Medical research is the scientific study of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of illnesses. It can be conducted in order to learn the cause of diseases or medical conditions, to develop a cure for a particular illness, or to modify existing treatment so that it will be more effective. Aztec physicians routinely engaged in medical research using the empirical method of scientific inquiry. Their botanical gardens served as research centers. (See also GARDENS, BOTANICAL.) In his book, Aztec Medicine, Health, and Nutrition, author Bernard Ortiz de Montellano writes, “Experience in the gardens was reflected in the Aztecs’ extensive and scientifically accurate botanical and zoological taxonomy. The gardens were also used for medical research, plants were given free to patients on the condition that they report the results, and doctors were encouraged to experiment with the various plants.”
Since medical knowledge was passed orally from healer to healer in other North American Indian cultures, no direct evidence exists that medical research was conducted as systematically as that of the Aztec. However, it is clear that American Indian healers possessed sophisticated knowledge of the properties and correct dosages of medicinal plants. North American Indians used botanical ORAL CONTRACEPTIVES and routinely used ANTISPASMODIC MEDICATIONS that could produce harm if not given in the correct dosages. The sophistication of their medical knowledge indicates that they were astute observers of the effects of botanicals against illnesses.
See also ANATOMICAL KNOWLEDGE; GARDENS, HERB; MEDICINE; PHARMACOLOGY; PLANT CLASSIFICATIONS.
Frederiksen, Thomas H. “Aztec Medicine, Aztec Student Guide.” Student Teachers Resource Center. URL: http://northcoast.com/~spdtom/a-med.html. Downloaded on October 14, 1999.
Ortiz de Montellano, Bernard R. Aztec Medicine, Health, and Nutrition. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1990.
Vogel, Virgil. American Indian Medicine. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.