Herbs & Medicines

In this section we are assembling materials that may be useful in developing curriculum around herbal remedies and other aspects of healthcare among indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, before and after contact with Europeans. This is a sub-topic of ethnobotany due to the special use of medicinal herbs in many remedies and their role in steambaths, for instance.

Mexicolore Resources

Additional Resources

The sixteenth-century Florentine Codex, Book 4, is full of information Mesoamerican medicine and health care. Try to find a copy of the facsimile, with the color reproductions of the many images, as well as the bilingual text.

Sample page, Florentine Codex, Book 4. Reproduction in the Franz Mayer Museum. (S. Wood, 2009)

The indigenous steam bath, or temazcalli, in Nahuatl. (From a manuscript made in Mexico in 1777 about cochineal.)

The indigenous steam bath, or temazcalli, the term in Nahuatl. This eighteenth-century form has evolved quite a bit from the pre-Hispanic version. (From a manuscript made in Mexico in 1777 about cochineal.)



Salvia Hispanica (chia) is a member of the mint family and is native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala.  This plant appears in the Florentine Codex and the Codex Mendoza.  It was cultivated in pre-Columbian times for its nutritious seeds, which have been used for millennia in beverages and foods. The name “chia” comes from the Nahuatl word “chian” (oily).  Chia is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, contributing to a healthy heart.  A Doctor’s Health Press report from December 30, 2013, summarized in the Examiner in January 2014, suggests that chia may also help prevent diabetes and cancer. About a half-million chia “pets” are sold in the U.S. annually as novelties or as house plants.

Chia plant, cultivated in the Ethnobotanical Garden in Oaxaca. (From their 2008 calendar.)

Chia pet made in Atzompa, Oaxaca. (Photo from the Ethnobotanical Garden’s 2008 calendar.)

Sponge Bob chia pet. (Photo, S. Wood, January 2014)


Epazote (from epazotl, also spelled apazotl, in Nahuatl) is a seasoning herb or mint that also has medicinal values. This plant was chosen by a Mexican living in New York City for a culturally relevant garden created in collaboration with immigrants by the “Outer Seed Shadow” organization (thank you Ana Orozco for sharing this with us!).

Curricula from 2010