At Cuernavaca, Morelos

Healing plants

Alive species merged with ancient knowledge
Located at the indigenous neighborhood of Acapantzingo, south Cuernavaca, and occupying more than 4 hectares, this facility used to be the summerhouse of the Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico, 150 years ago.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History has dedicated this space to preserve the biggest collection of medicinal plants. They are part of the ancient knowledge of herbalist, a living tradition in Morelos and through all Mexico.
Herbalist is a discipline dedicated to explore the healing properties of plants in humans. This knowledge has developed in a non-scientific context by traditional healers, and its knowledge transmitted orally.
This Ethno botanical Garden lodges more than a thousand live specimens, of important social value due to the cultural implications they have, as well as its genetic and biologic relevance.
Each of these vegetal specimens has had one or more uses, such as insecticide, dye, animal and human food, ornamental and medicine, as well as ritual usage.
{mosimage}Among the plants that have been used to cure, some have antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, diuretic, expectorant and relaxing properties. Strawberries have been used, for instance, to cure digestive problems.
The plants which main use is food and spice are also represented. The Mexican gastronomy is based in the combination of condiments found in each region. Most of edible plants, such as bean, garlic, clove and epazote, are represented.
One of the most important uses of plants is ornamental. Fichus, orchids, gardenias, Agaves and cactus have been used this way. Alcatraz is the name in Spanish of calla lily, whose origin is South Africa. This white flower is cut to assemble floral arrangements, as hanging tulips are, and almost any flower.
Plants are important companion for humans, they have always been  involved in cultural activities. One way to conform the historical patrimony of the Ethno botanical Garden, in both anthropologic and historic contexts, is providing the visitors a panorama of the uses given to plants and the implications of its usage in Mexico.
Paul Hersch, curator of the Museum of Traditional Medicine and Herbarium, points that the exhibited specimens are essential elements of the biological and cultural diversity of this country.
“INAH is interested in plants because it is interested in people” considers Hersch Martinez. This is because the cultural implications of Flora are so many, particularly in medicine.
{mosimage}The plants lodged in the Garden come from different ecosystems. Each of the explicative cards refer to healing plants contains the nahuatl name and the traditional usage.
Basil, for instance, is used in an infusion to treat digestive problems. Estafiate, a native plant, serves also to cure stomachache and diarrhea.
Artichoke leaves and flowers are used to treat liver illness, while sesame seed oil heals skin eruptions and is used as a laxative.
Nevertheless, several of the exhibited plants present high levels of toxicity, like toloache, or Datura, a native plant used in ancient rituals due to it narcotic effect, but also has analgesic and anti-inflammatory uses.
“I heal myself at home first”
Anthropologist Laura Padilla, director of the Ethno botanical Garden and Museum of Traditional Medicine and Herbarium, explains that this is not a traditional healing or a medicine center. The staff does not recommend treatments or prescriptions based on plant properties.
{mosimage}At the entrance of the museum there is a sign that reads “Primero me curo en casa”, “I heal myself at home first”. The museum director points, “We all have the right to find cures, but as a cultural institute we can’t give prescriptions or make diagnosis, those are exclusive attributions of health centers”.
But we can find here the means that have been used traditionally to relief health problems, as an important part of culture related to the vegetal beings.  Deliberately, the dosage and forms of application have been omitted from the explicative cards.
The visitors of the Museum come here not only to know more about the herbalist practice, but to have leisure time, walk among the garden, listen to the birds sing, understand all the benefits we obtain from plants and to enjoy their fragrance, and looks.
The Ethno botanical Garden is lodged in a terrain that once included a leisure house, and this ambient still can be perceived. In 1865, this place was built to provide privacy and retreat, inspired in European peasant dwelling.
The former Villa de Olindo was the only personal property that Maximilian I had in Mexico. The palaces where he lived during the period when he was Emperor, Imperial Palace and Chapultepec Villa, belonged to the State.
{mosimage}One of the outstanding features of Cuernavaca city is its weather, warm all year around. This was the reason why Maximilian chose this place to settle his retreat. The Ethno botanical Garden is one of the most visited historical placed of Morelos, along with Xochicalco archaeological site and the Route of Convents placed at the foot of the Popocatepetl.
According to Laura Parrilla, the Ethno botanical Garden attracts visitors looking for leisure and knowledge. Historic and culture patrimony is in custody here, and the beauty of the place does not interfere with the cultural goals of the Museum.
{mosimage}The Garden is mentioned in the fourth grade Elementary official book of Science.  This is an acknowledgement to the traditional use given to plants.
Special programmes
Last year, 24,000 persons visited the Ethno botanical Garden, partly because of the complementary activities offered to visitors. The thematic workshops include dyes, soaps, compost, oils and pomades, paper recycling and seed and leaf handcrafts.
Children, as well as physically challenged people, have a special place in the workshop program. From Monday to Friday, all year around, there are courses and activities designed to approach Nature, such as creation of figures with vegetal elements. Turtles, dinosaurs, fairies, princesses and monsters are some of this botanical fauna.
For the physically challenged, there are facilities such as ramps for wheelchairs that enable people to enjoy the normal visit.
For the visually and hearing impaired there are courses designed to center the enjoyment of the experience using all the senses.
Workshops for people with Down syndrome are designed to integrate botanical and cultural knowledge in a friendly way. Craftsmanship resulting is often sold in Christmas bazaars.
{mosimage}It is a fact that visiting the Herbarium, garden and museum is often in school groups of all levels; one of the main interests is the classification and conservation of dry entire specimens.
Teacher oriented important programs are the botanical garden at school, while soap, ointment, dye and compost fabrication workshops are oriented to the general public.
Green houses are an important part of this botanical museum. The plants are cultivated here to assure the continuity of the collection. In the area known as the heart of the garden, popular medicinal specimens are planted.
The interdisciplinary program of the Museum, Herbarium and Garden, includes outreach, conservation, and research programs. The traditional relations of humans and plants are the main objective of this cultural center.
As every public facility, the garden has important rules: balls, food or pets are not allowed. Trash disposal is an important issue, since compost is processed here. Proper use the organic and inorganic bins are mandatory.
{mosimage}The National Institute of Anthropology and History welcomes people to the Ethno botanical Garden and Museum of Traditional Medicine and Herbarium. Opening hours: Monday to Sunday from 9:00 to 16:30. Admission: Free*. Address: 14 Matamoros St., Acapantzingo, Cuernavaca, Morelos. Phone: (777) 312 3108, 312 5955. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Web site:   *There is a photographic equipment usage fee.