Sold at Traditional Mexican Markets
Medicinal herbs sold in Jalpan, Querétaro
Traditional herbs sold in Jalpan, Querétaro
A list of all the herbs and items that Mexicans use for medicinal purposes would fill hundreds of pages. Maximino Martínez's outdated, fragmentary, but still much-used Las plantas medicinales de Mexico  is 659 pages long. Surely important natural cures are being forgotten every day as old traditions die away. The few medicinal herbs mentioned below can only hint at what might be found by anyone browsing among mercado herb stalls.

Many of the herbs in Mexican herb stalls have been introduced from other continents. This reminds us that more than Mexican-mercado herb stalls being museumlike vestiges of the past, they are serious "people's pharmacies" where people go for traditional cures, either because they believe in the cures, or because that's all they can afford.

When you study Mexican herbal remedies, notice how often the Doctrine of Signatures is in evidence. This is the principle that a plant indicates its use for human beings by its shape, behavior, odor, or some other natural feature. Thus an infusion of doradilla, the little resurrection plant growing on rocks and perhaps giving the impression that is breaking up the rock, is used traditionally by Mexicans to break up kidney and gall stones. Hierba de la golondrina, a euphorbia with milky-white latex oozing from any breaks inflicted on its skin, is used to cure eye diseases of the sort characterized by a milky opaqueness spreading across the lens.

Finally, please heed this warning: Use only as people who know tell you to use them. Do not experiment with these. Very often an herb that is medicinal in one dosage is poisonous in others. Some of these herbs are extremely potent!

ajo -- a braided hand of garlic

One medicinal plant deserves special mention. Anyone seeing the number of stalls a good-size mercado devotes to...

ajo, or garlic, will be impressed by how important Mexicans seem to regard this bulb. Most garlic of course is destined for culinary use, but the traditional Mexican pharmacopoeia also grants garlic an eminent place.

Garlic juice is applied to scorpion stings and spider bites. Garlic taken internally is regarded by many as a stimulant to the body in general, and traditionally has been used to control hypertension and arteriosclerosis. For these latter purposes several cloves are mashed, the paste is placed in a glass, and just enough drinking alcohol is added to cover it. Every day for a week the glass's contents is stirred. Finally it is strained, and then after every meal five drops are taken. The next week the dosage is doubled, and every week this doubling is continued, until arriving at twenty drops per dosage. After a week of twenty drops, the dosage is diminished to fifteen drops for a week, and then ten and five drops on subsequent weeks. At the end of the second five-drop week, the treatment is ended.