Xochipilli : Intoxicating Scent.

Cover image : cacaloxochitl (Nahuatl raven – flower)(Plumeria rubra) or the Frangipani tree. This tree was highly prized in Aztec society. It was planted in the gardens of the elite classes of society and, amongst the Maya, plumeria was associated with deities representing life force and fertility. The flowers became strongly connected with a wide range of expressions of female sexuality (Zumbroich 2013).

Intoxication need not be an inebriating hallucinatory experience. The revelatory power of scent is well known.

The sensory input of aroma is processed through our brains limbic system. The limbic system is also responsible for both memory and emotion and it is through this connection that scent is able to trigger both memories and emotional reaction, sometimes quite powerfully. This also brings to mind the work of Avraham Sand (2012) who says of the sense of smell “smell has the capacity to take one back through a vast span of time and trigger vivid memories. Memories of significant past events and even memories from former lifetimes can be awakened by certain fragrances”.

Smell plays an important part in Biblical narratives. From the aromas of burnt offerings in the Old Testament through to the precious perfume used shortly before the Passion to anoint Christ; from Genesis II to Revelation XVIII there are more than 200 references to perfume, odour, and smell. In the Old Testament, God commanded the priests of Israel to continually burn aromatic incense on the golden altar inside the Holy of Holies. The incense associated with the people’s prayers was so pure and sacredly sweet to God that any deviation from what God had explicitly commanded was met with swift death, as Nadab and Abihu found out (Leviticus 10:1–2)(1).

  1. The Death of Nadab and Abihu. King James version 10. 1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. 2 And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. The New International translation is slightly differently worded. Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.

Fragrance has played a very important part in the spiritual traditions of the world, with no other material substance being so universally employed in spiritual practice.” (Worwood 1999). “From a philosophical point of view, aroma is something both physical and ethereal, linking the realm of the unknown and the known. Burning fragrant material sends a signal to the Gods

Worwood brings up an interesting premise in her work. Goddess worship (seemed) to be ubiquitous between 30,000 and 6000 BC. At around 6000 BC male gods began to appear on the scene. They started out as the sons of the goddesses, then became their consorts and eventually took over the main role.

Priestess of Delphi (1891) by John Collier, showing the Pythia sitting on a tripod with vapor rising from a crack in the earth beneath her. Image by John Collier – Art Gallery of South Australia Website, Public Domain

This is put forward as a move by the patriarchy to take over. There are echoes of Xochipilli here. Xochipilli (a male god) is intimately linked to Xochiquetzal (a female god) and has at various times been described as Xochiquetzals husband (1), consort (2), child, sibling (sometimes a twin) and even the other half of one gender fluid being (3). A cultural move from matriarchy to patriarchy? “As the official power and authority of women moved in spiritual matters dwindled , their area of influence became defined to that of oracle giving”. In ancient history (well the Greeks and Romans anyway) this was personified by the Oracle of Delphi. This Oracle, one of the most powerful women of the time, was known as Pythia, the “pythoness” (snake priestess?). This is all very interesting as it draws to mind (well, my mind anyway) that of the Cihuacoatl or the “snake woman” of the Aztecs. Cihuacoatl was a high ranking position, second only in power to the Tlatoani (4), and if I hadn’t mentioned it, was a position held by a man. The Cihuacoatl supervised the internal affairs of the city; he commanded the army of Tenochtitlan, oversaw sacrifices to the gods and was the senior advisor to the emperor (Miller etal 2003). In addition he was a member of the nobility, served as the supreme judge for the court system, appointed all lower court judges, and handled the financial affairs of the altepetl (4) (Aguilar-Moreno 2006). The serpent imagery and the level of power held by women bears further research as does the gender mixing of the Cihuacoatls male/female position.

  1. a married man considered in relation to his spouse (significant other in a marriage).
  2. a wife, husband, or companion, in particular the spouse of a reigning monarch.
  3. Xochipilli is also linked with being his own son. Piltzintecuhtli (as the 3rd Lord of the Night) is listed as being the young sun, the god of hallucinatory plants (as is Xochipilli) and as the father of Xochipilli. As Piltzintecuhtli he is known as 7 Flower and as Xochipilli he is known as 5 Flower (Macuilxochitl). As Piltzintecuhtli he is noted as being the husband of Xochiquetzal (which is interesting as Xochiquetzal is listed as being either Xochipillis wife, sister or the other half of the gender fluid being that is Xochipilli) and as of yet I am unable to see how one being can be their own husband, wife and child.
  4. Classical Nahuatl term for the ruler of an āltepētl, a pre-Hispanic state, in this case Tenochtitlan, the capital city of the Aztec empire.

I have digressed a little here. I do find the serpent imagery and its relation to female priesthood very interesting and it appears that women have been subjected to inequities in the workplace for quite the time. Demotions from Goddess to Oracle, positions being usurped by men and who can even know what the pay gap was.

Perhaps a bunch of flowers might smooth things over?

Berenice (Alcántara Rojas 2008) delves into the Aztec understanding of flowers in her work investigating the texts of Sahagun.

The Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún, in his work to remove the devil from the unwitting, soulless heathens of New Spain documented a massive amount of information about the daily lives of the Mesoamericans known as Aztecs. This knowledge was collated into twelve books and ended up being called the Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España (General history of the things of New Spain) or more commonly the “Florentine Codex”. This knowledge was accumulated with the assistance of Mexica scribes and artisans (1).

  1. this is important as these scribes and artisans undoubtedly imbued the work with their own worldview, whether deliberately or unconsciously.
Book 11 : Earthly Things

The Florentine codex contains a huge amount of botanical knowledge within its pages which covers everything from the botany of the plants to their agricultural, culinary, medicinal, commercial, social, recreational, political and religious usage.

Book eleven of Sahagúns work dedicates a section to flowering plants and trees. The work was structured in a similar manner to Renaissance herbariums and presented the plants by their Nahuatl names and synonyms, the morphology (1) of the plant, its habitat and its properties and uses. These plants were then depicted by “native” illustrators using the “botanic conventions of their time” (Alcántara Rojas 2008) and included; a line drawing of the profile of the entire plant, images emphasising the generic aspects of the flowers of the plant and “schematic descriptions of the flowers in their different stages of development” (2). It is these “schematic descriptions” (3) that interest me and will come up again shortly.

  1. plant morphology or phytomorphology is the study of the physical form and external structure of plants, whereas plant anatomy is the study of the internal plant structure, mostly at the cellular/microscopic level.
  2. this echos the theory that the statue of Xochipilli exhibits floral images depicting the same plant at different stages of flowering (from bud to blossom). See Post : Xochipilli : Is it a Dahlia?
  3. A schematic, or schematic diagram, is a representation of the elements of a system using abstract, graphic symbols rather than realistic pictures. A schematic usually omits all details that are not relevant to the key information the schematic is intended to convey, and may include oversimplified elements in order to make this essential meaning easier to grasp.

The use of flowers in Aztec society was ubiquitous. Sacred spaces, sacred images and ritual participants (1) were adorned with flowers (2) and these practices were still allowed to occur under the religion of the invader (although with a new Catholic interpretation/meaning of course). These rituals (or at least some form of them) (3) still occur amongst the Nahua peoples today. Flowers (and feathers) combined to make possible, via interrelated symbolical codes “the communion with other realms of reality, the manifestation of the divine through the human, the reconfiguration of time-space, and the reestablishment of social and political hierarchies” (all without being hallucinogenic) (Alcántara Rojas 2008).

  1. most notably the ixiptla (teoixiptla) who was the earthly representative of the deity. The Aztecs believed that the essence of a deity could be captured by a human impersonator, or ixiptla, of the god. This person was usually treated better than royalty (and usually sacrificed at the conclusion of the ritual)
  2. Such song-dance attire was so important that there were artists and ritual specialists involved in its creation : the women who made the clothing; the amanteca, or feather artists, who gave form to the feather garments; and the xochichiuhque, or “flower makers,” who were the professionals in charge of cutting, handling, and interlacing flowers and otherwise turning them into ritual settings, bouquets, mosaics, and garlands. These specialists also performed the service of offering their flowery creations to the participants of song-dance rituals and other festivities.
  3. See Post : Pericón : Tagetes lucida for information on how crosses made from the flowering branches of this plant are used in rituals to Tlaloc to protect crops from lightning and to protect homes, businesses and crossroads from el Chamuco (the Devil)

The festival of Atamalcualiztli (1) included a ritual in which all the gods, represented by their ixiptla, danced upon the earth so they could suck nectar of the tree in which grew “flowers of different kinds”. This ritual created a mythical time-space known as Tamoanchan.

  1. the eating of water tamales – a festival to the maize god Cinteotl that was held every eight years

Tamoanchan is one manifestation of the “flower world”. The flower world is an upper realm of reality (a “heaven”) which is “full of light, health, fire, war, singing and dancing”.

It is a world in which forces and powers manifested themselves among humankind through “coloured flowers and other brightly coloured and iridescent natural phenomena”(Alcántara Rojas 2008). The “richest expressions” of this flower world do not appear in Sahagúns writings but in later 16th Century doctrinal writings in which the Nahuatl songs of Sahagúns Psalmodia Christiana are penned (1).

  1. In Mexico City, 1583, Pedro Ocharte published the first book of vernacular sacred song in the Americas—the Psalmodia Christiana (Christian Psalmody) by Bernardino de Sahagún. Sahagún composed this book of 333 songs in the Nahuatl language during the second half of the sixteenth century to promote the formation of Catholic Mexica communities in the central valley of Mexico. Well-received in its day as a primer on tenets of the Catholic faith, the life of Christ, and the virtues of the saints, it was denounced before the Inquisition in the eighteenth century and has otherwise existed in the shadow of Sahagún’s monumental Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España.

These songs reveal the nature of the Mexica flower worlds and it is through these songs that an accurate reconstruction of the repertory of flowers that the Nahua associated with this “high and incandescent plain of reality” can be recreated. One of the attributes that all these flowers possess is the quality of producing “sweet fragrances with the capacity to affect the human nervous system and create altered states of consciousness, making possible a communication with supernatural powers and realms” (again all without being hallucinogens) (Burkhart 1992).

In the creation mythologies of Christianity there is a story of “original” sin.

The “original sin” and the downfall of mankind as imagined by Peter Paul Rubens
Geheugen van Nederland, Public Domain

Mankind lived in a paradise of plants and herbs that were all good to eat and were surrounded by flowers of great beauty and exquisite scent. This story of a mythical garden heaven mirrors in many ways that of Tamoanchan. At the heart of the garden of Edin (1) there lay a magical tree (well two actually but the story revolves around one tree in particular); in Tamoanchan there also sits a magical tree (2). When the Christian God created man he put his creation into the garden. Tamoanchan was the garden paradise where God (likely Queztalcoatl) created the first of the human race. All very interesting but let’s continue. Sand (2012) notes that the sense of smell was the only human attribute that was not corrupted by mans fall from Grace. This indicates that this link to the divine still powerfully resides within us and that certain scents have the ability to be able to transport us into different worlds (all without the need for hallucinogens?). This is where flowers, and a God of flowers of course, do not need to be driven by the need for a reductive western requirement of a measurable chemistry to be causative.

  1. usually Eden. Edin was the Sumerian name.
  2. Xochiquetzal was said to have eaten “forbidden fruit from an aphrodisiac tree (in Tamoanchan) and became the first female to submit to sexual temptation”. “Temptation” is a bit rich. Xochiquetzal was abducted from Tamoanchan and raped. See Post : Xochipilli and Homosexuality : Part 2 for a deeper explanation regarding this.
Xochitlicacan. The tree at the heart of Tamoanchan.

Lets investigate one Saint/God/Flower song. This one also contains feathers, which play a similarly important role in Mesoamerican culture.

One of these cantares (songs) has the Nahuatl names for the various flowers and it is these I wish to delve into.

These flowers are highly important within the religion of the Nahua and as such present a (non hallucinogenic) series of options for the imagery that might adorn an important deity of plants and flowers such as Xochipilli.

(the flower names have been highlighted in BOLD and the European names for these are listed under the cantare)

On the Day of the Stigmata of Blessed Francis

The various kinds of flowers lie giving off much fragrance.

In eloxochitl, in cacahuaxochitl, in mecaxochitl, lie extended over all the land. Alleluia!

The cacahuaxochitl, the colored izquixochitl, spread about sparking, lie blossoming. Alleluia! Alleluia!

They stand bending with quetzal feather dew, there on the mountaintop, in the place called Mount La Verna.

May your hearts be filled, you children!

May our hearts bloom with the red tecomaxochitl, with the eloxochitl!

Red tecomaxochitl lie dawning with roses there on the mountaintop.

A great marvel happened there to God’s loved one, to our father Saint Francis!

  • Cacahuaxochitl – Quararibea funebris
  • Eloxochitl – Magnolia schiedanae (and yolloxochitl – another magnolia)
  • Tecomaxochitl.: a member of the nightshade family, cup of gold (Solandra nitida) or wild cotton (Cochlospermum vitifolium)
  • Mecaxochitl – the flowers of Piper amalago, a small vine related to Piper nigrum; Mecaxochitl (rope flower)(cord flower).  Also knwn as Yerba Santa, Mexican Pepper Leaf, or Piper auritum.  There are many species of piper referred to as Mecaxochitl, like Piper amalago, these are used interchangeably with other species across the Americas.
  • Izquixochitl. : a tree that produces fragrant white flowers (Bourreria huanita), or the term/word can be used to describe any of a number of plants and trees that produce clusters of white flowers

The Flowers

Cacahuaxochitl – Quararibea funebris

Also called : Rosita de Cacao, Flor de Cacao, Madre Cacao Aztec names: Poyomatli, Xochicacaohuatl, Flor Cacahuaxochitl, Cacaoxochitl, bastidos, batidos (Belize); canela (Mexico); cincho, coco mama (Belize); cocomama, cocomana (Honduras); flor de cacao (Mexico); garroche (Costa Rica); madre de cacao, maricacao, molinillo (Mexico); moro (Guatemala); palanco (Costa Rica); palo capado, palo de molinillo (Mexico); pataste (Nicaragua).

The best known local (Mayan) name is molinillo (also called sapotillo). A molinillo is a traditional turned wood whisk used in Latin America, as well as the Philippines, where it is also called a batirol or batidor. Its use is principally for the preparation of hot beverages such as hot chocolate, atole, cacao, and champurrado.

It was known in Mesoamerica by names of PoyomatliXochicacaohuatl or Cacahuaxochitl. These words literally mean, “flower of cacao” even though the plant is not botanically related to cacao. The Aztecs used its highly pungent flowers to flavour their chocolate drinks.

A molinillo is the name for the traditional kitchen implement used to mix hot chocolate and create the foam on the top of the drink (the ability to do which is considered to be somewhat of a skill)
Image by Y! Música – originally posted to Flickr as Molinillos para el chocolate, CC BY 2.0

The common name, madre de cacao, refers to any tree that is commonly used as shade for cacao orchids or plantations

Besides flavouring incense, tobacco, chocolate and desserts, the flowers of this plant were used for preserving food and bodies. The fragrance stays with the dried flowers for decades and because of this they were used for funeral ceremonies and were found in crypts to still be fragrant after many years.

Eloxochitl

A magnolia, (possibly) Magnolia schiedanae or Magnolia dealbata

Eloxochitl bark has been used as a treatment for nervios (Gutiérrez etal 2014). The bark from stems, branches, and roots is used medicinally. This herb was first described in the Shennong Bencao Jing (2) around 100 A.D. I have no doubt that the Mexicans were already using this herb by then. The bark is one of the most important traditional herbal medicines in China and Japan used to treat clinical depression and anxiety-related disorders (Nakazawa et al. 2003).

  1. a wide range of symptoms affecting Latino groups in the United States and Latin America (the word literally means “nerves”) and attributed to stressful and difficult life experiences and circumstances. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, concentration difficulties, sleep disturbances, stomach upsets, and tingling sensations; mental disorder may or may not be present. See Post Pericón : Tagetes lucida for more information on Nervios
  2. a Chinese book on agriculture and medicinal plants, traditionally attributed to mythological Chinese ruler Shennong.

Yolloxochitl

from the Nahuatl “yollotl” – heart/life/spirits, and “xochitl” – flower

Magnolia mexicana or Talauma mexicana

A tree from the Magnolia family that is native to Central America. it is still used medicinally in Mexico by curanderos who use it for its effects on the emotional system for illnesses that have no equivalent in allopathic medicine. Conditions such heart “ache”, (nervios) “nerves”, (susto or espanto) “fright sickness” and “melancholy”. These treatments definitely fall into the category of “heart” (and its illnesses)(1). The heart name is also said to come from the (superficial) resemblance of the unopened flower bud to that of the human heart.

  1. See Posts What is Curanderismo?; Pericón : Tagetes lucida; Mexixquilitl; Papalo and Pipicha. Skunk Weed?; Quillquina : Porophyllum ruderale; Pápaloquelite : Porophyllum macrocephalum; and Glossary of Terms used in Herbal Medicine as each of these expounds on the subject of susto (and its more serious incarnation “espanto”)
Via alchetron.com

Tecomaxochitl

Solandra maxima (syn S.nitida)

This is the only overtly “hallucinogenic” plant in the cantare.

The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications (1) notes tecomaxochitl as Solandra guerrerensis Martinez (also called huipatli, hueypahtli) and Solandra nitida is called cutaquatzitziqui or  copa de oro and notes that “To non-botanists, these species are difficult if not impossible to distinguish” and that  “The Indians regard them as equivalent”.

  1. this resource was the primary source for much of the following information on S.maxima

The genus was named for the Swede D. C. Solander (1736–1786), a student of Linnaeus and a companion on the journeys of Captain Cook (1).

  1. Captain Cook was famous for “discovering” Australia in 1770 (much as Columbus “discovered” the Americas). He is also attributed with discovering both the cause and cure of scurvy. Scurvy, the severe deficiency of Vitamin C, was responsible for killing huge amounts of people who ventured out on sea voyages lasting more than a couple of months. Cooks voyages were the first time (in recorded Western history) that no sailors were lost to scurvy on trips that lasted many months (Kodicek & Young 1969)

The ethnobotany of this genus has been only poorly studied, as the plants are often associated with witchcraft and harmful magic and their uses are consequently kept secret and suppressed. It is possible that the Solandra shamanism of central Mexico may be older than the peyote cult, which arose in northern Mexico however it is not known how ancient the ritual use of this plant is.

In Mexico, these folk names are used for all of the species in the genus (Martínez 1966): arbol del viento, bolsa de Judas (Spanish, “bag of Judas”), bolute, chalice vine, copa de oro (Spanish, “cup of gold”), cútacua (Tarascan), cutaquatzitziqui, floripondio del monte (Spanish, “angel’s trumpet of the forest”), goldkelch, hueipatl, hueypatli, hueytlaca, itzucuatziqui, k’äni bäk’el (Lacandon,“yellow bone/scent”), kieli, kiéli, kieri, kiéri (Huichol, “tree of the wind”), lipa-catu-hue (Chontal), ndari (Zapotec), perilla, tetona, tima’ wits (Huastec, “jicara decorated gourd flower”), tree of the wind, windbaum, wind tree, xochitecómatl (Nahuatl).

A tea can be made from the stalks. The fresh stalks can be pressed to obtain a juice; “the shoot juice of Solandra maxima [S. nitida] is an inebriant of the Mexican Indians”. Unfortunately, no information is available concerning dosages.

In colonial Mexico, Indians used the cup of gold to add zest to their cacao drinks. I’m not sure how this “zest” relates to intoxication; alcoholic, hallucinogenic, or otherwise.

The cup of gold is noted as only rarely used as a shamanic trance drug, and that ethnographic reports are few and far between. The Huasteca are said to still ingest the flowers of Solandra nitida ritually and to place the scented flowers on altars as an offering.

Sometimes the hallucinogenic use of Solandra is regarded as a sure sign of sorcery, witchcraft, and black magic (Knab 1977)(Furst 1995). On the other hand, some Huichol say that this plant opens their mind for the “highest levels of enlightenment.”

It has been said that merely inhaling the scent can produce entheogenic states. The Lacandon (Maya) say that the scent has erotic effects and awakens sexual desire. This is simply one example where the scent of the plant (rather than its physical ingestion and its chemistry) is the inebriating factor.

Some Huichol say that people are not allowed to ingest the plant but may only be exposed to its scent. Even the scent is capable of inducing trance, and the Huichol use it as a spiritual guide into mystical domains (Valadez 1992) After a period of fasting they climb a mountain to find a flowering plant and they spend the night near the scented plant, inhaling its perfume and showing the bush their respect and attention (1). While they sleep, they hope to receive meaningful visionary dreams in which they will be able to find messages. Intoxication without physical ingestion. This is the basis of this particular line of enquiry. Why must Xochipillis plants need to be transformative through chemical hallucination? Why is it that altered states of consciousness require anything other that the etherealness of divine perfume?

  1. This is quite interesting as there are warnings against locating either Datura or Brugmansia species plants (well known for their ability to provide extreme intoxication – to the point of delirium and death) close to sleeping areas (i.e. outside your bedroom window) because they have the ability to “invade and affect your dreams” when they are flowering.

WARNINGS

In Mexico, the cup of gold is used in folk medicine primarily as a love drink and aphrodisiac. Warnings against overdoses are common: one can dry out and die from an excessive sex drive. The Huastec use the rainwater or dew that has collected in the buds of Solandra nitida as eye-drops to improve sight. A tea made from the flowers is drunk to treat coughing (Yasumoto 1996).

In Mexico, Solandra nitida is regarded as poisonous. A tea made from one flower induced a “toxic psychosis” in an adult, who required thirty-six hours to make a complete recovery. Internal administration of Solandra preparations can lead to severe hallucinations, delirium, delusions. The spectrum of effects is very similar to that of Brugmansia sanguinea (and one of its common names – floripondo – refers to the Brugmansia species)

Smoking the flowers and/or leaves produces effects that are more subtle but still clearly psycho-active and aphrodisiac and generally very similar to the effects produced by smoking other solanaceous night-shades (Brugmansia, Datura).

The Queensland Government (Australia) Children’s Health website notes of this plant : All parts of the plant are thought to be toxic. If ingested, symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headache, dilated pupils, temperatures and delirium. For all eye exposures rinse the eye with water for 15 minutes and then seek urgent medical assistance. Seek medical assistance for all ingestions.

Solandra maxima
By Hedwig Storch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

There is some confusion over the potential identification of tecomaxochitl. It is variously described as…

  • the Nahuatl word tecomaxochitl, which was applied by the indigenous peoples of Mexico to plants with tubular (or trumpet shaped) flowers (Quattrocchi 2000) including those of the brugmansia species
  • a member of the nightshade family, cup of gold (Solandra nitida) or wild cotton (Cochlospermum vitifolium) (https://nahuatl.uoregon.edu/content/tecomaxochitl)
  • Tecoma is a contracted form of the Aztec word “Tecomaxochitl” meaning a flower resembling a certain earthenware vessel (Gentry 1969)(Seeman 1863)

The tecomate vessel

The vessel type is known as a tecomate (“gourd”), named after the gourds that inspired their original form. Some of the earliest ceramic vessels in Mesoamerica took the form of gourds captured in the more durable material of fired clay. Tecomates were important receptacles for community feasts, and many were subsequently placed in burials as important funerary offerings.

This gourd was also used to make the drinking vessel known as a jicara

Other potential tecomaxochitls

Each of the plants listed as tecomaxochitl is quite different from the other in the case of its use.

Cochlospermum vitifolium

Actions : Antioxidant, antimalarial, antifungal, antibacterial, antibiotic, antidiabetic, anti-Inflammatory, , , antidepressant

Conditions treated : Malaria, Ulcer, Inflammation, Hepatitis, Stomach Ulcer, Diabetes Mellitus, Gastritis, Neoplasms, Arthritis, Asthma

Tecoma stans

Actions : Antidiabetic, Antifungal, Antioxidant, Anti Inflammatory, Antibacterial, Antibiotic, Anticancer, Antidote, Analgesic, Antiviral

Conditions treated : Inflammation, Diabetes Mellitus, Neoplasms, Diabetes Mellitus Type 2, Necrosis, Hyperglycaemia, Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, Atrophy, Breast Neoplasms, Hypersensitivity, Oedema (1), Fever, Headache, Diarrhoea, Jaundice (2), Toothache

  1. Oedema (edema) is a form of fluid retention. It used to be called dropsy. Oedema can be most easily seen around the ankles after you’ve been standing (peripheral oedema). After lying down for a while, your eyes may look puffy and swollen. In severe cases, oedema can also collect in your lungs and make you short of breath (or be indicative of congestive heart failure)
  2. Jaundice is a condition in which the skin, whites of the eyes and mucous membranes turn yellow because of a high level of bilirubin, a yellow-orange bile pigment. Jaundice has many causes, including hepatitis, gallstones and tumours.
Pitting oedema. This is one of the symptoms of congestive heart failure. Fluid accumulates in the lower limbs and, when pressed, a “pit” will stay in the flesh for an extended period. This symptom may also occur as a result of venous insufficiency, kidney problems, low protein levels, liver problems, deep vein thrombosis, infections, angioedema, certain medications, and lymphedema.
Image by James Heilman, MD – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Brugmansia (aurea)

Actions : Anticholinergic, Antifungal, Analgesic, Anticancer, Antioxidant, Antibacterial, Tonic, Antibiotic, Anti Inflammatory, Antiviral

Conditions treated : Mydriasis (1), Necrosis, Tachycardia (2), Neoplasms (3), Inflammation, Atrophy, Asthma, Hypotension (4), Respiratory Insufficiency, Rheumatic Diseases,

Overdose symptoms : Delirium, Hallucinations, Anisocoria (unequal pupil sizes), Seizures, Cough, Dizziness

  1. unusual dilation or widening of the pupils – also a symptom of its use
  2. Tachycardia is the medical term for a heart rate over 100 beats per minute. There are many heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias) that can cause tachycardia. Sometimes, it’s normal for you to have a fast heartbeat. Tachycardia is treatable.
  3. An abnormal mass of tissue that forms when cells grow and divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Neoplasms may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer),  
  4. low blood pressure

Back to the cantare and its flowers.

Mecaxochitl

Piper species – although I have (on a couple of occasions) (1)( 2) seen the name used to describe the vanilla orchid Vanilla planifolia.

  1. http://lilianausvat.blogspot.com/2014/03/aztecs-trees-and-gardens-and-medicinal.html
  2. https://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/health/herbal-medicine-aztec-style

The images below are of the vanilla orchid. They bear a number of resemblances to the image of mecaxochitl as pictured in the Badianus manuscript (image above left). Other texts have similar imagery (image above right) identified as mecaxochitl. In this image (found in the Nova plantarum etal 1651) it says of mecaxochitl “Mecaxochitl is a coiled plant two to three inches long, creeping across the ground, bearing large leaves, greasy, rounded, fragrant, and keen of flavour. the stems are smooth, twisted, and are light, rushing along the ground. and having sprung up around each of the leaves, the roots grow fibrous, equal in hair. The fruit of the pepper is very similar to the long pepper (Piper longum). It is hot in the fourth degree, it strengthens the heart, warms the stomach”. This is only a partial translation as my Latin is non-existent and some of the Google translation makes no sense. The description is of a sprawling low growing plant which is quite different to that of the vanilla orchid which is a climbing vine like plant (which I guess could “sprawl” if it didn’t have a tree to climb).

Most other texts refer to vanilla as being Tlilxochitl (from tlīlli (“black ink”) +‎ xōchitl (“a flower”), after the dark colour of the vanilla bean). Tlilxuchitl. : vanilla orchids (literally, black flowers). Although this literally means ‘black flower’ the blossom is yellow, while the pod, or vanilla bean, is black. https://nahuatl.uoregon.edu/content/tlilxochitl

The various “Pipers” (or possible Mecaxochitls)

Piper amalago. This plant is noted in Mayan ethnobotany (1) as being mecaxochitl (also mecasuchiles, Higuillo de limón and string flower)

  1. https://www.maya-ethnobotany.org/FLAAR-Reports-Mayan-ethnobotany-Iconography-epigraphy-publications-books-articles-PowerPoint-presentations-course/1_Mayan-ethnobotany-iconography-plants-food-fruits-sacred-flowers-trees-Guatemala_FLAAR-annual-report-2010-2011.pdf

Piper auritum (Hoja Santa)

Also called :

English: eared pepper, anise piper, root beer plant
Spanish: hoja santa, anisillo, sabalero, hoja de la estrella, hoja de anis, allacuyo, yerba santa
Aztec: tlanapaquelite
Other: Hawaiian sakau, false sakau, false kava (Pohnpei)

Hernandez (1615) in his work Quatro libros de la naturaleza, y virtudes de las plantas, y animales identifies mecaxochitl as being Hoja Santa.

It is often used in Mexican cuisine for tamales, the fish or meat wrapped in fragrant leaves for cooking, and as an essential ingredient in Mole Verde. It is used to flavour soups and eggs. In Central Mexico, it is used to flavour chocolate drinks. It loses much of its flavour when dried.

The Aztecs used this plant for its stimulant, analgesic, and stomachic actions. It was said to be used for asthma, bronchitis, laryngitis, and apnoea (1). Other sources in Spanish reveal that these properties are still considered valid today and that it is used topically for skin irritations as well as for placing leaves (which have been macerated in alcohol) on the breasts of lactating women as a galactagogue (to increase breast milk production). As an infusion, it is drunk to stimulate digestion and to calm colic. It is said to have diuretic and anaesthetic properties as well. A homeopathic tincture of hoja santa is often employed for bronchial infections and asthma.

  1. Apnoea (apnea) is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. It is the cessation of breathing. During apnoea, there is no movement of the muscles of inhalation, and the volume of the lungs initially remains unchanged. Voluntarily doing this is called “holding your breath”. Apnoea can be involuntary—for example, drug-induced (such as by opiate toxicity), mechanically induced (for example, by strangulation or choking), or a consequence of neurological disease or trauma. During sleep, people with severe sleep apnoea can have over thirty episodes per hour every night. Apnoea can also be observed during periods of heightened emotion, such as during crying or accompanied by the Valsalva manoeuvre (a forceful attempt of exhalation against a open airway, usually done by closing one’s mouth and pinching one’s nose shut while expelling air out as if blowing up a balloon) when a person laughs. Apnoea is a common feature of sobbing while crying, characterised by slow but deep and erratic breathing followed by brief periods of breath holding. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apnea)

In the United States, the FDA has been less kind. Because, like sassafras, it contains the essential oil safrole, which is known to be carcinogenic in animals, some sources consider it to be toxic. As an ingredient, safrole was banned in the 1960s and the making of root beer extract now uses artificial flavourings. However, Wikipedia states however that “there are no adequate studies elucidating the relationship between exposure to safrole and human cancers.” There is very little danger when using this plant culinarily. It might become a problem if you eat large amounts of it on a daily basis (much like epazote) and the danger primarily comes from the essential oil of the plant (much like epazote). See Post Epazote for more info on this particular herb.

Piper nigrum (Black Pepper)

No explanation needed really

Izquixochitl

Bourreria huanita

also called esquisúchil, popcorn flower, roasted corn flower

Fray Diego de Duran lists izquixochitl as a tree so important to the Aztecs that the emperor had them imported for the imperial garden.
The flower was one of the flavourings for cacao among the Aztec and was as prized as vanilla for this use.

(this “cantare” is really starting to sound more like an exotic chocolate recipe to me)

This flower often served as an adornment for the Goddess Xochiquetzal who Zumbroich (2014) notes as being the “husband” of Xochipilli. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in Zumbroich’s work. This paper involves the plumeria species (what I know as frangipani), another highly perfumed flower important to the Aztecs. In it Zumbroich relates Mayan “flower lords” (nikte’ ajaw) to Xochipilli. A flower lord transforms himself into a hummingbird (a manifestation of Ppizlimtec) who then proceeds to penetrate and inseminate the “five petalled flower”, nikte’, who Zumbroich equates to Macuil-Xochitl (Five Flower) a “nahua goddess embodying the attraction of a nubile woman”. This work adds a fair amount of confusion to the story. It is most definitely one of botanical fertility. There is a little gender bending going on as Macuil- Xochitl (1) is a manifestation of Xochipilli and this is the first I have seen this name (Macuilxochitl) being associated with a female personage (2). Sautron, in her work (2007) notes the same use of the flower as an adornment for Xochiquetzal and points out that, as a protector of the ahuianime (2) she offers this plant as a protection against the sexually transmitted disease syphilis

  1. Macuil-Xochitl is an ahuiateteo, one of the five macuiltonaleque. These were a group of five Aztec gods of excess and pleasure. See Post : Xochipilli. The Prince of Flowers for more information on the Ahuiateteo and Macuiltonaleque.
  2. Though not the first where Xochipilli is identified as female
  3. The ahuianime were a kind of sex worker (this is a very reductive explanation). See Post : La Malinche for more information on the ahuianime

Lets do a Wasson and try fit a plant into a theory.

One of the most highly scented plants I write of, and possibly the entire reason for this blog, is that of papaloquelite. When this plant is described it is generally by it scent. “You know you are nearing the market when you detect is aroma“. Some varieties are described by the scents ability to penetrate stone walls. Powerful stuff indeed. papaloquelite is also strongly linked to butterflies. Sacrifices to him may consist of flowers and butterflies (no human hearts required) and the base of Xochipillis statue is said to represent a butterfly feeding on a flower; which Wasson identifies as being a stylised diagram made from cross section images of a mushroom cap.

Wasson does go on to wonder as to “why the butterfly” but then goes on to blithely explain that the “butterfly is (obviously) feasting on the flesh of the divine mushrooms, the spirit food of the gods, to whose world the mushrooms transport for a brief spell the people of this sad work-a-day world”. This seems to me more a display of Wassons dissatisfaction with his own work-a-day world and his own dreaming process rather than solid science. It also smacks somewhat of the complaints made often when speaking of an “authentic” expression of an ethnic cuisine or “authenticity” in tourism where (often white people) are disparaged for exoticizing a country/cuisine/people and wanting these things to adhere to a romanticised version of that country/cuisine/people/fashion/tattoos/music etc etc.

As for the botanical descriptions put forward by Wasson lets have a look at a single one. Depicted on Xochipillis right shin and hovering over his right kidney are two (possibly interrelated)(1) floral images of Heimia salicifolia.

  1. it has been noted by some that the plants on Xochipilli might represent (at least) one plant that has been depicted at various levels of maturity. i.e. bud and flower. See Post : Xochipilli : Is it a Dahlia?

Now admittedly in the drawings Wasson provides (above : image on Left) there are similarities between the flower buds. In other botanical drawings (below : image on left) these similarities diminish (and they bear no relevance to the fully bloomed flower at all). Artistic license? At least in the image supplied by Wasson as being the “emerging bud” (above : image on Right) he questions his identification. We can only assume that this then is a theory still in the theoretical stage.

Other images (below) are possibly(?) closer.

I still however remained to be convinced.

Now lets look at another possible ident. Papalo

If we compare Wassons work with the images in the Badianus manuscript there are definite correlations. The image (below Left) of papaloquilitl is very similar (if not a mirror image) of Wassons “emerging bud” (image above Left) and the blooming porophyllum flower (image below Middle) do bear similarities (particularly if you take into consideration the translating of a drawn image to a sculpted stone one). We must also bear in mind that (as pointed out earlier) that Aztec botanical drawing was not done strictly for accuracy but to emphasise particular aspects of a plant. (If I squint a little) I can definitely see correlations between these two flowers.

The third image (below Right) is of a porophyllum flower from the same manuscript. You can see the differences between the artists styles.

When we get to photos of flowers from the same species the resemblance does drift somewhat from the botanical drawings but there are definite correlations.

There are more than a few problems with my theory of course but that is my point. Wassons work (which is largely taken as gospel these days) is a nicely romantic exoticisation of a culture that was little understood by him and he has shoehorned hallucinogenic plants into the mythology of a god (that he seems to have understood even less) where perhaps there was little or no connection. Does this count as colonisation?

This is by no means an exhaustive investigation. It does point out that with a little “creative interpretation” that “facts” can be moulded to fit a theory or that “only the facts deemed relevant” make their way into the theory.

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