The Yucatan's Medicinal Trees

medicinal tree of the Mayans
Reaping cures from the jungle – Medicinal plants

By Lizbeth Rawlinson, M.D.

Profound understanding of nature along with divine inspiration and the knowledge of the curative properties of plants and animals were elements of the Pre-Hispanic curative practices. What about walking around and finding some “curative vestiges” of ancient cultures of La Riviera? You may come across three perfect examples...

Chiba (ceiba pentandra)- The Sacred Tree of the Mayans, the Great Kapok tree, reach up to 230 Ft high and 9 Ft thick. A gray-greenish bark covers its thorn trunk; branches widely open almost horizontally. Different parts of this tree are used to obtain anti-inflammatory effects and experiments have demonstrated its antibiotic properties. Baths with the decoction (i.e. essence extracted by boiling) of leaves and/or branches are used for skin conditions, wounds, burns and rash. Leaves, which contain camphor, calm abdominal cramps (cataplasm) and combat pimples (bath). Flower decoction is an emollient. It is also used in rheumatism, intestinal diseases, and toothache.

Chakah or Red Gumbolimbo Bark (Bursera simaruba). This Mayan source of resin, is generally 16-66 Ft tall and 16-32 In thick; trunk and branches are covered by a smooth, coppery, peeling bark; leaves are green and oval shaped. It is known as the antidote to skin burns produced by another tree –The Che-chen tree (Metopium brownie); for this mater a bath is made out of Chakah leaves and bark or just the resin is directly applied in the affected skin. Experimental studies have demonstrated its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. Its flowers and fruits are remedies for snake bite and diarrhea while the branches and leaves are for skin fungus, cold, fever, diarrhea; leaves are used for ulcers, measles, infected gums, asthma, bloody stools and pain (head, stomach, tooth); the bark is for wounds cleaning, spider bites, fever, nose bleeding, and muscle pain; infusion of the wood decoction is said to help lose weight.

Ramon or Mayan breadnut (Brosimum alicastrum). Easy to find in the surroundings of Mayan ruins (ramonales), it is 66-132 Ft tall and up to 30-40 in diameter; has a straight trunk, grayish bark and oval smooth leaves, green in one side and white-gray-greenish the other. Its exudate is used to prepare a beverage that stimulates milk production in nursing women and by diluting it in water it helps to control asthma. Leaves, bark and exudates are remedies for diabetes, cough, tuberculosis and bronchitis. Seeds are highly nutritious and it is believed that they were the main alternative component of the Mayan diet during corn scarcity.

Now, one thing is discovering the jungle having in mind 3 valuable pieces of Pre-Hispanic medicine and another is reaping 3 curative plants knowing that 4000 species of medicinal plants have been identified and registered in Mexico and that herbal remedies are the most trustable, affordable and sometimes the only way to heal among the natives that today inhabit La Riviera. The difference seems to rely in a better understanding with Nature.


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