial production of coffee, a large number of different fruits and vegetables, and to a lesser degree commercial exploitation of wood. Medicinal plants are an important local resource. For the Nahua, culture and nature are intimately connected. Offerings of flowers and alcohol are made to the earth at important times of the year, especially before sowing of the fields. During 18 months of fieldwork in the Sierra, medicinal plants were collected, and the conceptual basis of plant use was elucidated. In curing, rituals and empirical plant use are closely connected. Ritual cleansing ceremonies are performed and herbal preparations are prescribed as teas, rectal and vaginal douches, compresses and sweat baths. Indigenous criteria for plant use in treatment of illnesses are primarily based on the 'hot/cold' classification of illnesses and medicines. Organoleptic properties (bitter, sweet, aromatic, and sour) are used to recognize or characterize a plant. Bitter plants are used consistently for gastrointestinal illnesses. Decisions determining plant use are based on a complex of traditional symbolic criteria. All concepts have equal standing, but chemosensory properties cannot be subsumed within the 'hot/cold classification.

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