Frederick (Jamie) Anderson ’19: Book XI, Chapter 4 (On the Plant the Indians Call Goaconax)

Book XI, Chapter IV

On the plant or tree that the Indians call goaconax and the Christians call balsam, from which artisanal balsams for wounds and other infirmities are made, and where will be told the manner of making the liquor that in these Indies they also call balm.

Translated by Frederick Anderson ‘19

In the preceding book, in the third chapter, I wrote about an artisanal balm made in these Indies from the goaconax tree which was discovered by Antonio of Villasanta, whom I met (and who died not so long ago). Others say that we learned about this balm from Codro, the Italian philosopher, whom I also met and who died in these parts. In addition to this balm there is another that they refer to by the same name, though neither one of them is truly a balm. This second liquor (or whatever it may be) is held to be just as good if not better than the first, because it has been extremely useful to many people suffering from various illnesses who have used it, especially for cold humors and illnesses that proceed from cold. This particular liquor is prepared in this manner. This is a plant that grows on its own, without human labor, and of which there are great quantities on this island and in other parts. It grows until it looks like a tree of about an estado[1] and a half in height, about the height of a man, with stalks or stems being nearly as tall as two states, as thick as a thumb, and of a brownish-gray color. The leaves are green, thick and broad, with the tops greener than the backs. I call the backs the side where the vein that runs through the middle of the leaf from the stalk to its top point is most prominent. That particular stalk is not green but nearly red instead, and the leaves in certain parts are tinged with red or a color that tends towards a purplish red. The fruit that it produces is a cluster the size of a hand with fingers extended. The cluster is filled with grapes, and each grape or seed is the size of a garbanzo bean, and the bunches are sparse and not as close together as the bunches of grapes on wild climbing vines. These grapes or grains are primarily green, with some reddish or red spots, as I have said, which is the color of the leaves’ stalks. As they ripen, they turn progressively redder, becoming almost purple when they are fully ripened, and the bunches of grapes or grains of this tree are just like those of the goaconax, and in the fruit there is little difference between one and the other. But let us return to the second balm, which is not a tree but a plant.

They take the hearts of this plant, and even some of the bunches of fruit, and they chop the stems and cook them in a cauldron that holds four arrobas, filled halfway with the hearts and fruit and the rest with good water. They cook the mixture until its volume has decreased by half. Then, they take the cauldron off the fire and remove some of the stems, and they take or have already set aside other mashed stems and fruit bunches and add them to the mix that was already boiled and add an additional arroba of water. I mean that at the beginning with the unmashed ingredients they added four arrobas, and the second portion is added on top of the two that remained from the first cooking. Then it is returned to the heat to cook until it thickens to the consistency of syrup or honey. Once it has reached this consistency, it must be taken off the heat and allowed to set.  It is then passed through a strainer with a with a fine mesh so that the marc or residue is removed and the liquor or artisanal balm remains liquid, and they set aside the clean liquid in their bottles and flasks. They rub the balm on sores and lacerations and, even if the wound has removed part of the flesh, it restores the blood and heals the sores marvelously. Some here claim that it is a better balm than that of goaconax, and it is very common. The leaf of this plant is similar to that which is depicted here,[2] pointed at the end of the stalk.

They also make a liquid from this as well. It is distilled from the stems and shoots from the top of this plant. It is better than spirits, and many have been healed by it. Not long ago the wheel of a cart ran over the leg of a black man, injuring him down the side of the calf but not across the leg so no bones were broken. A great part of the flesh was torn away, crushed and ripped in such a way that it was thought he would lose his leg or his life, or he would remain crippled. In less than twenty days he was healed and working, as if nothing had happened, only by placing this liquor on the wound and covering it with a clean linen cloth, cleaning and recovering the wound with a fresh cloth once or twice per day.

When the belly or other part of a person aches, if it is from cold, drinking some glasses of the water that comes from this plant alleviates this pain. In a few days all the cold, illness, and pain caused by the cold is removed. This weed or plant is found on many parts of this island and there are even people, those who have tried this liquor, who think that it is better than the balm of goaconax. They could not tell me the name of this plant, instead it was shown to me, and it is widely known.

In truth, the remedies that Jesus Christ, as compassionate healer of human kind, has given to both the faithful and the nonbeliever are countless, even if they live away from the reach of doctors and their medicines.

Having one in front of me, I have painted the leaf of this plant, and it looks like the irons of Azpe, which knights used to use, and it is well done. Some call this liquor the new balm to differentiate it from that of goaconax.

[1] Unit of length taken from a man’s average height; it was used to estimate height or depth and was roughly equivalent to seven feet. [EE]

[2] See Appendix 2 for illustration listed as Illus. 4, figure 4 in AR edition. [EE]