Ancient Medical Practices in Mexico

The Ancient Mayans practiced medicine in several different ways, blending mind, body, religion, ritual and science. The shamans, or medicine men, had vast medical knowledge and often times were able to suture wounds with hair, repair fractures, or perform dental surgeries using jade or turquoise for fillings. Mayans used herbal remedies for treating symptoms and most of the treatments were commonly eaten, smoked, snorted, or rubbed on the skin.

Plants and herbs were often used to cure disease and sickness. Typically, the shamans would prescribe an antidote based on the color of a plant. Fresh vegetation, such as peppers, agave, or tobacco, was applied directly to the skin in plaster form to cure rashes, headaches, or bruises. The majority of the sicknesses the shamans would heal included colds, bug bites, vertigo, and jaundice, but would also be used for things like nightmares or nervous complaints.

Sweat baths were another form of remedy for the Ancient Mayans. This important purification element was similar to a sauna and was constructed of stone walls and ceilings. Water was poured onto the hot rocks in the baths, causing steam to allow a person to sweat out their impurities. Mothers found sweat baths to be therapeutic during their pregnancy.

Traditional herbal medicine practices remain popular today in Mexico. More than a thousand species of plants are used for medicinal purposes. Among these, some are sold in the marketplaces and some are dispensed through yerberias. Herbal medicine is deeply rooted in rural communities and the educated doctors try to work with the traditional healers of the community to integrate modern medicine and health education into the local culture.

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