“Building Blood”: Plants in Medicine and Myth among the Mopan Maya of San José, Belize

Wright, Mark A.
Kerry Hull

Traditional exploitation of botanical resources by Mopan Maya of San José, Belize provides a major portion of the food, medicine, and raw materials for daily life. In this paper we describe the medicinal use of local plants for physical and psychosomatic disorders. Based on our fieldwork data we show a highly detailed indigenous knowledge of plants is widespread in this small community. Furthermore, we find that certain diseases are attributed to a folk understanding of properties of human blood. We describe how specific plants are said to affect the quality or nature of blood (i.e., it being too “sweet,” “strong”, “weak,” etc.) and local concepts of ways to moderately “strengthen” or “build” blood through plant use. Finally, we explore the connection between induced trauma and indigenous notions of disease immunity and the role of plants in remedying both.