CORNSILK Zea mays
For the Native Americans of Central and South America Corn is the most sacred plant, the staff of life that sacrifices its body to nourish them. They consider the corn mother as their direct ancestor and the one who has given them flesh and life. According to a tale from Peru, one of the cradles of corn domestication, two young men were the only survivors of a catastrophic deluge. Every day they went out to forage but in the evening when they came home they found an earthen pot full of a wholesome and intoxicating beverage, which they gratefully accepted as a divine gift. This went on for 10 days in a row. On the eleventh day one of the young men secretly stayed at home and hid in a corner of the house, for he had grown curious and wanted to know where the brew came from. As soon as the other man had left, two beautiful macaws entered the hut. To the young man's amazement they took off their feathers and were transformed into two women, one young and beautiful the other old and ugly. They proceeded to make the brew by breaking apart the cobs of corn, chewing the kernels and spitting them into the pot. The young man seized his opportunity and captured the young woman while the old one fled. This is how he gained possession not only of his wife but also of the first corn that was to feed their children. To this day the women of Peru prepare a maize beer known as Chicha just as described in this tale.
Every tribe has their own myth related to corn and how it came to the service of man. The cultivation of corn is extremely old - estimates range from 8000 - 10000 years ago. It is unclear where exactly cultivation begun, Peru or Mexico, or whether it was cultivated independently in both regions. At any rate, it and the knowledge of how to cultivate it spread rapidly throughout the Americas. By the time Columbus got there and brought some back to Europe it had been cultivated in the New World for thousands of years. Although it spread throughout the Mediterranean region quite swiftly, it was slow to take off as a food crop for humans in the Old World. Gerard considers it more fit for swine than human beings and sees no nutritional value in it.
Native Americans were more perceptive. They not only appreciated corn for its nutritive value (which is considerable), but also for its medicinal powers. Today, corn silk (actually the stigmas of the female flower), the hairy tuft that pokes out at the top of a cob of corn), is the only part that is used for medicinal purposes in Western and in Chinese medicine. Native Americans also utilize corn itself, not just for food, but also for medicine.
The silky beard of the corn cobs, which most people simply discard and throw away, is a wonderful remedy for all kinds of urinary complaints. It is diuretic and demulcent and works wonders in all inflammatory conditions of the bladder - cystitis, urethritis, prostatitis and bladder catarrh. It is also used as a diuretic in cases of oedema and high blood pressure that is related to water retention. Native American medicine also utilizes Cornsilk to treat constipation, diarrhoea, infertility, painful menstruation and as a strengthening tonic during childbirth that would increase the strength of the contractions and check excessive bleeding after parturition. Cornsilk has been shown to contain high amounts of silicon, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus minerals. It is also an excellent source of B vitamins and PABA.
The Mayas and Aztecs held annual corn festivals in honour of the corn goddess, which involved human sacrifice - as a representation of the corn goddess who gives her life to feed the people. Thus corn is a powerful and highly revered plant among practically all Indian tribes. It is a symbol of fertility and everlasting life and rejuvenation. It was a used for protection and played an integral part in numerous ritual foods, such as sacramental brews and breads.