Mesoamerican Culture, History, and Religion

Codex Badianus & Aztec Herbal Medicine

While prowling around online I finally rediscovered a page that has some excerpts from the Codex Badianus on it.  The Codex Badianus, also known as the Codex Barberini or the Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis, was the first book of herbal medicine published in the Americas.  It was written by Martin de la Cruz, a young Nahua herbal physician of good repute, and published in 1552.  The University of Virginia has a nice little exhibit about the codex, including several traditional Aztec medical recipes and photos of some of the plants.  If you’d like to learn a bit more about the codex itself and some general info about Aztec medicine, including a few more recipes, Mexicolore has a handly little introductory article on it to whet your appetite.  Finally, if you’re  curious to learn more at a more technical level, I even found some professional journal articles on the subject on PubMedDon’t forget to check the References list at the bottom of the page for more articles on Aztec medicine available on PubMed.

Go HERE to visit the University of Virginia’s excepts from the Codex Badianus.

And go HERE to visit Mexicolore’s feature on the Badianus and Aztec medicine.

Finally, go HERE to read “Aztec Medicine” by Francisco Guerra,  in Med Hist. 1966 October; 10(4): 315–338.  Full text online, downloadable PDF also available.

The Herb Quauhtlahuitzquilitl, Page 32 Recto of the Codex Badianus
The Herb Quauhtlahuitzquilitl, Page 32 Recto of the Codex Badianus
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12 responses

  1. Xuchilpaba

    Hey thanks for the links. I will certainly use this.

    January 26, 2009 at 9:51 AM

  2. cehualli

    You’re welcome Xuchil. You’re part of the reason for this post — I knew there would be at least one person interested in the material. 🙂

    January 27, 2009 at 4:47 AM

  3. Xuchilpaba

    Yeah it’s really helpful. I can’t wait to get Florentine Book 11: Earthly things.

    I found this in the 2nd link:

    “The combination of agave sap and salt is a very regular occurrence in wound remedies – agave sap, when mixed with salt, forms a solution that kills bacteria by dehydrating them.”

    Funny, I have some Agave sap for a natural sweetener (you should be able to get it at any Natural store.) and i never knew that if you mixed it with salt it killed bacteria. I might try this remedy after bloodletting to see if it actually works.

    I also found this interesting:
    “Need a tonic? Try this recipe. Take the sap of the yellow-leafed maguey (Agave atrovirens), and cook it together with some yellow chilli and tomato juice, and ten gourd seeds. Take after eating.
    After that you may need some Aztec toothpaste. Take the root of the tlatlauhcapatli (Geranium carolinianum), together with some salt and chilli, and make a paste. Rub the paste into your teeth, if you dare. And for a mouthwash, try an infusion of iztauhyatl (Artemisia mexicana).

    I just want to try some Aztec toothpaste! 😛

    January 27, 2009 at 5:40 PM

  4. Xuchilpaba

    P.s. I’m ordering An Aztec Herbal: The Classic Codex of 1552, for now, because codex Badianus is just too expensive. And I’m thinking of getting Healing with Herbs and Rituals: A Mexican Tradition, what do you think of it? I’m thinking it looks helpful for some modern folk traditions that survived and has some backgrounds on Aztec herbs.

    January 27, 2009 at 5:47 PM

  5. cehualli

    Yeah, with your interest in traditional herbology I think you’ll like Book 11.

    If you’re looking for herbal antiseptics, I should get you my mother’s recipe. It’s a mix of garlic oil and some other stuff (I forget what) but it works better than anything else I’ve ever seen. I’ve used it on some nasty cuts that were getting infected, as has my mom, and every time the redness and swelling is gone within 24 hours max. Smelly, but wonderful stuff. It’s one of the few herbal remedies I’ve run into that I can confidently say has empirically proven itself to be effective.

    Hehehe, the book you ordered *is* the Badianus! It’s just a barebones edition, much like the Dover prints of the Borgia and Nuttall.

    I’ve never heard of the other book. I can’t say I’ve particularly studied the subject, so I can’t advise as to the book’s quality. If possible, I’d try to find some academic reviews of the book and see what the scholars are saying about it.

    In case you’re wondering about my first statement about knowing something about herbal medicine, then the second part that contradicts that, let me explain. My mother’s studied herbal medicine for about 20 years, so I’ve tried quite a few things. Some of it definitely works (eucalyptus vapor to clear the nose and throat, as well as to kill bacteria in the airways, and the garlic-based disinfectant), some of it definitely doesn’t (all homeopathic pills), and some of it I can’t say for sure, but at least does no harm.

    January 28, 2009 at 1:47 AM

  6. Xuchilpaba

    It’s funny you mention that because i told my granny last night and she said her granny had a herb recipe for the chest that worked better than Vick’s vapor rub! She said something about onions, but i don’t think my grandma knows the exact concoction.

    I didn’t know you knew so much about herbs. Yeah i think the best thing for me to do on some things is to experiment. Oh the joys and woes of experimentation. lol

    See i thought the book i order wasn’t the Badianus, but more like commentary and references to it. When i typed in codex Badianus on Amazon the book was like 400 bucks and i had sticker shock. :-/

    January 28, 2009 at 10:50 AM

  7. cehualli

    Ha! I wouldn’t be surprised. Eucalyptus oil works because it’s the main ingredient in Vicks, but using the pure essential oil works better as it’s stronger. You just don’t have a convenient grease to put on the skin — don’t want to do that with pure essential oils as it will chap your skin. You place a drop on a handkerchief or tissue and hold it to your nose and breathe it periodically. Alternatively, you can put it in a diffuser to vaporize the room. Wonderful stuff, I keep one bottle at home, one bottle at my desk at work.

    Nah, I know very little really, just a few of the gems that I’ve been able to test and confirm to myself that work. 🙂 My mom is the walking herb encyclopedia and medicine maker.

    Nope, you did get a copy of the Badianus. The difference between yours and the $400 one on Amazon is that yours is mostly the raw text, with some of the illustrations in black and white and reduced scale. The $400 is translation plus full-color deluxe facsimile. Since you want the recipes and aren’t necessarily studying the plant illustrations, the one you ordered should be just fine.

    January 28, 2009 at 3:49 PM

  8. Xuchilpaba

    I must have been having a blond moment with that book. LOL

    Interesting. I will keep the Eucalyptus medicine in mind when i come down with something again. Thanks.

    January 28, 2009 at 10:19 PM

  9. cehualli

    It happens to us all!

    You’re welcome! I recommend the Aura Cacia essential oils for the eucalyptus, as they sell some of the most concentrated oils. It’s about $4 for a small bottle, $10 for a big one, and it lasts a while. You can get it at Whole Foods and other organic food/herby places like that.

    January 29, 2009 at 11:51 AM

  10. Tetl

    Thank you for posting these great links… and the healing anecdotes!

    January 19, 2011 at 8:21 PM

  11. Tetl

    Thank you for the great links and healing anecdotes.

    January 19, 2011 at 8:23 PM

  12. I found that the codex still required an awful lot of cross-referencing to determine what plants are being referenced. After all, the Aztecs described the plants by where they were found, not by proper nouns. They didn’t use names (just descriptions) for most things, which still leaves much for debate. Fortunately there is a wealth of knowledge hidden in the curandero traditions that while not documented, are accessible.

    February 15, 2011 at 5:29 PM

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