Aztecs and Tobacco: Mike Wolfe's Tobacco in an Aztec Herbal

Tobacco in an Aztec Herbal

By Michael Wolfe M.A.I.S.

The Codex Barberini, Latin 241 of 1552 was translated from Latin and reprinted by the Maya Society in 1939. This work contains what must be one of the earliest botanical works refrencing Tobacco. Nicolas Monardes' Dos libros would not be released until 1569, Although it would shortly be translated into English by John Frampton in 1577.

The Preface to the Aztec Herbal of 1552 says the following: "The present volume contains the full text, in English version, with all the figures of the plants, as found in the original manuscript, which as Codex Barberini, Latin 241, has remained in the Library and archives of the Vatican since the the time of that Cardinal Garberini from whom it holds it Vatican reference number, and of whose interest in the many forms of natural history much has come down to us, even including the naming after him of a magnificent cardinal colored flower, by the botanists of his time. The manuscript itself was prepared as a tribute to the son of the then Viceroy of Mexico, in 1552, by two pupils, both then in the college at Tlatilulco; one of these, named Martin de la Cruz, having received his knowledge of medicinal plant values from the old men of his race; and to whom at base we owe this treatise; and the other, Juan Badinao, who owed his 'Latinity' to the great Sahagún himself." P. iii

There are three passages in which Nitotiana sp. are mentioned. The recipes For a rumbling in the abdomen, and For recurrent disease both refer to pizietl. This Herb is listed in the Glossary as Piciyetl with the identification as: Nicotiana rustica. It is worth noting that this sounds remarkably like the name Monardes gives for tobacco: "The proper name of it amongst the Indians is Pecielt..." The remaining recipe, for Gout, refers to quappo-quietl, which is identified only as Nitotiana spp.. Above this recipe there is an illustration of quappo-quietl, which I include here as well. (Note: The Latin names of the other herbs used in these recipes are not included in the text below to save space.)

Long Title

A Little Book of the medicinal herbs of the Indians, which a certain Indian of the College of Santa Cruz composed, taught by no formal reasonings but educated by experiments only. In the Year of our Lord the Savior, 1552. P. 1

For a rumbling in the abdomen

For one whose intestines rumble because of some flux in the abdomen, let him take by means of an ear syringe (clyster oriculario), a liquor prepared from leaves of the tlatlanquaye herb, the bark of the quetzal-ylin, iztac-oco-xochitl leaves, and the herbs tlanext-xinhtontli, elo-zacatl, the tree tlanextia-quahuitl, ground up in acidulous water with ashes, a little honey, salt, pepper, alectorium and finally pizietl or tobacco. P. 54

For recurrent disease

Let one relapsing in sickness drink, before a meal, a little of the latex like milk, expressed from the teo-amatl, that he may vomit. On the third or fourth day let him drink a potion formed from tonatiuh-yxinh root, tlatianquaye and also tlanexti-yxinh root, ground up in tepid water. Third let him drink of the cuecuetz-patli root crushed in our wine. Let him drink this as he enters the bath, and then on coming out be anointed with the liquor of ground teo-amatl roots. The bowel should be twice cleared with a clyster, first with a liquor from okua-xocoyolin root crushed in hot water, and this even though he partakes of some food; this healthful juice will throw out pus from the abdomen. The second time, a few days later, made of the intoxicating plant we call piciyetl, salt, our black pepper, and light colored pepper. P. 82


One with gout can be cured in this way: the bush piltzin-tecouh-xochitl, the leaves of the cypress and laurel, are thrown in an ants' ditch where ants go to and fro, or are sprinkled as a lotion. Then the leaves of the bush quappo-quietl [Nitotiana spp.], leaves and bark of the ayanh-qushuitl, leaves of the quetzal-mizquitl, tlaq-que-quetral and tepe-chian, the flowers of any plant, a small white or red stone, the plant called itzquin-patli, pine, an oyster shell ground up in hare's blood, small foxes, serpentine rabbits (? for burrowing moles), eca-cohuatl, lizards; pearl, greenstone and bloodstone are to be ground up in water. If the foot is troubled with much heat, let it be soaked in the cold liquor, if it is chilled over the instep, it is to be heated. To the above named you also add a yellow colored flint, and the flesh and excrement of a fox, which you must burn to a crisp. P. 62

Source: The De La Cruz-Badiano Aztec Herbal of 1552, Translation and Commentary by William Gates, Publication No. 22, The Maya society, Baltimore, 1939. There is an additional note that the Latin text was published by the Maya Society as Publication No. 22.

  • 1996 Mike Wolfe, Tobacco BBS (212-982-4645). WebPage: Tobacco BBS material may be reprinted in any non-commercial venue if accompanied by this credit

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