Sacrifice to the Gods: 10 Startling Facts About the Aztec Culture
Sacrifice to the Gods: 10 Startling Facts About the Aztec Culture

Sacrifice to the Gods: 10 Startling Facts About the Aztec Culture

Stephanie Schoppert - April 5, 2017

Sacrifice to the Gods: 10 Startling Facts About the Aztec Culture
Aztec Healer.

Some Of Their Herbal Remedies Are Still Used Today

The Aztecs were highly devoted to herbalism and learning about the body. Healers were encouraged to spend time in the gardens of the nobles to find cures for common ailments. Some are quite strange by today’s standards, but others have proven to be effective and are still used today.

One of the ways that historians have learned about the Aztec practice of herbs and healing is through the Badianus Manuscript, an illustrated text from 1552 that detailed the use of over 180 trees and plants for treating a variety of illnesses or pains. One treatment detailed in the book told of using gold turquoise, red coral and the burned heart of a stag in order to cure “a pain or heat in the heart” which could have referred to heartburn. The cure for a headache was more likely to make the headache worse than better as it involved cutting into the skull with an obsidian blade.

One Aztec cure that has been substantiated is the use of what they called chicalote, which was used to treat pain. It was later discovered to be a substance found in a plant called Argemone Mexicana, which is closely related to opium poppy. Both plants have analgesic properties.

Healers would also use the sap of the agave plant as a way to clean and treat wounds. It is now known that this sap can be effective in killing staphylococcus aureus and E. Coli bacteria. An herbal remedy that is still used today is passionflower. The Aztecs used it as a sedative and it is used today as a way to fight insomnia and agitation.

Sacrifice to the Gods: 10 Startling Facts About the Aztec Culture
The Cochineal Beetle.

They Created the Red Dye That Changed the World

Prior to the Spanish conquering the Aztecs, the European world had never been able to dye their fabrics a deep scarlet color. The Europeans up until the early 16th century used a plant extract that was known as madder red, but it made a color that was paler than the red the Aztecs were able to create. Therefore, as soon as the Spaniards saw the rich fabrics they were determined to know how to make it for themselves.

The secret ingredient to the rich scarlet of Aztec cloth was the use of the cochineal beetle. The beetle lives on the prickly pear cacti and one quarter of the bug’s body consists of carminic acid. It is that acid which creates the red dye. The beetles are small, which means creating the dye is incredibly time consuming. It took 70,000 of the beetles to make just one pound of dye.

Once the Spaniards knew the secret, they did everything they could to keep it from the rest of the world and they started exporting the dye immediately. It would then become a staple of the Spanish economy for the next 300 years. Due to the number of insects needed to create the dye, it was only used for the wealthiest people and the most high-quality fabrics.

Redcoat officers in the British army had their uniforms dyed with the cochineal beetle dye, but the regular enlisted men only had madder dyed uniforms. The rich red that Catholic cardinals became known for was due to the dye of the cochineal beetle. Even today, the dye is still used as a completely organic food dye.