Abstract: Seven Aztec and Inca Plants that Changed the World: Maize, Tomato, Chocolate, Potato, Coca, Qinoa, Cinchona


Although the Aztecs and Inca did not originate use of these new World plants (maize, tomato, cacao, potato, coca, qinoa), their sophisticated botanical heritage and agricultural practices were well suited to develop these food and medicinal sources for their societies. Some Aztec chinampa remains can still be seen in Mexico today along the former Lake Texcoco at Xochimilco. Chocolate was a beverage of elite Mexica and thought to have health benefits now confirmed. When the Spanish conquistadores and their parochial scientists became familiar with these plants and their uses (from codices, ethnographic accounts and shamans or amauta officials, each amply illustrated in this lecture), living samples and seeds were taken back to Europe and the plants eventually grown there (note Frederick the Great of Prussia even mandated potato farming in 18th century Prussia). Cinchona is the South American (Western Amazon) indigenous source for quinine as a medicine for malaria. Italian cuisine could hardly be imagined without tomato sauce for pastas and Pizza Margherita or corn for polenta. Modern medicine has incorporated synthesized coca in analgesics (e.g., novocaine, trocaine). These are just a few ways New World plants have transformed history. The lecturer has studied the history of these important plants and has given invited papers (e.g. Oxford University, Society of Latin American Studies, Jesus College 1990) and has consulted (also by invitation) with Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology for New World exhibitions. The lecturer is a Research Associate in Archeoethnobotany at the Institute of EthnoMedicine among other academic affiliations.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Patrick Hunt. Seven Aztec and Inca Plants that Grew the World: Corn, Potato, Tomato, Coca, Qinoa, Chocolate, Cinchona. Book forthcoming with a major academic / trade publisher, 2014.

Institute for ethnomedicine: http://www.ethnomedicine.org/about/team.asp



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