On the herb or plant called perebeçenuc, its excellences and experienced virtues.

Translated by Frederick Anderson ‘10

Perebeçenuc is a plant or herb thus named, which is very abundant on this island. The Christians call it the herb of sores, others call it the herb of remedies. In our experience, and those of many people I have examined, it is a marvelous and excellent herb, whose existence, together with that of other herbs I have mentioned before, leads me to believe that there are innumerable other herbs and plants and trees appropriate for the treatment of our human illnesses and sores. But as the old Indians are long since dead, so too has ended their knowledge of similar properties and many other secrets of nature. I refer only to what had already been experienced or known by the natives of our island. Everything that can now be said is little and not well understood, because this generation of Indians is so miserly with what little it knows that not for any interest or good can they be compelled to share what they know, in particular that which could prove beneficial to the Christians, if they are for medicinal purposes (because in this way they keep mastery of the science). The knowledge the latter have managed to attain has not been by the will of the Indians, but because they could not conceal it. And although I have heard about herbs used for diverse remedies, it is neither my desire nor my habit to waste time in relating confusing or unclear things. Therefore, I will not describe anything but what will be well-known and proven and seen with my own eyes or heard from those whose opinions are worth crediting.

There is a great deal of this herb called perebeçenuc on this island and in many parts of the Mainland. They are more abundant than purslane in the homesteads and countryside and woodland. I cannot underscore this enough, there is so much of it. This plant or weed has many wide leaves, sharp at the tips and thin and soft, and the stems look nearly like small iron lances, as if they wanted to teach men that their purpose is to heal the wounds of spears, or sores. In color they are green, and their points are somewhat purple, and the buds and stems from which these leaves grow are nearly purple as well, the same color as the points of the leaves (although some of them are not so pointed and blunt), but the edges of one and the other are the same color, between tawny and purple. When this herb and its stalks are new and tender, no taller than knee-height, they are ready for curing sores and wounds, as will be explained moving forward. As they grow they rise to the height of a plant or weed, nearly as tall as a tree. It sprouts long, thin red flowers the color of coral in small bunches and tufts, close together like fennel but spread out. Their fruit is black grapes, like those of black nightshade. During one season, especially during the months of December and January, the fruit and flowers I have just mentioned grow simultaneously, and also particularly in the month of March and even April, because some plants mature before others. When this plant is fully grown it is as tall or taller than a man, about an estado[1] and a half, and it looks like a tree and even has roots and strong branches (some have a trunk as thick as the wrist of a burly man). Its effects are wonderful, and it is a very excellent medicine and so easy and trouble-free in curing that it is as if God had wanted to point it out and favor it among others as most appropriate to treat sores and wounds, even those that may be old and of bad aspect or disposition, stubborn or nearly incurable. They use this herb as remedy in the form I will presently describe. I call it an herb, although I have also called it a weed and plant, because when it sprouts, and even when it is two or three palms or handspans tall, it is a weed, until it reaches a height that precludes the name of weed. The Indians do not use it for their sores and wounds except when its shoots are small and tender, before they grow tall or become too hard. They boil a handful of this herb (I mean the stems and more tender leaves), such a quantity as could be held or grasped with one hand or about the width of a wrist, in a pot with an azumbre[2]of good water into which they throw the bunch of herbs. After a third of it has boiled down they remove the pot from the heat and let it cool with the herb until it nearly goes cold. Then, they soak a small piece of clean linen cloth (as long as it is not a woman’s blouse) in a small bit of that water and they wash the sore, and after it is well-washed they wipe it off cleanly with their white linen cloths. This being done, they take fresh leaves of the same herb and twist them or wring them out or make a paste of them between the palms of their hands, and thus they extract the juice. In that juice they wet clean white spun cotton which, thus wetted, they place over the sore and they fasten the leaves with a band of flax. Doing this twice a day cures the sores in a short time. Some, in place of cloth, merely place the same twisted grass on the washed sore and tie it over the wound, which heals it very quickly. I say sores because it is not used for fresh wounds inflicted by hand with the sword or knife but for sores from other causes. Furthermore, in my house I have cured myself or have cured (at times) many Indians and black slaves of mine, and even some Christians, and they have healed very well. In truth, curing some of those would have cost me much if a surgeon had been employed, and I am not certain he would have been able to cure them. In this manner, without giving away money or thanks (only to God), they were cured. Because these blacks and Indians move about the fields, working the earth which is poor for the health of legs (since it so humid), and they get small scratches that are neglected until they become worse sores. These wounds fester and turn quite serious, but all come to health in the way that I have described. I have had Indians who, by virtue of their own wickedness and refusal to work, wound themselves on purpose or they place some leaves of herbs that they have knowledge of that in just a few hours will produce one or two sores on their foot or leg, wherever they so desire. They come from the plantations into the city hobbling, in order to play a trick and not work; we come to the aid of their wickedness with this herb, and they are quickly cured against their will, so that they may return to the plantation. And even after they are healthy, we usually assist them with a dozen lashes because it teaches them a lesson; it is just as good a medicine as the herb for certain of them, and they do not venture to do so again. The leaf of this perebeçenuc is of the form that is depicted here[3] and of such a form or shape, save that the leaf is larger than in the figure, and some leaves are smaller. The shades or shadow that those leaves have at the tips in this drawing makes one understand what parts of it have purple tones, and the small stem or bud and stalks likewise are a color like amaranth, purple or tawny.  I do not speak of those brightly-colored flowers from Castile that they call moriscos but of common edible amaranth—the stems of which have a more reddish hue than tawny and the remainder of whose leaves is very green, thin and soft. When it is very tall and more of a plant than a weed, its trunk, branches, and bark are like those of a carrasca or holm oak, but thinner.

After my first impression I learned from two principal persons in this city of Santo Domingo, two trustworthy neighbors, two secrets of this herb. Both persons extoll, praise, and commend it as one of the most excellent things known and experienced as I will tell. In truth, there is even more reason to value this herb since one of these diseases is more hateful and abhorrent than the next. I will address each on its own, in the manner in which I have understood the remedies for both ailments.

A principle gentleman of this city, who today lives (and can attest for himself), had been sick from a nearly three-year nuisance, with a deep sore in his groin and much anguish.  Having spent much of his estate on doctors and surgeons, even having had many pieces of flesh cut out without improvement, he had suspected that the sore was incurable when he heard of some of the cures achieved through the use of this herb and decided to try it and abandon the surgeons. He took to washing the sore twice per day with the water of this herb, cooked in the manner described, and covering the sore with white cloth and sometimes with a portion of the herb itself. Two days afterwards the sore felt less inflamed. After nine days it was red and all the bad flesh had been eaten away, and after fifteen days he was completely cured, with such ease that the patient was left startled. And others, seeing this, very much in awe, gave thanks to God as the true doctor of our health and lives and souls. Item: It has also been shown that this herb can offer a cure for people badly affected by the condition of strangury, which causes painful, frequent urination. In these cases, especially when caused by bladder or kidney stones, they wash the lower parts, around the genitals and the whole penis and where they feel pain and when the condition flares. After washing, they take the mashed herb with its juice and place it on the aforementioned areas, and in a few hours and before twenty-four hours elapse, it makes the afflicted person urinate and breaks the stone, producing a total cure for the condition.

It seems to me that each of these things is so important and of such usefulness that even if I had not worked on investigating these subjects, inquiring into this herb’s effects so as to write about it, just by knowing about it, I feel well compensated and content with the result or my vigilances, since it will please God that from my giving notice of it many afflicted by those diseases may be able to seek healthful remedies. Some cut the tender stalks with the leaves of this herb and leave them to dry in bunches in the shadow where the sun does not reach them, and once dried they grind them up and make them into powder and they place it through a sieve before storing it. When they want to cure a sore they first wash it with the water of this herb, if it is available, and if not, they wipe off the sore as best they can and sprinkle the powder over it and cover it with cloths, and all the bad flesh is eaten away and replaced with healthy flesh and the color returns to it, healing it in a short time. Many sores have been healed in this city with these powders, but they say that it itches and burns more than when they heal it using the green herbs with water.

[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] An old unit of measurement for volume, its equivalence varied from region to region. [EE]

[3] See Appendix 2 for illustration listed as Illus. 4, figure 5 in AR edition. [EE]