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The Mayan civilization rose to prominence in the swampy lowlands of what we now know as southern Mexico, Guatemala, western Honduras, El Salvador and northern Belize. The diversity of the territory meant that a large variety of diseases could flourish but it also provided a multitude of potential plant remedies with which the Mayans could experiment.

The Mayan Healing System

Mayan medical practice was a complex blend of mind, body, religion, ritual and science. Health was the result of living according to the laws of nature and society, and illness the result of the transgression of those laws. The Maya equated sickness with captivity of the soul by supernatural beings, angered by some perceived misbehavior. Medicine was only practiced by the specially selected individuals who had received an extensive education. These people were called shamans and ah-men.

Mayan Medicine And Their Usages:

Herbal Remedies Were Often Used Depending on the Color:

Red - for rashes, blood disorders & burns.
Blue - for neural sedatives.
Yellow - (the color of bile) for diseases of the liver & spleen.
White - was generally avoided since it was seen as a signal of death.


“Shamans employed mind-altering substances such as morning glory, 'magic' mushrooms, tobacco and other hallucinogens”.


“Self-brewed alcoholic preparations were also used, especially during rituals, to help them to communicate with the spirit world in the hope of re-establishing good health by restoring the correct ‘balance’”.


“Hot and cold were also key concepts in Mayan medicine: ‘cold’ disorders such as constipation, cramps or paralysis would be treated with hot, spicy foods whilst ‘hot’ disorders such as fever, diarrhea or vomiting would be treated with cold plants or food (e.g. cheese)”.


“Athlete’s foot and diarrhea were everyday occurrences and were often cured using herbal remedies”. 


“They regularly used ‘sweat baths’, similar to today’s saunas. These were often combined with massage to alleviate gynaecological symptoms such as dysmenorrhea, menopause, premenstrual tension and infertility; massage is still practiced in parts of meso-America today for these conditions”.


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