General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 7 Jul 2020/3 Eagle
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Aztec herbal medicine, Florentine Codex

Basic Aztec facts: AZTEC HEALTH

In many ways Aztec (Mexica) health and medicine were far in advance of their time, much closer to nature and better than anything the Spanish could offer. They lived clean, simple, healthy lives, followed a good general diet, exercised well, and treated illnesses and injuries with a wide range of natural products - plus a bit of magic thrown in...! (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Aztec field medicine; Florentine Codex
Pic 1: Aztec field medicine; Florentine Codex (Click on image to enlarge)

One Franciscan missionary from Spain wrote: ‘They have their own native skilled doctors who know how to use many herbs and medicines which suffice [work well] for them. Some of them have so much experience that they were able to heal Spaniards, who had long suffered from chronic and serious diseases.’

Pic 2: Treating a broken leg; Florentine Codex
Pic 2: Treating a broken leg; Florentine Codex (Click on image to enlarge)

Because the Aztecs were a warrior people, they knew a thing or two about treating wounds. Standard practice: 1) wash the wound with warm, fresh pee; 2) treat with a herb to stop the bleeding; and 3) dress the wound with hot sap from Agave (cactus) leaves, with or without added salt.

Pic 3: An Aztec doctor treating a broken leg; Florentine Codex
Pic 3: An Aztec doctor treating a broken leg; Florentine Codex (Click on image to enlarge)

Aztec surgeons certainly knew their onions too. To treat a broken leg, for instance, where the break had failed to heal, they inserted a wooden nail along the bone, covering the whole area with a medicinal plant plaster followed by a bandage. We didn’t use this technique in the West until the 20th century!

Pic 4: A small herb ‘required as a cure by one who has the nose-bleed’, Florentine Codex
Pic 4: A small herb ‘required as a cure by one who has the nose-bleed’, Florentine Codex (Click on image to enlarge)

You name it, the Aztecs would have a cure or treatment for it. They created the world’s first ’botanical gardens’, where they grew around 3,000 medicinal herbs. The one shown here (pic 4) was a good remedy for a nose bleed...

Pic 5: What the landscape surrounding Tenochtitlan might have looked like, with several dikes and aqueducts to manage the water supply
Pic 5: What the landscape surrounding Tenochtitlan might have looked like, with several dikes and aqueducts to manage the water supply (Click on image to enlarge)

Today we take clean water for granted. Around the world it was rare in those days, but the Aztecs actually built dual-carriageway aqueducts to bring fresh water right into their island capital city from a natural spring on the hills outside.

Pic 6: A modern Aztec-style steam bath at La Chonita Hacienda in Tabasco
Pic 6: A modern Aztec-style steam bath at La Chonita Hacienda in Tabasco (Click on image to enlarge)

The Aztecs were CLEAN! They washed every day, and each Aztec house had a steam bath room attached. Aztec women took a steam bath immediately after they had given birth. The baby was bathed immediately after being born as well, a practice that continued for the rest of their lives...

Pic 7: For the Mexica, keeping their bodies, homes, towns and world clean was actually a sacred duty!
Pic 7: For the Mexica, keeping their bodies, homes, towns and world clean was actually a sacred duty! (Click on image to enlarge)

The Mexica had their own anaesthetics, they were skilled at dentistry, they harvested superfoods like spirulina, they had a large work force of town sweepers who were paid to sweep Tenochtitlan, their capital, clean every day, they had public toilets, they kept grain stores as reserves. But one thing they couldn’t do much about was famine, drought, plague, storms, and other natural disasters...

Pic 8: The famous ‘floating gardens’ or chinampas of the Aztecs on the outskirts of Tenochtitlan
Pic 8: The famous ‘floating gardens’ or chinampas of the Aztecs on the outskirts of Tenochtitlan (Click on image to enlarge)

In short, the Mexica lived healthy lives based on a high fibre, low cholesterol, and very varied diet. But remember we mentioned magic at the beginning?! Look again at picture 1: both doctor and patient are chanting, calling on spirits (in this case, after the man was bitten by a poisonous snake) to help cure the infection. Just as supernatural spirits could CAUSE illness, they could also help CURE them...

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Dec 15th 2019

Visit our main ‘Aztec Health’ section...

The Aztecs had healthy teeth!

‘Did the Aztecs invent the sauna?’

‘The World’s Healthiest Superfood’

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