An herb the ancient Mayans claimed could cure athlete's foot has proven to be more effective than modern medications in combating the ailment, scientists said Friday.

Researchers said tests of the plant, a member of the nightshade family, found it to be an effective cure for athlete's foot in a large number of patients.In fact, the researchers found the herb killed the fungus that causes athlete's foot more effectively than modern medications used to treat the irritating problem, said Brent Berlin, an anthropologist at the University of California-Berkeley.

"This is not to say that all herbs work. However, those plant species for which there appears to be a broad, general consensus as to their use and preparation show high probabilities of having active chemical properties," Berlin said.

"You don't have to be a new age freak to use herbs," he added.

In a presentation at the American Association for Advancement of Science's annual meeting, Berlin said that researchers now want to test five more Mayan herbal remedies that are claimed to be effective in treating diarrhea.

Berlin, Dr. Xavier Lozoya of Mexico and their colleagues are also putting together an encyclopedia of about 900 Mayan plant remedies and their uses. The native "cures" will be subject to a wide-range of tests, both in the test tube and in human patients, to verify their claims.

"This is not folklore. This is a scientifically based system of knowledge," Berlin said.

The Mayans lived in southern Mexico, Guatamala and northern Belize from about 300 A.D. to about 900 A.D. and had "one of the greatest civilizations of the Western Hemisphere," according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.