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The concepts of health and illness, and their causes, are fundamental for understanding medicinal plant choice and use by traditional people. The hot-cold system is widespread in Mesoamerican traditional medicine and guides many therapeutic decisions. This study explores a hypothesis that climate influences the hot-cold classification of illnesses and medicinal plants, and the perception of hazard of illnesses. In addition, we examine the classification categories within the system used in different regions of Mexico. Studies from Mexico with quantitative and qualitative data on the hot-cold properties of medicinal plants and ailments were reviewed. The information was organized and then related to the climate type of the study areas. In temperate climates, most diseases were considered cold, and hot medicinal plants were dominant. Conversely, in warm-tropical climates, hot diseases dominated, and the majority of medicinal plants were cold; however, this evidence was weaker. The perception of hazard was congruent with the number of illnesses for temperate climates. There were additional classification categories within the hot-cold system for diseases and medicinal plants, and they were expressed in different terms in Spanish, English, and indigenous languages. Although similar terms and categories were used in the classification of diseases and medicinal plants, they can differ conceptually and vary between places and cultures. Publications are sometimes unclear if the terms used are emic or etic. The basic principle of using plants with the opposite property of the disease does not always apply strictly. Climate appears to influence the hot-cold classification of diseases and medicinal plants in Mexico, and the system is not strictly dual. Improved knowledge of the hot-cold system is necessary to understand Mesoamerican medicinal plant use and culture. Copyright © 2020 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Karina Yaredi García-Hernández, Heike Vibrans, Patricia Colunga-GarcíaMarín, Luis Alberto Vargas-Guadarrama, Marcos Soto-Hernández, Esther Katz, Mario Luna-Cavazos. Climate and categories: Two key elements for understanding the Mesoamerican hot-cold classification of illnesses and medicinal plants. Journal of ethnopharmacology. 2021 Feb 10;266:113419

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PMID: 33002566

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