Everything Starts with Corn

Over 6,000 years ago, the Aztec, Maya, and Inca Indians were the first to cultivate corn from its grassy relative teosinte and make it an essential part of their diets and everyday lives.

These indigenous peoples lived from and for corn. Corn was an integral part of all aspects of their lives, from food to medicine and even religion. These Mesoamericans used every part of the corn plant – the kernels for making food, the corn silk for medicinal tea, the stalks for animal feed, and the husks for wrapping foods. They used the sugar-filled leaves of the corn plant as “chewing gum” and immature corn as a fresh vegetable.

Before peasants planted corn, it was customary for priests to fertilize the earth with sacrificial victims whose bodies enriched the earth and guaranteed good harvests. Perhaps this is why the name for corn is tonacayotl, which means “our flesh.” Similarly, newborn infants were called “flowers of the corn,” small girls were called “tender corn,” and warriors in their prime were known as “Lords of the Corn.”

Ancient Aztecs were so highly dependent on corn that they worshipped Centeotl, the goddess of corn. To the Aztecs, Centeotl symbolized corn, a vitally important food crop that was also resistant to disease and freezing temperatures.