4. Native Flora


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4.1. Fruits

Pitahaya [Cereus trigonis],1 Ychivo in Opata, is foremost among the wild fruits of Sonora, equally relished by Spaniards and gente de razón2 as well as the aborigines. It is available from the latter part of May through June and July. It grows on a plant with thick, tall stalks similar to Paschal candles except that they are octagonal, green, and well provided with thorns not at all different from the quills of the hedgehog. It has no leaves or branches but off-shoots, one from another, decreasing in thickness proportionately and similar in structure to the one that serves as trunk. From the stalks or shoots, white or somewhat purplish flowers arise which wither in about fifteen days, and the developing bud, attached to the stalk without a stem, remains green until it reaches the size of a hen's egg, sometimes much larger. Then it turns dark red, a sign that the fruit is ripe. There is so much of this fruit that the natives gather it both for themselves and to sell. There are many ways to prepare it. Its sweet flavor is not disagreeable, even to outsiders.

The fruit itself is covered with spines, and to remove them requires the stolid, patient temperament of the natives. This done, the thin rind is opened. The thinner the rind, the more savory the fruit.


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The inside is all meat interspersed with innumerable tiny seeds on the order of mustard, but the whole is edible.

The saguaro,3 which I have seen only in the Pimería Alta, has a taller and thicker stalk than the plant which bears the pitahaya, but the fruits of these plants differ only in that the saguaro's is sweeter than the pitahaya.

Next in importance is the tuna [prickly pear], nabú in Opata, Indian fig in Spain. It is the fruit of the nopal [Cactus opuntia], nacó in Opata. This plant, as the preceding ones, grows wild but would do better if cultivated. Two crops are gathered from the nopal, the first during March and April. The tender sprouts, called nopalitos, are cut, boiled and dried. Because of their tartness, they are used as relish for pinole.4 The second harvest is that of the fruit itself, the tuna, which when ripe is found in different sizes and colors.5 Since the fruit is well known in Spain, I will omit is description. I do say that the tuna, because it brings on fevers, etc., is not so healthful as the pitahaya.6

Of the palm tree family, there is one called sot by the Opatas that bears fruit called dátiles weighing one or two pounds, but the trees do not grow everywhere.7 Other species of fruit-bearing palms, generically called tacos and tacut in Opata, are of two types: the first has fruit about the size of a pigeon's egg. This fruit, called viviso in Opata, has a stone-like seed that is occasionally used in the making of buttons.


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And the other, known as jovegue, bears a better quality of fruit that is smaller.8

And not to be left out is the palmito [palmetto, fan palm]. The natives eat the center portion of the trunk. First they strip away the palm leaves. From these they make mats called petates, hipet in Opata. Then they clear away the layer of shag which is found matted among the fronds, and after peeling the hard and horny covering off the trunk, they reach the edible part that weighs as much as twenty-five pounds. This, raw or warmed over a fire, provides food for four or six people. It is said that it tastes like coconut, something I cannot confirm because I have not eaten any.

The mezcal, vitzo in Opata, is an agave [century plant] similar to maguey [Agave atrovirens] but smaller, having flat, wide, long, pointed leaves, each armed with a sharp spine at the top. From the leaves stripped of pulp muleteers obtain a very good fiber called pita [agave fiber, hemp] that is known as pita de España in Europe. Leaves sprout out of the stalk. And poor folk get food in times of scarcity by roasting the stalk. Ordinarily it is the nourishment of those who are little inclined to work.

By roasting and mashing the stalk, then placing it in water which is brought to a boil, a very good liquor is made. Some have attempted to give this liquor a bad reputation by saying it is injurious to the health of humans, but I as an eyewitness can truthfully testify that there are individuals nearly one hundred years old who I know favor a swallow of it now and then. Therefore, I have reached the conclusion that its moderate use causes no harm. As it is with all strong drink, it is imbibing in excess that is a vice. I make this assertion because I wish to establish the truth. This liquor, when applied externally to wounds or bruises caused by blows or falls, is very efficacious. There are a thousand other uses. The virtues of it are too many to enumerate. Of this plant, the buds, commonly called quiotes9 in Sonora and varet in Opata, as well as the buds of the palmilla [Yucca elata, soap-tree yucca], corogue in Opata, are edible when roasted. When in season these and sugarcane [Sacharum officinarum],


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which is sucked,10 are the only provisions that the natives carry on their journeys.

There is another plant resembling the palmilla. Although the top is as large, the spread of its leaves is much smaller. It is called lechuguilla, cu in Opata.11 It has the same uses and effects as the palmilla when it is processed the same way. As for eating, the lechuguilla has more meat and is sweeter but somewhat biting.

The maqui12 belongs in this group and provides the everyday bread for the Jovas. Its roots resemble those of the sweet potato [camote or batata]. Its skin is grayish, but the meat is white. While very poisonous if eaten raw,13 causing death to the partaker, if it is boiled two or three times, each time in different water until it ceases to froth, it can be eaten safely. This is similar to the cassava of Puerto Rico, Campeche, and Cuba, except that the maqui is less coarse or woody. After the two or three boilings it is pounded and boiled again until a sort of dough settles at the bottom. This mass is then kneaded into loaves, tamales, or tortillas and cooked on cajetes.14 It is the daily bread of these Indians, and they prefer it in spite of their having abundant crops of maize, wheat, and other grains. The leaves of this plant are large and divided like the fingers of a hand, and the lance-like sections, with spines at the sides, are also used. After being mashed by pounding, the mass is left to rot a little. Then it is spread upon mats, dried in the sun, and stored for future use, at which time the mass is boiled again and eaten with pinole.

The same use is made of temaqui,15 the white root similar to the


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root of parsley but not so straight. The plant reaches the size of clover, but its leaves are more fissured and drooping. It puts forth a yellow flower during April. The natives eat this flower as a delicacy or just for fun as they do the fruit called toviri which is like a small, half-grown peach. The root is wholesome food without the danger of maqui for Indians as well as for destitute and impoverished Spaniards. Tortillas, atole, and pozole16 are made of temaqui, and those who use it claim it is good for stews. Thus, the land of Sonora provides for its residents abundantly, even for those who have not the mettle to till its soil.

The mezquite tree [Prosopis juliflora], quiot in Opata, is found throughout the hot and temperate regions of the province. The natives harvest these trees twice a year, the first being in April when the pods are tender. They are boiled and dried for later use in their stews. The second harvest is in June when the pods, called péchitas, have ripened. Some are eaten at the time of picking, but the greater portion is saved to make atole and other dishes. The mezquite gives off an edible gum, quio-chucat in Opata, similar to the gum or jelly of Michoacán. It also gives off quio-possore, a sap employed in the treatment of sores. Quio-possore is used in place of blue vitriol.

On the crags of mountains, canyons, and ravines a good-sized tree grows that thrusts its roots into the rocky fissures. Its bark is yellowish while the leaves resemble those of the poplar17 but longer. Its fruit looks and tastes like the common fig. Both fruit and tree are called sassata. Some believe this tree to be the suelda-consuelda [comfrey, either Chroccoca alba or Symphytum officinali] or the tescalama


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[Ficus potislaris]. If a young petiole is broken, it exudes a milky fluid so effective as a medicine that I have seen contusions and fractures healed with it. Once a crazed cow attacked an Indian, crushing his clavicle and badly bruising the tissue. Almost dead, he was taken home on a litter, but following the application of this remedy he recovered so completely that he, who I thought would remain crippled for life, returned to his job as baker at the Huásabas Mission18 and is still there.

The garambullo, güero in Opata, is a small cactus [Cereus garambullo] that does not have the edible center of the agave. It blooms from April to June, and its fruit is used as a febrifuge.

The wild grape [Ampelocissus acapulcensis] grows in damp ravines, climbing over willow, poplar, and mesquite trees. In Spanish it is known as uva silvestre, in Opata, huragüe. It bears a small, reddish-yellow fruit which ripens in May and June, long before the cultivated varieties, and is about the size of a garbanzo or alberjón.19 Although they contain little nourishment, both the fruit and the leaves are eaten by the natives. The fruit is quite acid and occasionally is used to make vinegar and even wine.

The Mexican elder [Sambucus mexicana] is a fairly common tree in both Pimerías. From its berries the Altos make a beverage so potent that those who drink it to excess get so drunk that it takes two or three days to sober up. Believing that such vice is the cause of many evils, the missionaries have tried unsuccessfully to stop the Indians from making it.

The uvalama [Vitex mollis]],20 sobaro in Opata, is an uncultivated, rather large tree with luxurious foliage that grows in the warmest districts. Its leaves resemble those of the fennel [hinojo, Foeniculum vulgare] though larger and thicker. Its fruit, about the size of a large olive but not elongated, is also called uvalama and has a somewhat disagreeable taste. The fruit ripens in September.


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A more common fruit is the bebelama, juco in Opata. It is the size of a small olive and quite sweet. Although they are terribly hot, there seem to be no ill effects upon the stomachs of the natives who eat them in large quantities during May, the time when this fruit ripens. The tree from which it comes [Bumelia laetevirens] is of medium size and has small, tongue-shaped leaves.

The sapuche, tesavo in Opata, is a fruit that belongs with the others I have mentioned. It comes from a small tree about a yard in height with a slender trunk, and the leaves as well as the fruit resemble those of the pear tree [Pyrus communis].21

Acorns grow in the colder sections. Known to the Opatas as cusit, they are a desirable food for sturdy stomachs. I have known a trader who dealt in acorns, which were not the least important item in his inventory of merchandise. He sold them in the gold placers and mining camps.

The bachata [oak nut], batzat in Opata, is a small, dark-colored fruit the size of a garbanzo. It is very sweet, ripens in May and grows on a small bush not very different from the garambullo. Its roots serve the Indians as soap.22

Tlalayote [Funastrum pannosum], tzoris in Opata, is the name given to a small plant as well as its fruit which is about the size of a hen's egg and has a rough, coarse rind on the order of the shell of a snail. It must be eaten in the latter part of August when the skin is green and tender. Otherwise it hardens and dries, and the meat becomes soft, white and cottony as the meat of peyote.23 The root of the tlalayote is poisonous to animals as are the roots of the yerba de Puebla [chochoya, Senecio canicida] and the babatoviri [yerba de la mora, Croton cortesianus]. All three are found throughout the province. The yerba de Puebla is an


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item found on all requisitions to Mexico City which shows the lack of curiosity on the part of the commissaries.

Nor are the mulberry trees [Morus nigra], babiro in Opata, lacking in Sonora. The wood is used for bows by the archers. But no notice is taken of the leaves which are utilized in other provinces. The berries, which are small, ripen in June and are very tasty.

The cúmaro24 is a very large tree that abounds in Sonora. Its small fruit resembles that of the garambullo and is very sweet.

The madrone [Arbutus texana], curibitso in Opata, grows well in the mountains. In October its fruit ripens and is edible although at times it causes nausea and vomiting.

The wild manzanilla25 is a small tree, the kind commonly known as chaparros [dwarfed]. The grape-size fruit is red and ripens in September. The Opata call both the plant and fruit yori, a Yaqui word meaning white people or non-Yaqui.

The Opata name guetzat, espino in Spanish, meaning thorn or needle, is given to a rather small, thorny tree26 that bears red, sweet, garbanzo-size berries that ripen in June.

There are many other fruits which please and satisfy the people of Sonora. When they are away, they talk of them constantly. One could write an extensive treatise on the various wild herbs being used as food, but, as the subject is common knowledge here, I will end this section and begin the next, which deals with remedies employed to cure other ailments.

4.2. Medicinal Products

The providence of nature or should I say the Divine Providence?, has endowed Sonora, devoid of physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries, with excellent medicinal herbs, shrubs, gums, fruits, mineral and


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animal products of such quality that there is no collection like it in Europe. Besides the many herbs already known to medical science, here are others that are found in this province:27

acederas
sorrel leaves in salad
ajenjo
estafiate, or túparo — wormwood (Artemisa mexicana)
ajo
garlic (Allium sativum)
anís
anise (Pimpinella anisum)
apio
celery (Apium sativum)
azahar
orange blossoms
batatas
potatoes
bledo
wild amaranth (Amaranthum blitum)
borraja
borage (Borago officinalis)
cacahuates
peanuts
camotes
sweet potatoes
caña dulce or caña de azúcar
sugarcane
cardosanto or chicalote
blessed thistle (Argemone mexicana, Cardus benedictus)
cebadilla or eléboro
caustic barley, hellebore or sneeze-wort
cebolla albarrana
squill (Scilla marítima)
chicuri silvestre
wild chicory
cícuta
hemlock (Conium maculatum)
cominos
cumin
culantrillo de pozo
maidenhair fern (Conuim maculatum)
culantro
coriander (Coriandum sativum)
doradilla or citerach
a fern (Sellaginella lepidophylla)
endibia
endive (Cichorium endivia)
escarola
succory
fárfara or uña de caballo
colt's foot (Tussilago farfara)
grama
cynodon (Capriela dactylon)
granadas
pomegranates (Punica granatum)
hierba or yerba de la golondrina
swallow-wort (Euphorbia maculata)
higuerilla
castor oil plant (Ricinus communis)
hinojo
fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
laurel
laurel (Litsea glaucesens and Laurus nobilis)
lengua de buey
marihuana (Cannabis indica)
limón
lemon
llantén
plantain (Plantago)
madroño
madrone (Gomphrena decumbens and G. globosa)
malva
mallow (Malva rotundifolia)
manzanilla
chamomile (Helenium mexicana)
mora or moral
mulberry fruit or mulberry plant (Morus nigra)
mostaza
mustard (Sinapis nigra)
naranja, dulce or agria
oranges, sweet or sour
nabos
turnips (Brassica napus)
olivo
olive tree
orégano
oregano or wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare)
ortiga
nettle (Ortica dioica)
peonía
peony (Cyperus esculentos, Abrus precatorius)
perejil
parsley (Petroselinum sativum)
pimiento
cayenne pepper, red pepper (Capsicum)
pimpinela
pimpinel (Poterium sanguiserba)
poleo
pennyroyal (Clinopodium laevigatum and Menthae pulegeum)
quelites
28pigweed, greens (Amaranthus spinosum)
rábanos
radishes
romero
rosemary (Rosemarinus, Cowania mexicanae)
rosa de Castilla
Castilian rose (Lippia umbellata and Rosa centifolia)
ruda
rue, ruta (Prosela citriodora, Ruta graveolens)
salvia
sage (Hyptis species)
sangre de grado or sangre de drago
dragon's blood (Jatropa dioica)
sauco
elder (Sambucus, Cerulea)
siempreviva
house leek (Selaginella lepidophylla)
suelda-consuelda
comfrey (Chroccoca alba)
tomate, jitomate
tomato (Lycopersicum esculentum)
tomatillo or bainoro
garambullo (Cereus garambullo, an agave)
trébol
clover (Trifolio)
trementina
turpentine (Therebintinus)
verbena
vervain (Verbena officinalis)
verdolaga
purslane or watercress (Portulaca oleracea)
visco, toxi, or tzavo, also secapalo, cabellera, or injerto
mistletoe, a parasitic evergreen (Phoradendron vernicusum)
xarilla or jarilla
a resinous plant, terebintaceo (Zaccagnia punctata)
xicamilla or jicamilla
croton weed (Jatropha macrorhyza, a purgative)

One finds alum, copperas, bezoar stone, gypsum, sodium carbonate, saltpeter, and many members of the vegetable realm, including the sensitive plant,29 but these are omitted so as not to weary the reader.

However, I do feel bound to include briefly the medicinal products which have virtues that seem to be unknown in other countries. These products have been discovered by the Indians and the old Spanish women who have set themselves up as a sort of royal tribunal of medicine.

The first is the anise herb, so-called by the Spaniards because its root tastes somewhat like anise [Pimpinella anisum]. The Opatas call it guamusi. The foliage resembles willow twigs, but only the root is used. It is taken internally by chewing, and swallowing the saliva. This aids digestion and eases discomfort caused by overeating and constipation. It also relieves stomachaches and the fever which often accompanies them.


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Next is the fever herb [Iresine calea of the Amaranthus family], toninagua in Opata, so named because of its ability to stop fevers unfailingly. A decoction is taken internally for a few successive days. Thus, without the expense of either doctors or drugs, the condition is relieved.

The rattlesnake weed [Myriadenus tetraphyllus or Zornia tetraphrilla], conaguat in Opata, is effective against snakebite. When a decoction is taken internally, it causes profuse perspiring and decreases a fever. This I have been told, but I have not been able to verify its effectiveness personally.

The spasm herb,30 paroqui in Opata, when fried in oil or tallow and applied hot on the affected area, decreases inflammation and relieves tenseness of the muscles. When internal spasms are suspected in parturient women or individuals afflicted with other ailments, its decoction brings about good results. Even to beasts of burden, whether prostrate or spastic, a decoction is forcibly administered. The animals get well in a few minutes, take up their loads and resume the journey as if nothing had happened.

The herb of manzo grass [Anemopsis californica], guaguat in Opata, is decocted and used as a mouthwash to relieve the pain of toothaches. If taken internally, it allays the distress caused by certain maladies. Fried in tallow, it makes an ointment which when applied to fresh wounds or postpartum tears brings about healing. Equal results are obtained if the fried and powdered herb is used.

The swallow's herb [Euphorbia prostrata], cozape in Opata, has curative powers when decocted and applied to freshly inflicted wounds. The same results may be obtained by using the entire plant either dried or pulverized.

The decoction of the root of pipichagui, taraigo in Opata [probably Perezia adnata], a sort of wild lettuce, is a useful laxative. If taken internally, it relieves stomachache, griping, and amenorrhea. For this last it is a sure remedy if drunk once or twice even if the flow has been absent for three or four months. This condition is brought about because women are in the habit of bathing in the rivers regardless of


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the time of month. Even if it means certain death, when these creatures are ailing they keep silent about it until a missionary, called to hear confession, asks them about the nature of their illness. He then prescribes the cha.31

The decoction of the plant guanenepili, vivinaro in Opata [passion flower, Passiflora tuberosa], is an excellent cure for measles, smallpox, typhus, and contagious fevers. Continued use of the decoction after recuperation prevents the recurrence of the malady, thus lowering the risk of strain on the heart and other vital organs.

The cocolmecate is a plant that grows in mountains and rocky soils, putting out long creepers with red roots. If taken internally, the decoction made from these roots stops all pain and promotes menstruation. Its Opata name is cocomeca which actually means “away pain.” [This plant is greenbriar, Smilaxbona-nox.]

The sánari, ssan in Opata, is a plant whose foliage and roots have astringent properties. The green leaves when applied to the anal region after defecation shrink hemorrhoids. Sánari, if roasted in an earthenware vessel then applied to a sore area, eases any pain. The decoction, if taken internally, acts as a violent and perilous cathartic. Those afflicted with syphilis who have tried other medications turn to sánari as a last resort. Occasionally they get well. [This could be cuauhxiotl, Pseudosmodingium perniciosum.]

The toloache [stinkweed, Datura stramonium], called taguaro in Opata, and the estafiate [sagebrush, Artemisia mexicana] are excellent remedies for tumors and abscesses because they bring them to a head. Those having spleen trouble obtain relief simply by rubbing a leaf upon the painful area every morning before breakfast.

The leaves of the chicura, juguiro in Opata, give relief to women who suffer from the hysteria which sometimes accompanies pregnancy. These leaves are warmed over hot ashes and applied to the abdomen. Equally effective is a tiny bit of gomilla dissolved and taken in warm water.


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Sonoran gum, called jua by the natives, is the resinous exudate of a small tree commonly called sámota by the Opatas. Its aqueous decoction taken internally is an effective antivenom for the sting of scorpions, spiders, and other poisonous insects. It also relieves and prevents spastic seizures, allays anxiety, and slows down increased heart palpitations. I have witnessed some of its virtues and heard of many others, but as the gum has been accepted as a medicament by the Royal Tribunal of Medicine in Mexico City, to which goodly quantities are sent annually, I leave the subject to their scholarly presentation. [This is probably Coursetia glandulosa.]

The jojoba [Simondsia californica] is a well known shrub that grows in the Pimería Alta. Its fruit [goat's nut], also known as jojoba, is a treasure that the Indians always carry with them. If an Indian is wounded by an arrow, he will first remove the arrow then pack some nuts into the wound to prevent it from swelling until suction and treatment as described later can be instituted. Because the virtues of this fruit are well known in this realm, I am spared the enumeration of its marvelous curative properties. However, out of gratitude, I will not omit telling of the benefit I derived from its use shortly after arriving in this province. Having supped heartily on a good salad with vinegar, I suddenly felt violent pain in my left side under the lower ribs. I felt that I would suffocate, and I could scarcely speak to explain my predicament. The missionary father in whose house I was32 brought two or three nuts, told me to eat them and gave me a cup of wine. No sooner had I eaten the jojobas and swallowed the wine than the intense pain disappeared.

The tepeguaje [Lysiloma acapulcensis], matze in Opata, is similar to, or perhaps actually is, the árbol del Perú [California pepper tree, Schinus molle]. Its bark boiled in water is an excellent antiseptic. When very dirty sores are washed with a concoction made from this, they stay clean and heal rapidly.

The cacalosuchil [temple flower, Plumería acutifolia], caguirago in Opata, is a shrub whose branches when broken or cut secrete a milky


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sap which is beneficial to those afflicted with syphilis. Another herb named tepuro in Opata has the same curative properties. Moreover, a decoction of tepuro roots has anti-inflammatory qualities.

The hediondilla [creosote bush, Larrea divaricata or Larrea tridentata, gobernadora in Spanish], cubiasisi in Opata which means “roe deer's mane,” has the same effects as cacalosuchil. An ointment is made by frying the fronds in tallow. A treatment which is said to be very efficacious for gnarled, rheumatic limbs consists of rubbing on the ointment and accompanying this with a suitable diet. It is claimed that if the masseur washes his hands after having applied the ointment his hands will become gnarled.

A priest of known integrity informed me that the decoction of damiana fronds [Turnera diffusa also Trunera aphrodisiaca], tabuquit in Opata, makes barren women fertile.

Cumeme is the name given by all Sonoran tribes to the skin of a root which when applied topically has strong caustic effects. It is used to relieve inflammation of the spleen and hasten drainage of tumors and abscesses.

The inmortal [immortal, desert milkweed, Gomphrena decumbens], chupi in Opata, nitisi in Apache, is an herb that grows in the coldest regions of Sonora. From its dried roots a powder similar to tobacco snuff is made which when sniffed alleviates headaches.

The ocosaguat is the name given to a pine tree. It is claimed that when its needles are burned in a room with a woman who is in the midst of childbirth, the fumes and healthful warmth induce easier delivery.

A similar claim is made of the oquisegua, an Opata word meaning “the blossoming of a woman,” flos mulieris [probably Vitex pyramidata or Salvia betónica]. It also induces the menstrual flow.

Magot in Opata, yerba de la flecha in Spanish [arrow's herb of the spurge family, Euphoria biloculare], is a beautiful small tree with luxuriantly green foliage and deadly milky sap which was formerly used to poison arrows, hence the name. The milky juice is applied to stubborn abscesses to bring them to a head. Because of its poisonous nature, I would not recommend it.

Along the Guaymas coast grows the jaramatraca or caramatraca [Wilcoxia tuberosus], the tubers of which are an effective antitoxin for


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arrow poison. Father Francisco Pimentel, chaplain to the 1750 expedition against the Seris, assured me that if the wounded availed themselves of this remedy by chewing and swallowing it or by applying the chewed-up mass to the injury, no one died. This morsel is equally effective against flatulence. Moreover, it is also efficacious used as a poultice, pounded and mixed with firewater and applied to contusions, bruises, and open wounds. I am witness to its incredible and stupendous virtues. A cowboy who was trampled by a horse had his face mangled and some bones exposed. He was treated with this poultice, and his lacerations healed by the next day. Furthermore, individuals bitten by rabid animals do not develop hydrophobia if they take the ground root diluted in water. In addition, it is an efficacious antidote for poisonous snakebites, and it can cure typhus. As an ointment rubbed on an aching head, it brings relief and even stops toothaches. I have heard so much about the virtues of this root that if I were to give the title of panacea to any remedy, it would be this one.

Escoba amargosa [bitter broom, Artemisa filifolia], sisicot in Opata, romerillo in Spanish, is an herb that promotes healing of bone fractures, even those of the spine. A good handful of the herb is pounded, ground, and boiled in water. The brew is then stirred and skimmed until it assumes the consistency of a salve. In this form it is stored for future use. After a fractured bone has been set, the salve is spread upon the injured part, and unfailingly the bone mends.33

Sonora produces a universal medicament in the yerba del indio [Indian herb], trompetilla in Spanish and native dialects. Its tuberous root resembles the root of a sweet potato. When it is ground and dissolved in lukewarm water, many say that it is a remedy for fevers and all sorts of aches. Although extremely bitter, it can be chewed and swallowed. When pulverized and sprinkled in an open wound, it hastens healing. But it is seldom used because its application causes a great deal of pain.


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Uña de gato [cat's claw, Acacia greggii, less frequently classified as Lantana camara], jussi in Opata, is a shrub with short branches and curved thorns, hence its name. Its roots, long, slender and whitish, soaked in water, stirred and strained, will give prompt relief when there is urinary retention.

Calancapate [possibly Senecio vulneraria], capoca in Opata, is a sort of estafiate [Artemisa mexicana]. The decoction of its roots and foliage relieves stomachache. Furthermore, the natives use the fronds as pads, placing them under the saddles of their mounts in the belief that when the mount tires, fresh capoca will make the weariness disappear. Because of the abundance of the shrub in the province, there is never a problem of replacing the pad.

The terachico, known only by its Opata name, is a small tree. The natives dry the leaves and grind them into a powder which is used to cure sores of horses and other animals. Its roots when similarly prepared are employed in the treatment of human ulcerations [unidentifiable].

Also, the roots of mezquitillo [Kameria paucifolia], temitzo in Opata, and carrizo [bamboo, Bambusa vulgaris] are burned and pulverized and used to treat human sores.

Naguat34 is a plant whose roots are said to be beneficial in the treatment of syphilis. They are beaten to a pulp and boiled in water. Then this mixture is drunk before breakfast.

The negrilla, known as teah to the Opatas, is used as an emmenagogue after delivery [unidentifiable].

In the Upper Pimería there is a creeping plant which has a root known as contrahierba [caltrop, contrayerba, Dorstenia contrajerba] that has the same virtues as the preceding. In addition, it relieves colds and intermittent fevers. Grated and added to lukewarm white wine, it is drunk when the chills begin. Then the patient drinks warm water. Vomiting ensues, and with that, the natives believe, the ailment disappears. It is also a well-known antidote for snake bites, stings of scorpions and other poisonous insects, but fearing that I might bore the reader, I will omit its many other properties.


[page 53]

To attempt to name and describe all the medicinal plants that Sonora so lavishly produces would be an enormous task. If ten people were afflicted with the same ailment, each could use a different medication to effect a cure. Among the great variety of plants found in this province, there is hardly one without healing properties, while only a few are harmful.

As a corollary to this chapter, I must add some information about the treasure found in the mountains near Bacadéhuachi: a rock-salt which the natives pulverize and mix with tallow. The mixture is an effective cure when rubbed on a sore belly. If taken internally either as table salt as the Indians are prone to do, or diluted in water, it acts as a strong purgative.35

And finally, as a respite from the fatigue that this long dissertation may have caused, allow me to tell of a fragrant product of a worm. The worm, similar to a silkworm but differing in its abode, lives in either cold or warm regions. It clings to the rocky crevices of some of the mountains and weaves a cocoon called remolino de bola [whorl] in Spanish and hecaguita in Opata. This cocoon contains an aromatic, medicinal incense, the fumes of which when inhaled will cure malaria. As for the worm, upon completion of its work, it emerges from the cocoon and falls dead as does the silk-producing one. This is a salutary reminder to idle people of what the Holy Scriptures say: “that man was born to work” and “those unwilling to labor should be ashamed to eat,”36 as I should be ashamed to be exhausting the patience of the reader.


Notes

1. Pitahaya is the fruit of the giant cactus, Carnegiea gigantea.

2. Gente de razón literally means people of reason. In Nentvig's time it meant specifically anyone with white blood flowing through his veins, i.e., anyone not 100% Indian.

3. Nentvig implies that this plant is different from the Carnegiae gigantea (note 1 above). It is not. It simply grew larger and was known by another name in the Pimería Alta.

4. Pinole is finely ground, parched corn. The Guiteras version further adds that nopalitos are also used as relish for several kinds of meat and atole (a gruel made of Indian corn ground or pounded then boiled in water or milk). The Mexico manuscript does not include this.

5. There are seventeen varieties, according to Santamaría's Diccionario de Mejicanismos, p. 1094. Two varieties prevail in Sonora: the tuna de Castilla (Opuntia fiscus indica), very light green or yellowish, and the Opuntia engelmanni, which is red or purple.

6. The good father was misinformed. Both are healthful and nourishing.

7. This is probably the coconut palm, cocotero in Spanish, Cocos nucifera in Latin.

8. This is probably the date palm.

9. Quiote is the center portion from which the leaf-like blades sprout.

10. Sugarcane has to be chewed in order to squeeze out the juice.

11. This is possibly either Agave lechuguilla or Agave teteracanthae.

12. Possibly Yucca manihote dulcis.

13. According to “La Relación de Sahuaripa de 1778” by R. H. Barlow in Memorias de la Academia Mexicana de la historia VI, no. 1, (1947): 76, the partaker swells up and dies immediately.

14. Cajete, at present commonly known as comal, is a flattened, bowl-like utensil about twenty inches in diameter made of unburnished clay.

15. Pfefferkorn calls temaqui wild sweet potato and describes it as being reddish with an unpleasant flavor (Description of Sonora, p. 55). Barlow's “La Relación de Sahuaripa de 1778”, pp. 75–6, adds that it is an efficacious antidote for the poisoned arrow wounds of the Seri.

16. According to Pfefferkorn's Description …, p. 195, pozole as it was prepared by the missionaries for the Indians consisted of husked corn, wheat, peas, beans, and fresh or salted meat cooked together in a large kettle. Today it is made by boiling maize in lime water until the kernels burst and become soft (hominy). To this are added beans, which have been cooked for two or three hours, and any kind of meat. The mixture is then salted and spiced with chili.

17. The leaves of the poplar are heart, ovate, or lozenge shaped while those of the common fig are lobed. Perhaps Nentvig had in mind the wild fig, Ficus labrate. Some species have edible fruit, elongated leaves and exude a rubber-like, milky sap.

18. Nentvig was stationed at Huásabas from 1762 to 1767.

19. Chickling vetch, Lathyrus sativa.

20. It is indigenous to Mexico and unknown in the United States. The fruit, which is black, is boiled in water and sweetened with panocha (solidified sugarcane juice) to make it more appetizing. It is eaten with relish by the natives.

21. Barlow's “La Relación …,” p. 72 describes the fruit as small, resembling a mameyito (sauravia serrate or Lucuma pedunculata). At present, sapuche or sapuchi is the name given to zapote prieto (Dyospiros ebenaster). The fruit is similar to a pear in both size and shape, and the tree is 60 feet or more in height.

22. There are several plants whose roots substitute for soap, but none has edible fruit.

23. The Mexico City manuscript reads “peyote,” very likely a copyist's error. It perhaps should read “pochote” (Ceiba pentandra). Pochote contains a substance used to make wicks for candles.

24. This could be the cohune palm (Orbignya attalea cohune). The fruit is called coquito de Colima. It resembles a coconut, being about two inches long, and is eaten mainly by cattle. Its seeds are eaten by the Indians.

25. The tree described here appears to be the wild apple, manzanita silvestre in Spanish, (Malvaviscus drummonddi) which is plentiful in the province.

26. This is probably graythorn or bluewood.

27. Nentvig presents the list grouped together within a paragraph. The list as tabulated here has the English equivalent followed by the botanical name as explained in the Preface.

28. Quelites is an article of food little known to nonresidents of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, or Sonora. The people of New Mexico eat its oblong leaves as greens and call this vegetable pigweed. In Sonora it is eaten raw as greens in salads, but mostly the whole leaves of the Chenopodium album variety are cooked. The name is derived from the Aztec quilitl. There are several varieties.

29. This is Mimosa pudica. The leaflets and stalks fold at the slightest touch or sound, such as the clapping of hands. The plant is quite prevalent in the region of the Panama Canal.

30. Seep willow, yerba del pasmo in Spanish, is used to relieve symptoms of tetanus, lockjaw, and the common cold (coughing, sneezing).

31. Apocope of pipichagui. The root of this plant, when decocted and applied externally, Nentvig described as “para ayudas calientes,” which may be interpreted as hot poultices applied around the chest and midsection since its principal function is the restoration of menstruation.

32. Father Nentvig arrived in New Spain on August 23, 1750, and was assigned to Sáric. It is assumed he was entertained by Father Campos at San Ignacio de Caburica.

33. The salve hardens and serves as both splint and bandage. This cast-like dressing is allowed to remain in place for two months, ample time for the knitting of the fractured bones. Other plants that are purported to have the same qualities are the valley cottonwood (álamo de hoja redonda), the thistle (cardo santo, Cardus tenniflorus), the dandelion (chicoria, Taraxacum officinale), and the comfrey (suelda-consuelda, Chroccoca).

34. Probably this is either naguapacle from the Aztec nanahuatl, a bubo medicine, or creeping barberry, Berberia repens, a native blood purifier.

35. Undoubtedly this is magnesium sulfate of which Obregón in Descubrimientos …, p. 46, writes. And Pfefferkorn in Description …, p. 84, describes it as snow-white salt with a bitter taste and strong purgative effects.

36. The first Biblical quote, i.e., “that man was born to work,” is from the Book of Job, chapter v, verse 7, and the second, “those unwilling to labor should be ashamed to eat,” is from the Second Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, chapter iii, verse 10.

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