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An An Aztec Herbal: The Classic Codex of 1552 Aztec Herbal

An An Aztec Herbal: The Classic Codex of 1552 Aztec Herbal

by William Gates

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Originally written in the Aztec language, this 16th-century codex was the first herbal and medical text compiled in the New World. It contains ancient remedies for myriad ailments — boils, hair loss, cataracts, insomnia hiccoughs, and gout, to name a few. Analytical Index to Plants. New Introduction. Over 180 black-and-white and 38 color illustrations.


Originally written in the Aztec language, this 16th-century codex was the first herbal and medical text compiled in the New World. It contains ancient remedies for myriad ailments — boils, hair loss, cataracts, insomnia hiccoughs, and gout, to name a few. Analytical Index to Plants. New Introduction. Over 180 black-and-white and 38 color illustrations.

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An Aztec Herbal

The Classic Codex of 1552

By William Gates

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2000 Bruce Byland
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14097-1


On the curation of the head, boils, scales or mange, coming out of the hair, lesions or broken skull.

Curation of the head

The fruit of the eca-patli plant, the iztac oco-xochitl, the teamoxtli, the precious stones the tetlahuitl, iztac tlalli, eztetl, te-mamatlatzin, bruised up together in frigid water, allay heat in the head, and if in hot water an excess of cold. They are applied three times a day, morning, noon and evening, to be wrapped about the neck and throat over the supporting tendons and throat nerves. For pains in the head let him eat onions in honey, let him not sit in the sun, nor labor, nor enter the baths.


The leaves of the tlatlanquaye plant, root of the tlal-ahuehuetl, tla-yapaloni and chipauac plant, well macerated in the yolk of egg without water, will thoroughly cleanse out head boils; they are to be applied daily, morning, noon and evening, in doing which let the head be well covered. But if at any place the head is festered, it is to be washed with urine, and the ointment then used.

Scales or mange

A scaly head being diligently washed with heated lye, the juice of acid plants from the forests, well expressed and strained, is to be poured over the sores; when this has dried, the head scales are to be smeared with the gall of a dog, wolf, mole, hawk, swallow, the diver-bird, quail and atzitzicuilotl, with the dregs or lees of the Indian wine. As a drink let the one affected take heated native wine, to be drunk in honey that is not heated. Before dinner let him be very careful not to sleep, and after dinner let him not walk about, neither walk nor run, nor work.

Scurf or head-scald

The head is to be washed with urine. Then the roots of the huitz-quilitl, tezon-patli, tequam-maitl, tetzmi-xochitl, ground up with the bark of the copal-quahuitl and atoya-xocotl, are to be applied to the head.

Coming out of the hair

Loss of the hair is to be stopped by a lotion of a dog's or deer's urine, with the plant called xiuh-amolli boiled with reeds and the avat-tecolotl animalcula.

For a broken head

The break is to be smeared with plants growing in summer dew, with greenstone, pearls, crystal and the tlacalhuatzin, and with wormy earth, ground up in the blood from a bruised vein and the white of egg; if the blood cannot be had, burned frogs will take the place.


Curation of the eyes, heat, the eyes bloodshot, cataract, stupor of the brows or rather lids, tumors, to bring on sleep, to avoid sleepiness.

Curation of the eyes

If to the eyes, when in pain, one applies for a time white frankincense and the dust of a powdered dead body, well ground in dragon's blood and the white of egg, they will be cured.

Overheated eyes

Into eyes much heated from sickness the ground root of this bush is instilled; let the face be further wiped with the squeezed juice of the bushes oco-xochitl, huacal-xochitl, matlal-xochitl and tlaco-izqui-xochitl. Slightly troubled eyes are helped by the leaves of the mizquitl tree and of the xoxozshqui matlal-xochitl, macerated in woman's milk, or dew, or limpid water, and instilled.

One suffering from a defect of the eyes should abstain from sexual acts, the heat of the sun, smoke and wind, not use chilmolli as a sauce in his food, not eat hot foods. On his neck he must carry a red crystal, and not look at white things but black.

The eye of a fox will help vitiated eyes wonderfully, being bound on the upper arm. If the eyes are so hurt that they look pulled out, pearls, reddish crystal, red mussels, the stone found in the small bird called molo-tototl, the stone tlacal-huatzin, and the stone in the stomach of the Indian dove, ground up in goose's grease, woman's milk and spring water, should be taken; the juice thus prepared you shall instill into the effused eyes.

When then something falls into the eyes, so that they fester from it, there should be instilled liquor prepared from ground siliqua or pulse, salt and flour, in spring water. If however the trouble comes from chill, it will be corrected if reddish crystal be ground in Indian wine and the liquor dropped in the eyes.

Bloodshot eyes

This trouble is removed if the suffused eyes are sprinkled with powdered human excrement. Also by the same remedy ulcers on the eyes, white spots, blackness harming the eyes; the shell of a fresh egg with the yolk, pounded up and with ashes strained in pungent or acrid water, let stand for eight days and then instilled, is most efficacious.


A carbuncle growing in the eye should be lanced, then drawn and extracted; the film should be sprinkled little by little with the ashes from human ordure with salt. Then on the following day the roots of our acid plants, first placed in the sun, should be pounded up and applied.

Immobility of the eyelids

When the lids are drawn with numbness, that is, when the upper does not drop and the lower raises but a little so as not to meet the upper, the leaves of the malinalli rubbed on the lids are useful; after this nitre, salt and powdered ordure should be sprinkled on them.

Tumors starting on the eyes

The bushes tetzmitl and tequixqui-zacatl with the little stone, either white or the reddish, found in the stomach of the swallow, ground up in the swallow's blood, stops or restrains swelling of the eyes and a heat-inflamed face.

Lost or broken sleep

Lost sleep is attracted and conciliated by the plant tlazol- patli, which grows by ants' nests; also the cochiz-xihuitl ground up with swallow's gall and applied to the forehead; also the liquor squeezed from the leaves of the huihuitzyo-cochiz-xihuitl, should be used to anoint the body.

To throw off sleepiness

You will drive off sleepiness if you will throw your own hairs on burning coals and smell the odor, while some of the incense reaches the ears. Not content with this, you may take a hare, draw and cut away the viscera, then cook it without water, to a crisp. When you have consumed it, take the ashes, to be drunk in moderation in water.


on festering in the ears, and deafness or stoppage.

Festering in the ears will be helped the most by instilling the root of the maza-yelli, seeds of the xoxouhqui-patli plant, some leaves of the tlaquilin with a grain of salt in hot water. Also the leaves of two bushes, rubbed up, are to be smeared below the ears; these bushes are called tolova and tlapatl; also the precious stones tetlahuitl, tlacalhuatzin, eztetl, xoxouhqui chalchihuitl, with the leaves of the tlatlanquaye tree macerated in hot water, ground together and put in the stopped up ears, will open them.


on catarrh, medicine to be put into the nostrils, the blood-stanching plants.


One who has running at the nose or a cold will be helped by smelling the plants a-toch-ietl and tzonpilihuiz-xihuitl, and the catarrh thus cured.

Medicine to be put into the nostrils

The iztac-patli plant is to be crushed in a little clear water and the juice dropped into the nostrils of one suffering from headache.

Blood-stanching plants

For nose-bleed the juice of nettles crushed as a lotion, with milk, infused into the nostrils will stop it.


tooth-polish, curation of swelling and festering gums, aching and decaying teeth with much heat, tumors and suppuration of the throat, angina, medicine to ease pain in the gullet, to bring back saliva when dry, when the saliva comes bloody, to allay a cough, to stop foul and offensive breath.

Tooth polish to shine the teeth

Rough teeth are to be diligently made smooth; the dirt being removed, they are to be rubbed with white ashes in white honey, using a small cloth, whereby elegant cleanness and real brightness will stay.

Cure of festering or swelling gums

Pains of the teeth and gums are allayed by scarifying and properly purifying the gums, while the seeds and root of the nettle, rubbed up with yolk of egg and white honey, are applied to the festered part.


Weak and decaying teeth are first to be punctured by a dead tooth. Then the root of the tall plant teo-nochtli is to be ground up and burned with deer's horn; these precious stones iztac-quetzaliztli, chichiltic tapachtli and a little poorly ground farina should be heated with salt; all these wrapped in a cloth are to be compressed on the teeth for a while, especially on those where the injury or trouble with the pain is felt severely. Finally white frankincense and the kind of ointment we call xochi-ocotzotl are burnt over the coals, with the odor whereof a coarse pad of cotton is impregnated, and then is kept moving frequently between the cheeks, so as best to reach the pain spot.

Overheated throat or pharynx

The leaves of the te-amoxtli, the tlanexti, with the root of the osiers called tol-patlactli, crushed in water, cool heat in the throat. With this is mixed the liquor of ground gold bronze or pyropus, and the stone ez-tetl, and then hold as much of this as can be, in the mouth inside the teeth, not passing it into the stomach.

Suppuration of roof of mouth and throat

Suppuration of the roof of the mouth and throat is cured by the root of the xal-tomatl, crushed together with the teamoxtli, white earth, small or sharp variegated stones that are gathered from a torrent, a-camallo-tetl, with Indian spikes poorly ground, the flowers of the huacal-xochitl and tlaco-izqui-xochitl, of which the juice is well squeezed and promptly poured into the throat.

Medicine to ease pain in the throat

The liquor of the small herbs tlanexti and teo-iztac-quilitl, that grow in stony places, crushed in honey with red and white earth, reduces pain in the throat, if lightly rubbed on with a finger inserted into the mouth.

Medicine to bring the saliva when dry

The saliva will flow and excessive thirst repressed if the acid herbs of the woodland, alectoria or the gems found in the maw of cocks, as also stated by Pliny, of crystalline appearance and the size of an Indian or Spanish bean, an Indian kite, a slain dove, are ground in clear water. Let one lacking saliva and immoderately thirsty swallow some of the liquor and hold as much as the mouth will contain. Also let the liquor of herbs macerated, the tetzmi-nopalli to-wit, and the tepe chian, be poured over the head; to avoid an error use the leaves only, not the plant itself.

For bloody saliva

For one spitting blood it is well to drink a potion made out of the root of the tlaco-xilo-xochitl, our pepper, the stones teo-xihuitl and chichiltic tapachtli, the bones of an ape, the red flinty stones you find on the bank of a river, white frankincense, the leaves of the huitz-colotli and the root of other plants whose tip is ruddy and small, crushing them in the whites of two eggs. Further to prepare the potion you should crush one root of the tlaco-xilo-xochitl, the leaves of the huitz-colo-xochitl and the root of another plant called xiuhtontli, the stone teo-xihuitl and the bone of an ape, burn pepper to ashes, crush together the chichiltic tapachtli and a stone found in the river, that is, in water; cook the bone in water with white frankincense, and then before a meal let him take one saucer of the potion thus prepared, for his drink. For one who spits out yellow mucus, take the malinalli plant, pine cypress and leaves of the plant eca-patli, squeezed in water or liquor containing ashes, or if it seems right in sour water; let the above be ground and cooked for a potion he is to drink; it is however to be diligently studied. This consumes the noxious humor.

Medicine to take away foul and fetid breath

The root and leaves of the plant called tlatlanquaye, red earth, white earth, the plants temamatlatzin and tlanextia xiuhtontli, ground and cooked in water with honey, suppress bad breath; the liquor, well strained, is further to be drunk before eating.


for cooling the heat of a swollen jaw, to cure one who cannot yawn for the pain, for scabs on the face or mouth, for scrofulous eruptions on the neck, dropsy, lameness or weakness of the hands.

Against the hiccups

For the hiccups take the root of the bush cohuatli, leaves of the plant mexix-quilitl, bark of the red pine, leaves of the aromatic tlatlanquaye plant, grind them in water and boil them; when well boiled mix white honey and let him drink moderately. Throw white frankincense and xochi-ocotzotl on the coals, soaking a pad of cotton with the odor, and with which the chest is to be heated. Leaves of cypress also, with the herbs papalo-quilitl and yyauhtli, are to be macerated in water, with the heated liquor whereof the chest is to be rubbed.

For a cough

If one is troubled by a cough, let him forthwith sip the boiled liquor of the tlaco-xilo-xochitl root skinned and ground up in water; using a part of this, with honey, to anoint the throat. If he spits blood also, let him take the same liquor as a drink before meals. It would help if he gnawed and chewed some of the said root, with honey. The root of the herb called tzopelicacococ, ground in tepid water is also of value for one with a cough; let him either drink the liquor or gnaw the root.

For swollen jaws

Swollen jaws are helped by taking in water the juice of crushed tememetla leaves, the pith of the te-xiyotl and white earth, the liquor whereof is sub-acid, with the gummy twigs bearing the glutinous tears we call nocheztli.

For those who cannot open the mouth the root of the tlatlacotic crushed in tepid water helps greatly; if he drinks this liquor, making him promptly vomit, the freed mucus will open the mouth.

For face scabs or freckles

To heal a scabby face, take the juice of crushed tlal-quequetzal, a-quahuitl and eca-patli in water of an acid savor, adding pigeons' excrement, as a wash.

For mouth sores

Scabs on the lips will be completely removed by a medicament made up of the tlal-mizquitl root, whose viscous drops or tears are condensed to the thickness of gum, the leaves of the eca-patli, nettle seeds, and pounded up leaves of the te-tezhuatic.


Excerpted from An Aztec Herbal by William Gates. Copyright © 2000 Bruce Byland. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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