Ha’achihtia is a short plant that produces tiny and bright yellow flowers. The plant can be found growing beside creeks and small streams in Northern Sonora, Mexico, though it’s picky about where it grows and is difficult to find. In use, it is actually very similar to what is commonly known as “sneezeweed” in English, though the differences in the two plants’ sizes and distribution suggest that they’re not the same plant. The flowers of ha’achihtia look similar to those of a daisy, though there is one key distinction; they make anyone who sniffs them sneeze explosively. Because of this, the Hiaki and other indigenous people who live near to where it grows, such as the Mayo, use it as a natural decongestant. The flower is picked, dried, and ground into a powder which is then kept covered so that everyone isn’t constantly sneezing uncontrollably. When somebody catches a cold or just wants to clear out his or her sinuses, all they have to do is sniff the powder. After a heavy bout of sneezing, they should be able to breathe through their noses again.
Ha’achihtia likely gets its name from the Hiaki word for sneezing, ha’achihte. In fact, if we replace the letter “e” at the end of ha’achihte with “ia”, the word becomes a noun. Additionally, the word ha’achihte is a good example of a concept called sound symbolism, which means that it sounds similar to the particular action it describes. If you think about it, ha’achihte sounds close to the noises people make when sneezing. (The word Achis! is the equivalent of English achoo! in many languages around the world; it’s possible that ha’achihte is made up of some variant of achis plus the verbalizing suffix -te. In Hiaki -s is pronounced like ‘h’ when it occurs before a consonant, so achis-te would be expected to surface as achih-te if that were the etymological base of ha’achihte.)
The Hiaki name for the plant is reflective of its natural properties and the effect it has on people. However, the Mayo people also live in the plant’s natural habitat. They speak a language very closely related to Hiaki, but their name for the plant derives from the way it is taken in its medicinal use. In Mayo, ha’achihtia is called júptera, which literally means “for sniffing”.