The Huihui Yaofang: List of Medicinals, with Comparisons

November 30th, 2018

Arabic Medicine in China: Tradition, Innovation and Change


Paul D. Buell

Eugene N. Anderson



Part B: Medicinal Items Mentioned and Used in the Huihui Yaofang [Ver. 16 August 2018]


  1. N. Anderson

Characters supplied by Paul D. Buell




As most readers will know, the Huihui Yaofang was a vast encyclopedia of Near Eastern medicine, compiled—evidently from Central Asian sources and probably by Iranic-speaking experts—in Yuan China, in the 14th century; what survives is about 1/6 of a Ming edition.


A modern edition appeared in 1996.  Editor Y.C. Kong and his collaborators—including Shiu-Ying Hu, the world’s leading expert on China’s ethnobotany—have identified most of the medicinals. We have found the rest, with a very few exceptions. (Another modern edition, by Song Xing, 2002, adds some useful confirmation.) Shiu-ying Hu died in 2012 at age 102, having had an active career as ethnobotanist for Harvard University for over 70 years.


In what follows, we list the substances with their modern biological classification and with brief summaries of their ascribed medical values in classical Greek, Arab, Jewish, Central Asian, Indian and Chinese medicine, using the standard references (discussed in detail below).




A total of around 381 entries appears below (not counting synonyms and several completely unidentifiable items, which would bring the total to approximately 416). This does not translate to 381 species, because there are entries for generic things (“dung,” “soil”) and some entries that cover several species of plants that seem similar and were apparently used similarly. The actual total of identifiable species (or substances) is 287 plants, 68 animals and animal products, and 26 minerals. In some cases, multiple substances are derived from one species; in others, we are not sure of which species was used in the HHYF and thus include data for two or three similar ones. We have tried to make one entry correspond to one taxon as listed the HHYF. In many accounts we have included data on related species when such data are clearly relevant (e.g. when several similar species are used in similar ways in Central Asian medicine, as with oreganos, smartweeds, and many others). At the same time, when different species within a genus have different names in the HHYF, as with cinnamon relatives, mints, and Prunus, we have given separate accounts to each named category.


We can do no more than follow the identifications in Kong’s edition (Kong 1996) of the HHYF, including the various papers republished there. but some of these identifications are almost certainly wrong (see e.g. Launaea below). Further work is sorely needed.  Fortunately, most of the Arabic, Persian and Chinese names are well known and apply to well-known herbal and animal medicinals. It is striking to note how many of the plants in the HHYF are still used, and proven by biomedical research to have actual value.


The plant family assignments given herein are not always those given in earlier sources. When possible, I follow Hu Shiu-ying’s great work on Chinese food plants.[1] Recent research, especially genomic and cladistic work, has dramatically revised many earlier family alignments. The lily family, in particular, was once known as “the Smith family of the plant world”; there were once thousands of “lilies” only very dubiously related. This family has now been broken up into several tightly-defined groups that are known to be actual lineages. Everyone knew the lilies were a mess, but no one knew quite what to do about it, until modern genetics and chemistry gave them the tools.


We have tried to be conservative on this, not accepting unproven changes. Where confusion would be certain and problematic, because the changes are particularly recent, we have included the traditional family names in parentheses after the modern ones. (The very old, long-abandoned names ‘Compositae’ for Asteraceae, ‘Labiatae’ for Lamiaceae, ‘Cruciferae’ for Brassicaceae, and ‘Umbelliferae’ for Apiaceae are used in the oldest literature. I have not bothered to indicate this below.)


Species and genus names are given in standard current versions, which may need revision in some cases. Dominik Wujastyk)[2] is not alone is complaining not only about the difficulty of finding scientific names for Asian herbs, but also about the lack of taxonomic agreement about names even when the identifications are certain. Nonetheless, there is a reason for changes in Latin nomenclature.  Some names are just plain wrong. Others were (mis)applied by scientists who did not realize someone had named the plant already. Most often, research shows that a plant is more different from, or more similar to, another plant than was previously realized. In Wujastyk’s example, Nardostachys jatamansi, Indian spikenard, was once classed in the genus Valeriana, but turned out to be too different to fit in that genus.  Other names have also been applied to it but are not valid. At least scientific names are consistent and are based on something. The Sanskrit, Arabic, Chinese, English, and other names that have been used for Nardostachys are also confusing, as is often the case. Vernacular names are usually far too inconsistent to be very useful, though the Chinese did achieve a commendable consistency in herbal usage; Li Shizhen’s taxonomy is quite comparable to the best European taxonomy of his time in its systematic consistency. China lacked only a Linnaeus.


There is no question about the names—in Latin, Arabic, or Chinese—of common plants like fennel and coriander, but in folk practice, common names are regularly applied to anything of the same genus as the “correct” plant, and very different plants may be lumped under one name according to appearance. This became particularly problematic when New World crops came to Asia, because they were all too often given the name of some common native plant, leading to endless confusion. The Chinese transferred the name of an obscure variety of millet to maize.  Guavas were “foreign pomegranates,” pineapples were “foreign jakfruit,” and so for countless other species. All too often the word “foreign” is dropped in ordinary usage. In much of southeast Asia, chile (Capsicum annuum) replaced the completely unrelated and dissimilar long pepper (Piper longum) in spice use, and thus took over its name—for instance, lada in Malaysia and Indonesia. Mercifully, the HHYF dates to an earlier time, but we can see the same principle operating: often a Chinese name was used for a Near Eastern one labeling a plant of the same genus. We are left wondering if the Chinese plant itself was substituted. For example, recipes calling for quince use the Chinese name of the Chinese quince; we have no idea whether they used that species, or used the Near Eastern quince under the same name, or both.



Sources Used and Summarized


Hu: refers to Hu’s table, pp. 490 ff in the HHYF edition, of when plants are first mentioned in Chinese herbals. (She gives traditional dates for those. The actual dates of the entries in question may be later, since the Chinese, like modern medical writers, revised their medical textbooks every so often.)


From here onward, sources are listed, and utilized in the text, in chronological order of the material they treat: Ancient Egypt first, then the Greeks, and then the Muslim and Jewish sources in order by year, then Nadkarni’s Indian remedies, and finally Li’s Bencao Gangmu.


Material in parentheses is ENA’s commentary.


Manniche: Lisa Manniche’s An Ancient Egyptian Herbal brings together the relevant lore from the old papyri. I have briefly summarized pre-Greek uses. Greek medicine was introduced with Alexander the Great, if not before, and became dominant.


Theophrastus: Theophrastus, a student a Plato and Aristotle, compiled the first known botany textbook, a superb and thorough overview. In some areas, notably timber, his work is up-to-date enough to need few revisions today. He practiced ethnobotany 2200 years avant la lettre by asking mountain and island folk about their plants and plant uses; he bunched together in a brief section the material about which he had a healthy skepticism, such as the idea that mandrake root harvest required one to draw three circles around the plant with a sword, and for a second piece one must dance around the plant talking of erotic love.[3]


Unfortunately for our purposes here, his section on medical uses is short; possibly much is lost, or possibly he ran out of time. I have drawn on a few accounts where the plants are identifiable and the uses specified in some detail.


Theophrastus was unknown in Western Europe until the Renaissance, being “translated from Greek into Latin by Teodoro of Gaza (c. 1398-c. 1478).”[4] There is no evidence that he was any better known in Mongolia.


Athenaeus, in The Deipnosophists (1928-1941),[5] quotes Theophrastus and others on edible plants and medicine, but in snippets too short to be of any value here. The very long book is purportedly a record of a long dinner spent discussing foods, but is merely a bit of scholarship by quotation; no dinner could possibly be that dull, surely?


Dioscorides: Dioscorides shows a fascination with plants that are diuretic, emmenagogue, abortifacient, and curative of poisoning. Snakebite especially was an obsession, emphasized far beyond any believable role it may have had in Roman Empire pathology. Countless plants are given as snakebite cures. By modern standards, none of them works. This stands in contrast to the diuretics and abortifacients, many or most of which do work.


One wonders how all this could be sustained. How could so many plants be cited for snakebite, when none actually functions against venom? Probably, the Greeks, like many people today, did not well distinguish venomous from nonvenomous snakes, and listed as “good for snakebite” anything that relieved a nonvenomous bite.


Skin diseases also feature largely in his perspective. This makes more sense; skin conditions are very common, and easily relieved (if not always cured) by commonly available plant materials.  The modern Yucatec Maya have a vast number of skin remedies, because they have a vast number of skin problems. They explain that one never knows what plants will be around when one is suddenly wounded or burned in the field, and so one must know all sorts of plants that can provide first aid.  In addition, some remedies work for one condition, some for another. The ancient Mediterranean surely had similar problems and needs.


Fits, convulsions, and pains rank next. Cures for fevers and other classic infectious-disease syndromes are notably fewer. He describes herbs in concrete terms, rarely in theoretical except to say that some are “warming”; most of these do indeed feel warming, often because they stimulate blood flow to the skin. A few are cooling. The theories of Galen are far from Dioscorides’ pragmatic soldier’s approach.


This relative listing of concerns evidently provides much insight into what were, in Dioscorides’ day, considered to be the common problems. Perhaps they were of special concern to soldiers in the field.


Like herbalists everywhere (at least everywhere that the family occurs), Dioscorides uses many mints (Lamiaceae). This family does indeed contain a striking number of medically active substances, including many strong antibiotics. More notable is his—and the Greco-Roman world’s—fondness for Apiaceae (carrot family, including celery, dill, and other common flavorings). A vast variety is recommended, and many rank among his cure-alls. Apiaceous seeds often contain digestion-aiding oils, and the resins of many have medical effects. Still, one wonders how the value of Apiaceae became so emphasized.


Available is Robert Gunther’s 1934 edition of the translation by the great English botanist John Goodyer. Goodyer translated the book in 1652-55 but never published it, and indeed it has never been published except in this one edition. Identifications are often tentative, though many have worked on the problem; the 1934 book includes an appendix listing identifications assembled by Charles Daubeny in 1857[6]  and provides updated ones. These seem generally accurate, but I have made silent corrections in some cases, especially for new scientific usages. Some identifications are clearly wrong (see e.g. under Pinus below) and many must be only guesses.


Goodyer inconsistently transliterated Greek ypsilon as “y” or “u.” To make comparison with scientific and English names easier, I follow standard botanical usage, making it “y” when it is a stand-alone vowel or first vowel in a diphthong and “u” when the second element in diphthongs.  (I thus avoid the French system, widely used today in English as well as French, in which ypsilon is “u” and the long-u sound is “ou.”)


Galen of Pergamon (130-200 AD):  Galen’s book on food[7]  adds very little to the specifics of herbal application and use. He usually added his theoretical classification system to the general herbal knowledge of the time (better found in Dioscorides, Pliny, etc.).


Anthimus (fl. 511-534),[8] though an important medical writer of later antiquity, has even less of relevance here. But he gives many interesting notes on uses and digestibility, but little about medicine.


Paul of Aegina (625-690) maintained the herbal and Galenic traditions in Byzantium. He was a key link to later medicine and is among those Greek authorities cited by name in the HHYF.


Levey: Martin Levey’s translation of medical formulary of Al-Kindī (801-873)[9] goes well beyond mere translation; his enormous ethnobotanical appendix covers everything from ancient Sumer, Babylon, and Egypt to modern India. Below, however, we focus on Al-Kindī’s own uses. His remedies are overwhelmingly for external application; sores, skin problems, and mouth and eye conditions were obviously major problems then, as they are today in the Middle East. Many of the other remedies are for stomach ailments, and are usually good homely remedies and mild but effective herbal cures of the sort familiar to many who grew up in mid-20th century America.


Notable is the overlap between Al-Kindī’s drugs and the HHYF’s. Few drugs are found in one but not the other. One is also struck by the similarity with the remedies recorded from Morocco by Bellakhdar et al.[10] in the late 20th century, and visible now in such venues as the great bazaar in and around the center of Marrakesh. Notable, also, and not unrelated, are the high percentage of Al-Kindī’s drug names that have gone over into English, or, alternatively, are from the Greek and thus cognate with Greco-English and/or scientific names. Greek kentaurion became Arabic qanṭūriyūn, Latin and scientific Centaurium, English “centaury.”


Al-Bīrūnī (973-1048): This Central Asian polymath, one of the greatest Islamic scholars, produced Al-Bīrūnī’s Book on Pharmacy and Materia Medica, edited and translated by the Pakistani Yunani hakim (doctor) Mohammed Said.[11] Al-Bīrūnī spent time in India and wrote an excellent account of that subcontinent, and thus learned about Indian drugs, though it is not clear if he had done so when he wrote this herbal. Even without full Indian treatment, his herbal is one of the more astonishing medical sources of all time. An incredible work listing some 850 simples, it updated Dioscorides and added Near Eastern discoveries and philologies.  Unfortunately for our purposes, it is much more an economic botany than a pharmacology.  Details on medicinal uses are fewer than on wood uses, local varieties, edibility, and even poetic and metaphoric uses. When he does give medical uses, he often cites them to Dioscorides or to Rāzī. It is clear from the entries that he intended this book to be used as a supplement to their herbals. It provides names in many languages, background information, and substitutions, but generally refers the reader to them (sometimes to Galen, Mesue, and others) for the medicinal uses. When he does give medicinal uses, it is often because the plant is obscure. Such obscure plants did not generally become known to the Mongols or Chinese, and thus are outside our scope here. Serious comments on medical uses almost stop about half way through, resuming with Letter 20. (A copyist at the end of 19 in the version used by Mohammed Said says the previous copyist must have been “insane,” because there were so many mistakes and omissions).  Minor comments and names are ignored in the present work. Said’s translation is an astounding accomplishment in itself, involving not only translation and annotation but identification of the plants, animals and minerals mentioned; moreover, Sami Hamarneh provides an appendix reviewing al-Bīrūnī’s life and work and providing notes on all the dozens of authors drawn on by al-Bīrūnī in the book.


Here and elsewhere, Said and Hamarneh have provided a very large percentage of the English-language material on medieval Near Eastern medicine, just as Fred Rosner has done on the medieval Jewish material.[12] Without them and a very few others (notably Michael Dols and Martin Levey) we would know very little about this huge and important tradition.


Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā, 980-1037). Avicenna, born near Bukhara, was probably the greatest medical man between Galen and the “scientific revolution” of the 16th-17th centuries. Avicenna’s Canon was the basic medical book of the entire western world for centuries.  Its second volume is an herbal. Unavailable in English till very recently, this book was translated by the Hamdard Delhi group of Yunani doctors and edited and published by Laleh Bakhtiar.[13] (At the same time, the first volume was translated and published;[14] it had appeared before in a poor summary.) Avicenna’s drug records are summarized below.


An interesting point about Avicenna’s herbal, and to an extent al-Bīrūnī’s, is their awareness of Indian drugs. In Central Asia, they had much more opportunity to learn of these.


Like many later authorities, Avicenna uses very many drugs for the same purposes, and usually uses any given drug for many purposes. In particular, there is a standard list of uses for drugs considered hot and dry in the humoral system—as most active drugs are. They are used externally for swellings and wounds, and for earaches and eye troubles; internally, for respiratory problems and stomach aches. Many, perhaps most, of them do indeed work for these conditions—but some are much better than others. Some could be combined, but that is not often mentioned. I assume that the situation is the same as that which my Maya friends in the Yucatan Peninsula explained to ENA: You have to know all the plants that treat a given condition, because you never know which plants will be available when the need arises.


Like Dioscorides, he recommends an astonishing number of abortifacients—many of which are well-known in modern medical literature (and are often quite dangerous). Some of this was precautionary—warning women what to avoid—but at the very least these early societies, with their supposedly pronatalist policies, felt a clear need to know what would terminate a pregnancy.


Avicenna has notes on 226 of our medicinals: 182 plants, 32 animals, 12 minerals. This is by far the most mentions in any authority, Li Shizhen being the runner-up with 203.


Nasrallah: Nawal Nasrallah[15] appends to her translation of a medieval Arab cookbook an enormous, comprehensive glossary of Arabic terms for foods, including medicinal items. She includes considerable material from Medieval medical herbals. Some material is summarized below, but most of it duplicates the accounts in the more complete translations cited herein.


Graziani:[16] A general study of medieval Arab medicine as seen in the works of Ibn Jazlah (d. ca. 1100). He provides an appendix listing major drugs; in this he not only gives some of Ibn Jazlah’s uses, but provides considerable valuable comparative material, including otherwise impossible to find folk uses of today.


Maimonides (1135-1204): Maimonides[17]  lists several uses, mostly of foods, closely following Galen and Dioscorides. Maimonides’ incredible dictionary of drug names,[18] an early ethnobotany, is, alas, lacking in medical detail.


Levey and Al-Khaledy:[19] Translation and annotation of the important herbal of Shams al-Dīn Al-Samarqandī (ca. 1250-ca. 1310), the closest well-studied source in time and space to the HHYF. Most of the common drugs below are used by Al-Samarqandī, but it is hard to tell exactly how in most cases, since he usually provides only a long list of ingredients in an introductory paragraph or for a formulary recipe. It would be tedious to mention all cases, so only the most important ones are inserted in the species accounts below. Al-Samarqandī used carrot, cinnamon, cress, cucumbers, cyperus, frankincense, ginger, gourds, ironwood, lavender, lettuce, malabathrum, mint, myrrh, nightshade, peppers (black, cubeb, long), sagapenum, sarcocol, senna/cassia, scammony, sebesten, sesame, tarragon, wormwood, the mineral remedies, and most of the other commoner remedies described in the species accounts below, presumably in the usual ways. He also used several remedies not found in what we have of the HHYF, including whey (“milk of cheese”), which he recommends highly.


Lev and Amar: Efraim Lev and Zohar Amar[20] have studied the Cairo Genizah documents concerning medicine and extracted a vast amount of medical lore, including discussion of 278 materia medica items—interestingly close to the figure of 286, the figure for the medieval Levant, and also the average of modern folk medicine lists they could discover for the Middle East (but the modern Cairo markets produced fully 504 items, raising that average considerably).  They provide an extremely valuable review of materia medica in the Greek-Arabic-Jewish tradition from Theophrastus to the present (pp. 55-86). The entries under particular drugs review all early sources. This is the best and most valuable single compendium of medieval Near Eastern medications, but most of the information in it is from—or at least in—the other sources cited here, and it seems preferable to cite to them.


The discussions of drugs show that the Genizah physicians tended to use almost any drug for almost any condition. (So did Avicenna. So did medieval European doctors).[21] In particular, almost every animal, mineral and vegetable was used for the most common complaints—eye problems, stomach upsets, skin pathologies of every kind, kidney problems, hemorrhoids, swellings, and so on. One becomes weary of reading the same long list of uses for every drug, even those—and there are many—that have no conceivable value for any of the stated purposes. Clearly, the idea was to try everything and hope something worked.


Notable, here and in the classic early sources, is the use of virtually everything for eye medicine.  This is explained by the fact that the Near East’s extreme dryness, extreme dustiness and extreme crowding have always caused eye problems and diseases to be a major concern here—far more so than in countries with less extreme conditions. Evidently, anything that could soothe the eye, let alone actually treat diseases there, was pressed into service.


The level of sharing with the HHYF is astonishing. Some 200 of the 278 are shared, including all the mjaor ones. Only very local items (spiny lizards, rare desert plants, and the like) are not.


Kamal:  Kamal’s modern-day encyclopedia of Islamic medicine[22] contains a great deal about pharmaceuticals. It also has considerable data on bites, cancers, etc.


Fattening drugs: Kamal cites Avicenna: Almonds, hazelnuts, nigella, camphor, pistachois, cannabis (presumably the seeds), and pine seeds. Make into pills and take with wine. These are not only fattening but aphrodisiac.[23]


Conversely, slimming can be aided by centaury, birthwort, gentian, germander, parsley, sumac, and other herbs.[24]


Cauterization:  Major section; for many purposes. Local burning seems to have been used for almost everything. A huge section covers almost every condition.


Compounds: Another large section.[25]


Bellakhdar et al.:[26] A study of modern Moroccan folk and traditional medical uses. They recorded 231 species and 567 indications. Digestive remedies were the most frequent, followed by cosmetic and skin uses. (ENA has had the opportunity to observe this medicinal tradition in the field, visiting traditional drug markets and observing medicinal plants in the Atlas; thanks to Dr. M. Ouhammou for superb ethnobotanical guiding.) The findings here show great similarity to Kamal’s Egyptian data and lesser but real similarity to ancient and medieval uses. There is a truly astonishing degree of overlap between modern Morocco and medieval North China in species and uses. There would surely be more if more of the HHYF had survived.


Ghazanfar:[27] This book is a wonderful ethnobotany of Arabia. Ghazanfar is based in Oman, an exceptionally enlightened Arab country as far as scholarship goes. She gives full nomenclature, usage, and treatment directions, especially for Omani practice. She gives very detailed descriptions of treatments and treatment methods. Particularly unique and valuable are her findings on women’s medicines, especially in relation to childbirth; this is an area almost totally inaccessible to male researchers today (less so in medieval times, when gender attitudes were generally more liberal in Arabia than they are now). She also has a great deal on aphrodisiacs—some two dozen plants being noted—and one wishes she had indicated whether any of these are used by women. This book would repay much more comparative research, but I am limiting citations to very basic nomenclature (no strictly local names) and uses. Interesting here, especially in comparison with Levey, are the number of plants in the HHYF that are in Arabic medicine but not in her book—usually because they are not native to desert Arabia, but are Greek plants (often extending into northern Arabia and montane Iran).


Lebling and Pepperdine:[28] This valuable book on Saudi Arabian folk medicine is a beautifully illustrated popular account (a “coffee table book”) rather than a thorough ethnobotany, but it is rigorous and valuable as far as it goes. It records in detail many household remedies. Again, the presence of a female researcher (Donna Pepperdine) allowed otherwise inaccessible material on women and childbirth to be recorded. Among the most interesting findings here is the apparently universal use of spices and herbs to restore strength and tone after delivery; this seems a close equivalent to the Chinese custom of “doing the month” by eating foods rich in protein, iron, calcium and other mineral nutrients.


Mandaville:[29]  James Mandaville’s superb recent ethnobotany of the Bedouin of Arabia.


Another reference with many modern folkloric uses of these plants is by Chishtiyya;[30] it adds little to what is extracted below, but has some interesting brief formulas that may be compared with the much longer ones in the HHYF.


Madanapāla Nighantu: An ayurvedic materia medica compiled for King Madanapāla (a central Indian king) in 1374 A.D., and thus almost contemporary with the HHYF. It has been edited and translated by Vaidya Bhagwan Dash assisted by K. Kanchan Gupta.[31] They provide good annotations and give the Sanskrit and many transliterations. Disease name translations are only approximate; the Sanskrit is given so that one can check the actual medieval indications. I have not provided the full transcriptions. In general, few of his remedies are in the HHYF. Many congeners are, but I have not summarized their qualities here.


The book discusses the various values of different types of waters, as does the YSCY and some of the Arab and Persian sources. It also discusses alcohol and alcoholic drinks at length—something that is of course rather thinly represented in Islamic works, and is surprisingly thin in Chinese sources also.


Interesting is the amount of sharing with the Near Eastern sources from slightly earlier.  Evidently, yunani (“Ionian,” i.e. Galenic) medicine had influenced ayurveda enormously by this time, and ayurveda had influenced the Near East at least as much. Outside our purview here, but very interesting in this text, are the many recommendations about foods, seasonal regimen (food, sex, exercise, etc.), and other matter, reasonably close to the Near Eastern works.


Dash’s identifications are not always perfect; Psidium guajava is given for one name (not in our database), but it did not reach India until the 16th century.


Nadkarni:[32] A standard English-language source on Indian traditional materia medica.  A huge collection of remedies, both ayurvedic and “unani” (i.e., yunāni, Greek). These are not distinguished, but the unani remedies are essentially the Arab-Persian ones. The book is a good source not only for Indian uses of the HHYF plants, but also for Persian ones, which are often not described in the Arabic sources. Of course, ayurvedic remedies moved into Arabic and Persian practice quite freely, too.


The number of uses of plants in Indian medicine is truly noteworthy; everything with any visible effect seems to be used for a vast range of purposes, and, notably, a huge range of unlikely plants are “aphrodisiac.” Medieval cookbooks and sexual manuals from India confirm this tendency to see aphrodisiacs in every garden.


More recent work by Vaidya Dash on India[33] has been consulted also.


Dash: Vaidya Bhagwan Dash, Materia Medica of Tibetan Medicine [34]  a wonderful compilation. Material is culled from Tibetan sources, primarily the sMan gyi min gi rNam Grans. It seems close to ayurvedic medicine—not surprising, because it is basically a translation of an 8th-10th century Kashimiri work, translated into Tibetan around 1013. Dash reports that it is still very influential in Tibet and neighboring areas, including Mongolia.[35] Dash’s own ayurvedic background is clearly relevant to his interpretations, and he seems to have selected sources particularly influenced by ayurvedic medicine.


Notable is the use of essentially all spices in Tibet to treat poisoning. Possibly they were used as emetics, as they are today, but a deeper belief seems implied.


In spite of the clear evidence of Tibetan influence on the Mongols and on the HHYF, the number of Tibetan medicines not in the HHYF is astonishing. The HHYF remedies truly are Near Eastern, with a solid Dioscoridean core. Tibet has had rather little influence on the pharmacopoeia of this book. See the reasoning on this in Part A.


We have also consulted Clifford).[36] We have had the benefits of discussion with Denise Glover, whose work on Tibetan medicinal plants is extensive but unpublished.


Eisenman: Eisenman et al., Medicinal Plants of Central Asia: Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan,[37] provides an excellent, thorough reference to medicinal herbs of high central Asia; gives the actual chemistry, and contemporary herbal uses. A fascinating note is the very large number of plants used medicinally in these two countries, many of them also used all over the western world, including Cnicus benedictus (blessed thistle) and Datura stramonium as well as Salvia (sage), Verbascum (mullein), and Silybum (milk thistle), that did not find their way into the HHYF. This seems truly remarkable. Conversely, medicines widely used in China and also in these parts of Central Asia, such as Codonopsis, did not make it to the west. These observations present interesting historical problems. Eisenman et al. list many biochemical findings for each plant; note that these are Russian or Central Asian research, often old and often preliminary, and are not to be taken as current demonstrated biochemical effectiveness! I have thus kept them strictly separate from my much more brief notes (in parenthesis) on current uses.


Sun: Sun Simiao, Recipes Worth a Thousand Gold, a great Tang Dynasty medical compilation (appearing 654 AD). Sun is quoted literally, since his work is beautifully concise and clear, and since it has not previously been translated or made available to non-Chinese readers. The translation here is by Sumei Yi, done in 2007 when she was a graduate student at the University of Washington, used by her kind permission; I have edited and commented on it.


Li:  Li Shizhen’s Bencao Gangmu, the famous Chinese herbal compilation that remains definitive in traditional Chinese medicine. (NB:  “traditional Chinese medicine,” with small letters, is the traditional medicine of late imperial and early 20th-century China. “Traditional Chinese Medicine,” with capitals, is a specific derivative of it, developed by the Communists after 1950, and quite different in countless ways from the older version.)  Li mentions some 203 of the medicinals in the HHYF, including at least 46 western ones and 15 from India and southeast Asia. Used here is the very unsatisfactory Foreign Languages Press edition,[38] which over-translates illness names (using English equivalents that do not exactly correspond to the traditional categories) and is otherwise problematical. Nonetheless, awaiting a full and improved translation, this version is satisfactory.[39] One very useful thing done by the Foreign Languages Press edition is capitalizing the humoral illness-causal categories (Hot, Cold, Wind, etc.) to separate them from literal heat, cold, and so on (but also from the Galenic hot/cold qualities of the ingredients themselves). I follow this edition in using “toxic” and “nontoxic” to translate you du “having poison” and wu du “lacking poison,” but actually the terms mean something closer to “poison-potentiating” and “safe in most applications.” They are also translated as “having a strong medicinal impact” and “not having a strong medicinal impact.” According to Chinese medicine, a plant that is you du may be poisonous or it may simply bring out poisons in other medicines or in a patient’s body itself. We have drawn the line at following their mistranslation of “balanced” as “plain”; balanced herbs are neutral between heating and cooling—they balance yang and yin.


Li usefully quoted all the major herbals he could find, so that we have data going back to early times. Outside of a small study of the 7th-century “Recipes Worth a Thousand Gold,”[40] there is little translation or specific study of these materials.[41] We await much-needed studies of Chinese herbals, especially Tao Hongjing’s monumental 6th-century works, which remain not only untranslated but quite little studied in the western world.


Striking is the comparison of Li’s mammoth compilation with the far more modest Greek and Arab herbals. For instance, he has 14 large pages (in the translation) on various aconites, as opposed to a page or so in the western sources. There is no room even to summarize adequately Li’s enormous detail; mere suggestions of the wealth are given below.


A problem for Chinese doctors of the old school was the enormous range of conditions treated by almost any important drug; how would one decide? Usually, standard mixtures were prepared.  But, also, our rather long experience with ordinary Chinese pharmacists and herbalists is that they knew quite well which drugs really, visibly, empirically worked for a given condition, and did not worry about the countless others specified for that condition in the old herbals although patients might demand something special. They would give artemisia for worms, or watercress for scurvy, for instance—not the minimally effective nostrums mentioned in Li’s more obscure sources. Not all their remedies worked, but at least they maximized their odds given what they could know.


It is worth noting that Li repeats with a straight face and proper respect the more ridiculous stories in the old herbals and in the folk wisdom of his own time, but is conspicuously silent about them when writing in his own voice to evaluate what an herb really does. This is exactly equivalent to Dioscorides’ (and his Arab followers’) “some say.” But even the long-suffering Li does sometimes denounce truly outrageous stories (see under Cinnamomum cassia).


A notable thing about Li’s book is that he clearly recognizes taxonomic reality, putting e.g. Artemisia species together, Brassica species together, and so on. The Chinese names do not reflect this; Chinese simply gives a quite separate name to every common plant, and tend to assimilate the rest to superficially similar common ones, with an appropriate adjective—so the pomegranate, when the Chinese acquired it from the western world, became the “seedy willow,” and then the South American guava (introduced by the Spanish or Portuguese) became the “foreign seedy willow.” Li sometimes arranges plants according to these ad hoc names, as in treating the ma “hemp” plants—sesame (hu ma), flax (ya ma) and marijuana (da ma)—together although they are very dissimilar and Li must have seen they were botanically very different.  Usually, however, he seems to have a pre-Linnaean view of taxonomy, similar to that in Europe in his time.


Meserve: Ruth Meserve[42] has published a short list of Mongol medicinal plants collected by Ralph Chaney on the Roy Chapman Andrews expedition to Mongolia in 1925. He provides extensive commentary. The most interesting thing about the list is how few plants from it are on the list below. Only a few widespread species are shared. Clearly, the HHYF was concerned solely with transmitting received medical wisdom; unlike the YSZY, it did not incorporate or seek to incorporate specifically Mongol knowledge.


In addition to the above sources, Chipman[43] summarizes a pharmacist’s manual from Cairo, ca. 1260. It mentions many (perhaps most) of the medicines herein, and gives uses and formulas, as well as tests for genuineness. The material is taken from the classics, and has nothing significant to add, but is interesting to show what was standard practice in the developed west as the Mongols were expanding.


For the following list, Uphof[44] and Wikipedia always provide faithful backup, especially useful when no one else gives the authorities and families. Tobyn et al[45] provide a great deal of information, not summarized here, on post-medieval uses of herbs in European medicine; most of the herbs are in our list below.


There is a huge modern literature on medical botany, and all or nearly all the plants mentioned herein have been the subjects of extensive studies, mostly chemical and taxonomic; a simple computer search turns up many, and there is no reason to go into this literature.


Below, material in parentheses, beyond simple word queries and synonyms, are our own observations from wide experience with Chinese and other folk medicines.



The Medicinals




Acacia gummifera Willd., Fabaceae. Bunk (Persian).


Manniche: A. nilotica for vermifuge, swellings, sores, wounds, etc., and even in bandages on broken bones (the tannin might ease the pain and swelling).


Dioscorides: I-133, akakia, A. vera [and probably other spp.]. Binding and cooling. Juice of leaves (and/or fruit) for eyes, sores, skin conditions, etc. Stops excess menstruation and related conditions (presumably leucorrhea). Stops diarrhea. Wash for eyes. Gum, with egg, good on burns. Also used to make black hair dye.


Levey: A. arabica gum for lesions, teech, cough, eyes, etc.


Al-Bīrūnī: Astringent, haemostatic, darkens hair, good for skin, good in eyes for conjunctivitis and redness, used for leucorrhoea, etc. Some of this obviously refers to the bark extract rather than, or as well as, the gum.


Avicenna: A. arabica, shaukah, qaraẓ, aqāqiā. Gum of Arabic trees is hot; Egyptian cold and dry. Constricting. Very good for many external uses, including swellings. Roots and seeds of Egyptian acacia for healing joints. Acacia gums used for vision, coughs, sore throat, stomach, etc. A. nilotica (and probably other spp.) hot and dry, strengthening, clears skin, good for stomach, but disturbs the mind.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Usual uses; important in Al-Samarqandī’s herbal.


Lev and Amar: A. nilotica gum for eyes, headache, stomach, teeth, cleasning, fractures, etc.  Less usual is a use as “a depilatory for hairy women” (p. 181), presumably as Persian wax is used today. Hot and dry. The highly astringent juice of acacia pods was used in sexual medicine “to constrict the glans and strengthen the penis, as well as in a preparation to restore virginity” (p. 181; i.e. to constrict the vagina to give the false impression of virginity). Other acacias of uncertain identity also used.

Kamal: Sont, shokah; “anciently for heoptysis and ophthalmias” (28).


Bellakkhdar et al: ‘alk talh. For broncho-pulmonary infections; antitussive.


Ghazanfar: A. nilotica resin for cataracts; leaves for diarrhea; seed extract for diabetes; leaf paste for boils; smoke of pods for colds. A. senegal gum for many medicines. Several other species used locally.


Nadkarni: Acacia spp., gums astringent, demulcent, expectorant, etc.; for a vast range of uses; shoots, seeds, leaves for many uses also, most obviously depending on the tannins in them.


Li: A. catechu known only as an “earth,” a resin imported from far off.


(The powerful catechin tannins in acacia actually make it very effective for many medical uses.  Various acacia products were officinal in the United States well into the mid-twentieth century.)



Aconitum ferox Wall., Ranunculaceae. Bish


Dioscorides: IV-78, akoniton eteron, Aconitum lococtonum and/or A. napellus, wolfsbane, to kill wolves. IV-77, akoniton, probably Doronicum pardalianches, used to kill “Panthers and Sowes, and wolves, & all wild beasts” (Gunther 1934:475).


Al-Bīrūnī:  Khāniq-al-namir. Aconitum lycoctinum. Poisonous. Kills wild animals. Discussion followed by a number of other poisons of dogs and wolves; species of Aconitum or other poisons; identifications unclear.


Avicenna: Deadly poison, but used for skin conditions, and very carefully taken for this also. A. lycoctonum very poisonous, too much so to use; only for poisoning wild animals.


Kamal: Akonit, or khaneq al-theb (“strangler of wolf”). A. napellus for poisoning, but also “sedative, antipyretic and sudorific” (29). For rheumatism, gout, cough, asthma.


Nadkarni: Root used for diaphoretic, diuretic, antiperiodic, anodyne, antidiabetic, antiphlogistic, antipyretic, narcotinc, sedative. Acrid and poisonous. Several other spp. mentioned.


Dash: A. heterophyllum cold, digestive stimulant, carminative, cures dysentery and parasites.


Eisenman: A. karakolicum and A. soongaricum taken in kumys, broth, etc., in spite of high toxicity, for tuberculosis and headaches and sore throats; externally for rheumatism and similar painful conditions. A. leucostomum used for heart arrhythmia. A.talassicum for rheumatism, malaria, veterinary medicine.


Li: A. carmichaeli, loulanzi: Bitter, pungent, toxic. Good for malignant dysentery, scrofula and Cold. Malignant sores and leprosy. Directions given.


  1. coreanum, baifuzi: Warming and usually considered toxic. Treats pains, stagnation of blod, face ailments, pathogenic Cold and Wind, etc. Tonifies liver.
  2. kusnezoffi, wutou: Several opinions on humoral qualities; all agree it is toxic. Used for fevers due to Wind, etc. Several pages of indications and formulas, most for dispelling Cold conditions (but also fevers and much else); one is warned of toxin, and Li gives a personal reminiscence of a friend who died of overdose.
  3. ochranthum, niubian: Minor use, largely to kill ectoparasites on people and animals.

(Well-known alkaloid toxins make this a dangerous medicine.)


Li: A. carmichaeli, loulanzi: Bitter, pungent, toxic. Good for malignant dysentery, scrofula and Cold. Malignant sores and leprosy. Directions given.


  1. coreanum, baifuzi: Warming and usually considered toxic. Treats pains, stagnation of blod, face ailments, pathogenic Cold and Wind, etc. Tonifies liver.
  2. kusnezoffi, wutou: Several opinions on humoral qualities; all agree it is toxic. Used for fevers due to Wind, etc. Several pages of indications and formulas, most for dispelling Cold conditions (but also fevers and much else); one is warned of toxin, and Li gives a personal reminiscence of a friend who died of overdose.
  3. ochranthum, niubian: Minor use, largely to kill ectoparasites on people and animals.

(Well-known alkaloid toxins make this a dangerous medicine.)



Acorus calamus (Chinese form sometimes separated as A. gramineus Soland.), Acoraceae.     Native.


Manniche: A. calamus rhizome powdered for ant repelling, perfume, tooth powder, shampoo…, at least in later times and very likely in ancient times.


Dioscorides: 1-2, akoron, Iris pseudacorus, root for body pains, liver, ruptures, convulsions, spleen, eye medicine, poisoning. 1-17, kalamos euodes, Acorus calamus, root for kidneys/diuresis, hernia, reducing menstrual flow (as drink or pultice), cough (incl. smoke with terebinth resin), etc.


Levey:  A. calamus, teeth; memory and mind cure.


Avicenna: Wajj. Persian agir. Hot and dry. Usual minor uses for hot dry drugs, plus use for stomach gas, improving complexion, treating convulsions and muscle rupture, pain of liver, abdominal pain, hernia, uterine pains, diuretic, emmenagogue, stimulant.


Lev and Amar: Stomach, colic, tonic.


Kamal: ‘Erq-aikar, al-wagg. simulant; for eyes.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, emetic, nauseant, stomachic, aromatic, expectorant, carminative, antispasmodic, sedative. In unani specifically, aphrodisiac; for sight, antipoison; for digestion, cold, coughs, nervous complaints.


Dash: Indigestion, appetite. Throat, etc.


Li: Changpu. Treats pain due to Wind, Cold, Humidity. Stops coughing, opens Heart orifice, etc.; very long list of indications. Cheers the spirit.

Baichang, A. calamus, receives much less attention. Apparently used as a poor substitute for the foregoing.


(Sweet flag still widely used medicinally, especially by Native Americans, the plant being circumpolar in distribution)



Adiantum capillis-veneris L., Polypodiaceae. Barsiyyawashan (Persian).


Dioscorides: IV-136, adianton, A. capillus-veneris, “is of force” for practically anything: asthma, dyspnoeia, pox, etc.; diuretic and emmenagogue; for spleen, stones, stopping diarrhea, curing poison, sores and boils; grows and restores hair; and even makes fighting-cocks braver when fed to them![46]


Avicenna: Neutral tempering or slightly hot and dry.  Dissolving, blood thinning, constricting.  Ashes for baldness. Used for abscesses, tubercular lymph glands, malignant ulcers, dandrusff, itches.  Internally for lungs, coiughs, stomach, urine, urinary calculi.  Emmenagogue. Aspleenium  hot and dry, diutant, dissolvent. Used for spleen. Also kidney and bladder stones.


Lev and Amar: kuzbarat al-bi’r, etc. Hair, purgative, snakebite, worms, stones, stomach skin.  Expectorant. Stops hemorrhages, accelerates menstruation, diuretic. Asplenium onoperis for spleen (hence name) and hemorrhoids, intestines, etc. For melancholy and related conditions.


Nadkarni: Expectorant, diuretic, emmenagogue.


(Widespread tonic use continues today)



Aegle marmelos Correa, Rutaceae.  Bull. BiLi.


Avicenna: Hot and dry. Diluent; blood thinning. Fruit bitter, piungent, constrictive, but soothing like honey.

Nadkarni: Cooling, alterative, nutritive. Fresh fruit is laxative. Unripe is astringent, digestive, stomachic. Pulp stimulant, antipyretc, antiscorbutic.


(Note that this is an example of an almost strictly Indian medicinal in the HHYF. The central Asian Avicenna must have learned of it from India, directly or indirectly. Indian contacts were deep and wide in central Asia in his time.)



Agaricus campestris L., AgaricaceaeALiFong, AliHun; ghārīqūn


Dioscorides:  III-1, agarikon. He thought it was a root, but he knew that at least some agarika grew on stumps like mushrooms. Binding, warming, for sores and ruptures and falls, for all respiratory conditions, liver, rashes, “womb stranglings, and sickly looks”; for spleen, stomach, blood, pains, epilepsy, constipation, snakebite; emmenagogue, and for “women suffocated in ye womb,” malarial shivering.[47] Certainly useful, but we remain unsure what the term agarikon comprised.


Avicenna: Hot and dry. Dissolving and diluent of thick humors. Used for swellings, asthma (with wine), stomach ache, purging black bile and phlegm, fevers, insect bites. A different species, fuṭr or kashnaj, identified as Boletus luridus in our source, is cold; minor external uses. Notes poisonous mushrooms, which cause numbness, strokes, etc., and bear rapidly putrefying and sticky substances on the cap; these could be Amanita or a toxic Russula or other bolete.


Levey: Malaria, jaundice, stomach, liver.


Nasrallah: Sweet but turns bitter. Cures stomach-ache, diarrhea, etc.


Lev and Amar: Al-Kindī used it for malaria, intestines, liver. Maimonides: cleansing, expectorant. Hot and dry. Ibn Sīnā: for epilepsy and malaria. Other uses noted, including modern one to stanch wounds—presumably powdered (a use known from my own folk tradition).


Nadkarni: Tonic. A. ostreatus astringent.


Li: Moguxun. Reinforces Intestine and Stomach, dissolves phlegm and regulates qi, but mainly a food.



Agrimonia eupatoria L., Rosaceae.  Ghafath. Afeidi 阿肥的


Levey:  Ghāfit. In electuary for jaundice, and phlegm.


Al-Bīrūnī:  Notes some differences of opinion. Benign, incisive, detersive; slightly styptic. For falling hair, etc. Drunk (and/or applied?) for skin problems.


Lev and Amar: ghāfit. Poisons, stings, bites; liver, kidneys, eyes, cough, fever, jaundice—in short, the standard things for which the Near Eastern sages used almost every drug.


Kamal: astringent, tonic, antihelminthic. Leaves and root (only leaves mentioned for antihelminthic action).


Nadkarni: Aromatic, astringent, antihelminthic, diuretic. (Note near-identity to Kamal’s Egyptian uses.)


Eisenman: A. asiatica. Hemostatic. “Decoction of underground parts and dried stems and leaves is used”) p. 26) for gastrointensinal conditions; astringent; for rehumatism and verious external conditions. Flowers also.



Ajuga chamaepitys Schreb., Lamiaceae. Kamafitus (Gr), Kemafeitusi  可馬肥禿思, Ar


Dioscorides: III-175, chamaipitys, A. chamaepitys, ground pine. Rashes; liver, kidneys, being diuretic; aconite antidote; with figs for stomach; with honey etc. for purge; several other minor uses. III-176, chamaipitys etera, ?Teucrium or Ajuga iva; chamaipitys trite, Passerina hirsuta.  Uses as for 175.  III-153, anthyllis, second type, may be A. iva; for kidneys and epilepsy, and as pessary for womb inflammations (with rose and milk).  Used on wounds.


Eisenman: A. turkestanica for weight, hair growth, ulcers, burns, wounds. Several compounds shown to have anabolic and tonic activity.



Ajuga iva Schreb., Lamiaceae. Subtended under Kamafitus


Dioscorides: See above.


Bellakhdar et al:  Shendgura. Antihelminthic, panacea (sic), and for intestinal disorders


Nadkarni: A. bracteosa astringent, aperient, diuretic.



Alectoria usneoides. Usneaceae. Ushnat, Ushna; includes also Usnea spp. and probably other lichens.


Dioscorides: I-20-21, bryon, Usnea sp., lichen. For pains of vulva; suppositories; etc. Used in perfumes and painkillers for its binding quality [medical or physical?].


Galen: Astringent.


Levey: Swollen spleen; eyes.


Vicenna: Ushnah. Hot, or possibly cold; dry. Relieves inflammations, swellings, etc. With medicinal oil for joints. Produces sleep if soaked in wine and taken. Clears vision. Stops vomiting; also for stomach, relieving gas, etc. Sitz bath relieves uteral pain.


Lev and Amar: Usnea sp., Parmeliaceae, ’ushna. Swellings, furuncles, stiffness, eyes, heartbeat, stomach, womb obstructions, menstruation, liver, womb pains, anaesthetic. Stops vomiting.


Li:  [Songluo 松蘿, Usnea spp.  Bitter, sweet, balanced, nontoxic.  For malaria and some other serious illnesses.


(Useful, powdered, for stanching blood and the like, but the internal uses seem without any biomedical foundation.)



Allium cepa L. (including the var. ascalonicum), Alliaceae (Liliaceae). Ishqīl/Yisijili 亦思吉里 also Ba©al l-fār, when processed and roasted, and Khallu l-‘un©uli , “vinegar onion.”


Manniche: A. cepa, astringent. Stops excessive menstruation, bleeding; for mummification also.  (Probably it had more astringent chemicals then than now.) Cooling (probably so considered because of the astringency).


Dioscorides: II-181, kromyon, A. cepa:  appetite, thirst, bringing about vomiting and purging, stomach problems generally, hemorrhoids (usually as suppository apparently). Juice with honey for a very wide range of conditions. With chicken grease, given for diarrhea, hearing and ear problems, and many other conditions. With raisins or figs as plaster for sores. If sick, eating too many onions brings lethargy.


Galen: Onions in general. Bitter, heating. Thin the humors and cut viscid ones. Lose bitterness (i.e. spiciness) when boiled.


Levey: Squill, Urginea maritima, Ishqīl. Malaria, jaundice, ear, stomach, liver pains; seeds demulcent and stimulant. Kurrāth, the Near Eastern leek-like onion, for headache and hemorrhoids.


Avicenna: A. cepa, baṣal; pīāz in Persian. Drops of the juice in the nose to cleanse the head.  Drops in ear for ringing, and heaviness of head, etc. Too much use harms the intellect and produces bad humors. In eye for cataracts; seeds with honey for corna. Minor uses internally and for piles. A. porrum, leek (actually a var. of A. cepa). Hirbah; kurrāth; these are different varieties, and tame and wild ones are distinguished. Hot and dry to different degrees, by variety.  Various external uses on wounds, ulcers, etc. Vapor of seeds for nosebleeds, and with cedar resin for tooth decay. Oral use causes bad dreams. Used for ringing in ears, but bad for teeth and eyes.  used for asthma, etc. Seeds for coughing up blood, and with vinegar for spleen. Pungent and so irritates digestive tract; produces gas. Diuretic (leaves). Emmenagogue. Stimulate sexual desire. Various combinations for pains, etc. Urginea maritima, ishqīl or ‘unsul, hot and dry, for serious external uses (very burning and destroying), asthma, cough, spleen, stomach, diuretic, etc.


Lev and Amar: A. cepa, baṣal. Eyes, ears, paresis and weakness of sexual organs, aphrodisiac.  Prevents vomiting. Strengthens memory and appetite. Externally, cleans wounds etc.; poultice.  Maimonides held it a bad food, partly because he recognized its low caloric value—so he recommended it for weight-loss diets. A. cepa var. porrum, Near Eastern form, kurrāth, hot and dry, nutrition and for hair and skin; trivial uses. Urginea maritima, squill, baṣal al-far’, etc., for malaria, jaundice, intestines, liver, epilepsy, etc. (Highly poisonous and might have some antibacterial action.)


Kamal: A. cepa, baṣal in Arabic, for whitlows (poultice), rubefacient (rubbed over), peel for filiarisis but doubtful; many ancient Egyptian uses. A. porrum (leek; these too actually a var of cepa), kurratl, qurt, etc., for expectorant; asthma, cough, respiratory diseases; enema for constipation.


Bellakhdar et al: Common onion, bsal, antiasthmatic and used for skin diseases and dental hygeine; leek, zgebt l-korrat, basal l-korrat, for hair care. Note dialect difference here and elsewhere between Maghribi Arabic and standard (bsal and basal vs. baṣal).


Ghazanfar: baṣāl. Juice for coughs, deafness, skin, stomach.


Madanapala: palāndu. Sweet. Properties similar to garlic.


Nadkarni: Oil stimulant, diuretic, expectorant. Bulb emmenagogue; topically as stimulant and rubefacient. Roasted, demulcent, aphrodisiac, antiseptic.


Dash: Sweet, minor uses.


Eisenman: A. karataviense, bulb used for lungs and breath. A. suvorovii, very rare, pickled for spitting blood and tuberculosis. Also on skin for eczema, itch, etc. Neither of these has known biomedical compounds beyond ordinary allicin compounds.


Li:  A. cepa.  Hucong胡蔥.  Edible.  Warming, dissolving, softening.  General tonic.  Allium nipponicum Fr. et Sav., Shansuan.  One of a number of Allium spp. used for dissolving, warming, etc.


(Onion juice is slightly antiseptic, and the plant seems good for heart health.)


Meserve: A. fistulosum, “for loss of appetite” (Meserve 2004:79). Muich comparative material.



Allium sativum L., Alliaceae (Liliaceae).  Saqardiyūn/Suguerdirong速古兒的榮


Manniche:  Oddly not used in medicine.[48] Used for food.


Dioscorides: II-182, skorodon, A. sativum; leukoskorodon, A. ampeloprasum; ophioskorodon, A. scorodoprasum; elaphoskorodon, A. subhirsutum. The descriptions make the scientific identifications likely. Used (eaten, or drunk) for stomach problems of all kinds, boils, eyes, vermifuge, snakebites, arteries, coughs, lice and nits. Plaster, mashed, for snakebite, hemorrhoids, bites of mad dogs; burnt with honey, for eyes, hair loss, etc.; with salt and oil or honey for papules and sores and skin problems of all kinds; with “taeda” and frankincense for toothache; with fig leaves and cumin for bites of the “mygale”; leaf decocted or used for smoke, as emmenagogue; mashed with black olives for diuretic (Gunther 1934:189-191). Apparently any garlic will do for all these diverse uses.


Levey: Thūm. Pain in ears; suppuration, fistulas.


Avicenna: Thūm. Hot and dry. Laxative and stomachic. Oddly, eating it with mountain mint destroys lice and nits. External uses include ash with honey for shedding skin. For baldness, freckles, abscesses, skin ulcers, mites; with germander for malignant wounds. Expels blood (i.e. sanguine humor), yellow bile and black bile. Poultice with vinegar for muscoles. Causes headache, butboiled for toothaches. Used for dandruff, and with egg yolk for cracks in the skull. With yok for eyes. For throat, cough, colds. Good for stomach. Hip bath of garlic leaves is diuretic and emmenagogue and helps expel placenta. Orally helps also. With honey-water for phlegm and worms. Purgative. Possibly anaphrodisiac, but helps produce semen.


Nasrallah: Hot; causes stomach-ache and thirst. Drying. Anaphrodisiac.


Lev and Amar: thūm. Both wild and tame used. (The wild would probably be a different species.)  Cureall: bites, stings, inflamattions, eyes, lungs, worms, throat, coughs, toothache, skin, emmenagogue, stomachic, diuret



Kamal: thom, theriac-al-fuqara’, “theriac of the poor”: “stomachic, antipyretic, intestinal antiseptic, e.g. in cholera, food poisoning, enteritis and enteric fever. It is expectorant in whooping cough and asthma; prevents dental caries, diuretic, emmenagogue, carminative and aphrodisiac. Boiled in water or milk, the fluid is useful in colic and urinary stones. Externally it is rubefacient. As ear-drops it improves hearing. Externally it also removes the toe-corn.” (45). Oil antiseptic.


Bellakhdar et al: tuma. Antihelminthic, antirheumatism, urinary antiseptic, antidote. Used for pulmonary and digestive disorders and hypertension (this last presumably a modern use).


Ghazanfar: thōm. Abdominal pain and colic, dandruff, diabetes, diarrhea, eyes, tuberculosis, bites and wounds.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Topically on bites and stings, bleeding, hair loss, warts. Taken for coughs, colds, diarrhea, fatigue, heart, stomach including vomiting. Eaten after childbirth, with spices.


Madanapala: laśuna. Hot. Laxative, carminative, aphrodisiac, rejuvenating, nourishing; for hair, intellect, dyspnoea, cough, fever, anorexia, edema, piles, skin, colic, parasites.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, carminative, emmenagogue, antirheumatic, antihelminthic, alterative.

An amazing ayurvedic paean of praise to garlic, dating to the 6th century, is translated by Dominik Wujastyk.[49] This document is so overwritten, and in such a delightful style, that one suspects humorous irony, but clearly someone really thought garlic was the great cureall. Significantly for our purposes here, the document occurs in a manuscript transcribed—and much later (re)discovered—in Kucha, Xinjiang.


Dash: Pungent, sweet, hot, promotes strength and virility. For intellect, voice, complexion and eyesight.  Helps in healing fractures. For heart, fever, pain and other conditions in abdomen, constipation, skin, parasites, etc. A cureall.


Sun: Garlic (hu葫): spicy, warm, and poisonous. The spiciness will go to the five internal organs. So it dispels deteriorative ulcer (yongju癰疽) and cures “the ulcers of hidden vermine” (?? chuang[匿蟲]瘡).[50] It eliminates the noxious feng (fengxie風邪) and kills the poisonous qi expelled by a gu (gu duqi 蠱毒氣). When the bulb has only one clove, it is best. The Yellow Emperor said, “If one takes raw garlic with salted herring (qingyu zhashi青魚鮓食), it will cause ulcer in his abdomen, or swelling in his intestines, or ache and hardness in the abdomen (shanjia疝瘕). If one has frequently taken raw garlic, he will hurt the of his liver when he is having sex. It will make one’s face lose color. In the fourth and eighth month, do not eat garlic. Otherwise, it will hurt the spirit (shen 神) as well as the qi of the bladder. It will cause gasping and the feeling of being frightened (chuanji 喘悸). It will cause the shortage of the qi around the ribs and the upper part of the side of the body (xielei qiji 脅肋氣急). It will also frequently cause one to lose sense of his taste.”


Li:  Dasuan 大蒜, hu.  Warming, nontoxic. Standard food.  Helps digestion but large amounts are harmful (in various ways for various reasons, depending on authority quoted). Several pages of indications and recipes.


(Allicin, the acrid chemical released when garlic is injured, is a powerful antibiotic and antifungal, which is why the plant produces it on injury.  Allicin is also stimulant. The medicinal value of this plant is very widely known and used.  Allium spp., especially this one, may well be the most-used drugs on earth.)



  1. victorialis L., Alliaceae (Liliaceae). Native Ishqīl/Yisijili 亦思吉里


Sun: Longroot onion (gecong格蔥): spicy, mildly warm, nonpoisonous. It gets rid of noxious poison caused by miasma (zhangqi瘴氣). If one has taken it for a long time, it is beneficial to the gall qi. It also strengthens the mind. Its seeds mainly treat the discharge of semen (xiejing泄精).


Li:  Gecong.  Pungent, warm, nontoxic. Usual Allium uses plus antiparasite action against worms, fleas, etc.


(A very common medicinal plant in East Asia; unknown in the old Near East. It is probably the “mountain onion” of some recipes in the HHYF, but see Veratrum.)



Aloe spp., incl. “Aloe vera L.” Asphodelaceae (Liliaceae).


The name Aloe vera is invalid technically, because Linnaeus never made it really clear which aloe he was naming, and no one has been much clearer since. Thus it is not used in standard botany works. Hu identifies the HHYF plant as A. barbadensis Miller (her number 973).  This is indeed the standard Chinese “aloe vera” (our observations as well as published sources), and also the Indian one (see Nadkarni), but other species are used elsewhere under the “aloe vera” name.


Manniche: Dubiously identified; possibly mentioned in a catarrh remedy.


Dioscorides: III-25, aloe, A. vulgaris. Juice, dried, for binding and drying. Produces sleep. For stomach cleansing, spitting blood, poxes, purge. For wounds and sores, including genital sores and cracks, hemorrhoids, eye sores, etc. With wine for falling hair; with honey and wine for tonsils and gums and mouth sores; roasted, for eyes. Dioscorides explains in detail how to tell the pure from the adulterated or counterfeit, indicating that this drug was (1) imported and (2) highly valued.

Avicenna: Notes 3 spp., Socotran (presumably A. socotrana), Arabian and Samangani. Socotra is best. Gum used. Hot and somewhat dry. Constricting. Helps sleep. Put on scars, skin infections, ulcers, arthritis, etc., and for hair loss and swellings. With rose oil, rubbed on head for headaches. Purgative; used for stomach ache, etc. Arabian form causes spasms when taken internally. Worst on cold days, so avoid it then.


Levey: ṣabir. In preparations for boils, abscesses, teeth, eyes, insanity and epilepsy, perspiration.


Lev and Amar: Eyes, inflammations, headaches; in compounds for insanity, epilepsy, sweat, abscesses, etc. Stomach, nervous system, liver. Maimonides: A. succotrina for haemorrhoids, stomach, bleedig, wounds. Several modern uses noted, including usual uses on wounds and sore places, as purgative, intestinal, etc.


Kamal: ‘wud, sabr, lowah; genus in general. Aloin is stimulant, stomachic, laxative. For anemia, amenorrhea, atonic dyspepsia; jaundice, piles; antihelminthic. Powder dusted on wounds. The Arabs would have used Socotra aloes and other local products.


Bellakhdar et al: sibr, sibr sidqi, A. succotrina [a.k.a. socotrana] laxative, hypoglycemic, and for skin.


Ghazanfar: A. vera leaves for fever, headache, eyes. Several other species used for various similar purposes.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Diabetes, hair loss. Modern evidence of value for diabetes.  Antioxidant.


Nadkarni: Cathartic, stomachic, tonic. Other Aloe spp. tonic, purgative, laxative, etc.


Dash: “A. barbadensis” [the traditional ID for “aloe vera”]:  laxative, rejuvenating, for eyes, corpulence, strength, virility. Spleen, liver, fever, burns, eruptions, bleeding, skin diseases.


Li:  Luhui盧薈.  Besides the obvious external uses: Vermifuge, tooth soothing, treats restlessness and suffocation from Wind and Heat, dispearses Heat, etc. Poorly known in China at the time.


(Aloes of the small-sized “aloe vera” group are still used worldwide for their well-known and well-demonstrated value in healing the skin, especially from sores and burns. They are grown in gardens and houses everywhere, and are among the most widely used herbal medicinals. The HHYF in several places specifies Socotran aloes, which come from a quite different group of species peculiar to that island.)



Alpinia galanga L., Zingiberaceae. Lesser galingale (galangal).  Introduced to China. Liangjiang良姜, Khūlanjān/Saowulinzhang掃兀鄰張. (Farsi), khwalinjān


Levey: A. officinarum, khūlanjān, greater galingale. Stomachic; for sexual overindulgence; for breathing, teeth, fistulas.  Both the name for this and for the lesser galingale are from Farsi khawlinjān.


Al-Bīrūnī: for dementia, citing, as so often, Rāzī.


Avicenna: A. officinarum, khalanjan, etc. Hot and dry. Useful in stomach, other very minor uses.


Nasrallah: Aphrodisiac, as well as digestive and breath-sweetening.


Graziani: A. officinarum, khūlanjan. Liver pain, digestion, stomachic, sciatica, easing urination (Ibn Jazlan). Ibn Butlān used it for sciatic vein, sweetening the mouth, strengthening cold stomach, increasing sexual power. Today in Iran, Iraq and Egypt as aromatic and carminative.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: As above. Minor.


Lev and Amar: khūlanjān, khawlanjān. Stomach including colic; tonic. Treats sex

addiction, strengthens respiration, improves virility, etc. Used in toothpaste.


Bellakhdar et al: A. officinarum, kudenjal, kolenjan; antitussive, stimulant.


Ghazanfar: A. officinarum in tea with cinnamon and cloves for colds, tonic, aphrodisiac.


Nadkarni: Aromatic, stimulant, stomachic, carminative. A. officinarum same.


Li: A. japonica, shanjiang山薑. Pungent, hot, nontoxic. Treats pain with cold, malignant qi, etc.

(Stimulant and stomachic chemicals well known.)



Althaea rosea (L.) Cav., Malvaceae.  Native


Theophrastus: II, p. 309. marsh-mallow (A. officinalis). For fractures; also in wine for coughs.


Dioscorides: III-144, malache agria, Malva sylvestris; malache kepaia, Alcea [=Althaea] rosea.  Plaster for sores, stings, skin conditions, etc. Decoction for womb, stomach pains, poisonings, etc. Makes one vomit up poison.

III-163, althaia, Althea officinalis, marsh mallow. Taken for wounds, sores, skin problems, and similar conditions (including nerves). With grease or turpentine, applied to inflammations; also for womb, expelling afterbirth etc. Decoction of root in wine for dysentery, toothache, and many other conditions. Seed for skin conditions; also for bites, stings, etc.


Avicenna: A. officinalis, khiṭmī. Slightly hot. Relaxant, drying, diluting, etc. External uses to soften, dissolve blood, mature boils, relieve skin conditions and joint pains. Poultice for swellings, edema, etc. Poultice on chest. Boiled down roots orally for inflammation of urinary tract, burning in intestines. Rub with vinegar and olive oil for insect bites.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: A. officinalis for few uses. Today for chest and bladder.


Lev and Amar: A. officinalis. Khaṭmī. Sciatica, varicose veins, liver, bile corruption, swellings, lung ailments, urinary tract burning, kidney stones, hot coughs, etc. Sweet, gooey root product used for lozenges, lotions and poultices. Also externally on all sorts of pains, abscesses, swellings, etc.


Kamal: Khatmiyah, khatmi, althea. A. officinalis: emollient, sedative. For throat inflammations.  Enema for enteritis. Ear bath for ear infections. Powdered roots used in pills.


Ghazanfar: Flowers in tea for coughs.


Nadkarni: Seeds demulcent, diuretic, febrifurge. Roots astringent, demulcent.


Eisenman: A. nudiflora, dried flowers for diarrhea. Root and seed decoction for postnatal bleeding.  Plaster of flower and leaf powder for tumors.  Fresh stem on cuts.  Roots and seeds diuretic tea. No demonstrated biomedical effect. A. officinalis, anti-inflammatory, for flu, sore throat, liver, urine, stones, cycstitis, tumors, prostatitis, joint pain.


Sun: Hollyhock/althea (wukui吳葵): it has another name, shukui蜀葵. It is sweet, mildly cold, smooth, and nonpoisonous. Its flower stabilizes the heart qi. Its leaves eliminates the heat caused by outside sources (kere客熱). It helps empty the intestines and stomach. It cannot be frequently taken, or it will slow one’s mind. If one is bitten by a dog and then takes it, the wound will never recover.


Li: Shukui. Seeds, roots, stem, flower used. Cooling; disperses heat. Diuretic. Treats dysentery and a large number of other conditions and pains.


(A. officinalis, marsh mallow, has a sweet substance in the root that can be beaten up into a frothy white mass—the original of marshmallow candy, now made of spun sugar. It was originally medicinal, for the soothing purposes indicated by many authors above. Eisenman notes that it is used in biomedicine to treat eczema, itch, skin inflammations, and for metabolism—taken internally for all. Also used with other herbs for stomach and intestinal ulcers, colitis, dysentery, kidneys, etc. Action seems largely due to soothing compounds. Probably many of the above accounts refer to this sp., not rosea.)



Ambrosia maritima, Asteraceae.  Bastard absinth, amrūsiyā. One mention in the Index.


Ghazanfar:  Bronchial asthma; antispasmodic; diuretic. Contains chlorosesquiterpene lactones.



Ammi copticum.  Nānakhwah.  See Carum copticum.



Amomum spp. including A. racemosum Lam., Zingiberaceae.  Hamama, qāqulla.


Dioscorides: I-14, amomon, begins by describing a bush, probably Cissus; then “that which commes from Pontus” fits Amomum subulatum or Elettaria cardamomum. Like many spice names, this one was reapplied from a non-spicy Greek plant to an Asian spice, but early enough for Dioscorides—that is, the late-edited version we have—to include both. The Amomum was “warming, binding and drying” and as a plaster could relax and ease pain, from eye conditions to scorpion stings. (Dioscorides was obsessed with scorpions; they must have been a major problem in the rural Greek world.) Decoction drunk for liver and kidneys, etc., and as antidote. Some of these uses are probably for the Cissus.


Levey: Amomum spp., qāqullah, in throat and mouth preparations, for hemorrhoids, for breathing, for stomachic.


Nasrallah: Heating, dry; more so than Ellettaria.


Lev and Amar: “palpitation, theriac, purgative, general tonics, indigestions, haemorrhoids, looseness of bowels, stomach ailments, and colic” (p. 101). Also wounds stings, eye problems, etc. Hot and dry (as it is today in China). Soporific, and for liver and kidneys.


Bellakhdar et al: Aframomum granum-paradisii, guza sahrawiya, stimulant, aphrodisiac.


Madanapala: A. subulatum, sthūlailā, for appetite, nausea, poisoning, mouth, head, vomiting, cough.  Hot.


Nadkarni: A. subulatum and relatives, stimulant, carminative. For stomach, kidneys, etc.

(Amomum species have strong stimulant and carminative effect.)


Dash: A. subulatum, digestive, carminative, aromatic, for bad taste in mouth. Cleases uterus.



Amomum tsaoko Crevost & Lemarie.  Native; another species, A. xanthioides Wall, probably included.  Introduced.  Caoguo草果. Egyp, Gaz is-sirk.


Li: These, and/or A. villosum, included in suoshami縮砂密. A. tsaoko is usually called caokuo is Chinese, this being the source of the scientific name. Warming. Generally considered pungent. Nontoxic. Treats consumptive diseases, diarrhea and dysentery, and other Cold conditions. Long detailed account with many indications.



Ampelopsis cantoniensis Planch. Vitaceae. Possible but uncertain identification for one entry in the Index.



Anacardium sp, Anacardiaceae. See Semecarpus anacardium.



Anacyclus pyrethrum (L.) Link, Asteraceae. Pellitory-of-Spain. ‘Āqīr qarh.ā


Dioscorides: III:73. Paralysis, phlegm, toothache.


Levey: Blemishes, neck pustule, sore throat, teeth, insanity.


Avicenna: Būzīdān (Arabic and Persian). Hot and dry. Minor rubbing and massaging uses for soothing. Cleans out nose. Used for toothaches.


Lev and Amar: ‘āqir qarḥa, ‘ud qarḥ. Eyes, throat, insanity, pustules, teeth, headaches, stomach-ache, malaria, chills, paralysis, swellings, stings. etc. Hot and dry.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, sialogogue.



Anamirta paniculata Colebr., Menispermaceae. Mahizahrah.


Nadkarni: Seeds for night-sweats (tuberculosis).

(Another case of a strictly Indian or Indo-Iranian drug in the HHYF.)



Andropogon schoenanthus L., A. nardus. Poaceae. Not in Ch med or native to Ch. Ikdhir/Yijiheier亦即黑而/Adiheier阿的黑兒. Also binj-e idhkhir [“root of schoenus”]. Also the flower, fuqāḤ-e idhkhir. In Chinese the root is Yijiheiergen亦即黑而根, “root of Idhkhir.”


Dioscorides: I:17. Probably the species he called sxoinos.


Galen:  Astringent, diuretic.


Levey, Levey and Al-Khaledy: idhkhir, lemon-grass. Kidneys. Modern uses for tumors, fevers, etc.


Lev and Amar: ’idhkhir. Kidneys, fever. Stones. Bleeding (flowers).


Bellakhdar et al: Antipyretic, diuretic. Idkir, obviously the source of the Chinese, which would have been pronounced almost exactly like idkir in Yuan times.


Nadkarni: Oil stimulant, carminative, antispasmodic, diaphoretic. Extensively used. Many other spp. of the genus used.


Dash: A. jwarancusa, bitter, cold, aphrodisiac, urinary.


Since lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) is not in the HHYF, it seems possible that the HHYF subsumes it under this name.



Anemarrhena asphodeloides Bge., Asparagaceae (Liliaceae). Native. Zhimu 知母


Li:  Zhimu. Huge synonymy. Bitter, cold. Very large number of indications, and history of use going back to long passage by Zhang Zhongjing (Later Han).



Anethum graveolens L., Apiaceae. Dill. Shabath Shibiti 失必提. Morocco: Karwiya amja. (Note that this name is derived from caraway, not the Arabic word for dill.)


Levey: Shabath. In plaster for arthritis, and in remedy for kidneys and bladder.


Al-Bīrūnī: Shibthth. Cites Dioscorides as diuretic; for gripes and inflammation; palliative.  Reduces hiccups. Palliates uterine pain; sitz bath. Seeds burnt for hemorrhoids. Galen gave it as hot and dry, resolvent, anodyne, soporific, matures inflammations, helps genitalia, soporific.  Rāzī adds: very hot, too much so for people with hot temperament; useful for gas and lumbago.  Other sources note galactagogue, etc.


Avicenna: Shibitt. Hot and dry. Externalliy, ash for ulcers; oil for nerve pain and other pains, on head for sleep, in ear for earaches.  Dill leaves and seeds internally for breast milk production; hiccups; abdominal pain.


Graziani: Shibith. Used by Ibn Jazlah for brain diseases, nose, ears, and throat illnesses, and vomiting poison. Boiled with oil and water and drunk. Al-Kindī used it for limb problems, kidneys, and bladder.


Lev and Amar: shibth. For arthritic limbs, kidneys, bladder, pain, breath, digestion.  Emmenagogue. Carminatve.


Kamal: Shabat. “The seeds are stomachic, cardiac tonic, carminative and soporific. The ashes are antiseptic for sores” (57).


Bellakhdar et al. (1991): modern Moroccan use as aphrodisiac, stomachic, antiseptic. Parts unspecified; presumably seeds and ashes as above.


Ghazanfar: Seeds for colic.


Li: Shiluo 蒔蘿. Pungent, warm, nontoxic. Known as a foreign drug; few uses; unclear image.  Diarrhea, gas, aches, etc.


(There appears to be more than a little confusion in the HHYF about apiaceous seeds. All the commonly-used ones contain volatile oils that are stimulant, carminative, and stomachic, as virtually the entire Eurasian world has known since time immemorial. They are in the first herbal writings.)



Angelica sinensis (Oliv.) Diels, Apiaceae. Native. Danggui 當歸


Li:  Danggui. Sweet, warm, nontoxic. This famous cureall rates 7 pages in the translation.


(As all those familiar with Chinese medicine know, it is used to treat almost everything that is not clearly a Warm condition. So important in women’s medicine that it is called “women’s ginseng.”)



Apium graveolens L., Apiaceae. Possibly subtended under Karafs but not attested as such in our HHYF although there are references to “wild celery” as an equivalent.

Var dulce DC


Manniche: Popular, important. Tonic, appetiser, carminative (mostly the seeds) and the juice is diuretic. Used in mixes to stimulate appetite, treat the teeth, “cool the uterus” (Manniche 1989:76), and as contraceptive. Used also in remedies for burns and eye problems.


Dioscorides: III-67, anethon. Dill. Decoction of dried leaves and seeds, lactogogue, eases sores and pains, stops diarrhea and vomiting. Diuretic. Too much dulls sight and reduces sexual potency. Seed burnt, ash applied to skin eruptions.

Avicenna: Karafs. Hot; dry only when dried somewhat. Relieves gas, opens obstructions, sudatory. Wild celery has hot and pungent properties; erosive, cleansing, irritating. Wild celery—from his description, including different species—treats baldness, cracked nails, warts, cold eruptions, vitiligo, scabies, etc. Poultice of the wild form for ulcers. Not good for headache, but roots promote nasal discharge. Garden celery for poultice. Diuretic, emmenagogue, harmful in pregnancy; can hasten labor or even bring abortion. (This probably refers to a wild type, since some wild relatives do indeed produce abortion.) Disagreements on stomach effects; not considered good. (The different species explain the differences here.)


Levey: Karafs. Seed in poultice for stomach, in electuaries, in drug for memory, and as stomachic. Modern uses as carminative, aromatic, tonic (evidently the seed).


Levey and Al-Khaledy: term (karafs) may include parsley. (The HHYF also seems a bit confused about parsley, celery and related herbs.)


Lev and Amar: karafs. “Pains, palpitation, theriac, sand in kidney, wounds, indigestion, haemorrhoids, looseness of bowels, stomach ailments, and colic, and as a purgative” (p. 136); Seeds for most of these, and diarrhea, flatulence, warts, diysuria, dysmenorrhea, hard swellings, abortifacient; leaves for inflammations; roots for male erection; celery water for sciatica, veins.  Once again we see the use of a very mildly active substance for a vast range of conditions, most of which would be trivially affected by it (if at all). Many of these uses persist and still more can be found in modern times.


Kamal:  Seed diuretic and antispasmodic; some say carminative, emmenagogue, aphrodisiac, stops lactation.


Nadkarni:  Unani uses as deobstruent, resolvent; pectoral tonic, carminative with purgatives; diuretic, emmenagogue, etc.  In addition, seeds are stimulant and cordial. Prevents rheumatism and gout.


Dash: Pungent, hot, digestive, carminative, stimulant. For parasites.


Li: Qin 芹. Cold, nontoxic. Minor uses.


(Domestic celery is as biologically uninteresting as one could get, but wild celery and, above all, some of its relatives are active medicinally.)



Aquilaria agallocha Roxb., Thymeleaceae. Imported. Aloeswood, Chenxiang 沉香.


Avicenna: Constricting. Hot, dry, diluting.  Causes constipation, so used for dysentery.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Minor use. Today for astringent, stomachic, etc. The appearance of this plant in Al-Samarqandī is one of the marks of progressively increasing Indian influence; it is, in fact, called ‘ud hindī in the text.


Lev and Amar: Al-Kindī used it for enlarged head, bad respiration, tooth complaints including caries, etc. Others note various uses, including Maimonides’use for stimulating sexual desire and pleasure.  Hot and dry. Carminative, for nerves, diuretic (Ibn al-Bayt.ār).


Bellakhdar et al: ‘ud l-qmari, cardiac stimulant.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, cholagogue, deobstruent. In nerve tonics, carminative and stimulant preparations. For gout, rheumatism, vomiting, snake-bite, etc. Fumigant for wounds and ulcers.  Paste with other things on chest, head.


Dash: Hot. Fumigant.


Li:  Chenxiang (“sinking fragrance”—a very famous perfume and fumigant throughout Chinese history). Warm or hot. Clears the mind as well as treating pains and much else. In addition to treating Cold conditions it does what a good warming drug should do: adds energy, stamina, etc., and treats weakness or debility.



Aralia racemosa L., Araliaceae. Sadah (Persian) A misidentification; A. racemosa is an American plant, and not in the Chinese pharmacopoeia. Possibly intended here for A. cordata.


Nadkarni: A. pseudo-ginseng for dyspepsia and vomiting.



Arctium lappa L., Asteraceae. native. Burdock, Niupangzi牛蒡子.


Kamal: lawiyah, or from the Greek: arqityon, araqityon, arqityum. “Aperient, diuretic and diaphoretic” (the root; 73).


Li: Many synonyms. Fruit, root and stem used for a large number of Cold conditions, etc.



Areca catechu L., Arecaceae. Binlang檳榔


Avicenna: Cooling, constricting. For hot and hard swellings, eye pain, aphrodisiac.


Levey: faufal. Ointment, nasal uses.


Kamal: “astringent, stupefying, anthelmintic” (73).


Lev and Amar: fawfal. Liver, skin.


Madanapala: pūīphala. Cold. Digestive, intoxicating, appetiser. For parasites.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, astringent, antihelminthic. Modern data on stimulant, toxic, mind-altering qualities added.


Dash: Astringent, sweet, laxative, intoxicating, appetiser.


Li: Binlang (which, like the HHYF name, is a Sinicization of the Malaysian name pinang—via Hokkien, in which the characters that in Mandarin are “bin lang” are pronounced “pin nang.”).


Known as a Southeast Asian product.  Seed qualities subject to varying opinions. Many indications, most conformant to the real stimulant qualities of the seed.



Aristolochia longa L., A. rotunda L., Aristolochiaceae. Zarāwand, zarawand-gird, zarawand-daraz. Zalawan咱剌灣


Theophrastus: II-319: Applied for head bruises, wounds, snakebite. Pessary for womb. Taken for snakebite, sleep.


Dioscorides: III-4, aristolochia stroggole, A. pallida. “Aristolocia is so called because it is thought to help passing well women in child-bed.” (The Greek name means “noble or best for birth.”)  But it can be an abortifacient, too. This one is “female” because rounder.

III-5, aristolocia makra, A. parvifolia, A. sempervirens.  The male, because larger and less round-leaved and round-rooted. (This same distinction between male—longer, more pointed—and female—rounder—varieties of plants is made among the Maya of Yucatan. Possibly it came via the Spanish from Dioscorides. The Maya also use Aristolochia as a cureall. In fact, wherever this genus is found, its toxic but highly bioactive ingredients have tended to attract herbalist attention.)

III-6, aristolochia klematitis, A. boetica.


In addition to uses for birth and menstruation—either in medicines or as plaster—these herbs were used for poisons and bites, asthma, rickets, spasms, spleen, ruptures, convulsions, pains, splinters, and much else. Cleans gums and teeth.


Avicenna: Hot and dry. Cleansing, diluting, opening, absorbing. Can extract thorns. Produces flesh (round sp.). Used for skin diseases, ulcers. Orally for gout. Good for tetanus. Used for head conditions, asthma, hiccups, spleen, etc. Purges out phlegm and yellow bile. Emmenagogue and abortifacient. Treats scorpion poison.


Levey: A. rotunda, zarāwand mudaḥrij. Scrofula, nose ointment, boils, ulcers, hemorrhoids, teeth, etc. In oil of wild cucumber for sinews, backache, sciatica, pains of rheumatism and lameness.  One species for tooth powder.   


Graziani:  Zarawand mudahraj, zarawand tawil. A. rotunda, A. longa respectively. Use unmentioned but widely used.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: A. longa in several recipes.


Lev and Amar: Vomiting, gas, warts, dysuria, dysmenorrhea, swellings.


Kamal: zarawand; whole genus discussed; some emmenagogue, sudorific, antipyretic, but species unclear.


Bellakhdar et al: Laxative, emmenagogue, anti-palpitant.


Ghazanfar: A. bracteolata rubbed on stings, bites. It is toxic.


Nadkarni: A. indica, for snake-bite and other bites, both externally and internally.  For leprosy, dropsy, cholera, diarrhea, intestinal problems, abortifacient. Several other spp. with similar uses.


Dash:  A. indica pungent, bitter, for parasites, scorpion stings, snakebite, ulcers.


Li: A. contorta and A. debilis, tianxianteng, bitter, warm nontoxic, for many uses relating to warming. Blended widely. A. mandschurica, tongcao, treats both cold and heat; disperses stagnant qi, drains urine, treats a range of conditions. Balanced, nontoxic.


(Aristolochia species are used worldwide for tonic and cureall effects, including childbirth, whence the name, Greek for “fine birth”; but the plants are actually too toxic for safe use.)



Artemisia abrotanum L., Asteraceae. Qaysum/Gaisong改松.

The many very real medical values of Artemisia spp.—a huge genus of some 550 speces—have made these plants medicinally important almost everywhere they are found. Perhaps their use for “female troubles” associated them with Artemis. They are still grown by millions of Chinese and other Asian households, and very often elsewhere in the world, from Europe to Latin America. They are still very widely used as vermifuges (in spite of some danger), abortifacients (much more danger), digestive aids (their original role in vermouth, “wormwood” wine), and so on. See below; most entries in the HHYF refer to annua or are hard to disentangle; identifications combined below.


Avicenna: A abrotanum specifically is ‘ubaithrān. Hot and dry. Dissolving, blood-thinning, etc.  Irritant, so not for wounds. Tea for muscular contusions, brain diseases, cold problems in head.  Improves vision and breathing. Cooked with olive oil for stomach. Expels fetus.



Artemisia absinthium, A. annua L., Asteraceae. Afsintīn/Afusanting阿福散汀

This, the traditional Chinese treatment for malaria, has emerged as the leading treatment for malaria today, partly because it kills young stages of the parasite almost totally, making it difficult for the parasite to evolve resistance (as it has to other treatments; see White 2008 for an excellent account).


  1. absinthium and other spp. are included in this section because the text is unclear on these related and similar species.


Dioscorides: III-127: artemisia monoklonos, A. campestris; artemisia monoklonos etera, A. vulgaris. Either one could really be abrotanum and annuum may be involved also. For emmenagogue and abortion.

III-138, artemisia leptophyullos, A. arborescens. Poultice for stomach and sore sinews.

III-26: apsinthion, A. pontica, A. absinthium; warming, binding. Emmenagogue. For poisons, including shrew bites (which can be infected) and sea-dragon bites. For eyes and ears, liver, stomach, many other conditions. Absinth wine noted and used; in Propontis and Thrace it was used as a general tonic drink. The leaves could be used for insect repellent, as powdered sagebrush leaves were in China and elsewhere.

III-27, apsinthion thalassion, A. maritima.  Warming, bad for stomach, but a powerful, effective vermifuge.

III-28: apsinthion triton, santonion, A. palmata.  Also vermifuge.

Note that only two Artemisia spp. are recommended for vermifuge, though all work well.


Levey:  This sp. is shīh, used for teeth and mouth. A. absinthum, ifsintīn. Reduces swelling of the spleen.


Al-Bīrūnī: “artamisiyā, artamāsā” for headaches due to colds (citing Rāzī, as he often does).  “Afsantin,” this species, repels moths, cleans the air, is useful for hair, but can cause headache if taken (as for drinking alcohol—possibly explaining the headache!). Used in ears. Used for apoplexy, eyes, etc.


Avicenna: A. absinthium, asfantīn. Several other names for wormwoods are given. Bitter, biting, acrid. Purgative. Smoke and vapor used as well as tea. Astringent. Used for swellings, pimples, wounds, ulcers, black bile, eyes, a very wide range of internal ailments, and, of course, worms.


Graziani: “absinthum” used; shikh, with synonyms etc.; stomachic [and surely vermifuge].


Lev and Amar: all the species are discussed together, though the Arabic clearly refers to several different species with quite different names. Apparently the Genizah documents are shaky as to actual identifications. Uses as specified under the species.


Kamal: A. absinthum, Arabic afsantin or shaibah, as tea, appetizer, tonic for brain, heart, stomach; febrifurge, worm medicine, emmenagogue. A. pontica, shih, burnt for purifying; febrifurge; tea for diabetes.

  1. abrotanum, qaysum, stimuilant and anthelminthic. The “female” (whatever Kamal may mean by that) is khrisaneh; it is stomachic, antivconvoulsive, anthelminthic.
  2. santonin, shih khurasani, qaisum ontha antihelminthic.


Bellakhdar et al: A. arborescens, antihelminthic; diuretic; emmenagogue; abortive; aperitive. A. herba-alba, gastro-intestinal, antiseptic, anthelminthic, poison antidote, hypoglycemiant, emmenagogue.


Ghazanfar: A. herba-alba for worms.


Lebling and Pepperdine: A. herba-alba and A. sieberi, shih, etc.; for diabetes, indigestion, kidneys, stomach, weakness, and with bay leaf and rose water or milk, fenugreek, and other spices for childbirth (presumably recovery after delivery). A. judaica, bu-aythiran, sheeh, for insomnia, rheumatism, skin, stomach.


Nadkarni: A. absinthium, febrifurge, stomachic, deobstruent, diaphoretic, antihelminthic, antiseptic, stomachic. Toxic, but tonic effect on brain. A. maritima, strong antihelminthic; antispasmodic. Several other spp. used.


Eisenman: Carminative; vermifuge. Used locally for dyspepsia, insomnia, “liver, stomach, spleeen, and gall bladder, fever, hemorrhoids, malaria, intestinal ulcers,…wounds” (p. 41).  Biomedically effective on skin, and for stomach, as well as for worms. A. annua, leaves for skin conditions.


Li: A. annua?, huanghuahao黃花蒿, pungent, bitter, cool, nontoxic, minor uses. A. annua is normally qinghao青蒿. This seems to be a color variant of it, greener in leaf, yellower in flower (the name means “yellow-flowered wormwood”).

  1. apiacea, A. annua, qinghao. Leaves and fruits used. Bitter, cold, nontoxic. Many uses, including killing external parasites and other pest insects. The famous use, of course, is for malaria; artemisin derived from it is now the worldwide drug of choice for that disease. Li apparently got confused, and used “qinghao” for A. apiacea.
  2. anomala, liujinucao劉寄奴草, fruit, bitter, warm, nontoxic. Minor uses, mostly digestive.
  3. argyris, ai, a very common and important remedy. Usually leaves used, but fruit also. Bitter, slightly warm, nontoxic. Not only is it taken for a huge range of conditions; the leaf is dried and powdered for moxibustion. A rare and unusual Artemisia, qiannian’ai千年艾, “Argy wormwood of a thousand years,” is found in mountains and used to treat male debility and female pain; from Li’s description it appears to be a different species.
  4. capillaris, A. scoparia, yinchenhao茵陳蒿. Bitter, balanced or cold, nontoxic. Important; wide range of uses. Like some other wormwoods, it will make the rabbits that eat it immortal, according to early reports that Li politely indicates he questions.
  5. japonica, muhao牧蒿, bitter, slightly sweet, warm, nontoxic. Minor uses, plus in combination for malaria.
  6. keikeskiana, yanlu [CHARACTERS??], bitter, cold or warm, nontoxic. Range of treatments for pain and digestion, etc.
  7. sieversiana, baihao白蒿, leaves, roots, seeds used; cool; similar to above. Many uses as food and drug.


(Sagebrushes are digestive in small doses, vermifugal in larger, dangerously abortifacient in slightly larger—all cultures in the range of the genus seem to know this. Use, very widespread but often deadly, as last resort for abortion.)


Meserve: Artemisia sp. for constipation, and other Mongol uses cited, including the inevitable vermifuge use as well as antiseptic and febrifuge uses.


Elisabeth Hsu:[51] a major paper by this brilliant Needham Institute researcher finds A. annua used for external purposes—bites, stings, wounds—in the earlier literature, including one of the excavated Mawangdui texts. Ge Hong is the first known to have used it for intermittent and persistent fevers, certainly including malaria.[52] He used extracts or infusions of the fresh plant, as did later writers, but eventually the dried material was made into tea, which is much less effective. A. apiacea, Li Shizhen’s “qinghao,” is less effective, but may have been easier to extract. Hsu thoroughly reviews the literature. A companion piece[53] stresses the common-sense nature of plant knowledge (with philosophical grounding from Thomas Reid and Scott Atran on the concept of “common sense”), and the resulting mix of truth and error that culture constructs from plant experiences.



Artemisia dracunculus L. (=A. dracunculoides Pursh), Asteraceae. Tarragon.

One mention in Index; evidently not a serious medicinal. Not mentioned in most sources; evidently blanked by the more pharmaceutically active Artemisia spp. See above


Dioscorides: apparently mentioned. Old uses as diuretic, anthelminthic, emmenagogue, as with other artemisias.


Avicenna: ṭarkhūn; Persian tarkhūn. Dry, somewhat cold. Reduces libido and hard to digest.


Kamal: A. dracunculus, tarkhun (whence English “tarragon”) is stomachic, emmenagogue, anti-tooth-decay.


Eisenman: For edema, scurvy, appetite, carminative.  Powder for mouth conditions. Vermifuge.  Central Asian tarragon has no methyl-chavicol, unlike the western form, but the medical relevance of this is unclear. A. leucodes, a more sagebrush-like species, is strongly anti-inflammatory and used in biomedicine for athersclerosis and heart problems. A. scoparia used for respiratory conditions, rheumatism, and as diuretic; also, like other Artemisia spp., vermfuge and emmenagogue. Essential oils with such action are noted. A. viridis, infusions for uclers, kidneys, liver, bile ducts, but biomedical action unstudied.



Artemisia vulgaris L., Asteraceae.  native. Afsintīn/Afusanting阿福散汀. Iran, afzentin


Dioscorides: see above.


Kamal:  Swaila, shwaila. A. vulgaris, emmenagogue, anti-hysteria; roots anti-epileptic. Used for catarrh in Morocco.


Madanapala: Nāgadamanī. Cures poisons.


Nadkarni: Antihelminthic, antiseptic, expectorant.


Dash: Bitter, cardiac, alleviates dosas, cures afflictions by evil spirits as well as poisoning and skin conditions.


Eisenman: Wide range of folk uses, including colds, nervous conditions, epilepsy, neurasthenia, anticonvulsant; poisoning, inflammation of gastrointestinal tract, tuberculosis, appetite, ulcers; wounds (externally). Antibacterial, anthelminthic, and other biomedical effects well known.


Sun: Wormwood/hairhead wormwood (baihao白蒿): [54] bitter, spicy, balanced, and nonpoisonous. It nourishes the five internal organs. It is good for the Middle Burner (zhongjiao中膲) and enhances qi. It helps hair grow. If one has taken it for a long time, he will not die; white rabbits take it and become Immortals.



Asarum sieboldii Miq., Aristolochiaceae. And other A. spp. Native. ‘Āqīr qarā/Ajierhaerha阿吉而哈而哈


Dioscorides: I-9, asaron, Asarum europaeum. Root for ruptures, convulsions, cough, breathing problems; diuretic and emmenagogue. With wine for poisonous bites. Leaves as poultice for inflammations, headache, inflammations, rashes, etc. Smell induces sleep. Can cause vomiting.


Al-Bīrūnī: Warming. Used for smallpox.


Kamal: A. europoeum, asaron, emetic.


Nadkarni: A. enropoeum, emetic, cathartic.


Li: This and A. heterotropoides, A. sieboldii, A. hexalobum are xixin, a common and important drug still today. A. forbesii is duheng.  Roots used.  Warming, pungent, nontoxic. Many uses, with little in common; a cureall.




Asparagus officinalis L., Asparagaceae (Liliaceae). Marjubah (Persian), whence the HHYF’s Mār-chūba/Maerchubo馬兒出伯. Also spelled Mārshūbah in a subtext and occurs as Haliyūn/Halirong哈里榮


Dioscorides:  II-152, aspharagos, Asparagus acutifolius. Root decoction for illnesses generally; kidneys, being diuretic; helps with dysentery and bites. Can make one infertile. Seed, etc. used also. Dioscorides properly dismissed a tale that bits of rams’ horns would grow into asparagus.


Avicenna: Neutral to hot. Cleansing, opening. Dissolvent Diuretic. Roots increases semen and libido, so helps in conceiving. Suppository for menses. Used for kidney stone. A kind that grows on rocks is hotter and stronger.  (The normal kind grows in marshy ground and cannot live on rocks, so this is evidently some other, interesting species.)


Graziani: Asparagus sp., hilyawn, used by Ibn Jazlah for sciatica. Other medieval Arab uses for kidneys, bladder, backache, lumbago, pains in lungs; in syrup and robs.


Lev and Amar: eyes, strength, bites, urine, pains, etc. Seeds fermented good for sexual medicine, and plant aphrodisiac (traditionally from phallic shape). Diuretic.


Bellakhdar et al.: sekkum, A. albus antirheumatismal and for liver infections; aperitive.


Nadkarni: Dropsy, rheumatism, gout, etc. Whole plant used. Some other spp. noted.

Eisenman: A. persicus, for various conditions; no empirical data though contains various chemicals.


Li:  A. cochinchinensis, tianmendong天門冬, root widely used. Sources disagree on qualities and value.  Used in medieval times to prolong life and youth, with some preposterous stories from Ge Hong and others. Li admits value as a tonic, but maintains his skeptical silence in regard to the “immortality” and “300-year longevity” stories.



Astragalus sarcocolla Dym., Fabaceae. ‘Anzarūt/ Anzaluti安咱盧提. Also called for is Astragalus gummifer, Kathīrā’/可西剌 (Sometimes identified as, or equated with, Penaeus mucronata L. See Levey.)


Dioscorides: IV-62, astragalos, A. baeticus and/or similar spp. Stops diarrhea.  Diuretic.  Good for old sores, as powder applied.

4-18, medion, A. sesameus. With honey for dysentery. Seed in wine emmenagogue.


Levey:  This or Penaea mucronata L., salve for skin spots, leprosy, abscesses, cataracts; in musk.


Avicenna: ṣamagh, anzarūt, etc. Astragalus spp. He calls it “Persian gum,” which may reflect his Central Asian origins. Hot and dry (somewhat). Can cause baldness. Poultice for swellings, etc.  Sets sprained organs. Used for ear, eyes, coughs and chest (with honey and wine), kidney pains, etc.


Lev and Amar: ‘anzarūt. Eyes, very widely and for almost any eye condition; sexual health; skin spots, abscesses; leprosy. Wounds, intestines, etc. Hot and dry.

  1. gummifera, kathīrā, Perspirant; for cough and espiratory diseases, throat pains, limbs, etc. In compounds for all sorts of purposes.


Bellakhdar et al.: A. gummifera, ktira. Antitussive, antiashthmatic, reconstituant.


Lebling and Pepperdine: A. sarcocolla, anzarut, kuhl farsi. On cuts and wounds; rubbed on babies; taken for indigestion.


Nadkarni: Aperient. Other spp. used.


Eisenman: A sieversianus, infusion for kidney and bladder stones. Seeds for “hernias in children, and are smoked to treat syphilis” (p. 52). Biomedically, antioxidant, sedative, antibacterial, anti-inflammatroy, and other effects demonstrated; saponins from roots protect liver from chemicals; clearly a plant to watch.  Many chemical ingredients known.


Li:  Five or more species lumped in Chinese as huangqi黃芪. A very common, important drug then and today; usually the root used. Several pages of uses, for almost every imaginable condition and some unimaginable ones.



Astragalus tragacantha L., Fabaceae. Kathīra. Probably a misidentification for the above, but possibly both this and A. sarcocolla were known. Members of the genus are more or less interchangeable in Arabic-Persian medicine.




Balsamodendron africanum Arn., B.  mukul Hook., and probably other spp.  Burseraceae.  Sometimes classed with Commiphora.


Levey:  Kūr azraq, resin of former; muql, latter.  Dressings; insanity.


Bellakhdar et al: B. africana, cosmetics, digestive, pulmonary cure, stomachic.


Ghazanfar: Commiphora mukul (=B. mukul) for childbirth:  resin burned, smoke directed to birth area to get placenta expelled and dry up area.

Earlier and other uses unclear as to species. (HHYF confusing on this also.)


Nadkarni: B. mukul gum, demulcent, aperient, alterative, carminative, antispasmodic, emmenagogue. Said to be aphrodisiac.



Bambusa spp., Poaceae. Stem concretions or ash: tabasheer (Arabic ṭabāshīr). Also one mention of use of shoots in soup, but this is merely an intrusion of Chinese foodways rather than a medical entry (it is the other ingredients in the soup that are medicinal).


Avicenna: constricting, ripening, dissolvent. Bitter, drying. Used for ulcers, sores, eye inflammation, heart, yellow bile in stomach, quenching thirst, stopping vomiting, etc.


Levey: Few casual mentions.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Commonly recommended by Al-Samarqandī in many formulations. One of the marks of progressively increasing Indian influence on Near Eastern medicine. Note that it does not appear often in the earlier sources.


Lev and Amar: Jaundice, fever, palpitation, stomach and diarrhea, bile, black bile, phlegm, mouth sores, gums, eyes, etc.


Nadkarni:  Stimulant, astringent, febrifuge, tonic, cooling, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac. Unani specifically: Tonic for heart and liver, sedative, and for vomiting, palpitation, coma, fevers.


Li:  Bamboos are zhu竹, the shoots zhusun竹筍, the concretions in the stems—what is usually meant by tabasheer—zhuhuang竹黃. Minor, somewhat dubious uses.  Bamboos, on the other hand, are used for a vast range of conditions.


(This substance is singularly inactive pharmacologically, but the high content of silica granules in the ash would possibly make it good for binding and soothing sores.)



Berberis spp. (probably originally B. vulgaris L. in the source materials, but several species occur in China and are used medicinally, so no doubt this should be understood generically), Berberidaceae. Barberry. Barbārīs, amirbārīs.

Brief mentions; not significant. Apparently the reference in the HHYF index is to the fruit as a food, not the wood and root as remedies.


Dioscorides: probably B. lycium. Fruit much used.


Avicenna: cold, dry. Syrup for eradicating yerllow bile. Indian barberry is dissolvent, and used on sores and ulcers. Barberry taken internally for spleen, etc. Causes constipation.  Fruit used.


Lev and Amar: Liver, spleen, abdomen, bowles, bile, etc. Maimonides recommends for stomach, purgative, etc. Widely used for ointment for skin in Iraq and Iran today.


Nadkarni: Several spp. used, esp. B. vulgaris. Tonic, stomachic, astringent, antipyretic, tonic, antiperiodic, diaphoretic, alterative, root purgative, etc. The yellow alkaloid berberine, from the wood and roots, is known to be effective for at least several of these uses. Fruit can serve as a laxative. B. lycium Royle for hemorrhoids and ulcers. B. vulgaris for leprosy, snakebite, malaria, jaundice (presumably sympathetic magic, because of the yellow extract), etc. The fruit has minor medical uses as laxative, stomach soothing, etc.


Eisenman: B. integerrima, fruit antipyretic (and a food). Roots for wounds, bone fractures, rheumantism, heart pain, stomach aches.  Leaves for kidney stones. Tea of flowers for lungs, chest, headache.  Infusion of fruits for constipation and wounds. Contains berberine, widely known as a blood pressure and relatant drugs; depresses nervous system action. Also has antitumor and bacteriostatic action and other biomedical effects. B. oblonga, similar uses; atnidiarrheal; root for eyes and mouth (wash for sores). Residue from root tea eaten or applied externally for jaundice, stomach, back and other pains. Shares biomedical effects of other barberries (berberine, etc.).


Li:  Various spp. for aphtha, nasal and oral eczema, worms, Heat in stomach and abdomen, etc.

(Common food in Iran.  Nutritious. The English name is a folk etymology based on Latin barbaris, the source also of the Arabic and scientific names. But the plant does have barbs and berries, so the folk etymology was easy to invent.)



Beta vulgaris L var. cicla L. Chenopodiaceae.  [Pr.] Chugundur/Junda莙薘


Dioscorides: II-149, teutlon melan agrion. Good for the belly, but the black root causes constipation. Juice in nostril with honey to purge the head and help pains of ears. Cleanses sores, etc. Raw leaves to anoint skin eruptions, etc.

IV-16, leimonion, B. sylvestris, seed for dysentery.


Levey: Silq. Includes other plants. Beet leaves in a clyster.


Lev and Amar: Silq. Hot and dry to some, but Maimonides saw it as cold and moist. Various kinds. Good food. Modern uses for seeds and leaves as well as root; leaves put on stings, rashes, wounds, dandruff, etc.; food for intestines, urination, kidney stones, anemia, liver.


Kamal: Diuresis, cystitis, constipation. Leaves used.


Nadkarni: Various minor uses for headache, liver, eyes, burns, constipation, hemorrhoids, and externally for ulcers, sores, dandruff, etc.


Li: Tiancai菾菜. Sweet, bitter, very cold, slippery, nontoxic. Use, obviously, for very serious Heat conditions, including some “real” heat affections like moxibustion burns (poultice used for them as well as bites, etc.).



Bletilla striata (Thunb.) Reichb., Orchidaceae. F. Native. Baiji白芨


Li:  Baiji.  Nontoxic, pungent. Balanced. Wide range of uses, especially for chapping, wounds, swellings, acne, and other external conditions.



Borago officinalis L., Boraginaceae.  KunDuShi. Arabic Lisān al-thaur/Lisanusaoer里撒奴騷而

Al-Bīrūnī: Lisān al-thawr; “būghlūs in Roman.”  (“Cow tongue”; cf. English “bugloss”—which is bu-gloss, cow-tongue, not bug-loss!)  Refrigerant. Quotes several major authors.


Avicenna: Hot, moist. Exhilarant; relieves anxiety (still believed in 21st century!). Cures mouth ulcers.


Graziani: Ibn Jazlah used it for palpitation, cough, chest pain; could harm the spleen.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Usual importance—a person from the Persian cultural universe, which included Samarqand, would never neglect this greatest of Persian curealls.


Maimonides: Used by Maimonides as rather a cureall (Maimonides 1974).


Lev and Amar: Probably various species, including Anchusa spp., used. Hallucination, eyes, headaches, fever, aphrodisiac, etc. many uses, internal and external, including madness and melancholy. Relieves pain, etc.


Kamal: Aperient and diaphoretic.

(Used in Persia today under the name “cow’s tongue” for every imaginable condition, including those mentioned by Graziani. Usually made up as an herbal tea. Anderson’s Iranian students were all raised with it. Dried flowers in bags of all sizes are sold in every Persian market. Oddly little or no use in traditional medicine in India or China.)



Boswellia carteri Birdw., Burseraceae. Imported. Mai’a/Mia米阿, also lubnā or Lubān/Lubuna魯不納. Hu: Ruxiang乳香; 540.


Dioscorides: 1-81, libanon; thus, frankincense. Warns about adulteration. Warming, binding, cleansing. Applied: Cures ulcers and wounds, suppresses bloody flux and excessive bleeding, cures skin ailments (long list), relieves women’s breast inflammations. Taken with medicines:  arteries, intestines, lungs; but being drunk by the healthy, it drives mad or kills.

1-82, phloios libanou:  bark of this species.  Similar uses, but more binding.

1-83, libanou manna, manna of the species. Similar uses. One wonders what this is as opposed to the gum itself.

1-84, libanou aithalie, “fuligo of frankincense,” i.e. soot prepared by charring. For inflammation of eyes, repressing fluxes, cleaning ulcers, etc. 1-85 notes that other resins (myrrh, styrax, etc.) make good soot also.


Levey: Lubān, Lubnā.  Storax (gum) from this plant. In a clyster for humors.


Al-Bīrūnī: Kundur. Heating, etc. Quotes Galen, Paul of Aegina and many Arab writers.


Avicenna: Kundur. Hot and dry.  Stops bleeding. Vapor has strong drying quality, constricting tissues and channels. Many external uses, by itself or with vinegar, oil, honey, rose oil, etc. With duck fat on skin fungus, and with swine fat (odd thing to see in a Muslim book) “on burn ulcers and cold fissures” (*p. 465). Used internally for fevers, vomiting, etc.


Graziani: Kandur, kundur, luban.  Resin used.


Lev and Amar: Lubān, kundur. Maimonides used I for melancholy, rabid dog bites, stings, hemorrhages, wounds, skin diseases; hot and dry. Various other authorities noted the same, plus use for lungs, intestines, liver, etc. Strengthens teeth and gums. Used today for these purposes and for disinfectant.


Kamal: Luban, loban. Stimulant, emmenagogue; for throat and larynx, locally for chilblains; sudorific; toothache relief.


Bellakhdar et al: Antitussive, cosmetic.


Ghazanfar: B. sacra. Lubān, bakhor. (Same sp. as above; taxonomy has been debated.)  Gum for perfume, mastitis, teeth, digestion, etc.; soot for eyes; gum chewed by pregnant women and to treat emotional problems. Diuretic, purgative, and for memory in Saudi Arabia.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Smoke for wounds and swellings, post-delivery, etc. Taken for childbirth, coughs, diabetes, diarrhea, liver, lungs, memory, nausea, odors, oral care, stomach!


Nadkarni: This and various related Indian spp.; resin refrigerant, diuretic, demulcent, aperient, alterative, emmenagogue, etc.


Li: Xunluxiang薰陸香, ruxiang. Known to be from the western world.  Warm or hot, nontoxic. Treats pains, disabilities, etc.

(Resin well known as antiseptic and soothing.)



Boswellia papyrifera Hochst., Burseraceae. Tus.

Same data and sources, but seem distinguishable in the formularies.



Brassica alba (L.) Boiss. and other Brassica spp. Brassicaceae. Native. Karanb/Keboer可伯兒.Morocco, Zarrit s-san


Dioscorides: II-134, gongylis, B. rapa, turnip. Root, eaten boiled, noted as causing flatulence; “provoking venerie” (Gunther 1934:147), presumably from the stomach irritation. Decoction for gout and sores; drunk or applied.  Leaves diuretic. Seeds antidotal to poison etc.


Levey: Khardal. May include Sinapis. Leprosy, erysipelas, itch, etc.


Al-Bīrūnī: Brassica sp. Khardal. Treats dyspepsia and flatulence.


Avicenna: B. rapa, shaljam, turnip. Softening effects; trivial uses; increase semen; water of boiling is diuretic. B. nigra, khardal, black mustard. Hot and dry to fourth degree. Prevents production of phlegm. Oil very warm. Fumes repel insects. Cleansing, dissolving, rubefacient. Poultice irritating and erosive; clears complexion and spots, dissolves hot inflammations and chronic swellings, used with sulfur on tubercular lymph glands. Used on scabies and arthritis. For ear, eye (for day-blindness and roughness). Internally for windpipe, inflammation of spleen, hysteria. Aphrodisiac. Used for intermittent and chronic fevers.



  1. campestris, Brassicaceae, turnip, shaljam, used for gout, chapping, etc. Probably in HHYF under the generic Karanb, which is not called for that often. Stalks diuretic. Seeds in pastes, electuaries, confections; analgesic for bites; antidote. Aphrodisiac. Wild turnip seeds for poultices for mouth and skin.


Graziani: “Mustard,” khardal, species uncertain, used by Ibn Jazlah for menstrual disorders. Ibn Butlān used it for gout and for loosening induration. Today in Iran and Iraq [as elsewhere in the world] for emetic.


Lev and Amar: Sinapis alba, khardal. Skin and skin conditions including leprosy, erysipelas, and neck pustules. Several species recognized (unclear identifications). Seeds for stomach. Plan for inflammations, rheumatism, pains, colds, influenza, jaundice, stones in urinary system, etc.


Bellakhdar et al: B. napus, magic uses; B. nigra, magic, calefacient, revulsive.


Madanapala: Sārsapa, B. campestris. Heavy, hot. Alleviates dosas.


Nadkarni: Mustard powder stimulant, emetic, diuretic. Digestive. Oil stimulant, rubefacient, vesicant.


Dash: B. campestris and B. nigra discussed together; pungent, cures parasites and colic. B. nigra prevents afflictions by evil spirits and bestows auspiciousness on children.


Li: Baijie白芥. Known to be from west. Pungent, warm, nontoxic. A range of respiratory and warming uses, as for coughing, phlegm, asthma; most familiar to the western world.

  1. campestris, yuntai蕓苔. Pungent, warm (or cool), nontoxic. Common food. For swellings, erysipelas, other external conditions, as well as diarrhea and other internal matters. Leaves and seeds used. The disagreement over whether the leaves are warm or cool persists today. The seeds are always warm.
  2. chinensis (B. campestris var. chinesis), song, baicai白菜. Stem and leaf sweet, warm or cool (today considered very cooling), nontoxic. Leaves for digestive and a few other complaints. Seeds for oil used for hair growth etc.
  3. rapa (B. campestris var. rapa), wujing蕪菁, root, leaves, seeds. Bitter and nontoxic. Various conditions. It is not clear which of these apply to the western turnip and which to the indigenous Chinese turnip, which are closely related and confused even by modern scientists.

(Stimulant effects of Brassica seeds are known worldwide. Mustard plasters are still not unknown in the United States.)



Brassica juncea (L.) Czern. et Coss. Brassicaceae. Native. Does not occur in the HHYF as such but could be subtended by the generic karanb.


Nadkarni: Plant aperient and tonic.  Oil stimulant, counterirritant.  Hot mustard bath, emmenagogue.


Sun: Mustard leaf (jiecai芥菜): spicy, warm, nonpoisonous. It treats nose problems (guibi歸鼻). It dispels noxious qi in the kidney. It breaks spells of vomiting caused by coughing. It makes qi move downward. It is good for the nine orifices. It is good for eyesight and hearing. It pacifies the Middle Jiao膲 [Burner] (anzhong安中). When one takes it for a long time, it warms the Middle Jiao, though alternatively it is said that “it chills the Middle Jiao.” Its seeds are spicy. The spiciness also treats nose problems (guibi). The seeds are poisonous. They especially treat throat illnesses caused by wetness, wind, or cold (houbi喉痹). They can rid every kind of wind poison and bump [boil? Tumor?] caused by living in wet and lower places (fengduzhong風毒腫). The Yellow Emperor said, “Mustard leaves cannot be taken along with rabbit meat. Otherwise they will cause bad and noxious disease (exiebing惡邪病).”


Li:  jie. Leaves and seeds; large number of miscellaneous uses, mostly household first-aid and minor remedies, but Li personally recommends the seeds for lockjaw, deafness, epistaxis, and other serious conditions.

(Seeds of this plant are the traditional source of the standard Chinese mustard preparations, used in households as stimulant, etc.)


Brassica oleracea L., Brassicaceae. Kurunb, karnab.

Var. botrytis L. Kalam (Persian)


Dioscorides: Krambe. II:120, sight, trembling, stomach, erysipelas, carbuncles, gangrene, spleen, pessary against conception, etc.


Avicenna: Laxative, drying. Good for inflammations of soft connective tissue. Leaves made into poultice, sometimes with flour. Heals wounds, eused on burns with egg white, treats mites and the like. Burnt and used with butter on chronic pain of chest and ribs. Poured on arthritis.Boiled wild cabbages, and seeds, delay intoxication.  Diuretic. Emmenagogue. For treating displaced uterus, but this can interfere with semen. Sea cabbage (Crambe maritima) mild laxative. Various other uses.


Levey: Kurunb. Ulcers, etc.


Lev and Amar: Qunnabīṭ, qarnabīt, kurnub. Stomach ulcers, etc. Bites, food poisoning.

Graziani:  Kurunb. Ibn Jazlah used for bites and to stop trembling. “Dioscorides employs it for dull sight, trembling, stomach, erysipelas, carbuncles, gangrene and spleen troubles” (1980:208); presumably this is an Arabic Dioscorides; it is not in the English.

Li:  ganlan. Sweet, plain, nontoxic. Very little said; known as a western borrowing, rarely found in China. Very interesting is that Li puts it with smartweed and other herbs rather than with the other Brassica species, which are together in a single group of entries.



Bryonia alba L. Cucurbitaceae. (Persian) Hazarjashan/Hazaersashang 哈咱兒撒商.


Manniche: B. dioica for bladder and urinary problems, stomach problems, digestion, anal inflammation.


Dioscorides: IV-184, ampelos leuke. Young shoots (a traditional European food) diuretic. With salt on ulcers and gangrenous sores. Root or fruit for sunburn and scars, etc., or with wine for inflammation and abscesses. Root brewed and drunk for epilepsy, one dram daily for a year.  Also apoplexy, dizziness, etc. More (drunk or as pessary) will produce abortion. Fruit, eaten in boiled wheat, lactogogue.


Avicenna: Hot, dry. Cleansing, diluent, warming. Cleanses the body and treats scars and marks. Used on hard swellings, spleen inflammation (taken with vinegar), etc. With honey for hysteria.  Useful for stomach; astringent, pungent, a boit bitter and acrid. Abortifacient but good for displaced uterus. Black bryony (Tamus communis) used for chest, paralysis, etc.


Lev and Amar: B. creticaFāshirā, hazārjishān. Pains in womb, swellings, diuretic, purgative, ulcers, abscesses, etc.  Juice increases mother’s milk but excess causes vomiting. Roots for cleansing, bunions, boils, scars, skin.  Ointment of root cooked in oil for pain, hemorrhoids, broken bones, etc. Leaves for stomach, diuretic.


Kamal:  fashra, etc. Cathartic.  For anasarca, mania, jaundice, colic, constipation.


Nadkarni: Several related species have minor uses in India. B. epigoea especially in alterative, tonic, antihelminthic, aperient, with uses for sexually transmitted disesases, acute dysentery, etc.



Bupleurum chinense DC. & other spp. Apiaceae. Native. Chaihu柴胡.


Kamal: B. perfoliatum, antihelminthic. Cooked, for hematomas.


Li: Chaihu. Several other species included in this name. Root a common, important medicine.  Bitter, balanced to cold, nontoxic. Several pages of indications. Leaf used for ears to prevent deafness.



Calonyction muricatum. Convolvulaceae. Tentatively identified in one HHYF recipe; not noted in the herbals. Likely an error for some other convolvulaceous plant.



Calycotome spinosa. Fabaceae. Dārshīsh’ān/Daershishian荅兒失實安. Hairy thorn-broom. Mentioned in the Table of Contents. Nothing known of its herbal use here, and little or nothing in the literature; very possibly a mistake, the name being used for some more medicinal species of broom. A widespread weed with no recorded medical uses.



Cannabis sativa L. Cannabaceae (Urticaceae). Native. Humaten胡麻仁 (seeds) Hu: 100.


Manniche: With celery for eyes.


Dioscorides: III-165, kannabis emeros. Seed eaten, kills sexual desire (!). Juice of green plant for pain of ears. (Interesting that the drug quality was not known. Our 17th-century translator already calls it Cannabis sativa. This is by no means the only plant already known in 1655 by its eventual Linnaean name.)


Al-Bīrūnī: Shāhdhānaj. Seeds dry up sperm. Infusion of seeds for ears. Leaves cure gas.  Desiccant. Embrocation applied to hot inflammations and the like. Note differences from Dioscorides; Galen cited for the drying up of sperm, presumably the same idea as Dioscorides’ anaphrodisiac claim.


Avicenna: qinnab. Seeds are shahdānj, oil is ḥabb-al-simnah and may sometimes come from other spp. Hot and dry. Dissolves gas. Minor external uses; Causes dark-sightnedness. Seeds fattening but hard to digest. Makes semen sticky. Mild laxative.


Nasrallah: Adds that the seeds create “unfavorable humors in the body and cause headaches and constipation.”[55] Notes that Ibn al-Bāytar described marijuana and its extremely intoxicating, maddening properties. Apparently the poor used them in pills or with sugar and sesame.


Graziani: Avicenna and Rāzī used as anaesthetic, painkiller.  They warned against overdose.  Ibn Jazlah avoided it. Modern uses in Middle East as anaesthetic, styptic, diuretic.


Lev and Amar: Against insanity (!) and epilepsy. Al-Bīrūnī and others noted dangers of use; causes intoxication and even insanity. Maimonides notes use of oil for ears. Plant used for soporific and eye pains (cf. modern use for glaucoma).


Kamal: qinnab hindi, qunbus; hashish for the drug. Narcotic.


Bellakhdar et al: just a narcotic. Famously a major part of Moroccan culture.


Madanapala: Bhangā. Digestive, constipative but also cures constipation [i.e., regularizes digestion]. Causes intoxication.


Nadkarni: Stomachic, antispasmodic, analgesic, stimulant, aphrodisiac, sedative, etc. Bad effects of habitual use noted. (Important part of Indian culture; traditional indulgent, often abused long before modern times.)


Dash: Bitter, hot, sharp, constipative, carminative, intoxicating. Makes one talkative.


Li: For foretelling future, amnesia, etc. Plant toxic, seeds debatably so. Sweet, balanced to cold.  Seeds much used for medicine and in early times for food and oil. Leaves, being dangerous, much less used. (The indulgent use of marijuana was conspicuously rare in traditional China, in sharp contrast to the Islamic and Indian worlds.)



Capparis spinosa L., Capparidaceae. Kabbār/Keboer可伯兒


Dioscorides: II-204, kapparis; cynosbatos; many other names. Fruit for spleen, urine, dysentery, sciatica, palsy, ruptures, convulsions, toothache; emmenagogue; applied on ulcers; juice kills worms in ears.


Avicenna: Root and fruit used. Pungent and hot. Keeps mustard from fermenting and spoiling.  Root bitter and pungent. Hot and dry; hot according to local climate (hotter where climate is hotter). Fruit dissolving, opening, cleansing; root erosive. Bark bitter and pungent; constrictive.  Nutritious, but less so when salted (interesting, showing that it was salted then as now). Bark of root for wounds, pain, tenderness, etc. Extract as enema. Can treat paralysis and loss of sensation. Chewing bark of root relieves cold headaches.Treats worms; extract instilled in ear (possibly for worms in ear?). Relieves toothache. Mouthwash, probably from root bark again.  Salted fruit for asthma. Fruit and root bark for splenic hardness. Kills roundworms when taken internally; increases sexual desire; treats piles and menses.


Levey: Kabbār. Root bark in poultice for spleen, and for hemorrhoids. Leaf for the spirits.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Root rind for various conditions; fairly important to Al-Samarqandī.  Current uses for ulcers, scrofula, carminative, aphrodisiac, fever, rheumatism. Various uses in India, including dropsy.


Lev and Amar: kabar. Pains, women’s afflictions, insanity, worms in ears, diuretic; mouth medicine for sores, gums, teeth; also stings, wounds, stomach, emmenagogue, hemorrhoids, appetite, etc., etc.


Kamal: qabbar (Persian kabar). Roots diuretic, fruit carminative and sudorific. Leaves alleviate toothache.


Bellakhdar et al: Antirheumatic, stimulant; treats painful menstruation.


Ghazanfar: Laṣafa, fakouha, shafallah. Leaves for earache, coughs, worms, diabetes. Other spp. of the genus and the closely related Cleome for various purposes.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Emetic, scrofula, spleen, liver.


Nadkarni: For palsy, dropsy, gout, rheumatism. Related species, similar minor uses.


Eisenman: For hepatitis; root bark smoked for syphilis. Flower juice for scrofula. Fruit, decocted, for hemorrhoids and toothatches, and gums. Antioxidant and other biomedical effects; experimental data indicate potential.


Li: Several local species, mabinlang馬檳榔 (“horse’s areca-nut”). For childbirth. A “minority”-area drug very little known in Han circles, but Li recommends it personally for mouth and gum sores—another example of his seeking out even very obscure drugs.



Carduus benedictus L., C. dipsacus L., Asteraceae. Bād-āvard/badawaerdi八達洼而的


Dioscorides: This species not distinguished, but he cites many thistles, including skolymos, Scolymus hispanicus, glossed as “carduus” in the 1655 translation, and used for urine; shoots a pot-herb.


Li:  C. crispus, feilian, bitter, salty, balanced, nontoxic; for a number of conditions. One early herbal recommends it for “Wind in the skin that makes the patient feel as if it is a bee sting with bumps,”[56] another for getting rid of worms like horse’s tail hair (i.e. probably whipworms) in the genitalia.



Carthamus tinctorius L., Asteraceae. Hu: Honghua 紅花973  Safflower.  Apparently confused with Gardenia in naming saffron “foreign gardenia” or “foreign safflower.”  Used on its own medicinally.


Dioscorides: IV:188, knekos, purgative.


Levey: In salve for beatings.


Avicenna: ‘aṣfar. Hot and dry. Usual minor external uses. Taken with fig or honey for abdominal pain and to evacuate burnt phlegm. A number of mixtures and combinations mentioned, including with almond, anise and honey.


Lev and Amar: qurṭum, qirṭim. Womb, kidney pains, heart, poisons, urinary tract. Causes diarrhea; laxative. Hot and dry; much used in Medieval Egypt.


Kamal: Qurtum, qurtuma, bahram and variants. Oil purgative and emmenagogue. Mixed with honey for soothing use on skin, etc.


Bellakhdar et al: ophthalmic, antiseptic, laxative.


Ghazanfar: Conjunctivitis and related conditions; whole plant extracted, or leaves simply crushed.


Nadkarni: Seeds purgative, roots diuretic.


Dash: Alleviates blood, etc.


Li: Hunglanhua紅蘭花. Pungent, warm, nontoxic. Usual range of uses. Seeds and leaf.



Carum copticum Benth. (Trachyspermum ammi L.), Apiaceae. Known in English by the Indian name ajwain or ajowan. Nānakhwah (Arabic) from nankhawah (Persian). Nanghua囊化or Nanhua難化 in the HHYF. This or caraway (Carum carvi) is presumably the “karawyā,” implausibly defined as dill, in the HHYF.


Dioscorides: III-66, karos, Carum carvi, caraway. Antidote, etc., used like dill. Root boiled and eaten.


Avicenna: hot and dry. Used for skin; pulverized fruits with honey for bruises. Digestive. Treats gas, upset stomach, nausea. Treats cold liver. Used for cleaning eyes and darkened sight.  Increases stickiness of semen, as does rue. Emenagogue; pessary for displaced uterus, etc.  Diuretic. Minor first aid uses for stings. Caraway is hot and dry, carminative, strengthening.  Relieves stomach and gas. For eyes, but overdose harmful. Clears chest and coughs, treats hiccups. Scent said to be abortifacient.


Levey: For hemorrhoids. Minor use.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Very commonly used by Al-Samarqandī in a range of formulas.


Lev and Amar: nākhuwāh. Hot and dry. Diuretic, for skin, bites, liver, stomach, urine, etc. C. carvi, hot and dry, for smallpox, kidney stones, stomach worms, swellings, sleep, etc.


Kamal: C. copticum, ammi, nikhwah, nan-khuwav, etc. Stimulant, carminative. For appetite. C. carvi, karawyah, al-niqr, etc.; seeds fragrant, stomachic, carminative, diuretic.


Bellakhdar et al. (1991:126):[57] “digestive, stimulant, spasmolytic, analgesic, sedative for children” in modern Morocco.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Stomachic. Mothers drink tea of it to increase milk.


Nadkarni: Antihelminthic, antiseptic, carminative.


Dash: C. carvi bitter, cleanses uterus, and for colic.

(Another apiaceous seed, with the usual well-recognized properties—stomachic, carminative—from the volatile oil. Contains enough thymol and related phenols to be strongly antibiotic, and widely used for this, especially for treating digestive disease)


Eisenman: C. carvi, a common plant in Central Asia, used as sedative, expectorant, diuretic, carminative, laxative, sedative, appetite help; most of this is well documented medically.

(Oddly, this plant never made it to China as a regular medicine; it seems almost limited to the HHYF.)


Cassia acutifolia Del., Fabaceae (C. angustifolia). Sana-makki.


Levey: Sanā makkī. Infusion. Used generally as purgative, etc.


Avicenna: C. fistularis. Khiyār shambar, qiththā. Cold and moist, with some heat. Laxative.  Used also for visceral swellings, throat, gout, joints, diphtheria, liver (including jaundice and liver pain), thirst, etc.


Lev and Amar: sanā. This and other species for eyes, women’s illnesses, epilepsy, smallpox, purgative, etc. Recent use as cathartic.


Kamal: C. absus, shishm, etc. From west Sudan. Eye powder for eye diseases made from seeds; with sugar, sarcocolla, celandine. C. senna, sana, sana-makkak, sana hejazi, al-sana-al-Makki; purgative, cholagogue. Major cure for constipation. Also vermifuge for roundworms.


Bellakhdar et al: C. (Chamaecrista) absus and C. glauca, znina, ophthalmic, antiseptic. C. italica, sana haram, sana mekka, laxative, blood-cleansing.


Ghazanfar: Several Cassia  and related spp. for purgative and stomachic uses.


Lebling and Pepperdine: C. italica, purgative, laxative.


Nadkarni: This and other spp. purgative, laxative, antiparasitic.


Dash: C. tora, reduces fat, cures skin fungus and itch.


Li: C. tora, jueming 決明.  C. sophora, jiangmang茳芒. Various uses. The long-suffering Li breaks out into vituperation at the silliness of some claims about cassia; for instance, a claim that cassia in the garden makes lame children. He says: “This is what a decadent scholar had overheard and [one] should not take it seriously.”[58]

(Cassia spp. are still widely and effectively used to treat constipation and similar complaints.)



Cassia fistula L., Fabaceae. Khayār shanbar/Heiyaershanbaer黑牙而閃八而.


Lev and Amar: khiyyār shanbar (one name) and variants thereof. Hot and dry. Purging. Swellings, nerves, throat, anti-venom, etc.; similar modern uses, also for colds, cleansing blood, fevers, gall bladder, liver, respiration.


Kamal: Khiyar, shambar (two separate names). Eye-drops. Pulp of seed pod edible.


Bellakhdar et al: kiyar shambar; ‘ud salib. Laxative; for gastro-intestinal disorders.


Ghazanfar: For constipation, stomach ulcers and gastritis, hemorrhoids.


Madanapala: Āragvadha. Mild purgative. For fever, heart, bleeding, colic, etc. Flower constipative; pulp and flower bitter.


Nadkarni: Purgative. Root tonic and febrifuge.


Dash: Mild laxative.

(Effective and well-known laxative, purgative. Standard in biomedicine until fairly recently.)



Cedrus spp.  C. deodara Loud., Pinaceae. Dīudār/Diaodaer吊荅兒


Avicenna: C. deodara, diwdār. Hot and dry. Bitter. Sap pungent; produces thirst; hot and dry.  Used for cold diseases of head; stroke; epilepsy. Dissolves kidney and bladder stones. C. libani.  Resin hot and dry.  Treats lice, mites, and the like. Tones up flabby flesh. Cones or seeds apparently cause headaches, but the resin cures them. Leaves with vinegar for mouthwash.  Resin used in ears and eyes. Cone to control coughs (presumably boiled and tea used). Treats painful urination; diuretic, with pepper. Bark disinfectant, pesticide, emmenagogue, abortifacient, birth easer.  Constipating. Resin as enema for worms. Contraceptive if rubbed on penis.


Kamal: C. libani, arz-libnan, needles diuretic and used on wounds.


Bellakhdar et al.: C. atlantica, qitran er-raqiq, for skin infections, antiseptic, hair-care.


Nadkarni: Wood carminative. Bark powerful astringent, febrifuge. Unani specifically:  Antispasmodic, anti-paralysis, and for fevers and kidney-stones.

(The three Cedrus species are very similar, and a nice example of a genus whose members have mutually exclusive ranges and would surely be substituted for each other. Cedar leaves, bark and resin are rich in volatile oils, terpenes, and other chemicals, and have a strong astringent and antibiotic action. Many of the uses above would be justified biochemically.)



Centaurea behen L., Asteraceae. Bahman, bahman-sapid (Persian). Bahaman八哈蠻.


Dioscorides: III-8, kentaurion makron, Centaurea centaurium. Root for ruptures, convulsions, pleurisy, respirators infections especially tuberculosis, etc.  Emmenagogue and abortifacient; root applied to vulva. Good on wounds.


Levey: C. centaurium, qanṭūriyūn, in clyster, and for sciatica, lameness, backaches, rheumatic pains.


Avicenna: Bahman. Hot and dry. Heart tonic. Increases semen.


Lev and Amar: Qanṭūriyūn; bahamān abyaḍ. Heart, gout, aphrodisiac.


Kamal: noted for thinning.

Bellakhdar et al: C. chamaerhaponticum, for gastrointestinal and hepatic disorders.


Nadkarni: Aphrodisiac, and used for jaundice and stone.


Eisenman: C. depressa, tea for melancholy, neurasthenia, eye conditions, hepatitis. Biomedical antibacterial and antifungal action.



Ceratonia siliqua L., FabaceaeCarob.  Kharnūb (whence “carob”), yanbūt (Arabic). Haernubi哈而奴必.


Avicenna: Bad for stomach; hard to digest. Good for skin—extract rubbed on. Diuretic. Can be laxative. Different carobs from different areas have somewhat different properties.


Lev and Amar: A number of uses, ranging from treating fractures (how?) to diuretic, anti-swelling, stopping bleeding, increasing sexual desire, and even curing the hair. Vaious uses of honey, juice, jam, pods, etc.


Ghazanfar: Diarrhea; seeds eaten.


Nadkarni: Purgative, astringent, for cough.  Pods used.  (Evidently in tea.)

(High tannin content of plant, especially pods, explains use for diarrhea.)



Cetraria islandica (L.) Ach., Parmeliaceae. Iceland moss. No direct reference but there is a general term for moss Ushnah/wushina兀失拏 which may have included Iceland moss.

Iceland moss is a lichen with a number of folk and herbal medical uses; not in the Asian sources but widely used in Europe, and current today for humans and animals for a number of herbalist uses. The HHYF may be referring with Ushnah to a wider or general category of lichens; the few references are hard to pin down (see Alectoria).


Cheiranthus cheiri L. (Erysimum cheiri), Brassicaceae. Root of Khīrī/Hailigen海黎根


Dioscorides: III-138, leukoion, wallflower. Leukoion thalassion, C. tricuspidatus. Confused in this edition of Dioscorides with Viola alba (violet) and apparently also Matthiola incana (stock), but distinguishes the yellow-flowered one as the medicinal one; its uses ring true for a mustard (cf. other mustards in the book), not for a violet. The pictures are unequivocally Brassicaceae. Seeds used in bath, for womb and as emmenagogue, and as pessary for same and as abortifacient. Seed infusion drunk for respiratory complaints, etc. Roots in oil used as rub for gout and the like.


Nadkarni: Emmenagogue.


Chrysanthemum x  morifolium Ramat. A hybrid of C. indicum and at least one other sp., possibly C. coronarium. Asteraceae. Native. Juhua菊花


Avicenna: C. parthenium, the related and somewhat similar feverfew, varioius minor uses.


Nadkarni: C. coronarium and C. indicum for gonorrhea.


Sun: C. coronarium (tonghao茼蒿)[59]: spicy, balanced, non-poisonous. It pacifies the heart qi and nourishes the spleen and stomach. It also eliminates thick or thin mucus in the respiratory tract (tanyin痰飲).


Li: Ju 菊.  Flower, leaf, foliage. Bitter, balanced, nontoxic. White ones somewhat different in values from yellow. Many uses. (The modern, very common Chinese use as febrifuge and general coolant, however, seems minor, and the plant was “balanced” to Li, rather than, as now, very cooling.)

  1. indicum, ye ju 野菊, bitter, pungent, warm, slightly toxic. Minor uses mostly on external irritations.

(Chrysanthemum spp. and related genera such as Matricaria are used worldwide to reduce fevers—hence the name “feverfew”—or just make the patient feel cooler. The biomedical jury is still out on whether these plants actually have any such value.)



Cichorium endivia L. Asteraceae. Woju萵苣ASiMangGong. Lettuce is called for a number of times in the HHYF under its generic Chinese name.


Levey:  Baql, hundabā’. Nasal ointment; itching. Other for bites, etc. Some Cichorium or similar plant is ṭalakhshaqūq, used for poultices for swellings. Root to cure insanity.


Al-Bīrūnī: Karwah, a mysterious drug from Kashmir, is described by “some pharmacists” as root of wild endive. It could also be dandelion (notes). Root cooling, refrigerant, febrifurgal.  Adulterated with aconite roots, which is a very dangerous thing to do. Interesting to show Al-Bīrūnī’s attention to new drugs not in the Dioscoridean canon.


Avicenna: hindabā’. Bitter. Cold and dry, but with a moist component. (The idea that a plant could have two natures is occasional in Avicenna and occasional in Chinese medicine too.)  Removes obstructions. Not a strong medicine; wild is stronger than domestic. Milky sap relieves conjunctivitis. Used for chest poultice, and gargle for soe throat (with purging cassia). Relieves nausea and yellow bile. Strengthens heart. Good for stomach of a person with hot temperament.


Graziani: Ibn Jazlah noted two kinds (possibly the two spp. Herein) and used for obstructed liver (whatever he meant by that), gout, stomach, malaria, astringent, stomach. Kindī used it for nasal ointment and juice for itching. Samarqandī used it in syrups and robs.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Very important, used widely.


Lev and Amar: Plaster, liver, aphrodisiac, weak eyes, headaches; stops salivation; liver and bile corruption; other uses. Recent uses add many, most of them involving putting the plant on irritations as a soothing agent, but also taken for a vast range of purposes. As so often, we see an ordinary food pressed into service for anything and everything.


Bellakhdar et al: C. intybus, diuretic, hepatic. (Essentially the same plant as C. endivia. Odd that it is so little noticed by older writers; its value as a diuretic is unquestionable and must have been well known for millennia.).


Ghazanfar: C. intybus, ḥinḍiba’, for fevers (leaves, eaten raw or boiled); dyspepsia (roots); headache, jaundice (fruits).


Nadkarni: Resolvent, cooling for bilious complaints. C. intybus for bile, digestion, tonic; aperient, diuretic. Resolvent. Carminative seeds.


Eisenman: C. intybus, roots for appetite and digestion; flowers for stomach inflammation, intestines, gall bladder, kidneys including stones, heart conditions. Biomedical action as sedative, heart tonic, anti-inflammatory, cholesterol uptake drug, etc., and more certainly proved use as diuretic.

(Appetite can be stimulated by the bitterness. C. endivia is unknown in the wild and appears to be a domestic hybrid, presumably of intybus with C. pumilum.)



Cinnamomum burmannii.  See C. cassia.



Cinnamomum camphora (L.) Presl., Lauraceae. Kāfūr (Indian)/ kefuer可夫兒.


Levey: Kāfūr. Poultices for liver and spleen, drugs for sore throat. Teeth, eyes.


Nasrallah: Cold and dry, so used for heat-related conditions. Can produce euphoria. For tooth decay. Over-sniffing can bring insomnia, etc. Can be balanced with heating things such as ambergris. Nasrallah retails some medieval stories to the effect that the trees were frequented by tigers, and camphor could be gathered only when the tigers were in heat and went off to cool themselves in water. (This is presumably a merchants’ tall tale to justify charging high prices, like many other medieval tall tales about spices.)

Lev and Amar: Antisepsis; cough; jaundice; trachoma, ulcers, pains, swellings, etc. Even for use in dyeing hair black. Common in ointments. Dissolves bladder stones. A major aromatic medicine.  Recent uses include the above and also typhoid.


Graziani: In India for sprains and rheumatism. Medieval Arab uses for headache, abscess, kidney and bladder stones.


Bellakhdar et al: l-kafur. Antiseptic, for skin diseases, revulsive.


Ghazanfar: Kafur. Bark, branches and root, anti-convulsant, antihelminthic, carminative.


Madanapala: Karpūra. Aphrodisiac. Cold. Curse burning syndrome, distaste in the mouth, edema. For obesity and some poisons.


Nadkarni: Diaphoretic, stimulant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, expectorant, sedative, carminative, etc. More or less a cureall.


Dash: Sweet, cold, intoxicating (!). Cures eyes, thirst, poison.


Li: Zhang樟. Wood, zhangcai樟柴, and camphor, zhangnao樟瑙, minor use in several compounds.



  1. cassia Presl. Lauraceae. Native. Gui桂

The Chinese generic is used to describe a number of kinds of cinnamomum, also specific descriptives for specific species. Chinese cinnamon or cassia is not singled out in the HHYF and is lumped with other Cinnamomum spp. Several were used.  See C. zeylanicum below.


Avicenna: As usual, unclear which species is discussed. Darṣīnī or darchīnī. Diluting, absorbent, opening. Oil very hot. Constricting. Pungent, tenuous, erosive. Cinnamon was rubbed on spots, used on swellings and ulcers, used on ringworm. Bark with honey for acne. Oil for nervous tics, colds, earaches. Treats many internal pains. Used with oil, wax and egg yolk for many reasons including preventing production of hardness in uterus and kidneys. Emmenagogue. Various uses for female medicine, etc. Treats fevers. Avicenna notes that juniper berries can substitute. C. tamala (or C. citriodora), sādhaj, malabathrum. Hot and dry.


Lev and Amar: Cassia was distinguished as salīkha in the Middle East, including in Avicenna and the Genizah documents, but apparently used as C. zeylanicumC. citriodorum, sādhaj, is malabathrum, with minor uses including preventing caries, treating hot swellings, etc.


Nasrallah: stomachic, whets the mind, aphrodisiac.


Dash: Cold, aromatic. For heart, anorexia, parasites, skin, influenza.


Li: Gui; jungui菌桂for small reedy trees. Considerable differences of opinion on humoral qualities, but general agreement that it is hot or very hot. Bark (rarely leaf) for a vast range of uses mostly involving heating and dispelling. The jungui were used for magical practices to produce immortality, about which Li says “Taoist alchemists always make such stories to mislead people” (Li 2003:2945). C. japonicum, tianzhugui, and true laurel, Laurus nobilis, yuegui, follow in the book with minor uses. The entry on true laurel is actually about mythical trees that are obviously not laurel; included are stories (which Li ridicules) of seeds falling from the cassia-tree in the moon.

(Cinnamon and cassia oils are powerfully antiseptic, as well as stimulant and carminative.  C. japonicum certainly, C. loureiroi probably, and C. burmannii possibly, are referred to in the HHYF, used more or less the same as C. cassia.)



Cinnamomum japonicum.  See C. cassia.



Cinnamon loureiroi.  See C. cassia.



Cinnamomum zeylanicum Nees, Lauraceae. Salīkhah/Saliha撒里哈


Manniche: Used with other ingredients—mostly vehicles: oil, fat, honey—for unguents for sores, growths, wounds, anal inflammation, etc. Theophrastus describes cinnamon for perfume among the Egyptians.


Dioscorides: I-13, kinamomon. Gunther identifies it as C. cassia, but Dioscorides notes many kinds from many countries. These would be different species and genera. All are warming. Reduces menstruation when drunk with myrrh. Gets rid of poisons, heat, eye problems, etc. With honey on sunburn and skin diseases. For coughs and similar problems, kidneys, dropsy (congestive heart failure), etc.

Dioscorides’s “kassia” (I-12) is equated with C. iners, but, again, the description refers to several plants and tells how to distinguish them. The real stuff—unquestionably true Cinnamomum spp.—is used like 1-13.

(The “kinnamon” problem is monumentally vexed. Kinnamon evidently referred, originally, to a native Greek or Near Eastern plant. The name was extended to anything with a “hot” bark.  Cinnamon oil, like chile pepper oleoresin, directly stimulates the pain receptors, thus feeling sharp or hot without actually doing damage. Eventually the Greek name settled on Cinnamomum, as being by far the most medicinally useful species. Cinnamon oil is in in fact strongly antiseptic, warming and carminative, stimulant, and generally a first-rate medicine, which appears to be rising again as antibiotic-resistant organisms evolve.)


Levey: C. zeylanicum and C. cassia, dār ṣīnī. For happiness. Strengthens stomach and liver. In tooth and breathing recipes. (It has been shown by modern science to have a cheering effect if scented or consumed.)


Al-Bīrūnī: Dār Sīnī, now C. zeylanicum, possibly cassia in his time. Warming, acrid. Used in various medicines.


Lev and Amar: dār ṣīnī for both C. zeylanicum and C. cassia; qirfa for the former alone.  Coughs, colds, eyes, colic, obstruction, flatulence, diarrhoea, pleurisy, trembling, palpitation, purging, tonic, etc. For urine; emmenagogue, abortifacient; for skin diseases, eyes, eas, etc.  (Anderson suspects this would mostly be the oil.) Liver teeth and mouth, depression, hearing, neck pains, etc. Maimonides lists many uses, adding poisons, bites, stings, etc. to the above.  Also for sexual health.


Kamal: Salikha, qirfa sini. Aromatic, carminative, astringent. C. zeylanicum (true cinnamon in modern food usage), qurfa, dar sini, same uses. Also astringent for diarrhea, and internal antiseptic for typhoid.


Bellakhdar et al.: qerfa, qerfa galida. Stimulant, notably digestive and cardiac; emmenagogue; used for headache. C. zeylanicum, dar sini, stimulant; used for headaches, memory loss, colds. (Note that qerfa, qurfa, and l-kafur are all forms of the same word. “L” is the definite article in Moroccan Arabic, corresponding to standard Arabic “al.”)


Lebling and Pepperdine: For coughs, colds, stomach; menstrual pain; and childbirth, with many remedies for helping delivery and for recovery after delivery. Most involve mixed spices with fat, honey, or milk. Cf. cardamom.


Madanapala: Tvak. Hot. For poisoning, heart, pelvia, piles, rhinitis, parasites, semen.


Nadkarni: This and other spp. carminative, antispasmodic, aromatic, stimulant, hemostatic, astringent, antiseptic, stomachic. (A long list, but most of these uses are well supported by modern research). Unani specifically adds absorbent, diuretic, aphrodisiac, demulcent; used for colds, headaches, hiccups, liver, diarrhea, etc.

(Cinnamon contains a volatile oil that is intensely fragrant, and strongly antiseptic and carminative, with very good action on digestion; the oil kills skin diseases but can burn in heavy use. Cinnamon is actually one of the most effective medicines, by modern biomedical standards, in this corpus.)



Cistus ladaniferus, C. creticus.  Cistaceae. Lādhan/Ladan剌丹


Levey: The name applies to the resin. Used in dentifrice, ointment.


Avicenna: Qissūs, lādhan. Hot, though relatives include some cold items. Some value for retaining hair. Boiled down with wine for ulcers. Poultice also for ulcers. Ointment for burns.  Sniffing, with orris root oil, honey, and sodium nitrate, for headaches. Ear drops from tips, with pomegranate peels, relieve ears and teeth. Poultice for spleen. Flowers in wine for dysentery. Emmenagogue. Suppository for menses and abortifacient, and getting placenta out. Suppository for uterine swellings.


Lev and Amar: Minor medication; styptic, constricting, thus e.g. for strengthening penis and constricting glans in Maimonides’ sexual medicine.


(Gum widely used as medicine and soothing agent in Mediterranean from ancient times to today.  These two and perhaps other species may be included in the HHYF as Lādhan.



Citrullus colocynthis Schrad., Cucurbitaceae. Sham-e anzal, Hanzal/Shahamuhandali沙哈木罕荅里.


Manniche: C. lanatus probably used for finger tremors, constipation, various magical procedures.


Dioscorides: IV-178, kolokynthis, colocynth. Purging. Made into pills. Drives out phlegm and various diseases. Abortifacient; as pessary. On toothache. Bad for stomach. Suppository for constipation.


Galen: Bad for stomach; indigestible raw.


Avicenna: Ḥanẓal. Dissolving, erosive, absorbent. Young leaves stop bleeding. Put on swellings, etc. Used as massage for leprosy and elephantiasis. Also, presumably the fruit here, for nerve pain, arthristis, etc. Powdered for bleeding, cleansing the brain, washing teeth and mouth, etc. Hollowed, burned, for eardrops. Used for stomach swelling, etc. Cures diarrhea, but purgative. Abortifacient. Used on snake bites.


Levey: Ḥanẓal. For itch, insanity, rheumatism and phlegm.


Al-Bīrūnī: Expels hot and unnatural humors, but dangerous; much use gives diarrhea that can be fatal.


Lev and Amar: Ḥanẓal.  Tongue swelling, swollen throat, easing tooth extraction.  Pith for joint pains. In prescriptions for fever, tetany, colic. Cathartic. Treats itching, insanity, and much in between. Expectorant. Constipation, headache,stings, epilepsy, lung disease, depression, kidneys, etc. Leaves for hemorrhages, boils, leprosy, etc.  Roots for sting and bites, and increasing mother’s milk.  Various minor uses.



Citrullus vulgaris Schrad. Watermelon.  Cucurbitaceae. Xigua 西瓜Purgative, diuretic, for oedema and jaundice, kidneys, internal lesions, bites.


Graziani: Ibn Jazlah used it for elephantiasis, nervous pain, gout, eye disease, and snakebite.  Used today in Iran and Iraq as a drastic cathartic, in Egypt as purgative and astringent.


Kamal: handhal, ‘alqam. Seed oil for liniment.


Ghazanfar: Bites; laxative; joint pain.


Lebling and Pepperdine: purge, suppository.


Madanapala: Indravārunī. Bitter, hot, pungent; laxative; for jaundice, spleen, abdominal diseases.


Nadkarni:  Drastic, cathartic, diuretic, emetic, etc.


Dash: For digestion, jaundice, and anemia.

(Colocynth still used, and is effective, for the uses noted by Nadkarni. Watermelon is an effective diuretic, still widespread in Old World folk medicine from China to Europe.)



Citrus aurantium L., Rutaceae, bitter orange. Native (?).  Turunj/Tulunzhi突論只 is called for twice and is apparently citron. Otherwise, various oranges are called for in the HHYF usually under Chinese generics such as Ganzi 柑子 or Deng 橙


(Added here are notes on Citrus limon Burmann / C. aurantifolia Swingle, Rutaceae, lemon and lime. They are not in the HHYF but are not distinguished well in the old herbals, and thus may be included in the general term here; in any case, their modern medical uses in the Middle East are relevant. All these citrus fruits are hybrids, often complex, of tangerine, lime, and pomelo.)


Avicenna: C. aurantium (“C. sinensis” in Bakhtiar edn., but that plant was unknown in Central Asia in Avicenna’s time), zarrīn darakht. Leaves for urination and menstruation.C. limon, hot and dry. Externally for ringworm, swellings, wounds, etc., and facial paralysis. Strengthens brain. A collyrium from sour lemon helps remove yellow tinge in eyes from jaundice; orally for conjunctivitis. Sour lemon and fruit in sugar for palpitations, etc., and with vinegar for leech in throat. Buds and rind help digestion, though rind itself in not very digestible. Lemon with wine is laxative and treats excessive menstrual discharge. Extract calms sexual desire in women. Seeds anti-poison.


Lev and Amar: C. limon, līmūn, Juice mild purgative; peel and leaves against poison (Maimonides). Snakebite, headaches, fainting, stomach, appetite (both increase poor appetite and restrain gluttony), etc. Treats scars (this can work; the combination of oil and acid softens the skin). Not clear whether lime is included in these indications.


Bellakhdar et al: C. limon, lim-deqq, cosmetic; used on skin spots.


Ghazanfar: Lumi, C. aurantifolia. Juice, fruit, peel, bark for cataracts, colds, fever, chest pains, earache, stomachache. Crushed dried fruit made into poultice for thorn sticks. (The dried limes of Oman are among the most famous Near Eastern items of commerce, found worldwide today in Middle Eastern food stores.)


Lebling and Pepperdine: C. aurantifolia, lumi, limun. Colds, coughs, colic, diarrhea, mesntrual pain.


Kamal: Leaves of C. aurantium stomachic and antiepileptic. (The first of these uses is still universal in Latin America; ENA, personal research.)  One variety, bergamot: fruit, bergamut in Arabic, eaten as antihelminthic.


Madanapala: Jambhīra, C. limon.  Sour, hot. Colic, distaste, cardiac pain, parasites, etc. Nārangī (identified as C. reticulata but no doubt actually aurantium or sinensis.). Sour, hot, laxative appetiser, cardiac. Nimbu, C. aurantium, sour, but one var. is sweet; digestive, carminative.


Nadkarni: Dried peel aromatic, stomachic, tonic, astringent, carminative. Oil strong stomachic; topical applications stimulant. Several other citrus spp. discussed.


Dash: As in the Madanapala volume, Dash identifies “nāranga” (here) as C. reticulata, which we doubt. In any case, in Tibet it apparently is used for appetitie, digestion, heart, following ayurvedic norms. C. limon given for thirst, colic, nausea, vomiting, asthma, constipation. This would probably be the juice.


Li: Zhi 枳. Fruit, immature or mature. Bitter, slightly cold, nontoxic, sour. Several pages of recipes.  Entry followed by one on trifoliate-orange, Poncirus trifoliata. Gouju 枸橘; Li notes without comment the old story that bitter (or other) oranges planted north of the Yangzi River, they turn to trifoliate oranges. (This is true; the oranges were grafted onto trifoliate understock, as they still are around the world; the cold winters and droughts of northern China killed the graft and let the understock grow up. ENA has seen this happen many times in California.)

(Citrus species contain volatile oils of well-demonstrated value for soothing the stomach, treating minor skin conditions, etc.)



Citrus medica L., Rutaceae. Native to China, but widespread, possibly domesticated in India.  Certainly a “western” plant to most East Asians. The lemon, which appeared in the medieval Near East, is a descendant from a hybrid with lime. Turunj/Tulunzhi突論只.


Dioscorides: 1-164, persica mela, C. medica, citron?  For stomach and belly; unripe is too binding.  Dried or decocted for diarrhea.

1-166, medika, C. medica, citron. Drunk in wine to resist poisons etc. Juice for sweetening breath. Reduces lust in women. Put into clothes-chests to repel moths.

It appears that both these articles apply to citron. The second one clearly does, the description being unmistakable. Apparently we are dealing with the same thing under two names with two different usages.


Al-Bīrūnī: Utrujj. Cucumber-like; name sometimes used for types of cucumber and/or melon.  Nothing specific about its medicinal value, but several beautiful poetry quotes.


Graziani: Utruj, C. medica. Widely used; use unspecified.


Kamal: C. medica:  Fruit skin stomachic, tonic; seeds antipyretic and antihelminthic; juice astringent, used for vomiting, rheumatism, and inflammation.


Madanapala: Bījapūra. Appetiser; for throat, tongue, heart; bleeding. Light and sour. Pulp cold.  Skin and flower bitter and hot. Pistil light; constipative; for colic, abdomen. Seed hot; for parasites. Juice for colic, indigestion, constipation, digestion, anorexia, dyspnoea, cough, thirst, anorexia, etc.


Dash: C. medica for griping, intestinal pain; digestive, cardiac; for asthma, cough, anore



  1. reticulata (“C. erythrosa” Tanaka) Rutaceae. Native. Not in HHYF as such.


Li: JuFruit, seed, pith, leaf, peel all used, in various stages. Major drug. Fruit sweet, sour, warm, nontoxic; peel bitter, pungent, warm and nontoxic. A number of uses cluster around warming, soothing, astringent, and harmonizing functions.

Li discusses many other types of citrus, including pomelo C. grandis.



  1. x sinensis (C. junos Tanaka). Rutaceae. Native. Under Gan 柑 in the HHYF.

The sweet orange is apparently a very ancient hybrid of tangerine and pomelo C. grandis.


Li: Jinqiu金球, cheng  橙 (the last means sweet orange specifically). Minor uses. Closely related is C. x nobilis, gan, a stable swarm of tangerine-orange hybrids with specific qualities (very sweet, juicy, flavorful, large) gets a separate entry in Li, just before this one (with several obsolete scientific names synonymized in Li 2003).



Cocos nucifera L., Arecaceae. Coconut. Yepiao椰瓢.


Avicenna: Somewhat hot and dry. Good food, though heavy. Aphrodisiac. Oil for piles, joints.  Very old oil—copra oil—kills worms.


Lev and Amar: Very good for sexual health, also hemorrhoids, mental perception.

Dash:  Sweet, cold.  Strength, virility, corpulence, muscle tissue.  Cleanses urinary bladder.  (Today, the flesh would be used for the former, the water for the latter.)

(In modern Chinese folk medicine, the meat is used for soothing and nourishment.  It is nutritious enough to give some credence to the sexual nutrition claims, but it would work only by helping nutrition generally.)



Colchicum autumnale L., Colchicaceae (Iridaceae). Sūranjan/Shulingzhang屬伶章 or LaḤ/Lalahua剌剌花.


Dioscorides: IV-84, kolchikon. Poisonous. But counteracts mushroom poisoning.

IV-85, ephemeron, C. parnassicum. Bulb for toothache. Leaves for swellings and humors, applied.


Avicenna: Purgative, biting. Used for gout (somewhat effectively) as a massage. Arthritis. Not good for stomach; weakens it. However, it is laxative and aphrodisiac, the latter with ginger, mint and cumin. Purges phlegm, worms, thickens humors.


Levey: Sūranjān. In drugs for calculi and for the spirits.


Graziani: Suranjān. In Babylonia for poison, stings, head and eye, breast pain.


Lev and Amar: sūranjān, khamīra. Kidney stones mental illness, hemorrhoids, abscesses, sexual appetite. Used for fattening in spite of its poisonousness.


Kamal: lihlah, kolshik. Corn and seed cathartic, cholagogue, diuretic, sudorific, emetic, irritant.  Poisonous in large doses. Used in gout, rheumatism, etc., and throat conditions.


Nadkarni: C. luteum substituted in India for the above. Rheumatism, gout, etc. Unani:  Alterative, aperient; diseases of liver and spleen.

(Powerful, dangerous stimulant.)



Commiphora myrrha Engl. Burseraceae. Imported. Myrrh, Moyao沒藥. also Murr/Muliye木里葉


Dioscorides: I-77, smyrna, myrrh. (Identified as Amyris hafal by Gunther.[60]) Long directions on telling counterfeits. Warming, drying, astringent. Produces sleep. Emmenagogue, aid in childbirth, applied with wormwood etc. Taken against cough, pain in side or thorax, dysentery, malaria. Kills worms. Sweetens breath. Applied for armpit chafing, teeth and gums, etc. Even cures “broken ears and bared bones,” etc.[61] when applied with various agents. Various other minor usees. Soot made and used also.


Levey: Murr. In applications for erysipelas, boils, cankers, abscesses, decayed teeth, wounds, eyes, insanity, nosebleeds. The antiseptic and soothing values of myrrh were obviously well known.


Nasrallah: Adds abortifacient and vermifugal uses. Smearing on toe will keep a man able to have sex as long as it is on his toe (Ibn al-Bayt.ār).


Lev and Amar: C. mukul (bdellium, a common medicine in the Near East) for colic, diarrhea, liver, sciatica, veins, legs, nails, swellings, lungs, cough, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, bile, expelling fetus, etc.  Various kinds noted.

  1. myrrha, murr, stomach, liver, coughs, colds, ulcers, sores, toothache, wounds, eyes, hemorrhages, snakebite, dog bite, worms, etc.


Kamal: “It is stimulant and astringent, and is used in dyspepsia, chronic bronchitis, leukorrhea, amenorrhea, and as a local application in stomatitis, carious teeth, and inflammation of the gums.” (p. 91)


Ghazanfar: Resin for colds, fevers, digenstion, hemorrhoids, toothache.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Murr, murrah. Abdominal pain, chest, childbirth, colic, coughs, colds, digestion, health, infections, menstrual pain, sore throat; topically on wounds, cuts, newborn (navel), burns.


Nadkarni: Gum stimulant, expectorant, emmenagogue; externally, astringent.


Dash: Cold, aromatic, for skin and blood, uterus, thirst.


Li: Moyao. Disperses blood stasis, helps physical damage of all kinds, swellings, pains, etc.  Known to be from the west, but a local Southeast Chinese myrrh is mentioned; it would be a different species.  Bitter, balanced, nontoxic.

(In addition to the proverbial use as incense, myrrh gum is genuinely antiseptic, astringent, soothing.  It was one of the more effective drugs in this canon. Still used medicinally, and was even in biomedical practice till very recently.)



Commiphora opobalsamum (L.) Engler. Burseraceae. Balasān/Bolasang伯剌桑.


Dioscorides: Drying, heating; long discussion of how to tell it, so clearly important import.


Avicenna: hot, dry. Digestive and diuretic. Used on sores, swellings, pains, skin conditions.


Levey: Bakasān. Drying, heating; clyster.


al-Bīrūnī: Large tree; oil healing, mixed with other substances.


Lev and Amar: balasān. Eyes, epilepsy, palpitation, purging, stomach, etc. Oil for spleen, kidneys, liver, womb, lungs, cough, tuberculosis, urine, skin, bites, stings, poisons. Works against infertility, dizziness.


Nadkarni: Fruit carminative, expectorant, stimulant; gum astringent and demulcent.

(Effective antibacterial.)



Convolvulus scammonia L. Convolvulaceae. Scammony. Saqamūniyā/Saheimuniya撒黑木尼牙. Also Mamūda/Mahamuda馬哈木荅.


Dioscorides: purgative.


Avicenna: Saqmūniā. Hot and dry. Cleansing, dissolvent. Used in poultices for skin disease, ulcers, etc. For headaches; but harms heart, stomach, intestines and liver. Purges yellow bile, but to be used with care.


Al-Kindī: purgative, stomach medicines.


Lev and Amar: Root. Fever, nerves, stomach, liver. Dangerous; produces diarrhea and abortion.  In ointment for skin, wounds, scars, headaches.  Powerful purgative. Expels worms. Can cure intestinal diseases, palpitations, insanity.


Nadkarni: Cathartic; used for dropsy and anasarca.


Eisenman: C. subhirsutus seeds used for gastrointestinal conditions; infusion of plant for pain, convulsions, wounds, asthma, tuberculosis. Biomedical action: analgesic but irritating to eyes; large doses paralyze nervous system. Less toxic derivatives used for spasms and other conditions.

(Powerful purgative. Not in Chinese practice though important in the Near East; presumably too strong in a negative way for the Chinese medical spirit.)



Coptis chinensis Franch., Ranunculaceae. Native. Huanglian黃連.


Avicenna: Coptis trifolia, māmīrān, hot and dry, purifying; minor uses typical of hot and dry drugs.


Nadkarni: C. teeta. Bitter tonic; for appetite, digestion, etc. Used in jaundice, convalescence, fevers, dyspepsia; conjunctivitis (salve).


Li: C. chinensis, huanglian, Chinese goldthread. Rhizome most used; bitter, cold, nontoxic.  Many pages on this very popular Chinese drug, whose coldness makes it used to treat Fire of many sorts.

(Modern research confirms some traditional values, due to berberine, but more research is needed.  It is very likely that in the HHYF it is used in place of C. teeta, as one of several cases in which a native drug was used only because it was a substitute for the Middle Eastern one. C. teeta occurs in Yunnan雲南and is harvested by minority peoples there. It is used as an analgesic and antibacterial as well as for the uses of C. chinensis. This is another of the interesting cases in which Avicenna is our only western source for an otherwise Indian drug.)



Cordia myxa L., Boraginaceae. Sibsitān/Xibixitang西比西唐Sibistan.


Theophrastus: food (it has a small, pear-like fruit).


Levey: Sabastān,sibāsah. In electuary for happiness and stomach and liver.


Al-Bīrūnī: Shajarah al-dibq and other names. Disiccant, refrigerant. Against heat and coughs.  Removes hardness in chest. Cures blenorrhea due to agitation in bile in kidneys and bladder.  Expels worms.


Avicenna: C. sebestena. Sibistān, Persian sīsabān.  Laxative.


Lev and Amar: Ointment for liver etc. Purgative. Malaria, etc. Astringent; dry but neutral (not hot or cold).


Graziani: Sabastān. Ibn Jazlah used it for bronchial and pulmonary problems and stomach disorders, to calm sneezing, for throat pain, and as mild laxative; if taken excessively could harm the liver. “Al-Kindī has it in a remedy to lift up the mood and strengthen stomach and liver.”[62]  Used today in Iran for coughs and chest, in Egypt and Syria as laxative and for respiratory problems.


Kamal: C. sebestena, sabastan, mokhatah. Soothing for chest conditions and urinary tract infections. Apparently the fruit is eaten for this.


Ghazanfar: Seeds and leaves for stomach ailments and wounds.


Madanapala: Ślesmāntaka. Hot. For hair, poisoning, pustular eruptions, ulcers, erysipelas, skin; fruit [the foregoing was presumably the leaves] for virility, consumption, blood.


Nadkarni: Mild tonic. C. latifolia better known; for chest, uterus, etc. Demulcent; bark mild astringent and tonic.


Dash: Sweet, cold. No special uses mentioned.



Coriandrum sativum L., Apiaceae. Kashnij. Yuansuizi芫荽子.


Manniche: Many remedies for stomach problems used it. Externally it was used in unguent for small sores (herpes?). The related cumin Cuminum cyminum was very heavily used for stomach complaints—as it still is, worldwide.


Dioscorides: III-71, koriannon. Cooling. Heals skin eruptions and ulcers, inflammations, etc.  Seed drunk can expel worms and increase male semen. Excess of the seed is bad. Juice for inflammations, applied to skin.


Avicenna: Kuzbarah. Cold and dry, but Galen said it could be warm—perhaps having both a cold and a warm property. (Modern Chinese and others also tend to disagree about its coldness and warmth.)  Constricts. Used for swellings, etc. With rose oil, honey and dried grape for hives and eczema (the combination of soothing and antiseptic qualities would work very well here). Used for fainting, epilepsy, fevers related to yellow or black bile or phlegm.  Fresh coriander used for sleep. Treats inflammations and mouth sores. Powdered dry coriander for mouthwash.  Helps eyes, relieves stomach, purges worms, etc. Fresh and dry both cause mental confusion and reduce sexual desire and male potency (a very odd claim).


Levey: Kuzbarah. Headache, etc.


Nasrallah: Digestive, soporific, eases childbirth.


Lev and Aman: Eyes, diarrhea, inflmmatory swellings, headaches, fever, heart. Plant made into compress for stings. Also, taken, to accelerate childbirth. Incense from it keeps snakes and scorpions away. Sexual medicine and stimulant. Several other minor uses. Modern uses add toothache. Another all-purpose plant. (Its carminative and stimulant effects help digestion—hence wide use in Near Eastern spicing then and now—but it hardly deserves this wide use.)


Graziani: Kuzbarah. Ibn Jazlah used it for eyes, bleeding, vomiting, but warns it dulls the eyes and reduces semen.


Kamal: Kuzburah, qalantarah, etc. Fruit carminative, aromatic.


Bellakhdar et al.: for scurvy (evidently the leaves); anti-rabies, stomachic, aphrodisiac, tonic, antiinflammatory (presumably the seeds; aphrodisiac probably only as  mixed into ras-al-hanout, traditional Moroccan spice and drug mixes used for that purpose and often working through incorporation of Spanish fly [cantharid beetles]).


Ghazanfar: Kobzra, kabzara, khabzara. Dried seeds, leaves, carminative, for digestion, swellings, eyes, general tonic; seeds boiled in water, for nausia as well as general stomachic, or in vinegar with sugar as tonic for heart and system.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Kuzbara, kizbara. Digestive.


Madanapala: Dhānyā. Diuretic, cardiac tonic, appetite; alleviates excess dosas; for dyspnoea, cough, thirst, piles, parasites.


Nadkarni: Fruit stimulant, carminative, stomachic, antibilious, refrigerant, tonic, diuretic, aphrodisiac. Leaves pungent and aromatic.


Dash: Diuretic. Pungent and bitter.


Sun: Coriander (Chinese parsley, cilantro) seeds (huxuzi胡荽子): sour, balanced, nonpoisonous. They help digest grains and recover one’s appetite. Its leaves cannot be taken frequently, or it will cause short memories (duowang多忘). Hua Tuo 華佗 said, “If one has armpit odor (lit. “fox smell,” huchou 胡臭), bad breath (kouqichou 口氣臭), or rotten teeth (?ni chong chi [匿蟲]齒. “teeth hiding vermine”), taking coriander leaves will worsen the condition. if one is suffering from noxious qi in the abdomen, he should never take it. Otherwise, it will arouse his chronic conditions. One having cut-wounds should not eat it either.”


Li: Husui 胡荽, yuansui 芫荽. Root and leaf pungent, warm, slightly toxic.  Good food; digestive.  Beneficial to the body, protecting; many specific uses. Seed pungent, sour, balanced, nontoxic.

(Overall, note the wide agreement across cultures on the value of this plant.)



Cornus macrophylla Wall, Cornaceae. Native.  Dingpi丁皮.


Sun: Dogwood (Cornus officinalis Sieb. et Zucc., shizhuyu食茱萸): spicy, bitter, greatly warming, nonpoisonous. It should be collected in the ninth month. When preserved for a long time, it becomes better. When its fruit is closed [presumably:  not ripe enough to burst open], it is poisonous and should not be used. It stops pain and helps the qi move downward. It terminates vomiting caused by coughing. It eliminates coldness in the five internal organs. It warms up the Middle Jiao and treats every kind of cold shi[63] that will not disappear (lengshi buxiao冷實不消). Its raw, white bark mainly treats the illness of being attacked by noxious qi (zhong’e中惡), stomachache, and toothache. Its thin roots treat Three Worms and threadworm. The Yellow Emperor said, “In the sixth and seventh month, do not eat dogwood, or it will hurt the spirit and the qi and arouse hot-summer qi (fuqi伏氣).” If one’s throat is not clear, or if wicked wind attacks people (zeifeng zhongren賊風中人), or one’s mouth is wry and cannot speak, take one sheng升 of dogwood and get rid of black seeds and closed fruits. Take three sheng of fermented soy beans (chi豉). Add pure liquor (qingjiu清酒) to the dogwood and beans. Boil them till they reach the boiling point for four or five times. Take the juice and cool it down. The patient has half a sheng of the juice three times a day. After it sweats him a little, he will recover. If one is stung by a scorpion (chai蠆), he should chew dogwood, put what has been chewed up on the wound, and the poison will be dispelled.


Li:  Songyang松楊. Leaf, sweet, salty, balanced, nontoxic, for fractures and blood; bark, bitter, balanced, nontoxic, for dysentery. (Tannin makes it effective for this.)



Cornus mas L., Cornaceae. Dogwood. One reading for mū/Mo, but that is normally, and surely in the HHYF, Meum athamanticum. However, dogwood uses in the west are clearly relevant, since Meum probably was used as a substitute for C. mas in western-derived formulations.


Avicenna: Hot and dry. Diluent, cleansing, opening. Root taken for arthritis, painful urination, bladder pain, menstruation, and “cold and aseous inflation of the liver.”[64] Ash of bark on wounds.


Lev and Amar: C. mas, , qaraniyya. (Ali Zargari’s book of Persian plants lists this second name, but not mū, as an Arabic name for this sp.)  Phlegm, poisons, etc.  For urine and generating heat. Helps smell, voice, stickiness, soothes stomach, live, kidneys. Stimulates sexual desire, cures infections of bladder, stops sweating, dispels pains. Oil for shivers, paralysis, coldness, weakness.



Corylus avellana L. Betulaceae. Hazelnut. Mentioned in Index. Not in our recipes. Jillauz/Chiliwoza赤里窩咱

Avicenna: Aṭyuṭ, bunduq (“round thing”). Hot and moist. Cleansing, constricting.Slow to digest.  Minor uses include use to remove blue spots on infants, but Avicenna says only “some” believe this, meaning he does not.[65]



Crataegus azarolus L. Rosaceae. Common hawthorn. Soup of this plant, presumably the fruit, mentioned in Index. Za’rūr/Zaluli咱盧黎


Dioscorides: Sweet fruit used.


Avicenna: Constricting. Best fruit for eliminating yellow bile.


Eisenman: C. altaica. Leaves and dried flowers and fruits in tea for “hypertension, dizziness, tachycardia, insomnia, heart diseases and common colds.”[66] Laxative. Biomedical evidence for effectiveness, for heart etc. Tannins give some value. Vitamin C content high. C. songarica, similar uses and values.

(Fruits of Chinese hawthorns are widely used medicinally in China today, for cooling, tonic, astringency, but oddly absent from the herbals.)



Cressin alenois.  Possible identification for a mysterious name in the Table of Contents. Used in Morocco for appetite and as general stimulant (Abdelhai Sijelmassi, Plantes médicinales de Maroc, on website). Nothing else recorded in the literature. Maliyāsa/Maheiliyasa馬黑里牙撒



Crocus sativus L., Iridaceae. Many variants Za’farān/Zafalan 咱法闌/Zafalang咱法郎/ Safalang撒法朗; Zarnab/ Zaerbaby咱兒納不.


Dioscorides: I-25, krokos. Applied with women’s milk to stop flux of eyes. Drunk and/or pessary for uterus. Stirs lust. Soothes inflammations, applied. Diuretic.

I-64, krokinon. Complicated recipe for oil with saffron and other herbs infused. Warming, soporific, etc.


Levey: Za’farān. In musk, air freshener, and perfume products. For nose, scrofula, swollen head, liver, sore throat and mouth, bad teeth and gums, eyes, epilepsy and insanity, stomachic. In these various medicines it is probably used largely to give pleasant flavor and stimulant quality. Others used it for eyes, etc.


Avicenna: za‘farān. Hot and dry. Constricting and dissolving. Dissolves swellings. Rubbed on inflammation. Causes headache but used for sedative. With wine, makes drunkenness worse, causing uncontrollable behavior. Strengthens eyesight; various optical uses. Exhilarant; cardiac tonic; good for lungs and chest conditions. Causes vomiting, reduces adppetite, diuretic, aphrodisiac. Used for hardness, malignant ulcers, etc. in uterus.


Nasrallah: Adds that, in alcoholic drinks, saffron creates “an ecstatic state of euphoria, almost to the point of madness.”[67] Ibn Sīna noted that one could even lose one’s soul.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Very important in Al-Samarqandī’s formulations; major medicine.


Lev and Amar: za‘farān. One of the curealls, used for the usual reasons:  eyes, headache, stomach, brain, liver, bile, sexual energy, epilepsy, hemorrhages, purgation, inflammations, women’s ailments, various topical applications, and so on and on. Hot and dry.


Graziani: Za‘faran, shiyaf. Ibn Jazlah used it in eye powder, eye wash, and to meliorate strong medicines. Also strengthens heart. Excessive use harmful to lungs, causes headache and drowsiness.


Kamal: Za’faran; emmenagogue.


Bellakhdar et al: emmenagogue and abortive; cardiac stimulant.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Headaches, heart; externally, skin care. Anticancer potential noted, and a less plausible finding of value for learning and memory, though like lemon balm and mint it certainly has a soothing and focusing effect when sniffed.


Madanapala: Kunkuma. Hot, pungent. Makes one happier and alleviates excess of dosas. For skin, ulcers, parasites, headache.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, aphrodisiac, stomachic; anodyne, antispasmodic; emmenagogue.


Dash: Bitter, astringent, hot. For parasites among other things.


Li: Fanhonghua 番紅花. Sweet, plain, nontoxic. Barely known. Even so, mentioned for melancholy with stagnation and suffocation, blood stasis, mania, etc.; can make one happy.

(The importance of this stimulant, warming medicinal spice continues, though it is now priced out of the reach of most.  Saffron is in fact antiseptic and warming. Thus, like rose, it fits the medieval Near Eastern ideal of a plant that is beautiful, wonderful-tasting, and genuinely medicinal. Research also confirms that the scent can increase happiness.

Throughout East Asia, turmeric or safflower are substituted for saffron in dyeing, cooking, and medicine.  Turmeric does have spice and medicinal value; safflower has no well-demonstrated value and is tasteless. The two were enough to block saffron from getting established in China.)



Croton tiglium L., Euphorbiaceae. Introduced to China. Saqamūniyā/Sajimuniya撒吉木你牙. Egyptian: Habb il-muluk


Avicenna: Māhūdānah; seed is dand. Hot and dry. Strong vomiting and laxative agent. For a range of stomach conditions.


Kamal: C. cascarilla, qishr-‘anbar, nabat habb al-muluk. Bark aromatic, antipytretic, soothing, anti-emetic, expectorat.




  1. tiglium, habb al-muluk, hab al-Salatin. Seeds produce an oil used as antihelminthic, and cathartic for constipation, anasarca, syncope, and externally for rheumatism, gout, etc. Badou芭荳.


Bellakhdar et al.: drastic.


Ghazanfar: C. confertus for constipation, coughs, tonic, pains.


Nadkarni: Drastic purgative. Seeds vermifuge. Oil powerful cathartic; vesicant. Plant used as extreme measure, for purgation and for violent stimulus in dropsy, apoplexy, etc.


Li: badou. Major drug. Seed pungent, warm, toxic. Cures diarrhea and other intestinal complaints. Vermifuge. Usual huge range, but also some instructions on what not to treat with so poisonous a cure.  Seed coat and seed oil sometimes used.

(Powerful, dangerous purgative and vesicant.)



Cucumis melo and its var. conomon (Thunb) Mak.  Cucurbitaceae. Shaogua稍瓜. Native. (conomon is a native Chinese variety, but the sweet fruit is west Asian.)


Avicenna: C. melo, biṭṭīkh. Cleansing. Unripe and ripe fruit and seeds all used. Flesh and seeds used to clear skin; peel on forehead prevents eye secretions. Root produces vomiting. Diuretic.

Wild cucumber (C. sativus?). Hot and dry. Wild one used for medicine. Used on ulcers and sores, and internally for dysentery, urination, menstruation, vomiting, etc.


Lev and Amar: C. melo, shammām, diuretic, good for stomach, useful on swellings and skin. C. melo var. chate (with a long, hairy, grooved fruit) for liver, cough, aphrodisiac, etc. Wounds, bites, diuretic, stomach-soothing. Common food. C. sativus, minor use for fevers and diuretic and stomach.


Sun: Chinese melon (yuegua越瓜): sweet, balanced, nonpoisonous. One cannot take it too much. It is good for intestines and stomach.

(The latter is a small, smooth fruit, but otherwise similar to the Near Eastern one. It works as a diuretic and stomach-soother—note that both the Genizah physicians and Sun knew its value for the stomach, though they could not have been in touch. It might help cough.)



Cuminum cyminum. Apiaceae. Cumin. Kammūn/Kemuni可木你, only a few references but cumin may also occur under the Generic Zira/即剌, also referring to caraway. This same term occurs also for dill (and maybe some related spp.) as Shiluo蒔蘿, a very old borrowing. This apiaceous plants’ small dry fruits (“cumin seeds”) are medicinal throughout the Near East and areas influenced by it.


Dioscorides: stomachic; with wine for poisons.


Avicenna:  kammūn. Hot and dry. Warming. Relieves gas. Erosive, drying, constricting. Wash for cleansing face. Ointment, with oil and borad bean flour, for inflammation of the testes. With vinegar for acne. Inhalation of powder with vinegar, for nosebleeds. Chewed with olive oil or salt and used externally. Used internally for labored breathing; stomachic.


Levey: carminative, stomachic, carminative, stimulant; against flatulence. In India for arthritis etc.


Ghazanfar: “antispasmodic, carminative, sedative and stimulant.”[68] Several active ingredients explain at least the carminative and stimulant functions (it is hard to believe how it could also be a sedative!). For diarrhea, nosebleed, sexual potency, colic.

(The traditional heavy use of this spice in beans, a use invented in the ancient Near East and spreading with beans to Mexico and elsewhere, is based not only on flavor but on the fruits’ considerable success at improving digestion and combating flatulence. However, the spice is almost unknown in China.)



Curcuma longa (C. aromatica in Kong).  Salisb. Zingiberaceae. Introduced to China. Does not occur directly in the HHYF but probably subtended under other C. spp.


Levey: C. longa, kurkum. Throat, mouth, teeth, gums.


Avicenna:  Hot and dry.  Dissolvent.  Used for nerves eyes, jaundice.


Lev and Amar: kurkam, kurkum. Teeth, throat, gums, mouth, eyes. Jaundice, stoach-ace, digetion, headaches, vagina. Purgative. Hemorrhoids. Hot and dry. Imported from India and likened to saffron.


Ghazanfar: C. longa, kurkum. Bronchitis, coughs, bruises, skin, eyes; rhizome used.


Madanapala: C. longa, haridrā. Hot. For skin diseases, urinary disorders, vitiation of blood, edema, anemia, ulcer.


Nadkarni: Tonic, stimulant, carminative. C. longa, Same. Used for liver, etc., and even worms.


Dash: Cures poisoning, helps bones heal, etc. Pungent, bitter, cure urinary problems, etc.

Dash: C. longa bitter, hot, eliminates wastes, cures poisoning, urinary diseases, itch, skin coditions, parasites, julcers, rhinitis, anorexia.  (Much of this is folk Indian usage.)


Li: Turmeric, C. longa, yujin郁金 (other writings), includes C. aromatica.  Pungent, bitter, cold, nontoxic. Many uses for pains and illnesses.

(Strong stimulant effect; stomachic; vitamin and iron content makes it valuable for nutrition, which explains some of the traditional medical uses.  Under study today for anticancer, antiseptic and antiparasite uses.)



Curcuma zedoaria (Berg.) Rosc., zedoary. Zingiberaceae. Imported. C. zerumbet (Rosc.) Roxb. Zedoary is Zurunbat (Egyptian), in the HHYF Zarnab/Zaernabu咱兒那不, Zarnabāt/Saernabate撒兒那把忒Guangshu廣戍. C. Zerumbet is Zurunbād/Zuerbadi祖兒八的


Levey: Zurunbād.  Nosebleed. Used elsewhere for stomachic, tonic, carminative, etc.


Al-Bīrūnī: For eyes. Antitoxin.


Avicenna: Zaranbād. Hot and dry. Dense. Relieves gases. Cardiac tonic. Good against insect bites.


Kamal: C. zerumbet. Cardiac tonic, other minor uses.


Bellakhdar et al: C. longa, kerqum, digestive stimulant, for blood diseases, against amnesia.


Lebling and Pepperdine: C. longa, kurkum. On burns, eyes, infections, skin ailments. Smoke for colds and coughs. One of the spice foods for women after delivery, in soup with meat, onion, pepper, cumin.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, carminative, expectorant, demulcent, diuretic, rubefacient. Root in particular is cooling, diuretic, aromatic. Used widely. C. zerumbet used like ginger.


Dash: Pungent, bitter, hot, appetiser, stimulates digestion, cures spleen, piles, skin, cough.


Li:  Pengshu蓬朮 and other names. Rhizome used. Bitter, pungent, warm, nontoxic. Similar uses to above.



Cuscuta epithymum L. /or/ Bove ex Choisy, Convolvulaceae. Dodder of thyme. (It grows as a parasite on thyme, hence the specific scientific and Arabic names, both from Dioscorides’ Greek for “on thyme.” Many other very similar dodders occur, and must have been used; the temptation to pass them off as this one would have been great, since the dried medicinal material would have been very difficult to recognize to species.) Afīthimūn/阿副體門.


Dioscorides: IV-79, epithymon. Drunk with honey for purging and black choler (melancholy).


Avicenna: Hot, dry and pungent. Relieves gas; digestive. Not good for those with yellow bile excess. Purgative for black bile and phlegm. Avicenna also has an entry for European dodder, C. europaea, Arabic kushūth, a different plant.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Similar uses; very important to Al-Samarqandī, as it is in the HHYF.


Lev and Amar: afīthimūn. Influenze spasms, epilepsy depression (al-Kindī). Vomiting, bile, nerves, worms, hert diseases, purging, etc. Hot and dry. An unidentified species or set of species is kashūth [or Kushūth/Keshuxi可述西], with various uses, including liver, spleen, malaria, and stomach. Diuretic, purgative, emmenagogue. For pains and infections. Maimonides uses it in a sexual medicine for “excitation and great desire” but notes this medicine also causes “sorrow and depression” (which makes one wonder when it could have been worth bothering with[69]).


Nadkarni: C. reflexa, alterative, purgative, antihelminthic. Seeds carminative and anodyne.  Stem purgative.


Li:  C. chinensis, tusizi菟蕬子. Seed useds; pungent, balanced, nontoxic.

(This species of dodder parasitizes thyme, hence the Greek name, and its Arabic derivative, also the English name dodder-of-thyme. Its modern uses seem minor, but it was one of the most important medieval remedies.)



Cydonia vulgaris (C. oblonga) and C. indica Spach., Rosaceae. Shul/Xili西里/Shuli屬里; Safarjal/Safarerzheli撒法而者里. (In the Near East it would be vulgaris. In actual practice in China, C. vulgaris might have been used, but Pseudocydonia sinensis (a.k.a. Chaenomeles sinensis, Cydonia sinensis) would have been the major medicinal quince.)


Dioscorides: V-28, C. vulgaris, wine (oinos kydonites) binding; for stomach, dysentery, liver, kidneys (diuretic).


Levey: C. vulgaris, safarjal, seed in drug for coughs, in a mothwash, etc.


Avicenna: C. vulgaris, safarjal (Persian bīh). Cold and dry. Oil constricting. Oil on ulcers and skin. Roasted quince on eye swellings. Extract for difficult breathing, asthma, etc. (Still used for this in China.) Treats vomiting and hangover. Diuretic.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Al-Samarqandī and others boiled down the fruit and made syrups, robs, and preserves of it, for its own value but also as vehicle for medicines. (The modern use of it for quince paste, the original “marmelade” from Spanish marmelada, derives from this; the paste is still used in folk medicine in many parts of the world. The fruit juice is boiled down to a solid cheese-like substance. This is still used medicinally for the throat. In the New World tropics, where quinces will not grow, guavas were early substituted, producing one of the world’s great confections, guabada.)


Lev and Amar: C. oblonga (=C. vulgaris). Safarjal. Strengthens stomach, helps check diarrhea; seeds, fruits, and jam for stomach in general. Headaches. Seed oil for medications against abscesses of liver.


Kamal: C. vulgaris, safargal, safarag. Astringent.


Nadkarni: C. vulgaris, fruit astringent, demulcent, tonic. Leaves, buds and bark astringent. Seeds used for gonorrhea, dysentery.


Sun (almost certainly referring to Chaenomeles sp.): Quince (muguashi木瓜實): sour, salty, warm, astringent, and nonpoisonous. It mainly cures the illness caused by wet qi (shibiqi濕痹氣), cholera, violent vomiting, on-going spasms in the back part of the legs (houjiao zhuanjin buzhi後腳轉筋不止). Its uncooked bark is nonpoisonous. It is edible after being boiled.


Li:  C. oblonga (=C. vulgaris), sour, sweet, slightly warm, nontoxic. Minor uses, mostly for indigenstion. Stops watery diarrhea.

(The astringent quality and the fibre in quince do work against diarrhea. The Chinese use quince syrup for the throat and for cooling in general, and for harmonizing with other cooling herbal medicines in a range of situations. Anderson can testify from experience that the throat-soothing functions are real.)



Cymbopogon schoenanthus (L.) Spreng. Poaceae. See Andropogon schoenanthus.



Cynanchum atratum Bge. Apocynaceae (Asclepidaceae). Native. Baiwei白薇


Avicenna: C. vincetoxicum, qunna barā. Cleansing, erosive. Externally for skin, shedding skin, ulcers. Clears tjhick fluids from brain by sniffing water of roots (presumably infusion). For lungs, liver, spleen, etc.


Li: Baiwei. Root. Bitter, salty, balanced (or cold) and nontoxic. Large range of uses. Many other spp. mentioned.



Cyperus rotundus L. Cyperaceae. Native. Xiangfu香附. Su’d/Shuwudi述兀荅 is Cyperus longus.


Dioscorides: kypeiros. Root used. Warming, diuretic and useful for kidney/bladder stones. Used for scorpion bites. Emmenagogue. Used in ointment for eyes and other conditions.


Levey: Su’d. In drugs for canker, ulcers, teeth.


Avicenna: C. esculentus, ḥabb al-zalim. Hot and moist. Fattening. Increases seminal fluid. C. rotundus, sa’ad, used on ulcers in “state of foul decay,”[70] on joints and nerves, chronic nose and throat diseases. Expels stones.


Lev and Amar: C. longus, su‘d.  Against scorpion stings (topically?), Stimulated menstruation. Treats mouth and teeth, thus in toothpaste. In medication to eliminate sexual desire. Hot and dry.


Graziani: Su’d. Used for taste and wonderful smell.


Kamal, C. esculentus, habb al-Aziz, habb al-Zalam. Oil relaxing; alleviates pains of mastitis.


Bellakhdar et al: the sp. for hair care, tonic; C. longus reconstituant, aromatic


Madanapala: Musta. Cold. Digestive stimulant, carminative. For parasites, bleeding, thirst, fever.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, tonic, demulcent, diuretic, antihelminthic, stomachic, carminative, diaphoretic, astringent, emmenagogue.


Li: Shacao, xiangfuzi 香附子. Rhizome sweet, slightly cold, nontoxic, bitter to some. Foliage and flowers also used. Important drug with many pages of uses and recipes. A very standard qi regulator.

(Tubers roasted for soothing plaster in Middle East.)



Daemonorhops draco Bl., Arecaceae. Imported to China from early times. Xuejie 血竭. Hu: 659.


Li: Qilinjie 麒麟竭. Resin. Sweet, salty, balanced, nontoxic. For pain, bleeding, blood stasis, new flesh, other physical injury issues; external conditions generally. Various other uses.



Daphne mezereum L., Thymeleaceae. Māzariyūn/Mazalawan馬咱剌彎; Māziriyūn/Maqiliwan馬齊里彎.


Dioscorides: IV-148, daphnoides (literally “laurel-like,” because in Greek daphne applied to laurel, Laurus nobilis; in English as in scientific Latin it was rather unfortunately applied to the unrelated genus Daphne). Leaf taken, apparently eaten rather than in tea, to expel phlegmatic matter from stomach; causes vomiting; emmenagogue; provokes sneezing. Leaves and fruit for purge.


Avicenna: Mādhrīum (from the Greek). Hot and dry to fourth degree (i.e. extreme). Cleansing, purifying. Removes dead skinb, treats vitiligo and spots. Also on skin fungus, ulcers (with honey), dead skin, scabies. Mouthwash. “Very harmful to the liver”[71] (true enough). Purges out water. Expels worms. Careful instructions given on dosage, since overdose is deadly.


Bellakhdar et al: D. gnidium, lezzaz, hair-care, abortive. D. laureola, walidrar, drastic.


Li:  D. genkwa, yuanhua芫花. Sources disagree on humoral codings but agree that it is toxic (which it is, by any standards). Several pages of medical uses for dozens of conditions.

  1. odora, ruixiang蕊香, sweet, salty, nontoxic, for laryngeal infection (only).

(Dangerously toxic plant.)



Daucus carota L. Apiaceae. Introduced, but long cultivated in China. Dūqū/Duhu 堵胡


Dioscorides: III-83, three kinds of “daukos” described, at least one of which is surely this sp. All have seeds that are warming. Emmenagogue and abortifacient. Diuretic. Help with coughs, bites, swellings, etc. See Athamantha above.


Levey: Jazar. Seed for stomach and for sexual overindulgence. In one remedy for calculus.


Avicenna: jazar. Hot and moist. Wild carrot seed is strong laxative. Powdered seeds and leaves for corroxsive ulcers. For inflamed chest. Relieves abdominal pain; diuetic; wild seeds, unlike seeds of garden form, do not produce gas. Stimulates menstruation, but the use for abortion (so well known in Europe) is not mentioned.


Lev and Amar: In addition to the usual jazar, it apparently was called dawqū, dawkaws and daucos in some Genizah documents, an odd bit of surviving Greek. Palpitations, eye problems, purgative. In theriac, and the usual minor complaints—pains, cough, bites, and so on—that seem to have had every drug in the Genizah documents used as opportunity permitted. Maimonides held it hot and dry and used it in sexual medicine.


Kamal: Jazar. Seeds carminative and diuretic, juice stomachic and diuretic, used in jaundice and bronchitis. (The use for jaundice is presumably sympathetic magic.)


Bellakhdar et al: urinary infections.


Ghazanfar: Gizrī. Crushed seeds with honey for sexual potency.


Madanapala: Grñjana. Hot, digestive, constipative, for bleeding and piles.


Nadkarni: Fruits abortifacient and for diarrhea. Root for first-aid poultices, burns, skin, etc.


Eisenman: Common weed in high Central Asia. Vermifuge, purgative, etc. Extract of seed has been used biomedically for cholesterol, kidney and gallbladder problems, coronary conditions, etc., but seem not usually current.


Li: Huluobo胡蘿蔔 (“Iranian radish”; today hongluobo紅蘿蔔, “red radish”). Sweet, pungent, slightly warm, nontoxic. Largely a food; good for appetite and health generally, improves digestion.

(Wild carrot plants still used as an abortifacient; unpredictable, dangerous, but a resort of the desperate. The cultivated carrot is often said to have been developed in Afghanistan in the late Middle Ages, but there are unmistakable pictures of domestic orange carrots in Dioscorides mss. in Europe, going back to the Juliana Anicia codex of 512; see Carrot Museum website,



Delphinium staphisagria L. Ranunculaceae. Zabīb al-jabalMayūbazaj/ Maiyuzazhi 買與咱只.[72] Also Mawizak/Maiyuza麥雨咱


Dioscorides: Phlegm, toothache, rheumatic gums, itches.


Levey: Zabīb al-jabal, mayūbazaj. Epilepsy, neck pustules. Today, as emetic, for itch and skin.  (Very widely used in Near East at all time periods.)


Avicenna: D. staphisagria, mawīzaj. “Seeds are burning, corrosive, pungent, and biting” (p. 658). Kill lice (better with arsenic) and mites. Chewed for clearing phlegm and edema from brain. Used in mouthwashes, etc. D. officinale: jadwār, zarduār, etc. Antidote against snake bites, aconite, insect bites, etc. Not well known to this writer.


Lev and Amar: zabīb al-jabal, etc. Epilepsy, neck pustules, skin, lice, toothache.


Nadkarni: various related spp., minor uses.


Eisenman: D. confusum, tea for intestinal disorders, muscle tone, veterinary antiparasitic medicine. Several current biomedical uses for delphiniums; highly toxic but can be used for anesthesia, parkinson’s disease, various nervous conditions. D. semibarbatum tea with barley flour on tumors. Ashes on eczema and scabies. Tea for fever, flu, sore throat, burns, anticonvulsive, stomach, etc. Kills flies and cockroaches.



Desmodium (Hedysarum) gangeticum DC., Fabaceae. Matin/Mating馬亭.


Nadkarni: Bitter tonic, febrifuge, digestive, anticatarrh. D. latifolium alterative, tonic, for diarrhea, vomiting, insanity, ulcers.



Dolichos lablab L. Fabaceae. Native. (Now renamed Lablab purpureus, but we retain the old name here for convenience, since it is used in almost all the references.) Dolichos Bean. Biandou扁豆.


Levey: lūbiyāh; this name may also apply to Vigna sinensis (it is a general Arabic word for beans, now including New World beans unknown to medieval Arabia). In a preparation for freckles.


Avicenna: Lablāb. Hot and dry. Softening, dissolving, drying, purifying. Removes hair and kills lice. Leaves usable on large wounds, as poultice or internally with wine. Poltice on wounds also.  Said very good. Used for earaches also. Treats chest and lung afflictions including asthma (as with other beans, presumably mixed with more obviously medicinal items). Leaves with vinegar for enlarged, inflamed spleen. Purges burnt bile.


Kamal: Liblab, kisht, etc. No medical use noted.


Ghazanfar: Lablab. Roots aphrodisiac, laxative, diuretic, and to regulate menstruation.


Nadkarni: Seeds aphrodisiac.


Li: Biandou (a name now used for the broad bean or the lima bean). Sweet, slightly warm, nontoxic. Several minor uses.



Doronicum scorpioides Lam. (D. grandiflorum), Asteraceae, leopard’s bane. Durūnj/Durunazhi都盧拏只; Daurunj/dulongzhi都龍知.


Dioscorides: IV-77, akoniton, Doronicum pardalianches. See under Aconitum above.


Levey: D. pardalianches L. Durūnj, darsūnaj. In collyrium, etc.


Avicenna: Darūnaj, khāniq al-namir. Hot and dry. Usual minor uses. Stimulates heart. “It causes leopards to suffocate.”[73]


Lev and Amar: D. scorpioides, darwanj, for eyes, and an anaphrodisiac. Hot and dry.


Nadkarni: Root of D. hookeri aromatic and tonic. D. pardalianches cardiac, tonic, for depression, melancholia, and scorpion stings.



Dracaena spp. Dracaenaceae (Liliaceae), dragontree.  Resin imported to China from quite early Dam [al]-akhawayn/Danmuaheiyun擔木阿黑云.


Avicenna. Dam al-akhawain. Uncertain as to cold or hot; dry.  Used on ulcers and wounds and for strengthening the stomach. Minor and debatable remedy, in his time.


Levey: Dam al-akhawain, for fistula, hemorrhoids, canker, gums, etc.


Lev and Amar: D. draco, the famous dragon’s blood, dam al-’akhawayn, shīyān. Fistula, hemorrhoids, canker, looseness of gum, stomach, bleeding, wounds, diarrhea.


Ghazanfar: D. serrulata. ‘Ariyeb, ‘ayrob. Resin for hemorrhage, skin infections; pain.


Nadkarni: D. cinnabari, astringent.



Dryobalanops aromatica Gaertn.f., Dipterocarpaceae. Introduced. Baroos Camphor or Borneo Camphor/Piannao片腦; Longnao 龍腦; Hu: 659.


Nadkarni: Gum. Diaphoretic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, stimulant.


Li: Longnaoxiang片腦香. Li explains that the name—“dragon brain fragrance”—indicates the drug is precious (i.e., powerful like a dragon).  However, the uses are rather few, and the resin seems poorly cognized, with sources disagreeing on the humoral codings. Nontoxic. (The name may be from the appearance of the dried resin lumps, or some other feature.  )



Ecballium elaterium (L.) Rich., Cucurbitaceae. qiththā’ al-imār/Heisaliheimaer黑撒里黑麻而/Jidawuheimaer吉荅兀黑馬兒


Dioscorides: IV-154, sikys agrios. Leaf juice in ears for earache. Root, paste, on swellings, gout, sciatica. Decoction for toothache. Beaten for skin infections, scars, etc. Purges phlegm and choler. Purge.

IV-155: seed extract of same. Causes purging and vomiting. Can be overdone, in which case wine with oil is recommended. Poured in with milk into nostrils for rash and headache. Various other minor conditions.


Avicenna: qitha’ al-ḥimār. Hot and dry. Diluting, blood thinning, drying. External uses for jaundice, scars, wounds, skin diseasses, swellings, abscesses, ringworm, scabies, arthritis, etc.  Internally for laxative, swellings, vomiting. Evacuates phlegm and excess blood (sanguine humor).


Levey: ‘alqam. In oil for binding sinews, pain in back, rheumatisim and lameness. For nosebleeds.


Kamal: qaththa’ al himar, etc. Renal and cardiac anasarca, brain congestion [1], paralysis.


Nadkarni: Narcotic; for malaria and rabies.



Elettaria cardamomum L., Zingiberaceae. Doukouhua豆蔻花/Baidoukou白豆蔻


Dioscorides:  I-5, kardamomum. Unmistakably the present plant, from the description (including source countries), and not the native Greek cress, kardamon (see Lepidium). Infusion for respiratory and other diseases, worms, scorpion stings, poisons, breaking kidney/bladder stones, etc. Abortifacient. Applied for itch, etc.


Avicenna: Ḥamāmā, hīl. Hil in Persian. Hot and dry. Cleansing and diluting. For stomach, cold liver. Stops vomiting. Diuretic and emmenagogue; treats pain in uterus and is used to support a displaced uterus. Bath for kidney pain; orally for pain in womb. Plaster with sweet basil for scorpion stings.


Levey: Hāl. For happiness. Also teeth and breath, breathing, stomachic. “Still sold…as a stomachic, stimulant, carminative, and condiment.”[74] (Anderson can confirm it is still sold for these purposes in the Middle East.)


Lev and Amar: Hāl, kākalī. Colic, kidney stones, cough, paralysis, stomach complains, tuberculosis, skin.  Vermifuge. Teeth and mouth, respiration, tonic, etc. Still used for all these, including appetite and stomach, nausea, votmiting, stones, etc., and even for insanity and depression.


Graziani: qaqullah. Ibn Jazlah used it for constipation and as dentifrice.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Minor uses following the above.


Kamal: habbahan, hab al hal, al hayl, etc. “Stomachic, carminative, anit-colic, heart stimulant, aphrodisiac, emmenagogue, relaxant and digestive” (117).


Bellakhdar et al: qa’qulla. Aphrodisiac, calefacient.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Hal, hail. Stomachic and for liver. After childbirth, a woman is given a mix of cardamom, ginger, pepper, fennel, cinnamon, cumin, peppermint, browned flour, and fat. Cardamom with nigella and ginger in olive oil make a rub for coughs and colds.


Madanapala: Elā. For dyspnoea, cough, pales, dysuria.


Nadkarni: Powerful aromatic, stimulant, carminative, stomachic, duretic. Unani adds use for nausea, vomiting, headache, digestion; as resolvent, etc.


Dash: Uses not given.


Sun: Spicy, warm, astringent, nonpoisonous, and able to warm the Middle Jiao (burner; wenzhong溫中)[75]. Its major effects are to cure heartburn and stomachache, stop vomiting, and get rid of bad breath. (All of which fits perfectly with modern experience.)


Li: Not mentioned specifically, but doubtless included in the various cardamoms.

(Still used today in a minor way in China and more commonly in the Middle East; the Amomum cardamoms are much more important medicinally, but Elettaria is used too. All are effective, having volatile oils with stimulant, carminative, digestive effects.)



Embelia ribes Burm. Primulaceae (Myrsinaceae). Biranj/Bolangji伯朗吉/Bailang白朗; Biranj kābili /Bilingjikebuli必靈極可卜黎 etc.


Avicenna: Birank kābulī. Notes it as an Indian item, coming (to Central Asia, evidently) from Sindh. Expels phlegm and worms.


Madanapala: Vidanga. Digestion, flatulence, abdominal disease, constipation, parasites.


Nadkarni: Carminative, antihelminthic, stimulant, alterative, purgative. Fruit used.


Dash: Digestion, colic, constipation, parasites. Note similarity to Madanapala uses.

Note that this is another case of an Indian drug in the HHYF; its importance in Tibetan medicine shows that it may have reached Central Asia via Tibet, but Avicenna had it, obviously via Kabul (see the name); it was one of several Indian drugs that he knew well.



Emblica officinalis.  See Phyllanthus emblica.



Emilia sonchifolia DC, Asteraceae. Yangti羊蹄. Uncertain.


Nadkarni:  Sudorific.


Minor Chinese medical uses.



Ephedra sinensis Stapf. & presumably other spp., Ephedraceae. Native. Mahuang麻黃.


Nadkarni: E. vulgaris and relatives or synonyms. Alterative, diuretic, stomachic, tonic. Seems to be known mostly as a plant learned from Chinese practice. Many Indian species noted.


Eisenman: E. equisetina, infusion of green shoots for rheumantism, scabies, ulcers, malaria, altitude sickness, fever, heart disease. Plants also used for asthma. E. intermedia, stimulant and antiasthmatic. These species, unlike some ephedras, contain ephedrine and pseudoephedrine and are therefore highly effective biomedically.


Li: E. sinica, mahuang. Bitter, warm, nontoxic. Many pages of uses, but the use to relieve asthma is universally known. Root also used.

(It was the major worldwide drug for asthma and related conditions, in biomedicine as well as Chinese folk practice, until safer ones were discovered very recently.)



Eriobotrya japonica (Thunb.) Lindl. Rosaceae. Pipaye枇杷葉.


Li: Pipa 枇杷. Li notes the name comes from the similarity of the leaf shape to the profile of a lute (pipa 琵琶in Chinese). Fruit, leaf, flower and bark all used. Balanced and nontoxic; fruit sweet but leaf bitter. Various uses, external and internal.

(Loquat syrup is a universally used Chinese nutraceutical today, for its soothing, emollient, balancing, and general feel-good qualities, familiar to almost anyone with Chinese background or experience. It does not seem to have been so used in traditional times, which is certainly interesting. At least, Li and our other sources do not mention it.)



Eruca sativa Mill., Brassicaceae. Jirjīr/Zhierzhier知而直兒. Rocket.


Dioscorides: II-170, euzomon. Eaten raw “doth provoke Venery,”[76] especially flowers and seeds. Diuretic, digestive. Seeds in sauces as mustard is used.


Levey: Jirjīr. Insanity, stomachic. Many minor uses.


Lev and Amar: Jirjīr. Plant aphrodisiac; treats sexual weakness, strength of sperm, etc. Also for nternal diseases, urinary tract, gas. Increases mother’s milk. Seeds against insanity and stomach pains. Wet and hot (Maimonides).


Kamal: Gargir, baqlat ‘Ai’shah. Seeds vesicant, diuretic, aphrodisiac, anti-caries.


Bellakhdar et al: calefacient.


Nadkarni: Known, but no significant medical uses.

(Whole plant stimulant, from glucosinolate chemicals, but not much value medicinally.)



Euphorbia granulata Forsk., Euphorbiaceae. ‘ilk-al-ghzal; Euphorbia sp., Euphorbiaceae.  Farfiyūn/Falafurong法剌夫榮/Faerfarong法而法榮 (Persian); Shibram/Zhebulan折不藍.


Dioscorides: III-96, euphorbion, Euphorbia spp.?  (Description vague and smacking of travelers’ tale.) Sharp, burning sap extracted. Drunk for groin pains, bones, etc., and snakebite.


Levey: Furbiyūn, afarbiyūn. Abscesses, fistulas, scrofula; ointment. In a remedy for insantiy.


Avicenna: E. pityusa, shabram.  Hot and dry (very). Used very widely for external conditions.  Also for teeth; breaks up rotten teeth. Treats eye swellings. Harms stomach and liver, so used with care in mixtures. Removes piles.


Graziani: Furbiyun. Ibn Jazlah used it for paralysis, numbness, kidneys, against miscarriage, stopping tears, and for dog bites and burning belly. Modern Egyptian use in ointments for paralysis etc.


Lev and Amar: afarbiyūn, farbiyūn. Various spp. Wounds, mumps, insanity, purging. Hot and dry. Constricts womb and prevents miscarriage.


Kamal: E. officinarum, farbion, etc. Emetic, cathartic, poisonous. Juice vesicant, sloughing, rubefacient externally.


Bellakhdar et al: E. resinifera, abortive, drastic, toxic; skin conditions and earache cure


Ghazanfar: Many species, with many local names, for every type of external application. E. hadramautica also for purgative.


Lebling and Pepperdine: E. helioscopia and others.  Emetic, purgative (sap); externally, for paralysis, apoplexy, etc.


Nadkarni: Huge range of species used for the usual reasons (emetic, purgative, cathartic, etc.).


Eisenman: E. jaxartia, powdered root for wounds and syphilis. Latex for fungal skin conditions, scabies, corns and warts. A number of chemicals; some may be effective. E. apulum, purgative; for tuberculosis.


Li: Langdu狼毒includes many species, and yet more are used under other names. Li clearly saw them as related, putting them near each other in his work. Root usually used; bitter and pungent, balanced, toxic. Large range of indications, many of them external. (Euphorbia spp. often have strong external action, irritating to actually blistering the skin but effectively killing parasites, treating fungus and infected swellings, etc.)



Ferula asafoetida Lam. (also given as Ferula foetida [Bunge] Regel, apparently the same sp.), Apiaceae. Ashtu-ghar. Imported. Anjudān安吉丹/Anjidang安吉當 (from Arabic Anjudān—angudān in vernacular); Hiltīt/Heilititi黑黎提提. Also: Awei 阿魏, Hu: 659.

The many Ferula species used medicinally in Asia are possibly confused in the HHYF. ßaghyin/Saeyin撒額因/Saheiyin撒黑因; Sakabīnaj/Samibienazhi撒吉別拏只 (root of ferula spp.)


Dioscorides: III-55, panakes herakleion, Ferula opopanax or rel. Sap. Warming, mollifying, for agues, spasms, convulsions, ruptures, pains, coughs, gripes, strangury, scabies, and almost everything else. Emmenagogue and abortifacient. Salve for head, boils, eyes, dog bites, etc.  Root shaved, on vulva, abortifacient or birth aid. With honey on wounds and sores.

III-56, panakes asklepion, poorly described, may be F. nodosa. Flower, seed, on ulcers etc.

III-87, libanotis, one sort may be F. nodiflora. Similar cureall to the others.

III-91, narthex, F. communis. For griping and sweats; seed. Green pith with wine for snakebite and flux.

III-95, sagapenon, F. persica. Brief notes; similar uses to other spp.

III-98, ammoniakon, Ferula spp. As following, plus use for thorax when licked with honey or eaten with juice of Ptissana. Cures bloody urine, cleans eyes, etc. Applied with vinegar for hardness in abdomen and joints. Good for lassitudes and sciatic pains.

III-94, silphion, F. tingitana. Cureall, recommended for almost everything. Taken or applied as indicated for toothache, dog bites, poinsons including poisoned arrows, scorpion stings, etc.  Gangrene, carbuncles, corns, swellings, etc. Taken for respiratory and throat problems of all sorts, including leeches in the throat; general health, etc.; also as for other Ferula spp. This is the famous resin cureall that led to extinction of the best (Libyan) kind. Dioscorides was writing at the height of the truly fanatical obsession with silphium and other Ferula spp. which led to Libyan silphium becoming the textbook example of a plant exterminated by overcollecting.[77]


Avicenna: Hot, dry, diluting (bloodthinning); relieves gas; purgative; dring. For body odor, hair growth, fungus, mouthwash, tumors and sores, ulcers, growth of flesh, rheumatism, epileps, headaches, earaches, eye conditions in general, clearing voice, asthma, shortness of breath, jaundice, diuretic, purgative, malaria, and even kills leeches in the throat!


Levey: Ḥiltīt. Cold affliction of phlegm, aphrodisiac, rheumatism, etc. Throat and toothache.  Various forms. F. marmarica  is one source of gum ammoniac,  used widely in the HHYF.


Al-Bīrūnī:  Quotes Oribasius:  mollifying, flatulent, etc. Apparently on his own, he adds: Deodorant, dispels evil-smelling humors.  Poltice. Removes abcesses. For rheumatism.


Aphrodisiac. Cures hemorrhoids if boiled with pomegranate peel in vinegar and drunk.


Lev and Amar: Hot and dry, purgative, ointment on bites.


Kamal: Haltit. Gum anticonvulsive, stomachic, antihelminthic, emmenagogue.  Enema for gas and convulsions.


Bellakhdar et al: antiepileptic; F. communis antispasmodic.


Ghazanfar: Ḥaltīt, ḥaltīta. Antispasmodic, colic, expectorant, sedative; resin used, boiled or chewed. Also to fumigate women after childbirth, as with mukul resin. Resin with honey for menstruation.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Coughs, colds, stomach disorders, fevers, sore throat toothache (topically). Apparently antifungal (modern bioscience cited).


Nadkarni: Stimulant, carminative, antispasmodic, expectorant, laxatic, antihelminthic, diuretic, aphrodisiac, emmenagogue, nervine, etc. Unani uses for brain, digestion, vision, paralysis, epilepsy, convulsions, colic, etc.


Dash: F. foetida digestive, stimulant, appetiser. For colic and parasites.


Eisenman: F. foetida. Major folk medicine. Anticonvulsant, vermifuge, nervous condition treatment; restorative and tonic in Chinese medicine. These uses seem sustained by biomedical experiment.  Has been used in modern medicine as stimulant, etc. Contains a huge range of bioactive chemicals. F.kuhistanica, resin for syphilis; external use for wounds, tumors, etc.  Antibactierial. F. moschata, rare, tonic, etc.


Li: F. sinkiangensis, F. fukanensis, awei. Li is aware that the use of asafoetida was largely learned from the Middle East. Pungent, balanced, nontoxic. Kills worms, dispels gas, useful digestively in general.


Rossetti:[78] Still common spice; medicinal uses not discussed, but excellent history of production, trade, and use in food.

(This famous cureall was used in American folk medicine within living memory. The bad smell was supposed to scare away devils, among other things.)



Ferula galbaniflua Boiss. et Buhse, Apiaceae. Bārzad/Bieerzadi別兒咱的/Bieersadi別兒撒的(Persian)


Dioscorides: III-97, chalbane, Ferula ferulago, Selinum galbanum, or similar plant; possibly F. galbaniflua. Galbanum is the same. Emmenagogue, abortifacient; for coughs and respiratory problems, ruptures, convuilsions, poisons, etc. For pains and fits, etc. Variously mixed with potions. Applied for pains.


Levey: Various psychiatric complaints (madness, weakness…).


Avicenna: Jāushīr, a small plant; kamāshīr, a stronger and apparently larger form. Hot and dry. Bitter. Laxative, dissolving, gas relieving. Emmenagogue and in larger doses abortifacient. Used for asthma, cough. Various external uses including as collyrium for eyes. In general, a typical Avicenna cureall—put on all external conditions, taken for all minor internal ones.


Lev and Amar: qinna, etc. Insanity. Modern uses suggest there were many more uses in early times.


Kamal: Qana-washq, khalabani, qinnah, barzad, etc. Gum expectorant, anti-cough, anti-convulsive, emmenagogue.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, expectorant, antispasmodic, etc.



  1. persica, Apiaceae. Sagapenum. Sakbīnaj/Sajibienazhi撒吉別拿只; ßaghbīn/Sayibing撒亦冰


Dioscorides: Sagapenon. Various uses for this important Ferula resin.


Avicenna: Sakbīnaj. Hot and dry. Dissolvent, diluting/blood thinning, warming, cleansing. Relieves gas. Treats paralysis and dislocations. Relieves some headaches and epilepsy. Used fin eyes for dim vision, etc. Used for chest, for abdominal pain, dissolving stones, etc.; emmenagogue and abortifacient.


Lev and Amar: sakabīnāj. Kidneys, glands, back pains, insanity, etc. Hot and dry.

(Extremely important in medieval Europe as well as the HHYF, but oddly rare in the Arabic herbals.)



Ficus carica L. Moraceae. Introduced to China as cultigen. Tīn提尼; Wuhuaguo無花果, Hu: 1407


Manniche: Already used for constipation and related complaints (as it still is in the 21st century worldwide). Also in a number of remedies for heart and lung diseases. (The heart remedies would work for stomach problems but not for heart ones, and surely “heart” just means “internal pains” here.) Suppository for anus pain. F. sycomorus used similarly.


Dioscorides: I-183, syka. Laxative. Good for throat and bladder and kidneys, for asthma, epilepsy, dropsy (congestive heart failure). With hyssop for a tea for thorax. Good for respiratory problems generally, for inflammations, and much else. For women, with fenugreek, rue, etc., for fomentations (unspecified). With various substances for external use on almost every imaginable external condition. Also a long list of preparations for internal conditions. Juice used for coagulating milk; also as emmeanagogue, laxative, childbirth easing, plasters for gout and skin conditions, etc.

I-184, syka agria, wild fig. Juice from pounded leaves for ulcers, etc. Sprigs boiled with beef make it “soone sod,”[79] which must mean “tender,” since that is what they actually do (a meat tenderizing enzyme is in the leaf shoots). Similarly for curdling milk.

I-181, sykomoron, Ficus sycomorus Linnaeus. Grows in Mediterranean islands; Name sycomoron, “fig mulberry,” because it is a fig tree with mulberry-like leaves (Dioscorides’ explanation; basically correct). Fruit for laxative but bad for stomach generally. Sap for skin conditions, or drunk or applied for snakebite, etc. Used for hard swellings and pains.

I-182, sykon en Kypro (“fig in Cyprus”), apparently a variety of the above, and so used.


Galen:  Laxative, cleaning; often used with medicinal herbs.  Harmful to inflamed liver and spleen.


Levey: Tīn. Skin and ulcers; poultice for swelling, etc.


Avicenna: Tīn. Hot, moist. Cleansing, dissolvent, etc. Usual laxative and cleansing uses, and a vast number of uses for soothing, relieving, etc., internally and externally. Treats essentially anything, though evidently largely as a soothing agent.


Kamal: tin. Cooked for drink for smallpox, measles, scarlet fever, bronchitis, urinary affections, respiratory problems, etc.  Gargle for mouth and throat sores.  Sap laxative and external caustic.

Bellakhdar et alshariha, kermus, tin. Laxative.

Ghazanfar: ṭin. Leaves, fruit and latex for various external applications. Fruit tonic, laxative, diuretic; for kidneys, including kidney stones; for cough. In Yemen, mixed with dates, raisins and honey for depression or nervous tension (pleasant enough that it might even work!).


Madanapala: Añjīra. Cold, sweet. Alleviates some dosas, and blood.


Nadkarni: Aperient, emollient, cooling, laxative, demulcent.


Li: Wuhuaguo (“flowerless fruit,” the flowers being invisible inside the fig). One old herbal knew that “if the fruit is not stewed within a few ays, it will evolve into an ant, which will fly away by penetrating the peel,”[80] Known to be an import, and not much used, but fruit and leaf used for hemorrhoids and appetite, and fruit, oddly, for diarrhea and dysentery.

(Figs are still a very standard folk and even biomedical doctors recommend them as laxative. Both species appear frequently in the Bible, the common fig as the choicest tree fruit. The Biblical prophet Amos stressed his humble origin by saying he had been a dresser of sycomore trees.)



Foeniculum vulgare Mill., Apiaceae. Introduced to China as common seasoning. Huixiang茴香; Rāziyāna/Laziyala剌子牙剌. Hu, 659.


Both Dioscorides and al-Bīrūnī knew this plant, but said little about it.


Levey: Bisbās. Swellings and enlargements. Scrofula, ulcers, fever, stomach, liver pain, eyes.


Avicenna: Rāzīānaj. Seeds used. Hot and dry; cultivated is less hot. Opens obstructions.  Strengthens eyesight. Moist fennel (probably means the leaves) increases milk. Treats nausea and stomach ache. Diuretic and emmenagogue.Treats urinary system.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Important in Al-Samarqandī’s text. Now diuretic, purgative, stimulant, carminative, stomachic, emmenagogue; root purgative. “In Persia today…it is one of the five ‘opening roots’ of the ancients; the others are parsley, celery, asparagus, and butcher’s broom.”[81]


Lev and Amar: shamār, rāyazānaj. Weak eyes, headache, hemorrhoids, aphrodisiac, brain problems, cooling generally, etc. Fennel seeds for children with incessant crying. Put on sore eyes, navel problems of newborns, etc. Maimonides used it in wine for the heart, holding it hot and dry. Modern uses extensive and varied.


Evelyn:[82] “Aromatick, hot, and dry; expels Wind, sharpens the Sight, and recreates the Brain.”


Kamal: shamar. Stomachic, diuretic, emmenagogue, carnimantive, anti-epileptic, soothing for colic. Aphrodisiac and lactagogue.


Bellakhdar: for liver and pancreas; dyspnoea.


Ghazanfar: Shih, samār. Decoction of leaves and seeds for couighs and carminative uses. Stems for toothbrushes. Seeds diuretic and for kidneys.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Colic, stomachache, flatulence, indigestion, rheumatism.


Madanapala: Śatapuspā. Fever, ulcers, colic, eyes.


Nadkarni: Fruit stimulant, carminative, diuretic, emmenagogue, purgative. Root purgative.


Dash: Sweet, hot, appetiser.


Sun: Fennel (huixiangcai茴香菜): bitter, spicy, mildly cold, astringent, and nonpoisonous. It is particularly important for treating cholera. It prevent sunstroke (bire辟熱) and gets rid of bad breath. If one boils smelly meat in water, add a little of it and the smell will go away. So it is called “the return of the good smell“. If the sauce is smelly, adding fennel to it will rid of the smell. Its seeds treat, especially, snakebites that have not healed for a long time. Crush and apply on the wound. It also treats nine kinds of swelling in the neck (lou瘺).


Li: Huaixiang懷香, huixiang. Fruit used (minor uses for foliage). Many uses, some so mystical that they defeated even the translators, others more related to the well-known (and still used) stomachic and digestive properties of the fruit.

Other apiaceous seeds may be confused here.



Fraxinus excelsior L. Oleaceae. Lisān al-‘asāfīr/Lisanuasafeier里撒奴阿撒飛兒/Hei[li]sanuliasafeier黑[里]撒奴黎阿撒肥而/Lisanuliasabeier里撒奴黎阿撒肥而.

Dioscorides: I-108, melia, Fraxinus ornus, manna ash. Juice of leaves drunk with wine, or applied, for snakebite; bark burned as ash applied for leprosy.


Avicenna: F. ornus, shir khishk, man. Neutral. For cough, chest congestion, purging yellow bile.


Lev and Amar: palpitation, purgative, aphrodisiac, for gases, stomach, pains, urination, memory; aids pregnancy.


Kamal: F. excelsior, lisan al ‘asfur, fraksunus, etc. Bark febrifuge. Leaves sudorific. F. ornus, manna mild aperient and cholagogue.


Bellakhdar et al: F. angustifolia, lisan t-tir, lisan l-‘usfur. Aphrodisiac, calefacient.


Nadkarni: Bark astringent; leaves purgative.

(The common ash has no major medical uses. Probably substitutes for manna ash, a mild laxative of long-standing use.)



Fumaria officinalis L. Papaveraceae (Fumariaceae). Shay®araj/Satela撒忒剌; Shāh®iraj/Shayitalazhi沙亦他剌只/撒忒剌


Dioscorides: IV-110, kapnos, F. parvifolia. Gives several alternative names. Juice quickens sight and brings tears. Used to prevent plucked eyebrow hair from regrowing. Eaten for choleric urine.


Levey: Shātiraj. Various humoral disorders. Popular today for various reasons.


Al-Bīrūnī: Shāhtaraj, qufnus. Cites Galen:  Sharp, pungent, astringent, diuretic, good for gall bladder and stomach. Helps eye and heart. Rāzī adds that it kills lice and ticks, cures itch, strengthens gums and tongue, etc. Juice reduces scab and itch, strengthens stomach, opens liver.


Avicenna: shīṭraj (making it easy to confuse with Lepidium). Hot and bitter. Used on itching, skin disease, gums.  Strengthens stomach. Laxative and diuretic.


Lev and Amar: shāhtaraj.  Helps melancholy; diuretic; for skin, blood, stomach.


Kamal: Shahatarg, shahatra. Tonic. Skin diseases. Antipyretic. Good for caries and jaundice.  Fluid extract used.


Ghazanfar: F. parviflora. Antihelminthic, laxative, for dyspepsia; externally, paste for skin rashes.


Nadkarni: Diaphoretic, tonic, diuretic, antihelminthic, aperient, etc. Used for sexually transmitted diseasess and leprosy, among other things.


Dash: F. parviflora bitter, cold, for fever, burning, anorexia, fatigue, intoxication, giddiness.


Eisenman: F. vaillantii, decoction for blood cleansing, diuretic, “coughs, jaundice, headache, fever, gonorrhea, uterine bleeding, erysipelas,” (118), etc. Also bath for itch, rashes, and pimples.  Biomedically, fumarine causes paralysis, catalepsy. Inhibits cholinesterases.



Gardenia jasminoides Ellis, Rubiaceae. The Chinese name for this plant is routinely confused in the HHYF with saffron, Crocus sativus, q.v. Still, it may very well have been used.

Li describes many uses for it. Fanzhizihua番梔子花.



Gentiana lutea (and/or asclepidea) L., Gentianaceae. Jantiyānā/Zhentiyana真體牙拿/Hentiyana恨提牙拿/ Jan®iyān


Dioscorides: III-3, gentiane, gentiana. Root warming, binding. Drunk with pepper, rice and wine for venomous bites. Also for pain of side; falls; ruptures and convulsions; liver and stomach problems. Abortifacient. Applied to ulcers, skin conditions, and inflamed eyes.


Avicenna: Janṭiānā. Hot and dry. Laxative. Syrup rubbed on twisted muscles and on bruises.  Used for conjunctivitis. Internally for lungs, spleen, liver. Diureti and emmenagogue. Abortifacient.


Nadkarni: G. kurroo, root, local equivalent to above; similar chemistry. Tonic, antiperiodic, antibilious, astringent, stomachic, antihelminthic.


Eisenman: G. olivieri, decoction of flowering herb for gastric conditions, malaria, teeth and gums and mouth; externally for ulcers and abscesses. Syrup from boiling gentian with barberry roots for side pains, rheumatism, chest pain. Biomedically, tests how sedative and anti-inflammatory action; chemicals identified.


Li: Qinjiao秦艽, longdan龍膽; each name covers many species of gentian. Roots used. Bitter and nontoxic. The former are the warmer ones, the latter the cooling species. The usual proliferation of uses.

(Gentian remains a European folk remedy, used in many digestive liqueurs and drinks.)



Glaucium corniculatum Kurt, Papaveraceae. Horned poppy. Māmithā/Mamisamo馬米撒末


Dioscorides: III:86. For eyes.


Levey: For eyes, erysipelas, gout.


Eisenman: G. fimbrilligerum, seeds crushed and roasted for hemostatic and tonic use for women after childbirth. Oil also effective. Decoction of leves and flowers as tonic, stimulant; large doses emetic and soporific, even to asphyxiation. Seeds laxative. Biomedical experiments confirm, and show antiarrhymthmic action.



Glossostemon bruguieri (Desf.), Malvaceae. Mughāth/Muaxi木阿西 (Arabic name). 

Uncertain identification.

Medicinal and food in Near East. Not in our sources but apparently in the HHYF.



Glycyrrhiza glabra L., G. uralensis Fisch., & probably other spp, Fabaceae. Native, but the Chinese sp. is obviously being used for the western one. Sūsi/Suxi速西; Gancao甘草.


Levey: Sūs. In electuary for coughs; salve for itching; oxymel for humors; in oil for scrofula, hemorrhoids, etc. Rob for tooth medicine, jaundice, cough, malaria, rheumatism, sciatica, pterygium. Many other remedies in other authors. As in China, it seems to be a general carrier and mollifier.


Avicenna: Moderate, slightly hot and moist. On burns and skin infections. Root for eyes.  Internally, softens and clears trachea; good for lungs; decreases thirst and treats burning in stomach; used for gonorrhea and internal ulcers. Treats fever.


Graziani: Sūs. Used in rob (thick syrup). Ibn Jazlah used it for leprosy, spleen ailments, and scorpion stings. Today in Middle East for acute indigestion.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: G. glabra made into a rob for a very wide range of uses; major part of Al-Samarqandī’s pharmcopoeia.


Lev and Amar. G. glabra, sūs and other names. Various preparations for yellow bile, acute fevers, etc. Skin, cough, chest, liver, scabies, hemorrhoids, mumps, teeth, pains, jaundice, even killing fleas. Weight gain, facial skin improvement, sharpens eyes and other eye applications.  Lungs, liver, spleen, etc., indeed almost every ailment of every part of the body.


Kamal: irq al-Sus, irsus, G. officinalis. Laxative, flavor for medicines, demulcent in throat lozenges.


Bellakhdar et al.: G. glabra, ‘arq sus, sore throat, cohlagogue, refreshing.


Ghazanfar: G. glabra, rhizome and leaves, coughs, expectorant, idigestion, pain, purgative.


Nadkarni: Tonic, cooling, demulcent, expectorant, diuretic, emmenagogue, gentle laxative.  Unani uses for liver, bladder, lungs, nerves, etc.


Eisenman: Decoctions and extracts for cough, chest, etc. G. uralensis roots diuretic, laxative, carminative, for pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, ulcers, poisoning.


Li: Gancao. Usually this species, but term includes other species. Roots used. Fully ten large pages on this plant, the universal harmonizer, smoother, side-effects mollifier, and general additive of Chinese medicine, so important that the great Tao Hongjing陶弘景compared it to “the imperial instructor—who is not the monarch, but the monarch follows his instructions.”[83] Its role as harmonizer means that it is usually used in combinations, for essentially any type of condition. (This was still true in Chinese medicine in the 1960s.)

(Used as a general vehicle, soothing and harmonizing; hence its use in almost every possible condition in both the Middle East—see Lev and Amar—and China.)



Gossypium spp., Malvaceae. Cottonseed is tentatively identified as one item mentioned in the Index. Qu®n/Huteni胡忒尼. Mianhua綿花 is used in frequent reference to cotton cloth for binding, etc. Cotton at that time would be Gossypium herbaceum and Gossypium arboreum, not the common modern species (they are new world–barbadense and hirsutum).


Avicenna: quṭn. Seeds for chest and as laxative.


Lev and Amar: quṭn; seeds for purulent wounds, sexual desire; oil for hair. Plant for heartbeat, insanity, swellings, memory, diarrhea, burns skin diseases, hemorrhages.

(Seeds toxic; an effective male contraceptive but too dangerous to use. Otherwise apparently no biomedical value. They are now detoxified for food use.)



Gypsophila struthium L., Caryophyllaceae. Kundus/Kundusi困都思/Kundushi困都失 /Kundushi捆都石 (Gr)


Levey: kundus. In remedy for insanity.  Al-Samarqandī used it in a plaster for various purposes.


Lev and Amar: kundus. Insanity, skin, diuretic, purgative.

(It is rarely mentioned except in the HHYF and obscure in the sources.)


Helleborus albus L. Ranunculaceae. Not in the HHYF as such but Helleborus spp. is routinely confused with Veratrum and H. spp. almost certainly occur identified as such, quite probably incorrectly in many cases.


Dioscorides: IV-152, sesamoeidesHelleborus cyclophyllus. Purge, with white hellebore (i.e. Veratrum, q.v.)


al-Bīrūnī: Toxic, medicinal.


Lev and Amar: Kharbaq.  Diuretic; also for skin diseases, warts, epilepsy, madness, black bile, toothache, eyes.


Kamal: kharbaq (for Helleborus in general) used for mania, amenorrhea, ascites; now used only in veterninary medicine. White hellebore deadens pain; used in ointment.

(Highly toxic. The alkaloid can be hallucinogenic, hence possibly having some effect in madness; possibly not the desired effect. Not that Veratrum, confused with this plans, does not have such affects. It stimulates the heart in very small regulated doses, thus treating dropsy and serving as diuretic in that case; thus the diuretic use, above, which may clearly refer to Veratrum.)


Helleborus niger L.; Helleborus officinalis Salisb., Ranunculaceae. Same comment as previous. (See under Veratrum viride for white hellebore.)


Dioscorides: IV-151, ‘elleboros melasHelleborus officinalis, black hellebore. (Probably includes H. niger.) Roots for purging by vomiting or diarrhea. For epilepsy, melancholy, arthritis, fits, paralysis, etc. Pessary for emmenagogue and abortion. In ear for ear problems; applied to skin for skin conditions; to teeth for toothaches and mouthwash. Cataplasm for dropsy. Planted near vines, it makes their wine purgative! Sprinkled about house; thought to preserve from evil spirits (as rue still is in Latin America and other places—a use of rue not mentioned by Dioscorides). If one sees an eagle while digging it, one will die.

V-82, oinos elleborites, hellebore wine. Brewed with wine must. For constipation, or to vomit, including voluntary vomiting at banquets. Many brews and uses noted. The inevitable emmenagogue and abortifacient uses noted.


Avicenna: kharbaq aswad. Extremely toxic; used to kill rats—“not suitable for cowards!”[84] Hot, dry, dissolvent, diluting, cleansing. Renews youth and vigor. Those wishing to take it should abstain from heavy food for three days. Used for skin conditions, scabies, etc., wounds, ears, eyes. Internally, evacuates black and yellow bile and phlegm.


Nadkarni: Hydrogogue, cathartic, emmenagogue, antihelminthic. Poison. Local anaesthetic.  Used for a wide range of conditions, including epilepsy, mania, melancholia, etc., as well as on skin and for worms.

(The dangerous stimulant alkaloids in hellebore have banished them from use today, but they were important in folk medicine throughout history.)



Hordeum vulgare. Poaceae. Damai大麥. Oddly and significantly, while there are more than a score of mentions of barley flour and one of barley congee, barley water does not seem to have enjoyed in the HHYF the enormous importance that it enjoyed in Hippocratic-Galenic medicine. The thrust is as part of foods to eat with medicines, as in Greek medicine.

From ancient Egypt (Manniche 1989:108) and especially from Hippocrates onward through time, it was a sovereign food for the sick. Averroes, echoing Hippocrates, says: “Barley water is inferior to wheaten, but is cooling and readily digestible, and its coldness is of the first degree.  Barley water is more medicinal than bread, it is excellent in hot and dry diseases, since it cools, moistens, tempers, and wonderfully generates a laudable humour, nor does it inflate or remain in the stomach…”[85] Similarly, Al-Bīrūnī goes on at some length from Dioscorides, Galen, etc. on the advantages of barley water.


Avicenna: Cold and dry. Water used on freckles, pimples, etc. Poultice made with quindce and vinegar for gout, and other poultices for chest, etc. Barley water used for chest, but is “not suitable for stomach,”[86] a rather amazing point given the importance of this item from Galen and Dioscorides right down to Anderson’s own Midwestern childhood (the old Galenic uses were still very much alive). It was, however, used for fevers (as in the Midwest!).


Levey: notes that Al-Kindī uses it for memory, dental medicines, etc., and barley water to make hair and beard grow.


Nadkarni: Tonic and astringent decoction, as well as the usual use for invalids.


Dash: Yava in Sanskrit. Sweet, cold, laxative, aphrodisiac, cures diseases of urine, rhinitis, asthma, cough, etc. This use as a cureall recalls Greek medicine.


Li: Da mai. Minor uses.

Barley water was made by boiling barley for a long time in a large amount of water. Pearl barley (barley with seed coats milled off) was used for illness and convalescence from early times well into the 20th century (as Anderson remembers from personal childhood experience). Pearl barley, boiled in soup, was one of the medicines most enthusiastically adopted by China, and is still sovereign in Chinese medicine as a cooling agent.



Hosta plantaginea, Agavaceae. Yuzan玉簪. Dubious identification.


Li: Root is sweet, pungent, cold and toxic. Used for mastitis, sterilization of women, detoxification of snakebites and insect bites and stings, helping with pulling teetch, etc.

(A common Chinese ornamental plant, beautiful and sweet-scented but of little traditional medical note.)



Hyoscyamus niger L. Solanaceae. Native. Tianxian天仙; Bang/Fanaqi法納乞/Ponaqi拍納乞/Bang


Dioscorides: IV-69, ‘Yoskyamos melas, leukos, meloides, respectively identifie in Gunther as H. niger, H. albus, H. aureus. Descriptions a bit equivocal. First two cause frenzies or narcosis, and not normally used. Third (evidently meaning the second above)  with white flowers is gentler.  Juice from plant or seeds hard to store, but can be mixed with wheatmeal and dried for storage.  Juice used for pains, in various preparations, for various areas of the body; also respiratory problems excessive menstruation, gout, swollen genitals, swollen breasts of nursing women, etc.

I-42, seed oil for poorly specified conditions.


Levey: Banj (derived from Indian bhang). Cold ailments, insanity, epilepsy, melancholy.


Avicenna: Banj. Cold and dry. Soporific. Externally for pain, swellings, earache, eyes. Internally for gout pain, coughing up blood, pain in uterus. Poisonous.


Nasrallah: Deadly poison, especially seeds. Cold and dry.


Graziani: Binj, banj. Medieval Arab uses for toothache, stings of poisonous animals, swellings, stomach disorder.  Maimonides used it for poinsonous and painful stings.


Lev and Amar: banj, shawkarān, saykarān. Also H. niger. For palpitation, crying, toothaches, earache, bleeding, eyes, spitting blood, women’s diseases. With hellebore for cold, insanity, epilepsy, blck bile.


Kamal: bang, bang aswad. Sedative, narcotic,anti-epileptic, relaxant, painkiller, anti-colic, mydriatic.


Bellakhdar et al: H. niger and H. albus, both sikran. Narcotic, toxic, antihemorrhoidal, dental analgesic; magic. Atropa belladonna and A. baetica [closely related to Hyoscyamus and worth relating], zbib leydur, aphrodisiac, memory stimulant.


Ghazanfar: H. gallagheri, zgaf, for hair growth.


Nadkarni: Digestive, astringent, antihelminthic, as well as the narcotic effect.


Eisenman: Analgesic. Leaf juice for tumors, earaches. Water infusion of seeds for convulsions; smoke from burning seeds for toothaches. Plaster of leaves on abscesses. Biomedical action includes use of atropine for bile ducts, stomach ulcers, intestinal spasms, etc., and mydriatic.  Scopolamine formerly used as nervous system depressant; too toxic for much current use.

(Another plant with dangerous tropane alkaloids. Antispasmodic, analgesic.)



Hypericum perforatum L., Hypericaceae. Fāriqūn/Faligong法里公; Hayūfārīqūn/胡法里渾. (Gr).


Dioscorides: III-171, ‘yperikon, Hypericum crispum, H. barbatum. Resin diuretic; as pessary, emmenagogue. With wine for malaria; seed for sciatica.

III-172, askyron, H. perforatum. Fruit drunk with hydromel for sciatica. Expels choleric problems. Applied to burns.

III-173, androsaimon. H. perfoliatum and/or H. ciliatum. Same uses.


Avicenna: hīyūfārīqūn (from the Greek). Hot and dry. Attenuating, diluting, dissolving. Externally on large, cold, hard swellings; biurns; large wounds; malignant ulcers; dusted on soft ulcers. For hip and joint pain. Internally as diuretic, emmenagogue.


Nadkarni: Astringent, aromatic, antihelminthic, diuretic, emmeenagogue, purgative. For diarrhea, hemorrhoids, etc.


Eisenman:  commonly used. Decoction used as “astringent, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, tonic, and hemostatic, and is used to treat kidney diseases, heart diseasese, diarrhea, and hemoptysis” and externally for wounds.[87] Still used for most of those uses in contemporary medicine in Central Asia. H. scabrum, similar uses; antimicrobial activity demonstrated in laboratory experiments.

(Traditional use in Europe as antidepressant recently confirmed by experiment and wide use, but less used now due to problematic interactions with commercial drugs.)



Hyphaene thebaica, Araceae. One of the possibilities for Muql/Muheili木黑里/Muheili木黑黎Listed in some sources as producing a gum used as or for muql, but in the HHYF muql is surely the gum of a Balsamodendron (Commiphora), q.v. Thus this tree may or may not be in in the HHYF.



Hyssopus officinalis L., Lamiaceae. Zūfā/Zufa祖法/Zufuda祖夫荅/Zufa祖伐


Dioscorides:  III-30, ‘hyssopos. Notes there are two sorts. Gunther identifies it (or one type) as Thymbra spicata, with figure of an Origanum sp. [Anderson believes at least one type is a Hyssopus sp.]  With green figs for stomach, purgative. Applied, with fig and nitre, for spleen, dropsy; with wine for inflammations. Decoction with figs for throat. Relieves toothache. Smoke for ears.


Levey: Zūfā. In oxymel for malaria, jaundice, etc.


Avicenna: Zūfā yābis. Hot and dry. Dissolvent. Usual minor uses for hot dry drugs; also, internal use toimprove complexion. Boined down with vinegar for toothaches. Vapors for ear. Poultice with borax and fig on spleen. Orally for swellings. With caraway and orris root for worms, phlegm, etc. Laxative.


Lev and Amar: zūfā yābis. Hot and dry (at least to Maimonides). Chest, lungs, coughs, stomach, asthma, jaundice, blood clots in eyes, diphtheria, toothache, earache, dropsy, bites, tears.


Graziani:  Zūfa. Ibn Jazlah used it for lungs, cough, hard swellings, spleen, and vermifuge. Rāzī used it, citing Dioscorides, for swellings, vermifuge, chest.  (Note difference from our received Dioscorides, summarized above.)


Kamal: Zofa, isof. Tops and leaves stimulant, carminative, tonic, expectorant, anti-catarrhal.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, stomachic, expectorant, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, carminative; used for hysteria, colic, coughs, asthma, sore throat, bronchitis, uterus, etc., and even for worms.


Eisenman: H. seravschanicus, infusion “expectorant, anti-inflammatory, astringent, tonic, antihelminthic, to heal wounds, and to treat bronchial asthma, gastrointestinal diseases, dyspepsia, rheumatism, anemia, stenocardia, neurosis, scrophua, meteorism and hyperhydrosis…applied to the mouth to treat stomatitis and bad breath, and externally to heal persistent wounds.”[88] In short, the Central Asian cureall. Biomedically demonstrated antibiotic action.

(Widespread European use for many conditions.   Biomedical value established for many of these. Has soothing effects.)



Inula helenium L., Asteraceae. Rasan (Persian). Rāshin/Laxin剌辛


Dioscorides: I-27, elenion. Elecampane. Root warming. Decocted for diuretic and emmenagogue. Root taken in honey for cough, ruptures and convulsions, swellings, venomous bites, stomach. Leaves boiled and applied for sciatica.

III-136, konyza, I. viscosa, I. saxatilis, I. Britannica (three types mentioned). Leaves for snakebite and the like. Emmenagogue and abortifacient (taken or applied).  For strangury, gripes, rashes, epilepsy, fits, etc. In herbal bath for womb problems including menstrual problems.


Levey: Rāsin. For stomach and rheums.


Avicenna: Rāsin. Hot and dry. Root used externally for pain, but causes headache. Internally in syrup withy honey, expectorant and purifying; relieves sore throat and cough. Thins blood.  Diuretic.


Lev and Amar: Diuretic; for coughs, bites, stings, menstruation, poisons; intestines,digestion, cleansing lungs, strengthening mind. Hot and moist.


Kamal: Rasan. Persian Qanas. Root stimulant for skin, bronchitis, amenorrhea.


Bellakhdar et al: I. viscosa, reconstituant.


Nadkarni: For bronchitis and rheumatism.


Eisenman: I. britannica. Infusion or decoction of roots for cystitis, diabetes, jaundice, catarrh, bone tuberculosis, rheumatism, hemorrhoids; vermifuge, hemostat, etc. Anti-inflammatory, astringent. I. grandis, tuberculosis, gastrointestinal conditions; vermifuge. Young stems, debarked, for restorative.  Anti-oxidant. I. helenium, same uses plus diuretic, emmenagogue, etc.  External use for eczema and scabies. Root tincture in vodka for gastritis, ulcers, nerves, heart disease, hypertension, etc. Biomedical uses for respiratory and gastrointestinal conditions; ulcers; expectorant, diuretic, etc. Effective vermifuge and skin parasite killer. Sesquiterpene lactones inhibit cancer lines.

(The anti-cancer effect of the sesquiterpene lactones of this and related species has been considerably investigated, but nothing significant has come of it so far.)



Ipomoea turpethum (L.) R.Br., Convolvulaceae. Turbid/Tulubidi突魯必的; Turbud/Daerbudi荅兒不的(Sanskrit); Yinchaihu銀柴胡; Qianniu牽牛is used for I. nil.


Levey: Turbad. Purgative, widely used and recommended in medieval Near East.


Avicenna: Turbud. Produces dryness; used for nerves and phlegm.


Graziani: Mentioned; no use given.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Standard remedy in this work. Root a strong purgative. Arabic name, turbid, turbud or turbad, is from Sanskrit; a clear, early Indian influence.


Lev and Amar: Dry; purgative.


Ghazanfar: I. pes-caprae, seeds purgative.


Nadkarni: Roots cathartic and laxative; a “black” form is more drastic, to the point that it is no longer used.

(Odd that this common medicinal plant—an effective cathartic and laxative—is not found in more of the authorities. I. aquatica is used medicinally in China, but is so different a plant that it is not worth comparing here.)



Iris lactea Pall. Var. chinensis  (Fisch.) Koidz. Iridaceae. Native. The HHYF is not so precise in its nomenclature and mostly uses generics which include a number of spp. This includes Sūsan/Suoshan璅珊 which can refer to Iris l. but not exclusively so. Another general term is Irīsā /Yeersa也而撒 apparenty including Iris florentina. Also referred to is I. ensata including Malin馬藺 etc.). Zihua紫花, is also an Iris sp., which one is uncertain.

Dioscorides: I-1, iris, I. germanica and/or I. florentina. Dioscorides notes the name comes from the rainbow, because of the varied flower colors. Root warming, extenuating. For coughs, gross humors. Drunk in hydromel to purge away thick and choleric humors, cause sleep, provoke tears, heal stomach-ache. With vinegar for venomous bites, fits, etc. With wine, emmenagogue.  Infusion for sciatica, fistulas, sores. With honey for abortion, but application not clear. Applied to hard swellings, etc. Various uses for skin and external ailments.

I-66, irinon, iris oil. Complex recipe for an oil with many herbs.Mollifying and warming, etc.


Levey: Sūsan: lily, iris, etc. Lily oil for swelling in ears, hemorrhoids, etc.


Avicenna: Sūsan for iris; īrsā’ for orris root. Hot and dry. Drying cleansing. Usual uses of hot dry drugs for skin conditions, sweelings, wounds, ulcers. Treats nervous breakdown; oil removes fatigues. Internally with vinegar or wine for convulsions, etc. Enema for pain and sciaticsa.  Camomile oil, iris oil, for fatigue; dill oil for cold. Root boiled for mouthwash. Treats breathing problems. Laxative. Abortifacient. Treats most internal pains. Sitz baths and suppositories used for lower-body conditions; suppository expels yellow and black bile and phlegm. Treats fevers and insect bites. In short, this plant is a real cureall, to a degree rarely allowed by Avicenna.


Al-Bīrūnī: Apparently this is the īrsa or īrīsā he describes. “Sawsan” is partial equivalent. Orris is calorifacient, demulcent, lenitive, flatulent, deobstruent, detersive, purifier, etc. Juice resolves phlegm. Decoction for scirrhus, scrofula, pustules, ulcers, etc. Regenerates flesh. Sternutatory. Used in toothaches, ear problems, nostrils, wounds, gargling, hydrops, hemorrhoids, gripes, etc.  Emmenagogue and much more. Basically a cureall, used in all conditions.


Lev and Amar: I. florentina or I. mesopotamica. ’īrisā, sūsān, sawsan. Kidney stone, wounds ears, palpitation, purgative, menstruation, abortion, eyes, etc.  Cough, phlegm, sleeplessness, stomach pains, stings, bites, men’s and women’s problems, skin, wounds, earaches, mouth sores, hemorrhoids, eliminating wetness, etc. Another all-purpose herb.


Graziani: “Lily or Iris,” sūsan. Dioscorides for drawing out blood, inflammation of eyes, breast (note difference from English version!). Today in Egypt for detersive, liniment, emmenagogue.  Lily in Iran for labor pains and headache.


Kamal: I. florentina, sawsan, irisa, qos-quzah (“rainbow”). Rhizome purgative.


Bellakhdar: I. germanica, I. pseudoacorus, I. florentina, reconstituant, antirheumatic.


Dash: I germanica, bitter, pungent, for insanity, epilepsy, evil spirits (rakshas).


Li: I. pallasii, lishi蠡實, and I. tectorum, yuanwei鳶尾, various minor uses.



Juglans regia L., Juglandaceae. Walnut. Hutao胡桃.


Dioscorides: against poisons, dog bites, worms, internal infections, gangrene, etc.


Avicenna: jauz. Hot, pungent. Vinegar and honey drink treats being sick from walnuts (presumably from eating the fruit as opposed to the nut). Gum for hot ulcers. Oil for deep, feveish ulcers. Bark for throat inflammation, etc. Nuts difficult to digest, but all right if preserved or fresh-peeled. Not for hot stomach, however. Various external uses of different arts of the plant.


Lev and Amar: Cholera, body blemishes, hemorrhois, kidneys, cough, stomach, liver. Unripe fruit for eyes, draining urine, etc. Shell for limbs and gums, and usable in regulating menstruation. Nut on skin. Leaves for ears, kidneys, stomach, worms, lice, etc. Resin strengthens stomach.


Eisenman: Decoction of nuts to treat high blood pressure, heart, mouth; from fruit husk, for external use on ulcers, eczema, dermatitis; tea of leaves drunk for diabetes, vermifuge, skin diseases, gastrointestinal conditions, tuberculosis; decoction for scrofula and rickets. Root bark slightly laxative. Biomedical use in area for skin conditions including bacterial sores; antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory action; leaves effective. Omega-3 fatty acids in nuts beneficial for arteriosclerosis.


Sun: Walnut (hutao): sweet, cool, astringent, nonpoisonous. One cannot eat too much. Otherwise it will arouse phlegm, make people sick, or make them vomit liquid or food.


Li: Hutao (“Iranian peach”—yet walnuts are probably native to China as well as Iran; presumably the large edible and medicinal variety came from Iran, as the English name “Persian walnut” also tells us). Sweet, neutral or hot or cold (!), warm, nontoxic.  Fattening. Moistens muscle. Tonifies qi, nourishes blood, moistens dryness, dissolves phlegm. Reinforces gate of life (mingmen, “length-of-life gate”) and helps the three burners; Li adds a long monograph on these mysterious organs and their relationships. Relieves pain, hernia, dysentery, etc. Kills worms, treats poison; good on skin for leprosy, scabies, tinea, etc. Large number of formulas given. Separate discussions for green rind, and for bark of the tree.

(Common in Near Eastern medicine.  In China, used very widely today, including as a brain strengthener because the nut looks like a brain.  This bit of sympathetic magic is probably widespread. The extremely astringent, tannin-rich husk [fruit], bark and gum are used extensively in Avicenna’s healing, and are in fact very effective by any standards. The omega-3 fatty acids make this one of the most beneficial foods in this time of excessive consumption of omega-6 fats.)



Juniperus. See under Thuja orientalis. Cupressaceae. Very widely used medicinally around the world, actual juniper is not certainly mentioned in the HHYF; references appear to be to Thuja. Possibilities of juniper use should not be discounted. The well-known toxic, antibiotic, abortifacient, and astringent uses of many juniper species are well known in Central Asia (Eisenman covers four species) and China. A serious study of Cedrus, Juniperus, Tetraclinis, and Thuja in Near Eastern medicine is sorely needed to remove confusion of names, record actual uses (by genus and species), and compare with the well-known and quite dramatic biomedical values of these plants.



Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standl., Cucurbitaceae. Incl. var. clavata and var. depressa Ser.  Both native. Qar’u/Heiliyi黑里亦


Avicenna: ūbūṭīlān. Used on wounds, but Avicenna is very skeptical of its value.


Lev and Amar: widely used in various prescriptions, but probably mostly as a carrier. Fevers, liver, bile, earache, fever, headache, throat, cough. Diuretic.


Dash: Bitter; alleviates dosas.


Sun: Bottle gourd (tianhu甜瓠)[89]: sweet, balanced, smooth, and nonpoisonous. It mainly treats emaciation and thirst (xiaoke消渴), noxious ulcer, festering and aching in the flesh of the nose and mouth. It leaves are sweet and balanced. They primarily helps resisting hunger. Bian Que said, “If one has beriberi (lit. foot qi, jiaoqi 腳氣) or is weak and swelling (xuzhang虛脹), he should not eat it, or his illness will never end.”

Gourds (gua) [possibly bottle gourd, Lagenaria siceraria, but the quote implies he may be thinking of winter melon] are sweet, cold, smooth, and nonpoisonous. They hold back thirst. The Yellow Emperor said, “In the ninth month, don’t eat frosted gourds (winter melon, Benincasa hispida). It is towards the winter and will cause cold, hot, or warm illness (han re ji wenbing寒熱及溫病).” When one starts to eat it, it causes nausea. After one finishes with it, it remains in the heart as water and it cannot be digested. Otherwise it returns to the stomach (fanwei反胃). If one eats gourds that sink into the water, he will have cool illness (lengbing冷病) and will not be cured in life.


Li: Hulu葫蘆. Very important plant in Chinese culture, but medicinal uses few and minor, for various parts of the plant.

(Cooling in Chinese medicine; astringent; fairly effective diuretic; still a minor but well-known plant in Chinese folk medicine.)



Lagoecia cuminoides L., Apiaceae. Qardamānā/Jiermana吉兒馬那/jierdimana 吉而的馬拏. Qardamānā is also commonly understood as caraway and most often as cardamom. The Lagoecia identifications should be considered doubtful.

Mediterranean herb and occasion cumin substitute (Uphof). In our sources only as a surmise and the translation of the name in Lev and Amar.



Launaea angustifolia, (Desf.) Kuntze (syn. Sonchus, angustifolia, Zollikofera angustifolia).  Asteraceae. Maybe Kumai 苦蕒vegetable.

The only mention of this species in our sources is in Mandaville; he reports that in Arabia the herb is called marār from its bitterness, and has no use. Kong et al. identified the Arabic name saliyy as this species under the now long obsolete name Zollikofera. This is almost certainly a misidentification. Presumably they relied on some very early herbal that used that name. Some other Launaea species rate trivial mentions in Near Eastern herbals.



Laurus malabathrum, Lauraceae. Sādaj/Sada撒荅; Sādhaj hindī/Sadazhixindi撒荅只忻的  (“Indian malabathrum”; it is indeed from India but is not a malabathrum, though related)


Levey: For tears. (Levey thought it might be a spikenard.)

(A common enough Indian drug that even though rarely mentioned it is probably correctly identified here.)



Laurus nobilis, Lauraceae. Ghār /Aer阿兒; Òabbu’l-ghār/Habuliaer哈不里阿而 (berries).


Dioscorides: I:78, daphne. Scorpion sting, ears, liver, inflammations.


Avicenna: Bark hot and dry. Seed warming, relaxant. Oil useful for baldness, etc. Bark/seed extracts and oil for swellings, nerves, head, headaches, ears, chest, liver, spleen, abdominal pain.  Oil causes nausea but stimulates menstruation. With honey and vinegar for diarrhea. Bark can be abortifacient. Treats stings and scorpions.


Levey: In clyster for kidneys. Seed in formula for vermifuge and for air purifying.


Nadkarni: Astringent, stomachic, aromatic, stimulant, said to be narcotic (wrongly).  Emmenagogue and for leucorrhea, etc.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Ghār. Minor uses.


Lev and Amar: ghār, rand. Stomach, hemorrhoids, palpitations, liver, spleen, kidneys, bites, poisons, worms, etc. Hot and dry.

(The stimulant yet soothing volatile oils are effective for symptomatic treatment of the less serious conditions above.)



Lavandula spp., notably L. stoechas L., Lamiaceae. Ustūkhūdūs/Yisituhudusi亦思禿忽都思/Wusutuhuduxi烏速突忽都西/Wusuhuerdirong烏速胡而的榮/Yisitaowudusi亦思討兀都思


Dioscorides: III-31, stoichas. Decoction for chest pains. Added to antidotes.


Avicenna: Usṭūkhūddūs, apparently from stoechas. Hot and dry. Bitter, dissolvent, opening, cleansing, somewhat constricting, strengthening, anti-decaying. Boiled down, relieves nerve pain, cold diseases of nerves, etc. Necessary for patients with cold diseases of nerves. Good for melancholia and epilepsy. Can induce vomiting, especially in those with excess bile.  Strengthens urinary organs; purges phlegm and black bile.


Graziani: Azhar al-Khazān. Modern uses in India and Egypt as carminative, resolvent, antispasmodic, stimulant.


Lev and Amar: isṭūkhūdūs. Eyes, including things like lice on eyelid (it would work, being strongly insecticidal). Malaria, wounds, hair, lengthening life, strengthening heart, asthma, infections, swellings, etc. Maimonides considered it hot and dry.


Bellakhdar et al: calefacient, nervous diseases, antitussive. L. x abrialis for urinary and gynecological problems, and colds; also cosmetic uses. L. multifida gastro-intestinal, antiseptic, colds. (ENA’s observations confirm that this useful genus is exceedingly popular in Morocco.)


Ghazanfar: L. dentata, L. officinals, L. pubescens, carminative, for headaches, colds; L. dhofarensis, stomach, kidneys, nerves.


Lebling and Pepperdine: L. dentataKhuzama.  Gas, urinary problems.


Nadkarni: Unani/ Near Eastern uses as resolvent, deobstruent, carminative; for colic in chest.  One unani source calls it the “broom of the brain”—it expels brain crudities, strengthens the intellect, etc. Also stimulant, carminative, emmenagogue, etc.

(Various species of lavender are used throughout the world medicinally; they are powerfully antiseptic. The scent is so universally liked, and found soothing and cheering, as to make one wonder about evolved attraction, and many would agree that it sweeps away worries—purges black bile and treats melancholia, as Avicenna put it. Experiments confirm that simply smelling it soothes the brain. This has led to extensive farming of lavender, for the scent and sometimes for flavoring food, in France, Morocco, the United States, and elsewhere. Lavender oil is insecticidal, which explains the name, cognate with “laundry”; the plants are still widely used to keep insects from eating stored clothing.)




Lepidium latifolium L., Brassicaceae. Shī®araj/Shatalazhi沙他剌只/Shidalazhi失荅剌知; Shī®arj/ Shidalazhi失荅剌知/Satela撒忒剌/shayitala 沙亦他剌只; Shāh®iraz/Shaheifeiliezhi沙黑肥烈知.


Manniche: Seeds found archaeologically. (Medical use seems likely.)


Dioscorides: II-205. Plaster for sciatica; leaves, beaten with root of elecampane. Hung around neck for toothache.

II-185, kardamon, L. sativum. Seed warming, sharp, bad for stomach but used to kill worms and produce abortion. Emmenagogue and aphrodisiac. Recognized as similar to mustard and rocket seeds. Presumably applied, it cleanses skin problems. Drives away serpents, stops falling hair, applied to carbuncles, etc. Used for a range of conditions; seed; also foliage, less effective.

The Greek name was transferred to the spice (see Elettaria) early, but survives in altered form as the scientific name Cardamine for a large genus of cresses closely related to Lepidium.


Levey: Shīṭaraj, Vitiligo. ḤurfL. sativum. Skin, ulcers, etc.


Al-Bīrūnī: Jarjīr; cites “arzūmūn” as the “Roman” name. Two varieties, the main one clearly a Lepidium, the other different. Cites Dioscorides for the Lepidium as calling it aphrodisiac, carminative, diuretic, detersive. Note that some of these uses are indeed in the received version summarized above, others not. This is not the only case of medieval Near Eastern sources citing now-lost bits of Dioscorides.


Avicenna: Shāhṭaraj, L. latifolium. Interestingly, not shīṭaraj, which Avicenna uses for Fumaria.  Hot, dry, bitter. Rub with vinegar. Much more on: Ḥurf, thūm, L. sativum. Hot and dry.  Dissolvent. Used on swellings, boils, ulcers, mites, ringworm, chronic skin diseases, joint pains, etc. Taken for lungs and asthma. Heat for stomach and liver. With honey as poultice for spleen enlargement. “Stimulates sexual desire, expels worms, promotes menses and causes abortion.”[90] In short, a typical cureall.


Nasrallah: Seeds hot; abortifacient. Treat asthma, headaches. Expectorant, stimulant. Can repel insects. Leaves similar but moister and thus less hot and less effective.


Lev and Amar: Shītaraj. Skin conditions, gout, spleen.


Graziani: “cress,” qurdumanā, eaten in Persia and elsewhere.


Lev and Amar: L. latifolium, shīṭaraj. L. sativum, rashād, ḥurf. Skin; ulcers, weakness, teeth, gums, mumps, intestiness, emmenagogue. Wounds, bites, stings. Possibly for abortion. For pains, worms, hard stomach, spleen, etc.


Bellakhdar et al: L. sativum. Brocho-pulmonary infections; childbirth difficulties; tonicardiac; revulsive.


Lebling and Pepperdine: L. sativum, rashad, hilf, etc. Seeds. Blood cleanser; coughs; seeds or leaves eaten to speed up healing of broken bones; childbirth, eaten especially after delivery, with other nutritive spices, for recovery. Many remedies here. Also diabetes, hair loss, indigestion, kindney stones, sore throat, stomachache.


Nadkarni: L. sativum, seeds aperient, diuretic, alterative, tonic, demulcent, aphrodisiac, carminative, galactagogue, emmenagogue.  (In short, about like every other spicy seed in Indian medicine.) Leaves somewhat stimulant, diuretic.


Eisenman: L. perfoliatum, minor uses, including ground seeds for nerves.


Li: Several spp. grouped as tingli 葶藶. Seeds used as purgative, etc.

(Seeds and foliage of this mustard-like plant are very high in glucosinolates, which are safe yet strongly stimulant and carminative. The term Shīṭaraj is used in Indian and possibly Persian medicine for Plumbago rosea, rose-colored leadwort,[91] which may have been taken—rather strangely—as a substitute for Lepidium. There is no way of knowing for certain if this is done in the HHYF. One assumes that the HHYF follows orthodox usage, however.)



Lepidium sativum L., Òurf/Huerfu忽而福. See above.



Levisticum officinale Koch., Apiaceae. Kāshin/Keshen可深; Kāshim/ Keshen可深; Kāshen/Kexini可昔尼. Lovage in English.


Dioscorides:  III:51, ligystikon. Digestion, edema, urine, stomach.


Levey: Coughs, earache.


Avicenna: Sīsāliyūs, kāshim. Hot and dry.Internally for gas, abdominal pain, epilepsy, asthma, chest mucus, digestion, worms, urinary and uterine pain.


Lev and Amar: kāshim barrī. Coughs, earache, bruises; intestines, dropsy; expels worms; induces menstruation.

(This well-known apiaceous plant is indeed effective for relieving mild stomach problems.)



Linum usitatissimum L.  Linaceae. Kattān/Ketang可唐/Ketan可檀.


Dioscorides: II-125, linon. Flax. Seed for inflammations, internal and external; with honey and oil. Raw, as cataplasm with figs and nitre, for sunburn and skin conditions. With lye on hard swellings. A large number of other minor external uses. Aphrodisiac, with honey and pepper.  Used in herbal bath for womb inflammations. Clyster/suppository for bowel conditions and constipation.


Avicenna: Hot. Neutral between moist and dry. Cleansing; produces gas. Paste for freckles.  Various preparations for swellings, joints, head, chest, etc. Rinse or sitz bath for uterus.


Graziani: Ibn Jazlah used it in ointment for keeping body from heat and keeping it soft and moist; evidently linseed oil is meant.


Lev and Amar: kattān. Seed or oil used; hot and dry. Seeds for chickenpox, skin, stomach, coughs.  Oil for embroactions, for various reasons.


Kamal: kittan. Ground seed demulcent; presscake for poultices.


Bellakhdar: zerri’at l’kettan. Laxative, emollient, antitussive.


Ghazanfar: Seeds for constipation, joint pain (externally applied), urinary disorders, venereal diseases.


Nadkarni: Demulcent, expectorant, diuretic; seeds hot and dry, aphrodisiac. Flowers for cordials.


Dash: Sweet, for strength and skin.


Li: Ya ma亞麻. Oil on leprous and other sores.

Flax has probably been known in China since the Han Dynasty,[92] but this is not certain, since early records call both it and sesame hu ma, “Iranian hemp.” It was not grown as a fibre crop in China till the 20th century.

(Flaxseed oil is a good oil for the skin, as well as high in omega-3 fatty acids.)



Liquidambar orientalis Mill., Altingiaceae. Resin. Imported. Rose maloes/Suhe蘇合; May’ah/Mia米阿 (once). Hu:547. The Chinese word is said to have been derived from the Malay.


Nadkarni: Storax; stimulant, expectorant, diuretic, antiseptic, disinfectant, astringent. Unani:  tonic, resolvent, astringent.


Li: Suhexiang 蘇合香. The resin. Imported (he thought, wrongly, from Southeast Asia; it probably came via that region, hence the Malay name used in East Asia). Sweet, warm, nontoxic. Powerful treatment for toxins, worms, noxious agents generally. He used the resin of the native L. taiwanensis, feixiangji, for various illnesses.

(Gum still widely used.)



Lupinus termis Forsk., Fabaceae. Tarmush/Daermusi荅兒木思; Turmus/Tuermixi突而迷西; Tarmus/荅兒木思; Jarjar/Zhierzhier知而直而.


Dioscorides: II-132, thermos emeros, Lupinus sp. Seed meal with honey or vinegar, or leaves, eaten or in tea with rue and pepper, for vermifuge and for nausea. Various external uses for gangrene, ulcers, sores, skin conditions in general. Pessary, with myrrh and honey [presumably to soften down its poisonous qualities], for menstruation and for abortion.


Levey: Turmus. Spots, abscesses.


Avicenna: ālūsan, tarmus. Hot and dry. Bitter. Externally for pimples, wounds, swellings, tubercular lymph glands, etc. Taken with vinegar and honey for many of these as well as used externally. Boiled-down (soup?) for gangrenous conditions. Poultice for sciatica. Flour on head ulcers. Internally with vinegar, honey, rue, and/or pepper for nausea etc. Various uses for worms, etc. Can even be abortifacient, orally or “as a device with common rue and pepper or with honey.”[93] Useful for rabid dog bites (whether externally or internally used is not stated).


Kamal: Lupinus albus, turmus, diuretic.


Bellakhdar et al: L. albus, termas, semqala beyda, hypoglycemiant; for liver disorders.


Nadkarni: L. albus, termas in Hindi as well as Arabic, antihelminthic, diuretic, tonic.



Lycium afrum L., Solanaceae. Òu†a†/Hazaze哈咱則. The Arabic name apparently covers both this sp. and Rhamnus infectorius, the latter being more obviously medicinal, and thus probably the one intended in the HHYF.


Dioscorides: lykion, Rhamnus infectorius. Medical qualities of this plant are so different from Lycium that summary seems worthless, especially since it is one of those curealls that he used for everything. He notes an “Indian Lycium[94] that may be a true Lycium. It was used, however, more like the Rhamnus, for inflammations of the spleen, diarrhea, emmenagogue, purgative.


Avicenna: ‘ūsaj, L. shawii. He mentions “the view of some that desert thorn counters the ill-effects of sorcery and the evil eye when it is hung over doors and windows” (p. 356). The skeptical phrase “of some” means Avicenna believes no such thing. More realistic use as poultice for fevers and inflammations.


Levey: Ḥuḍaḍ. Scrofula, lesions, preventing miscarriage. Also as ‘ausaj, for pustules.


Lev and Amar: khawlān, ‘awsaj. Various species and the Rhamnus used for eyes, as well as gums, coughs, spleen, diarrhoea, swellings, dog bites, etc.


Graziani: Lycium sp. Hudad, used by Ibn Jazlah for swelling, eyes, leprocy.


Bellakhdar et al: L. intricatum, ‘ud l-gerteg, for women’s sterility and for itch.


Ghazanfar: L. shawii, stems boiled for diuretic, laxative, tonic; berries for colic and for eyes.


Sun: L. chinense, Chinese wolfthorn leaf (gouqiye枸杞葉): bitter, balanced, astringent (se澀), and nonpoisonous. It restores the body from being weak and increases the essence and marrow (jingsui精髓). The proverb says, “If you leave home for one thousand li, don’t eat luomo蘿摩[95] or wolfthorn.” This is because they are very strong in the Dao of yang and then will assist the qi of yin and soon cause diseases.


Li:  L. chinense and occ. L. barbarum, gouqi 枸杞.  Fruit, leaf and root. Usually, the dried fruit is used, being a cureall. The roots of very old plants can take on the form of an animal; one estimated to be a thousand years old looked like a dog, and was therefore offered to the Emperor Huizong of Song as a medicinal prodigy. Li even quotes a bit of “doggerel” about this event.

(L. chinense (and probably L. barbarum) is actually more a medicinal food, or “nutraceutical,” than a drug; its biomedical value lies largely in the fact that its berries and leaves have almost the highest concentration of vitamins and minerals known in any natural product. It has thus been used for thousands of years, pragmatically and empirically, as biomedicine uses vitamin-mineral supplement pills. It is especially valued for convalescents and women recovering from childbirth. Handfuls of the dried berries go into the soups made for women “doing the month” of rest and high-nutrient eating after parturition.)



Mallotus philippensis Muell., Euphorbiaceae. Qanbīl/Hanbili罕必里


Levey: qanbīl. Red glands on fruit used for ulcers. Antihelminthic.


Nadkarni: Many names and uses; widespread, important. Cathartic, antihelminthic, aphrodisiac, purgative, etc. Powder (“kamala powder”) a standard vermifuge in India.

(This appears to be another Indian influence in the HHYF.)



Malus communis DC (Pyrus malus L.), Rosaceae. Linqin林檎; Tūrūshā/Tulusha突魯沙. (domestic apple)


Avicenna: Sweet and thus relatively neutral; unripe, cold (sour); ripe warmer. Tasteless and unripe apples have no medicinal value. Fruit a mild stomachic and heart strengthener; leaves more valuable—used (evidently in tea) with apple extract for skin conditions. Avicennia recognized the value of apples for diarrhea as stomach soother and binder—still standard medical use (see the BRAT diet—bananas, rice, apples and tea—for diarrhea).


Lev and Amar: Eyes, bites, etc. Cold and dry.


Sun: Crab apple (linqin林檎, rinkin, Malus asiatica): sour, bitter, balanced, astringent, nonpoisonous. It ends thirst. It makes people want to spit. It cannot be taken too much. Otherwise it will make the mai weak.

Apple (Malus pumila, naizi奈子): sour, bitter, cold, astringent, nonpoisonous. It makes people endure hunger and is good for heart and qi. It cannot be eaten too much. Otherwise it will cause flatus (luzhang臚脹). If one has been sick for a long time, his situation will become even worse after eating it.


Li: M. micromalus, haihong, haitangli海棠梨:  sour, sweet, balanced, nontoxic.  M. asiatica, linqin:  For fever. Sour, swet, warm, nontoxic.



Malva rotundifolia Desf. Malvaceae. Khubbāzī/Hubaza忽八咱; Kuihua葵花.


Dioscorides: III-164, alkea, Malva alcea, mallow. Drunk with wine or water for dystentery and ruptures.


Galen: Wild mallow (Malva sp.). Moist, moderately heating, viscid, glutinous, digestible. Thick juice. [The plant is very mucilaginous.]


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Usual uses. Today for coughs, chest and purging.


Lev and Amar: M. sylvestris mentioned but nothing given for it.


Kamal: M. sylvestris, kubbaza, khubbayzah (the modern vernacular is khubez). Leaves soothing, emollient [as they are almost everywhere, and effectively, as Anderson knows from experience]; used for poultices. Used in enemas for acute enteritis.


Bellakhdar et al: M. sylvestris, baqula, kubbeyza: laxative emollient.


Ghazanfar: M. parviflora, seeds and leaves for demulcent and fevcer and ulcers; external.


Nadkarni: Leaves mucilagionus, emollient as poultice. Seeds same; also demulcent; power taken for coughs, uncerated bladder, hemorrhoids, similar conditions. Other spp. also used.


Sun: [See taxonomic note for Li.]  Mallow (dongkuizi冬葵子): sweet, cold, nonpoisonous. It mainly cures coldness, hotness, or weakness in the five internal organs and six hollow organs (wuzangliufu五臟六腑). It breaks the five kinds of urinary problems (wulin五淋). It is helpful for discharging urine. It also cures the difficulty of producing milk by women. It cures blood stoppage (blocking; xuebi血閉). If one takes it for a long time, it will strengthen the bones and make the muscles grow, lighten the body, and lengthen life. In the twelfth month, gather the leaves, which are sweet, cold, smooth, and nonpoisonous. It is good for spleen. If one takes it for a long time, it is good for the stomach qi. Its heart [usually this would mean central shoot and bud, but they are harmless and a common Chinese food, so woody lower stem is probably meant here] harms people. With every kind of medication, eating the heart is contraindicated. The heart is poisonous. The Yellow Emperor said, “If one takes frosted mallow that has previously been preserved without cooking it, it will cause five kinds of liquid illnesses (liuyin流飲)[96]. When the liquid accumulates too much, it will make him vomit. ” [I.e., it ferments too much.] When mallow and carp (liyu鯉魚) or fish in general (zha鮓) are taken together, this harms people. In all four seasons, when the earth is prosperous (tuwang土王), avoid raw mallow. It will cause indigestion and arouse chronic diseases. [Probably this means that if the mallow flourishes too much because of good growing conditions, it should be avoided; indeed, mallow, though highly nutritious, can become hard to digest and over-rich in nitrates if overgrown.  Mallow is another plant notable for high levels of vitamins.]


Li: M. parviflora, tukui菟葵. Same species complex as M. rotundifolia (the small mallows are all closely related and taxonomically almost impossible to separate or sort out). Trivial, mostly magical uses. However, a common food.

(The small mallows represent a species complex, with M. rotundifolia, M. parviflora, and M. sylvestris, among others, poorly distinguished. These, like the Chinese lycium, are exceedingly high in vitamins and minerals, and thus have the same use in nutrition—de facto vitamin-mineral supplements. They fill this role in Arab culture especially, but were a major vegetable and nutrition aid in China too, especially in early times. They were a standard vegetable in ancient China, a low-status food in medieval China, and a famine food more recently—thus do less choice vegetables sink down the status hierarchy. Incidentally, kui now includes sunflowers and is often so translated, but sunflowers were introduced from North America in the last couple of centuries.)



Mandragora officinarum L. Solanaceae. luffāḤ/Heifahei黑法黑/Lifa里法; Shabīzaj/ Chebanizhi徹怕你知.


Manniche: Probably shown in art, and, if so, surely used for tranquilizing etc.


Dioscorides: IV-76, mandragoras, Atropa mandragora, mandrake. Male and female varieties noted. These are obviously different species, but the dscriptions make it hard to pick these out.  For sleep and pain relief. Expels black choler and phlegm, but is deadly in overdoes. Used in eyes and other topical applications. Pessary emmenagogue and abortifacient. Used for snakebite.  Large number of other related uses. Use in love magic noted.

V-81, oinos mandragorites, mandrake wine. Root bark brewed with wine must.  Causes sleep and relieves pain.


Avicenna: luffāḥ, yabrūj. Cold and moist. Anesthetizing. Used for swellings, abscesses, tubercular lymph glands. Power with vinegar for deep-red inflammation with fever and pustules.  Poiultice on arthritis and eoephantiasis. In wine for sleep; anal suppositories are also soporific.  Excessive use or even smelling cuases a stroke. Causes vomiting of bile and phlegm.  Emmenagogue and abortifacient. Poisonous. Sirāj al-quṭrub, M. autumnalis: Hot and dry, though not very. Opening, but constricts vessels, so helps stop bleeding; “best drug for healing wounds.”[97] Poultices used. Internally for vomiting blood. Enema for intestinal ulcers. Antidote for scorpion stings. “Said” (i.e. Avicenna is skeptical here) to tranquilize scorpions in the wild.


Levey: Sāsak. In a remedy for insanity and epilepsy. Luffāh. In collyrium and in insanity remedy. Narcotic, at least in other medieval sources.


al-Bīrūnī: Usual material and folkore, as above.


Lev and Amar:  Leprosy, skin diseases, eyes, snakebite, headache, swellings, mumps, wounds, pains, stings, insanity, epilepsy, sleeping.  Toxicity recognized.  Anesthetic.  Maimonides notes use for tightening vagina to simulate virginity, and holds it cold and dry.


Kamal:  yabruh, mandraghorah, sirag al qutr, sabizak-Ibn al-Baytar, etc.  Narcotic, sedative, anaesthetic.


Bellakhdar et al: M. autumnalis, bayd l-gul, narcotic.


Nadkarni:  Sedative and anaesthetic; dangerously toxic.

(Powerful, dangerous alkaloids probably as important as the alleged manlike shape of the root in making this a valued but feared drug in early times.)



Marrubium vulgare L., Lamiaceae. farāsiyūn/Falaxirong法剌西榮.


Avicenna: Farāsiyūn. Hot and dry. Cleansing, dissolvent, etc. For earache, eyesight, chest and lungs, laxative, emmenagogue.


Lev and Amar: Farāsiyūn. Earache, hearing, eyesight, lungs, womb, chest, liver, spleen, rabid dog bites; emmenagogue. All this from Ibn Sīnā.


Bellakhdar et al: Marrubium vulgare, merryut, notably important:  diuretic, hypoglycemiant, hair-care, antihelminthic, anti-tinea, antipyretic, anti-jaundice, antidiarrheal, emmenagogue, and cosmetic.


Ghazanfar: Expectorant.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, expectorant, resolvent, antihelminthic, alterative; for respiratory and digestive conditios, jaundice, tuberculosis, rheumatism, amenorrhea, etc.


Eisenman: M. anisodon, decoction for chronic catarrh, thrat, toothaches. Biomedical use as sedative and heart aid.

(Bitter, astringent; standard cough remedy well within my own memory and experience, only replaced by better biomedical remedies in the last very few decades.)



Matricaria chamomilla L.; Anthemis nobilis L. Asteraceae. Uquwān/Wuguhuwan烏古虎頑. Chamomile.


Dioscorides: III,137, various chamomiles for febrifuge etc.


Galen: Laxative, resolvent.


Levey: Fuqqāh. Al-ard. For fever, eyes, muscles.Carminative, stimulant, etc.

Related Anthemis nobilis, bābūnaj, used similarly and for spleen, liver, stomach.


Lev and Amar: M. aurea, bābūnaj. On skin; poultices, lotions, etc. for usual reasons. Also eyes. Hemorrhoids, settling liver and stomach, strengthening limbs. For urinary stones, menstruation, urination, sweating.


Nadkarni: Babuna and cognates. Antiseptic, antiphlogistic. Antispasmodic.



Melilotus officinalis (L.) Lam., Fabaceae. Iklīl al-malik/Yiqililumuluku亦乞里魯木魯枯/ Iklīl/Yiqilili以其黎黎.


Dioscorides: III-48, melilotos, but apparently referring to clover, Trifolium.


Levey: iklīl al-malik. Liver, stomach, fever, etc.


Avicenna: M. arvensis, iklil al-malik. Somewhat hot and dry. Constricting, dissolvent. Tonic for organs. Externally on inflammations, ulcers, skin, ears, inflamed eyes, sore anus or testicles.  Internally, diuretic, emmenagogue, abortifacient. (This indicates how desperate people were for abortifacients; the amount needed for coumarin—the toxic principle in question—to accomplish this would be cattle-feed quantities.)


Nasrallah: hot; diuretic.


Lev and Amar: M. albus, iklīl al-malik. Eyes, skin, wombs, bits, poisons, stones, fever, liver, etc.


Kamal: Iklil al-malek, handuq, nafl, ghosn al-ban. Used in eyedrops. Seeds stop diarrhea in children.


Bellakhdar et al: M. indica, azrud, hair care.


Ghazanfar: Otrah. Astringent, narcotic; poultice for pain.


Eisenman: Infusion for catarrh, migraines, hypertension, bladder and kidney pain, menopause. Externally in compresses, plasters, wash, for various wounds and infections. Biomedically, coumarins in this plant suppress nervous system action and—as is well known—inhibit blood clotting.


Li: Many close relatives used for various purposes.

(Coumarin, which interferes with blood clotting, makes this a dangerous remedy.)



Melissa officinalis L., Lamiaceae. Badranj-būya/Badilanzhiboya八的闌只博牙/ Badarūj/Badulu八都魯 (Persian).


Dioscorides: III-118, melissophyllon, lemon balm. Leaves with wine, or applied, for scorpion stings, dog bites, etc. Herbal bath, emmenagogue. Put on teeth for pain. Clyster for dysentery.  Leaves drunk with nitre for mushroom poisoning and gripes. Uses for ulcer, gout, etc.



Levey and Al-Khaledy: Minor uses; today in Persia as carminative and tonic.


Lev and Amar: bādharnabūyah (the source of the HHYF name), bādīrnabīh. Plant reelieves snakebite, abscesses, cough, respiratory problems, and lung diseases. Seeds a component of a drink that cleans the heart. Cures black bile, stings, etc. Many minor uses including sexual energy, eliminating phlegm, aiding digestion, etc.


Kamal: Torongan, ibn al-baytar, hashishet al-nahl, habaq torongani. Stomachic, cardiac, carminative, anti-epileptic. Infusions for fainting and indigestion. (Most of these uses are still in folk practice in the European world, including sniffing to treat depression.)


Lebling and Pepperdine: For stomach; also tiredness and run-down condition. Reported in medical literature as antiviral and improving mood.


Nadkarni: Minor; for swellings, bowel complaints.


Eisenman: For migraines, insomnia, women’s conditions, goiut, dizziness, anemia; for cardiovascular disease, and as analgsic, sedative, hypotensive, diuretic, digestive, toxicosis.  Biomedically, most of these uses are confirmed, albeit not very dramatically. One Central Asian study found use in Alzheimer’s disease [though this should not be taken very seriously]. Essential oil anti-oxidant.

(The limoniol and other volatile oils have a strongly soothing and stomachic function. Even the scent is relaxing and relieves worries and sadness.The many volatile oils in this plant have well-demonstrated relaxing effect when smelled, whether this is a “psychological” or a “biological” effect.)



Mentha aquatica L., Lamiaceae. Faudanaj/Fudanazhi夫荅納知/Fudanazhi夫荅那知.


Dioscorides: III-42, ‘edyosmos agrios. Properties similar to following; less good.

III-41, ‘edyosmos emeros, M. sativa (?). Warming, binding, drying. Juice of leaves stops bleeding, kills roundworms, provokes lust. Sprigs in pomegranate juice stop hiccups, vomiting, choler. Applied in plaster for skin conditions, headaches, etc. With salt on dog bites. Juice for ear pain. Applied as birth control agent (?). Good for stomach.


Levey: Ḥabaq nahriyy, mint. Fevers, jaundice, pains. For smell. Now stomachic, etc. Faudanaj, fautanaj, faudhanaj, M. aquatica and other mints, for poultices for spleen, liver, stomach, binding sinews, oxymel for humors.


Al-Bīrūnī: many comments on mints, under the usual names, esp. na’na’, but no serious medicinal comments.


Avicenna: Na ‘na ‘, pūnah. Hot and dry. Pungent and bitter. External uses: boiled down with wine for removing black spots; poultice with flour for abscesses, headaches. Heals fractures and ruptures. Bath for itches. Internally for leprosy, worms. Digestion, coughing up blood, jaundice, purging phlegm; for appetite, etc.  Aphrodisiac. “The pre-coital use of mint as a suppository prevents pregnancy;”[98] see following entries. Emmenagogue. May kill sperm and prevent nocturnal emissions. Removes black bile. Tonic.


Nasrallah: Hot, dry, sharp, stimulates appetite and digestion, relieves bloating and headaches, etc. Good for heart and for sexual performance. Contraceptive (women using as suppository).


Lev and Amar: M. sativa, nammām, na‘nā. Convulsions, tetany, fever, colic, spleen, liver, stomach, sinews, bites and stings, cleanses menstrual blood, strengthens lungs, soothes hiccup, and even claimed to prevent preganncy and contribute to sexual ability. Hot and dry.


Kamal: M. aquatica, n‘nai’ al-mazare’; M. piperita (a hybrid possibly not yet existing in Dioscorides’ time), ma‘na’, na‘na’, saisambar. Aromatic, carminative, stomachic, anti-convulsive, emmenagogue, rubefacient; for colic, flatulence, headache, rheumatism etc. Mints smelt for nausea.


Ghazanfar: M. longifolia, na‘ana, for coughs, breathing, stomach, chills and fevers.


Lebling and Pepperdine: mint species in general, for abdominal pain, stomach, throat, colds, colic, headache, insomnia, menstrual pain. With other spice foods for mother after delivery, to restore strenghth.


Nadkarni: M. arvensis, and mints in general (including M. aquatica as well as M. sylvestris and others), aromatic, carminative, stimulant, antispasmodic, stomachic, emmenagogue. M. x piperita antiseptic, also, and used for external as well as internal preparations.


Eisenman: M. asiatica, anti-inflammatory, hemostatic; for wounds, gastritis, dysentery, diarrhea, colitis, tuberculosis, respiratory tract, coughs, toothache, gall bladder.


Sun: Mint leaves (Mentha spp., fanheye蕃荷葉): bitter, spicy, warm, nonpoisonous. Can be frequently taken. These make the qi of the kidneys recede. They make one’s breath pleasant and clean. It is especially good for dispelling noxious poison (xiedu邪毒) and it eliminates tiredness (laobi勞弊). If one is thin and tired, he should not take it frequently, or it will arouse the illness of losing weight and feeling thirsty.

(Mints are still used worldwide for stomach, skin, throat, coughs, colds, and many other minor purposes. Very effective for stomach, throat, etc., and by wide agreement—if not medical proof—as a mood-improver, even when merely smelled. They are grown in a very large percentage of the world’s gardens, and in the aggregate are probably the most widely grown medicinal herbs in the world. They are a major commercial crop in the United States and elsewhere, for medical and flavoring uses.)





Mentha pulegium L., Lamiaceae, etc. (Mentha silvestris, M. Arvensis and other M. spp.). Pudina/Pidina普的納; Fautanaj/Fudanazhi夫荅納知 , etc. (Persian); Bohe 荷葉.


Dioscorides: III-43, kalaminthe, M. sylvestris, calamint. Three types; one clearly M. pulegium; another, described as having longer leaves and being less effectual, is surely M. sylvestris.  Warming, sharp. Helps snakebites (and even drives away snakes), urine, ruptures, convulsions, gripes, and the rest of the standard Dioscorides catalogue. Emmenagogue, abortifacient, and kills worms (virtually guaranteeing that M. pulegium is the primary reference here). Juice dropped in ears to kill worms there.


Kamal: filayah, fulayah; fawtang, fawthang. Stimulant, carminative, emmenagogue.


Bellakhdar et al: Fliyyo. Against chills; cure for broncho-pulmonary infections. M. rotundifolia (timijja, marsita, timersit) anti-hemorrhoidal and against chill. M. viridis, na’na’, liqqama refreshing and against headache. (It is not clear what species are really involved. Spearmint, na’na’, a hybrid or variety of the above and/or M. aquatica, is famously the signature herb of Morocco, used not only in food and medicine but as the universal tea, drunk sweetened on all occasions.) Calamintha officinalis, menta (loanword), for pulmonary infections, refreshing. (Many of these uses are widespread in the Mediterranean and the whole complex is worth reporting here.)



Menyanthes trifoliata L., Menyanthaceae. Kishnīj/Keshinizhi可失尼只


Kamal: Itraifel. Emmenagogue, tonic, antipyretic, diuretic, anti-caries. Leaves used.


Li: Shuichai水蠆. Sweet, slightly bitter, cold, nontoxic. Helps sleep, but also may keep awake; Li knew it poorly and was not sure of its values.



Mesua ferrea L., Clusiaceae. Nāramushk/Naermoshiqi納而謨失其/Naermushiqi納而木石其 /Naermushiqi那兒木失乞; Mazz/Mazu馬祖 (Persian);


Avicenna: nārmushk. Hot and dry. Diluting, dissolving. Used for cold stomach and liver.  Similar to nard. (Another Persian-Indian drug notably lacking in more western sources but picked up by Avicenna.)


Madanapala: Nāgakeśara. Hot; For bad smells, serious skin diseases, erysipelas, poisons.


Nadkarni: Flowers astringent, stomachic, stimulant,  carminative; unani use for heart, expelling winds, antispasmodic, diuretic.



Meum athamanticum Jacq., Apiaceae. Spignel. Mū/木瓦/Mo


(This common medicinal herb, used like other medicinal Apiaceae as stomachic, carminative, etc., is strangely absent from the classic herbals, though mentioned in the HHYF.)



Moringa oleifera Gaertn., Moringaceae. Bān/Bang邦/Bani (Ar. gen.)八尼.


Manniche: M. pterygosperma and/or M. aptera Gaertn. oil for stomach ache; enema for anus; mixed with other things to apply to sore gums; refreshing ointment; used in poultices, eardrops, mosquito repellent, etc.


Levey: M. pterygosperma Gaertn. For hair oil, teeth and gums, nosebleeds, ointment.


Kamal: Hab al ban, gos al-ban, al-habbah al-ghaliah (“costly seed”), yasar. Ban or ben oil produced from seed. Used in perfumes and cosmetics, as well as for lighting.


Lev and Amar: M. peregrina, bān. Oil strengthens teeth and gums, acts against nosebleed and aging, strengthens senses and sexuality. “Treats leprosy skin diseases, toothache, boils, spleen and liver troubles, rheumantism; it is an emetic and a purgative.”[99]


Ghazanfar: M. peregrina, source of ben oil.  Oil for headache, fever, abdominal pain, constipation, burns, back and muscle pains, and for childbirth.


Nadkarni: Notably important in India. All parts used.  Antispasmodic, stimulant, expectorant, diuretic. Fresh root acrid and vesicant; internalliy stimulant, diuretic. Gum bland. Seeds acrid and stimulant. Bark emmenagogue, abortifacient. Flowers stimulant, tonic, diuretic. Unani conisder the flowers hot and dry. Plant is cardiac and circulatory tonic and antiseptic.

(M. oleifera is famous throughout Africa, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia as a medicinal and nutritional aid, but does not seem to have reached China by Li’s time. It is there now. It is widely planted, and recommended by aid agencies, as a food and medicinal crop.)



Morus sp., Moraceae. Mulberry. Shen椹


Mentioned as a food in two places. In China it would be M. alba L., but the Near Eastern one is usually M. nigra L. Both, especially the latter, are common foods, but of little medical note.


Avicenna: M. alba, M. nigra. Tūth. Sweet, hot, moist (white sp.). Minor external uses; soothing.  Sour ones not good for stomach. Salted and dried ones very constipating, so used for dysentery.  Bark purifying and purgative.


Eisenman: M. alba, leaves for angina; fresh leaf juice for toothaches; fruits and juice for “oral and throat bumps, dysentery, anemia, … diuretic, hemostatic.”[100] rashes, scarlet fever.  Biomedically, some very tenative results for blood pressure, leukemia cells, blood sugar. Leaves contain tannins, coumarins, and other bioactive chemicals.


Li: M. alba.  Sang . Sweet, cold, nontoxic. Various differences of opinon ecorded on this.  Tonifying, treats strains and extremes, nourishes. Helps lung and intestines. Disperses stagnation of blood. Many medical prescriptions, for root, bark, etc. as well as fruit.



Myristica fragrans Houtt., Myristicaceae. Roudoukou肉荳蔻. Unlikely: Òabb l-bāni/Habulibani哈卜黎八尼. Hu: 973.


Dioscorides: I-110, maker, mace. Called a bark. Drunk (as tea) for spitting blood and dysentery.


Levey: Bisbāsah. Mace. Strengthens breathing. Jauz bawwā, nutmeg, for teeth, breathing.


Al-Bīrūnī: Jauz buwwā. Antipyretic, antiphlogistic.


Avicenna: Jauz būwwā’. Mace is bizrkitān. Hot and dry. Mace is constricting of tissues and improves body odor. Nutmeg used to scent breath. Mace used in ointment for swellings; nutmeg for eyes. Mace strengthens stomach and liver, nutmeg strengthens liver, spleen, stomach.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Bisbās, mace, appears in compounds. Strengthens spirits. Today tonic, stomachic, liniment, internal and external aromatic.


Lev and Amar: jawzbuwā, basbāsa,  jawz al-ṭīb. Breathing, colic, coughs, colds, sexual desire, etc. Hot and dry.


Bellakhdar et al: guzt sh-sherq, s-sibisa, besbasa. Aphrodisiac, stimulant, calefacient, anti-hemorrhoidal, vaginal infections.


Madanapapa: Jātīphala. Hot. Digestive, carminative. For vomiting, parasites, rhinitis, cough. Mace used similarly.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, carminative; nutmeg narcotic in large doses. Oil rubefacient, stimulant, aperient. Mace is carminative and aphrodisiac. Wood astringent. Unani use as stomachic, aphrodisiac, and for many conditions from diarrhea to fevers.


Dash: Pungent, hot, aromatic. Cures poisoning. For diarrhea and urinary troubles.


Li: Roudoukou. Pungent, warm, nontoxic. Nut used, as elsewhere. Warming, digestive, antidiarrheal. Most of the various virtues seem to reduce to this.

(The warming, stimulant, carminative, and stomachic qualities of nutmeg and mace are widely known; the narcotic use perhaps too widely known! Nauseating in large doses.)



Myrtus communis L., Myrtaceae. Mūrd/Muerdi木兒的/Moerdi摩而的 (Persian from Greek).


Manniche: Various dubiously identified conditions. Mixed with other ingreidents. Usually external, as for penis, chest, stomach, swellings, limb stiffness, indeed almost any body pains; also hair ointment (it would alleviate several scalp conditions). Internally for cough.


Dioscorides:  I-155, myrsine, myrtle. Berries given to those who spit blood etc., juice for same and for stomach and other conditions including scorpion stings. Fruit used to make hair dye.  Herbal bath for womb fluxes (leucorrhea?), and for various skin conditions. A large and repetitive catalogue of external uses, for every imaginable condition.


Galen: Fruit astringent, constipating, cold.


Avicenna: ās. Cold, dry, though “box myrtle” is hot. Stops diarrhea, prspiration, bleeding, etc.  Boiled-down tea poured over broken bones helps them set. Syrup good for diarrhea and pain.  Good with olive oil on inflammations, wounds, ulcers, etdc. Fruit used for joints. Stops nosebleeds (fruit? Juice?). Helps eyes, chest, etc. Paste of fruit strengthens stomach. Fruit diuretic and helps with inflammations of urethra. Many other uses—something of a cure-all.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Long history of uses, going back to Talmud as well as Dioscorides and down to many modern uses. In India astringent, for epilepsy, stomach and liver diseases, etc.


Lev and Amar: ‘ās, marsīm. Usual uses for eyes, stomach, hemorrhoids, etc., but also for dyeing hair black and other cosmetic uses. Also, oil on spider bites and on glans penis, etc. Reported even for hearing and kidney stones. Cold and dry.


Kamal: Juz al-tib. Mace is bisbasah. Carminative; good for rheumatism.


Bellakhdar et al: r-rihan. Hair-care, antidiarrheal. For gastro-intenstinal disorders.


Ghazanfar: Yās. Introduced and cultivated in Arabia. Leaves for colic, couighs, fevers, headache, nosebleeds. Various topical uses on blisters, stings, ulcers. Insecticide.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Stimulant, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, etc.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, astringent.  Leaves antiseptic and rubefacient.


Li: Wide range of Myrtaceae used in China, for all purposes, but not this sp.

(The species is effective as antiseptic; slightly toxic.)



Narcissus tazetta, Amaryllidaceae. Chinese sacred lily. Narjis/Naergexi納而各西. Shuixianhua水仙花.


Avicenna: Narjis (Persia nargis). Cleansing, drying. Powdered root for swellings, whole root with vinegar for skin spots. Used on wounds, nerves, joints, head, chest.  Root causes vomiting but treats pain in uterus and bladder.


Li:  Combats pathogenic wind. Root bitter, slightly pungent, slippery, cold and nontoxic. Many minor medical uses, from “removing a fish bone stuck in the throat” (vol. II, p.1437) to fragrant otions, dispelling heat and fever, etc.



Nardostachys jatamansi DC, Caprifoliaceae (Valerianaceae). Imported. Gansong甘宋 (focally Chinese Spikenard, N. chinensis); “Foreign” Chinese Spikenard Fangansong番甘松 (focally N. jatamansi); Sunbuli/Sunbuli筍卜黎.


Dioscorides: I-6, nardos, nard. Warming, drying. Stop various fluxes and nausea, flatulation, liver and kidney problems, etc. Applied for inflammation of vulva. Good for eyelids. Mixed in antidotes.

I-75, nardinon myron, nard ointment. A complex mix for unspecified uses, presumably those above.


Graziani: Sunbul. Used by Ibn Jazlah for swellings, sweat, brain strengthening relieving chest pain and palpitations, and for stomach. Today in India and Egypt for convulsions, hysteria, epilepsy; Iran and Iraq for nervous disorders.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: For stomach.


Lev and Amar: sunbul, nardin, nard. Hot and dry; opens obstructions in urinary tract, heats kidneys, arouses sexual desire, protects against miscarriage, regulates heartbeat, cleanses womb.  Also for headache, eyes, poisons, bites, stings, bladder, etc. Strengthens heart and stomach.


Kamal: nardin, sunbul-rumi, sunbul, sunbulat al-tayib, ith-khir, nardision. Root/rhizome stimulant, good for brain. Liver, spleen, kidneys. Nerve tonic, antiepileptic, digestive, sedative.


Madanapala: Māmsī. Cold. Good for alleviating excess of dosas; for blood, burning syndrome, erysipelas, skin.


Nadkarni: Root bitter, aromatic, antispasmodic, diuretic, emmenagogue, sedative, tonic, carminative, deobstruent. Unani uses: tonic for heart, liver and brain; removes obstructions; diuretic, emmenagogue, etc.


Dash: Bitter, cold, pungent, fragrant, cures poison and burning.


Li: Gansongxiang甘松香 (includes N. chinensis). Sweet, warm to balanced, nontoxic. Rhizome used. Various uses.



Nigella sativa L.  Ranunculaceae.  Seeds.  Shūnīz/Shaonizi少尼子; Xiangheizi香黑子, “Aromatic Black Seeds.”


Avicenna: Shūnīz. Hot and dry. Pungent, cleansing, gas relieving, purifying. Externally with rue for swellings of liver and other problems. Mouthwash; can add pine bark. Taken for breathing, asthma; liver; stomach relief; worms. Also for paralysis of face, so relevant to stroke treatment.


Levey: Shunīz. In salve for itching, and for insanity.


Lev and Amar: Shūnīz, qizḥ. Colds, worms, leprosy and othger skin problems, nose infections. Increases semen and sexual energy. Against poisons and stings, bites, etc. Hot and dry.  Insecticidal and good on skin. Treats paralysis and facial spasms.


Ghazanfar: Seeds for conjunctivitis (drops with rose oil); seeds eaten for stomach and breathing; with ginger and other plants on paralyzed limbs.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Acne, topically with honey. Taken for asthma, childbirth (with milk etc.); sniffed for colds; oil with tea of anise, cumin, sugar and peppermint for colic (which would be very effective!). Coughs, diabetes, heart, kidney stones, nausea, rheumatism, stomachache, toothache. A Saudi Arabian cureall. Noted that modern medicine holds it effective as bronchodilator, antioxidant, etc.


Madanapala: Various names; none seems standard. Flatulence, vomiting, etc.


Nadkarni: Seeds armoatic, diuretic, diaphroetic, antibilious, stomachic, stimulant, carminative, digestive, antihelminthic, emmenagogue (in short, like all other medicinal seeds, Indian medicine uses this quite promiscuously).


Eisenman: Toothaches, gsatric and intestinal diseases, pains; diuretic, soporific, vermifuge.  Biomedically, some minor antibiotic effects; helps heart fiunction by increasing cardiac output, but other studies show it reduces heart rate. Wide range of bioactive compounds.

(Many plants in this family are extremly toxic to humans but have strong antibiotic and possibly other activity. The many chemicals in this species should be investigated.)



Ocimum basilicum L. Lamiaceae. Falanjamashk/Falanzhumoshiqi法闌朮謨失其; Siparham/Subueryan速補兒奄; Afaranj mushk/ Falanzhumoshiqi法闌朮謨失其;  Shāhsifaram/Shasufulin沙速福林; Baranjmushk/Polangjimushiqi抇朗吉木失乞. Hu: 1061


Dioscorides: III-50, akinos, O. pilosum (possibly a mistake for O. basilicum), basil. For stomach ache. Stops menstrual flow. Applied on skin.

I-59, okiminon, basil macerated in olive oil. Applied. Used like marjoram oil.


Avicenna:  Hot and dry. Cleansing, purging, relieves gas, thins blood, constricts tissues. Can be either laxative or constipating, because though it generally constipates it can purge. Wild basil expels yellow and black humors. Seeds stop black bile. Used, mostly the wild form, for a very wide range of items: uclers, gout, etc., and facial paralysis. Used for pains, eyes, heart, chest, sticky matter in stomach, piles, etc.


Levey: This sp. and probably others. Rheumatism, eyes.


Al-Bīrūnī: Bādrūj. Astringent, cathartic, resolvent, maturative, flatulent. Decays fast. Promotes bad humors (leading to dim eyes, etc.). Seeds used for mental derangement. External applications for inflammations, nosebleed, etc. On teeth for pain. Thyme can substitute, for at least some uses. Shāh safaram, apparently Persian name for same plant, for heat, headache, irritation; soporific; seeds against diarrhea.


Nasrallah: scent cheering (a belief still current and widespread).


Lev and Amar: rheumatism, eyes, etc. Maimonides: appetite, sexual aid, cleans breth, relieves depression. Many other uses from other authorities, including bleeding, stings, digestion, etc. Modern uses for skin, wounds, itch, scent, heart medicine, diuretic, etc. Brain, nose, hemorrhoids.


Kamal: Rayhan, huk, habaq. Stimulant, antispasmodic.


Bellakhdar et al: l-hbeq. Against mosquitoes. Used for sinusitis, tachycardia, hemorrhoids.


Ghazanfar: Reḥān. Cataracts, colds, abdominal pain, diarrhea. Keeps hair from turning gray (paste of leaves).  Topical uses of leaves on wounds etc. Aphrodisiac. Many cosmetic and social uses.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Topically on ant bites and cuts, tea for colds and coughs, in formulas for indigestion and insomnia, tea for stress.


Madanapala: Vatapatrī. Hot, astringent; cures diseases of female genitalia. Seeds constipative.


Nadkarni: Usual herbal uses as carminative, stimulant, aphrodisiac, diuretic, etc.


Dash: Bitter and hot. Cures parasites, difficult skin diseases; relieves scorpion bite. O. sanctum for cough, hiccup, asthma, poison, skin.


Sun: Basil (Ocimum basilicum, luole羅勒): bitter, spicy, warm, balanced, astringent, and nonpoisonous. It eliminates the water remaining in the body (tingshui停水) and dispels poisonous qi. It cannot be frequently taken, or it will make the circulation of qi in the body difficult (se rongwei zhuqi澀榮衛諸氣).


Li:  Luole. Interestingly, in his volume on vegetables rather than among the herbs. Foliage or seed used. Various minor uses.

(The plant is rather uncommon in China, though fairly well known in the north and west. The enormous use and value of basils in west, south, and Southeast Asia forms a striking contrast to their trivial role in China. Basil is an effective stomach and sore throat treatment, widely used; many species are used, worldwide; the Native American peoples of Mexico have independently discovered the value of the local wild species, O. micrantha, and use it very widely.)




Olea europaea L.  Olive.  Oleaceae. Za’itūn/Zaitong宰桐, olive tree; the oil is zai’t/Zaiti宰體/Saidi賽的, and za’itūn just means “oil plant.”


Dioscorides: II-105. Oil, probably of the wild form (“O. oleaster”—not a valid scientific name), for eyes, erysipelas, herpes, carbuncles, ulcers, etc.


Levey: Leaves for sprue, gums, etc.


Avicenna: zaytūn. Oil from unripe olives is cold and dry, from from ripe is hot and moist (giving some clue to how the codings are determined—the green-olive oil is sour, astringent and biting, “drying,” while the ripe is fatty, lubricating and moistening). Wild olives make more medicinal oil. Used on all skin conditions. Enema for sciatica. Used for all the usual lubricating and soothing purposes. Leaves, in tea, used for sores, infections, teeth, eyes, etc.


Lev and Amar: zayt (the oil). Eye, skin, general external soothing (hair, head, bites, stings, wounds, teeth and gums, joints, burns, scratches, etc.). Internally for intestines, stomach, etc., and even for worms.


Ghazanfar: Itm. Resin, fruit, leaves, and bark all used, for many applications. Olives with salt and dates are made into a paste for broken bones. Leaves for poultice for boils. Juice of fruit for eyes. Leaves and bark for rashes. Ash of leaves on blisters and ulcers. Bark made into a tea for constipation. Twigs used for toothbrushes.

(Olive oil is, of course, unsurpassed for soothing and oiling the skin, and recently the extra-virgin oil has been found to have some heart and other beneficial effects from the antioxidant chemicals in the juice.)



Onopordum (Onopordon) macracanthum Schousb., Asteraceae. Shukā’āi /Shukeyi書可亦.


Avicennia: O. arabicum Strong and biting medicine. Mouthwash for toothache and sore uvula. Tea of root for excessive menstruation. Boiled down extract for suppository or bath for anal swellings.

The related O. acanthium of Europe and the Middle East is recorded in Wikipedia as having minor medical uses.


Eisenman:  O. acanthium, “used internally to treat inflammation of the bladder and urinary system, bronchial asthma, pertussis, scrofula,… colds, hemorrhoids, as a blood cleanser,” etc.  Infusion of top of stem in flowering drunk for nerves, colds, inflammation of respiratory system.  Put in baths for frightened children. Biomedically, cardiotonic, hemostatic, styptic, diuretic, and bacteriocidic properties and raises arterial pressure…tonic…”[101] and other uses.

(This rather little known thistle would seem like the perfect cureall, if Central Asian medicine is correct—but Wikipedia devotes much more attention to controlling its thorny, weedy presence.)



Opopanax chironium (L.) Koch. Apiaceae. Jawāshir /Zhawushier扎兀失兒/Zhawushier扎兀石而/ (Persian).


Dioscorides: III-55, panakes (panax) herakelion, Ferula opopanax or Opopanax hispidus [the figure looks more like Ferula]. Sap and roots; bitterest is best. Warming, mollifying, attenuating. Drunk, often with wine, good for agues, rigors, convulsions, rputures, pain in the side, coughs, gripes, dysuria, scabies. Like almost everything else Dioscorides uses, it is emmenagogue and abortifacient (also the root, topically) and is topically applied on all sorts of skin and eye conditions, including bites of mad dogs.

Seed taken with aristolochia or wormwood for menstruation, etc.


Levey: Jawāshīr. Rheumatism, phlegm, melancholy. Other uses in old sources for antispasmodic, emmenagogue, etc.


Lev and Amar: jāwshīr.  Eyes, convulsions, tetany, fevers, colic, penile erections, rheumatism, phlegm, black bile. Detersive. For abscesses.


Kamal: Gawshir (Farsi, “cows’milk”). Juice for pharyngitis, bronchitis, brain disease, paralysis.  Used on skin wounds.


Nadkarni: Gum stiumlant, antiseptic.



Origanum majorana L., Lamiaceae. Marzanjūsh/Maerzanggeshi馬而臧哥失/Maersangguoshi馬兒桑過失/ (Arabic and Persian; the general dried-herb name sa‘tar is used for this as well as thyme, etc.).



Origanum maru L., Lamiaceae. Marmaūz/Maermahuze馬而馬呼則/ Marmākhūr/馬兒馬乎兒/Mahuer馬乎兒[102]/Mahumaerguazi馬乎馬兒瓜子/Mailumahuer麥魯馬呼兒/Maermahuzi馬而馬胡子/Mulamahuer木剌馬乎兒


Theophrastus: II, p. 295, diktamnon, O. dictamnus. A great deal of lore on three different kinds of Cretan dittanies. Eases labor of women, and pain in general. Goats shot with arrows eat it and it makes the arrows fall out.


Dioscorides: III-32, origanos ‘erakleotike, Origanum vulgare. Warming. Tea for posionous bites and antidotes to poison hemlock, etc. Eaten with figs for convulsions, ruptures, coughs, etc.    Emmenagogue. Usual topical applications. With onions, sumac, etc., kept 40 days in burning summer heat, makes a medicine that brings on vomiting.

III-33, Origanum onitis?  O. sipyleum?; III-34, O. vulgare, wild; various confused drawings; all seem used more or less similarly; short, confused accounts.

III-37, diktamnon, O. dictamnus, dittany. Retails with evident disbelief a tale by Theophrastus about goats consuming it. Used for pain of spleen. Root hastens birth and helps with snakebite. Various other uses similar to above.

I-58, sampsychinon, an oil of this and many related herbs pounded and infused in olive oil. For drawing out menstruation and afterbirth, and abortifacient. Applied for pain relief.


Avicenna: O. majorana and O. vulgare (oregano): hot and dry. Usual all-purpose minor uses for sores, swellings, stomach, diuretic, emmenagogue. Also vermifuge. Avicenna mentions dittany, but here identified (perhaps wrongly) as Dictamnus albus, a completely different plant from O. dictamnus. Hot and dry. For pain, menstrual problems, urination. Abortifacient.


Levey: Marzanjush. Liver, stomach, spleen, kidneys; ear infections with suppuration. Eyes.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Dittany, mishkatarā mashīr, occasional. O. maru, marw, seeds mentioned; marmāh.ūz, herb used; apparently Al-Samarqandī thought they were different plants, though the names are usually synonyms.


Graziani:  Marzanjūsh, mardaqush.  Headaches, constipation, scorpion stings (Ibn Jazlah).  Ibn Butlān used it for chest pains and cough.  Egypt today for vulnerary, nerve disease, cephalic, emmenagogue, sternutatory.


Lev and Amar: O. maru, O. syriaca, za’tar, sa’tar, for gynecological, kidney and urinary problems; for anemia; etc. Note that the general name za’tar (like the Hebrew ezov) also covers wild thyme and similar wild herbs, but Lev and Amar are confident that these Origanum species—primarily the latter—are the species called for in the Genizah documents. O. majorana, mardakūsh, marzanjūsh, for various women’s complains, kidneys, urinary tract.


Kamal: Bardaqush, marzangush, habq al fil-Ibn al-Baytar, a’bqar, etc. Stimulant, tonic, stomachic, sneezing, carminative, anti-inflammatory. O. vulgare, za-tar, antiseptic, antirheumatic, externally on ulcers etc., internally for worms and antisepsis. Includes thymol, which is powerfully antiseptic.


Bellakhdar et al: O. compactum, za’tar. For all diseases, gastro-intestinal antiseptic, mouth hygiene, antiacid. O. majorana, merdeddush, against chills and fevers.


Nadkarni: Plant stimulant, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, tonic. Oil used for stimulant, especially digestive.


Eisenman: O. tyttanthum, for appetite, digestion, inflammation of respiratory tract, nerves.  Externally in compresses for abscesses, bath for rickets and scrofula in children. Water extracts of plant for gastritis, bronchitis, pneumonia, etc. Tea for tympanites, lryngitis, stomatitis, angina, etc. Biomedically for hypertension, atherosclerosis, kidney, liiver, and epilepsy; sedative; expectorant; regulating intestinal action; diaphoretic tea, etc. O. vulgare, for the usual reasons, including insomnia, gastritis, etc.; as expectorant; as anti-spasmodic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory. Essential oils do show antibiotic effect.

(Modern biomedicine agrees with the stimulant, carminative, and tonic parts of this. The plant is rich in volatile oils with medicinal effects.)



Oryza sativa L., Poaceae. Rice. Mi/米; Dao稻. One mention of rice husks, probably a Chinese substitution for some Near Eastern husk preparation.


Nadkarni: Pages of products and medicinal uses. Soothing, especially to stomach or rice-water as enema. Invalid food. Rice poultices are used for all sorts of purposes, being soothing, available and cheap. Nothing said about medicinal uses of husks.


Li: Vast range of broadly similar uses (soothing, poulticing, etc.). No medicinal use of husks.

Significantly, this basis of Chinese food is otherwise missing in the HHYF.



Osmanthus fragrans Lour., Oleaceae. Native. Kuihua葵花; Shukuihua蜀葵花 (“Sichuan四川” Kuihua)


(Not in Li, but, in modern China, the flowers are very commonly used to flavor tea or to make a tea by themselves, and now often considered cooling and otherwise medicinally valuable.)



Paeonia suffruticosa Andr. Paeoniaceae (Ranunculaceae). Native. Dudan杜丹; ‘ud fāwāniyā [Paeonia officinalis]/ Wudifayuna兀的法與納. Egypt Ubsalib, Iran Assalib.


Dioscorides: III-157, paionia arren, P. corallina; paionia theleia, P. officinalis. Dioscorides recognizes male and female varieties. Roots given to women after childbirth to eliminate afterbirths; also for menstruation (apparently both too much and too little) and cramps. Helps kidneys, stops diarrhea, etc. Black roots for nightmares and “suffocations of the womb.”[103]


Avicenna: Fāwāniā, from the Greek, is one name. Several others discussed. Treats epilepsy—by being hung around the neck or over him; Avicenna has seen this work. When the suspended plant was removed, the condition returned. Used as snuff for insanity and epilepsy, also. Also for gastric irritation, protecting stomach, jaundice, liver obstructions. Regulates discharge of menses and helps with placenta, etc., after birth. Good for kidney and abdominal pain. Can remove stones, at least in children. With honey wine for hysteria due to pain in uterus.


Kamal: P. officinalis, ‘anzarut, sarqoqola, etc. Powder for purulent conjunctivitis, wounds, ulcers.


Ghazanfar: P. officinalis, Aphrodisiac and tonic.


Li: Mudan. P. lactiflora and P. veitchii are shaoyao and are next to mudan in Li’s book. Cortex of former, root of latter, widely used for countless purposes.



Papaver somniferum L., Papaveraceae. Afiyūn/Afeirong阿肥榮/Afurong阿夫榮; Yumizi御米子; Yingsu罌粟; khaskhāsh/Hashihashi /哈失哈失      A FeiRong, LaLaHua, for the resin; ShaoNiZi for seeds; Ying-su-ke. Hu 973,


Manniche: Rather shakily identified in a tranquilizing remedy; seeds used.


Dioscorides: IV-64, mekon roias, P. rhoeas. Sleep, healing inflammations, etc.

IV-65, mekon agrios, mekon emeros, P. somniferum, opium poppy. Obvious use for sleep and pain, used internally or externally; also for inflammations and rashes, coughs, diarrhea, menorrhagia,

IV-66, mekon keratites, Glaucium luteum. Sciatica, liver, urinary problems (infections?), purging, etc. Externally on ulcers etc.

IV-67, mekon aphrodes, Silene inflata. Purges by causing vomiting.

IV-68, ypekoon, Hypecoum procumbens. Use similar to poppy.


Galen: seed produces lethargy. Not nutritious.


Levey: Used in combined medicine for insanity. Wild poppy, presumed P. rhoeas, nār-kīwā, provided an oil used in clyster for kidneys and for bringing back blood to face.


Al-Bīrūnī: Afiyūn: Detailed discussion of opium, used for the usual reasons. Khashkhāsh (the normal Arabic name for poppy): Cures cough. Opium-bearing kind narcotic to point of danger.


Avicenna: Notes many kinds. Khashkhāsh, seeds; afyūn, opium. Cooling and dry. Usual anaesthetic uses, but also seeds used for coughs, congestion, vomiting, stomach, etc.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Usual uses; important.


Nasrallah: Black and white seeds known. Opium known and widely used; cold, dry, sdative, treats coughs and humidity and diarrhea.


Lev and Amar: afyūn. In addition to the obvious uses for sleep and diarrhea, used for jaundice, loss of teeth, etc., and in gargles and other preparations. Root of plant used for pains of thigh, liver, head. Seed for cough, liver, intestines.  (Glaucion corniculatum, māmīthā, for the usual minor matters:  eyes, pains, soothng, etc. Cold and dry.)


Kamal: khashkhas (the seeds), abu-al-nom. Sedative, anaesthetic, soporific. Fruiting head, cooked, for stomach ache, meteorism, pains, including toothache. A formulation by Mesue the Younger uses roses, gum arabic, starch, tragacanth, liquorice juice, spodium, and saffron with poppy syrup for tuberculosis, pleurisy, and the like (Kamal 1975:519).


Bellakhdar et al: P. rhoeas, belle’man, shqayeq n-ne-man, measles, children’s fevers. P. somniferum, korkasha, analgesic, children’s insomnia, hiccups.


Ghazanfar: Coughs and insomnia. Dried capsules ground and mixed with rose water, applied to forehead, for nervous tension.


Lebling and Pepperdine: P. rhoeas, coughs.


Madanapala: Khasatila, seeds. Aphrodisiac, strengthening, constipative. Ahiphena, presumably gum or whole plant, constipative.


Nadkarni: usual narcotic and sedative uses. Causes constipation. For a vast range of purposes, in many preparations, but basically for sedative reasons.


Eisenman:  P. pavoninum, for heatstroke, eyes. Other poppies used for tea for coughs. These are not very close to the opium poppy.


Li: Yingzisu 嬰子粟. Seed sweet, plain, nontoxic; food and minor medical uses. Capsule and drug used for coughing and especially for diarrhea and dysentery (called “wonder drug” for this, and still is, in modern biomedicine). Narcotic uses not noted (not important in China in Li’s time).

(Opium remains as good a drug for treating some types of diarrhea as medicine can offer.  Causes constipation if much used.)



Pedicularis sp. Orobanchaceae (formerly Scrophulariaceae). Mavīzak /Maiyuza麥雨咱. Mentioned in Index; otherwise not in the HHYF. Species of this genus are used in folk medicine in various parts of the world.



Peganum harmala L., Zygophyllaceae. Isfand/Yixipandangdi亦西攀當的.


Dioscorides: III-53, peganon agrion, Peganum harmala. Seed beaten up for dullness of sight; applied with many other ingredients.


Levey: ḥarmal. Insanity, epilepsy, baldness, hemorrhoids, etc.


Avicenna: ḥarmal. Hot and dry. Minor uses, much like those of Ruta.


Lev and Amar: ḥarmal. Emetic, aphrodisiac, diuretic; for intestinal diseases, hemorrhoids, nerves, epilepsy, insanity, colic, sciatica, arthritis.


Bellakhdar et al: harmel. Toxic, hair-care, antihelminthic, antirheumatismal, antalgic, antidiarrheal; for bowels and nervous diseases.


Ghazanfar: H.armal. Leaves rubbed on joints for rheumatic pain. Tea antihelminthic. Tea of blossoms for stomach. Seeds for same, or topically with black pepper for joint pain. Seeds used as narcotic and for removing kidney stones.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Alterative, purifying, aphrodisiac; seeds used. Also emmenagogue, diuretic, vomitive.


Nadkarni: Alterative, antiperiodic, stimulant, emmenagogue, abortifacient. Purifying, aphrodisiac, antihelminthic. Seeds narcotic, anodyne, emetic, emmenagogue.

(Important mind-altering drug in Iran and elsewhere; possibly one of the “soma” plants of the ancient Aryans.)


Eisenman: Decoction or infusion for “olds, malaria, fever, syphilis, neurasthenia, and epoilepsy, and…as a mouthwash… smoke…for headaches…epileptic diseases…mixed with chil pepper to treat syphilis, and it is used as a diuretic and diaphoretic.”[104] Biomedical uses as soporific; harmine alkaloid a strong nervous system drug, causing deperssion or hallucinations. Peganine has effectcs on cholesterol metabolism. Other chemicals await further study; contains many alkaloids.

(Well-known psychoactive plant, possibly the “soma” of the Aryans.”)



Penaea mucronata, sarcocolla. See Astragalus.



Petroselinum hortense (=P. crispum (Miller) Nym.), Apiaceae. Fu®rāsāliyūn/ Fadilasaliwen法的剌撒里溫; Jitejisalirong吉忒即撒里容; Fa®rā l’sāliyūn/Jidalasaliyun吉荅剌撒里云/Fatilasalirong法體剌撒里榮.


Dioscorides: III-76, oreoselinon, P. sativum (=P. crispum). Diuretic and emmenagogue.


Avicenna: Hot and dry. Dissolving. Cleanses ulcers and similar problems. Used for chest and lungs.


Graziani: Karafs. Ibn Butlān used it as diuretic, emmenagogue, anti-constipation.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Today as carminative, aromatic, tonic. Seeds of this and related apiaceous plants noted by Al-Samarqandī as used for the usual reasons. Levey and Al-Khaledy mistakenly equate it with celery; the plants, uses and words and quite different.


Kamal: baqdunis. Roots sudorific, stimulant, diuretic, emmenagogue. Leaves as hot applications for inflammatory conditions, mastitis, haematomas.  Fruit carminative (effective, like almost all apiaceous spices). Active ingredient apiol, antipyretic and emmenagogue.


Bellakhdar et al: hypnotic.


Ghazanfar: Leaves and seeds for diarrhea and stomachache. (Effective.)


Nadkarni: Minor in India. Diuretic, etc.



Peucedanum ammoniacum H. Bn. (Dorema ammoniacum D. Don), Apiaceae. Ushaq/Wushaji兀沙吉/Wuzheji兀折吉Ushshaq; wushshaq/Wushaji兀沙吉; Wakhshīrk /瓦黑失失Gum ammoniac.


Dioscorides: III-92, peukedanon, P. officinale. Root sap anointed with vinegar and rose oil for lethargy, frenzy, vertigo, epilepsy, headaches, paralysis, convulsions, earaches, and so on.  Smelled for womb strangling and swoons. Drives away serpents. Root decoction drunk (and applied?) for ulcers, scales on bones, etc.


Avicenna: Ushaq. Hot and dry. Dissolving and drying. Opens vessels; laxative and absorbent.  Externally for wounds, tubercular lymph glands. In eyes for cleansing, etc. Internally for joint pain, asthma, labored breathing, ulcers of diaphragm, hardness of spleen and liver, worms, mesnstruation, abortifacient, and other minor uses.


Levey: Gum from this plant and Ferula marmarica. For fistulas, abscesses, eyes, insanity.


Avicenna: said it cools the blood, cleanses, helps with tumors. Modern uses as laxative, abortive, emollient, resolvent. Widely used in Persia.


Kamal: P. oreoselinum, atrilal, “ibex parsley, devil’s carrot, crow’s leg.” Seeds used for leprosy.


Lev and Amar: Eyes, pains, worms, etc. Purgative. Hot and dry, but cools blood, etc. Disinfects.


Nadkarni: Used for liver and spleen; oil.


Li:  P. praeruptorum, P. decursivum, qianhu前胡. Root important. Various dispersing and regulating uses. P. japonicum, fangkui, much more important and highly regarded. Various uses from digestion to mania! In all species, commentators disagree about qualities, even toxic vs. nontoxic.



Phoenix dactylifera L., Arecaceae. Date. Traditionally dates are part of the confection sukk/Suqi速乞/Suqi速其mentioned in the HHYF.


The HHYF mentions something that seems to equate with sukk, an Arab medicine including date, but this is tentative enough that we have not seen fit to do a full search on dates. But, also, terms for jujube in the HHYF probably mean dates, and “ten-thousand-year jujube” certainly does.


Avicenna: Nakkhl (tree), raṭab (ripe fruit), other names for every part and aspect. Cold and dry.  Unripe dates cause indigention. Various medical uses for both flesh and kernel—ash of latter has many external uses.


Lev and Amar: Aphrodisiac and for diarrhea, but little used, though often mentioned, in Near East medicine.


Li: Wulouzi無漏子. (Also, in Chinese colloquial, various such as fan zao番棗“foreign jujube” and qian nian zao千年棗 “thousand-year jujube”—a neat reverse of the English name “Chinese date” for jujubes.)  Minor use as tonic.



Phyllanthus emblica L. (=Emblica officinalis Fr.), Euphorbiaceae. Āmala/Amila阿米剌. “Milk” of [Ar.] āmala/Amilaru阿米剌乳 . From Perso-Arabic amlaj, in turn from Sanskrit āmālaka.


Levey: Depression, breathing, stomach, liver, etc.; usually with musk or other items, in mixed medicinal preparations. For happiness and strengthening the heart.


Avicenna: Amlaj, suk. Hot. Cites Indian physician on this. Opening, dissolvent. Aphrodisiac.  Expels black bile and phlegm. Good on piles.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Myrobalans are very important to Al-Samarqandī, but not well distinguished. This would have been major. The rise of myrobalans from early times to the HHYF indicates the rise of Indian influence. Belleric myrobalans with milk made a remedy used by Al-Samarqandī.


Madanapala: Āmalaka. Cold; aphrodisiac.


Nadkarni: Fruit refrigerant, diuretic, laxative. Carminative and stomachic. Dried, astringent.  Flowers cooling and aperient. Bark astringent. Unani uses as heart and brain tonic, and to prevent humors in stomach and intestines; for diarrhea, fevers.


Dash: Fevers, appetiser.


Li: Anluoguo 庵羅果. Barely known. One report of fruit and leaf for minor uses.



Picnomon acarna (L.) Cass., Asteraceae. Bādāward/Badiawaer把的阿瓦兒/Badiawaerdi把的阿瓦兒的; Bād-āvard/Badawaerdi八達洼而的 (Persian)


European/Near Eastern plant, not mentioned in our sources.



Pimpinella anisum L. Apiaceae. Anīsūn/Anisong阿你松


Dioscorides: III:56. Antidotes, headache, ears.


Galen: Diuretic, aphrodisiac, general antidote.


Levey; Levey and Al-Khaledy: In an electuary for liver, kidneys, etc; in eye medicine; stomachic; for rheums. Current uses as stomachic, carminative, stimulant, emmenagogue.


Avicenna: anīsūn. Hot and dry. Opening, biting, acrid. Relieves stomach ache and gas. Relieves headache (smoke of seeds); powder with rose oil in ear. Treats chronic eye problems.  Lactagogue, diuretic, aphrodisiac. Laxative for kidneys; stimulates uterus and helps women after blood loss (presumably vaginal hemorrhage). Treats chronic fevers.


Lev and Amar: Palpitations, eyes, inflammation, etc. Maimonides used it for heart strengthening. Brain, sexual medicine, emmenagogue, fever, etc. Hot and dry. Modern uses include stomachic and carminative (as in European folk medicine), emmenagogue, etc.


Ghazanfar: Anasīn. Fruit digestive. Mixed with cumin and fennel for women after childbirth, to increase milk and ease pains.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Strengthens a mother following childbirth, along with fenugreek, nigella, wheat, dates. For colic. Chewed or in various formulas for cough, headache. Boiled and drunk for indigestion, stomachache, stress, toothache, and menstrual cramps. For insomnia.


Nadkarni: Usual apiaceous-seed uses as stimulant, carminative, diuretic, stomachic.

(Still used widely, throughout the world, for coughs and as carminative and stomachic; very effective.)



Pinellia ternata (Thunb.) Breit., Araceae. Native. Panxia/Banxia半夏.


Li: Banxia. Tuber. Pungent, cool to warm (depending in part on processing), toxic. Several pages of uses, many for phlegm and respiratory affections, but also digestive and some other uses.



Pinus koraiensis Sieb. Et Zucc., Pinaceae. Native. Songziren松子仁; Songzi松子Songshuzi松樹子.


Li: Haisong海松. Seeds used. Sweet, warm to hot, nontoxic. The uses center on nutritional value. Used classically as a food to prolong life; said to make one an immortal if eaten enough. Li notes that “Whenever Taoists talk about Songzi [pine kernels], they always mean Haisongzi.[105]

(The use for nutrition for longevity is partly sympathetic magic—pines live for centuries—but partly also because pine kernels are a concentrated source of high-quality protein, minerals, and unsaturated oils. They are a perfect supplement or, better, replacement for the dismal traditional North Chinese diet of grain and low-protein, low-mineral vegetables. Taoist and Buddhist adepts, especially, ate ascetic diets, and were at major risk for malnutrition. People living on such diets would indeed feel better and live much longer if they ate large quantities of pine kernels.)


See also the next entry.



Pinus spp. P.  massoniana Lamb. & spp.  Songzi松子Songshuzi松樹子. Lātyanaj/Lateyana剌忒牙納; Rātiyanaj/Lantiyanazhi闌體牙納只  Resin. JiFuTi.


Dioscorides: I-86, pitys, P. halepensis; peuke, P. maritima, P. cembra (and/or other evergreens?). Bark ground and eaten; binding (constipating; very effective, from fibre and tannins). Used for cataplasm for ulcers, sores, etc., or eaten for boils. Aids in childbirth.  Drunk, presumably in tea, it stops the belly and is diuretic. Leaves in cataplasm for inflammations and wounds; sodden in vinegar for toothache; leaves or cone drunk in a tea for liver. Soot for eyelids and eyes.  I-87, pityides, seeds; I-88, strobiloi, cones, ground, taken for coughs.

These species are closest to P. massoniana, except for P. cembra, which is closer to koraiensis.

(Gunther identifies IV-166, pityosa, as P. halepensis, but the description and picture cannot possibly apply to a pine. It has flowers, among other incompatible things!)


Galen: Pine cones eaten! But not well digested, unsurprisingly. (Green cones are edible, but normally only as a famine resource)


Levey: ṣanaubar. Various spp. Seed for electuary for throat. Rātinaj, resin of pines and other conifers. Ulcers.


Avicenna: P. gerardiana, ṣanūbar, pine; large pine seeds, ḥabb al-ṣanūbar. Resin is rātiyānaj.  Small seeds, jillauz. Resin hot and dry. Bark constricting. Resin, and dust of bark for wounds and sores. Seeds for lungs, pus, cough. Gargling with boiled-down bark evacuate phlegm. Pine smoke for falling eyelashes, etrc. Various internal uses, but bark irritates stomach. Seeds candied, for use in stomach and reprodiuctive health incliuding volume of semen. They cancause constipation; bark definitely does. Eating too many seeds can cause abedominal pain, but help with urination.


Lev and Amar: P. pinea, ṣanawber, bladder, kidneys, drying wetness, coughs, phlegm, paralysis, skin, spasms, jaundice, etc. Resin also used. Needles in a medication to strengthen the penis and constrict the glans.


Kamal: P. pinea, snonobar (snubar, snobar—this specifically means pine nuts). Resin for respiratory and dental conditions; diuretic.


Bellakhdar et al.: P. halepensis, tayda, dbag, for tuberculosis, skin abcesses. Pinus sp., u-mennas, er-rzina, cosmetic.


Madanapala: P. gerardiana, nikocaka, aphrodisiac, nourishing, for strength, etc. P. roxburghii, śrīvāsa, presumably seeds, for head and eyes; laxative.


Nadkarni: Various pines used. P. gerardiana seeds stimulant, nutritive, tonic, aphrodisiac.  Pinewood is aromatic, antiseptic, deodorant, stimuant, diaphoretic, refrigerant, rubefacient, carminative; sapwood, oil, resin of P. longifolia and presumably other species used.


Dash: P. roxburghii for earache, etc.


Li: Song, pine in general. P. massoniana is the common one of south China, replaced northward by P. tabuaeformis and others, westward by P. yunnanensis and others. (The very different P. koraiensis is found only in the far northeast, near Korea.)  Resin and foliage for various purposes. Seeds used, but very small and dry, not a food like those of P. koraiensis.

(Pine oils used medicinally as antiseptic, skin treatment, etc. well into modern times, worldwide. Anderson remembers them from his childhood. Seeds advocated throughout early Chinese history as the best food for longevity.)



Piper cubeba L., Piperaceae. Common import to China in Medieval times. Bidengjia蓽澄茄.


Avicenna: Kabābah. Fāghirā for the fruit alone. Opening, thinning. Dissolving, constricting.  Useful for mouth ulcers, etc. Laxative. Used for cold stomach and liver, and indigestion from coldness. Cleanses urinary tract, dissolves stones. “Coital pleasure in women is enhanced by the local use of saliva secreted by chewing cubeb.”[106]


Levey: Kabbābah. Gums, mouth, throat, teeth.


Al-Bīrūnī: Tanbūl. Astringent, tightens gums, desiccant, carminative. Chewed with areca nut.


Lev and Amar: kabāba, qūbība. For throat, mouth, diuretic, liver.

  1. betel, tānbūl, for teeth, gums, skin.


Kamal: kababah, kababa-sini, al-fulful thu al-thanab “tailed pepper,” hab al-arus. Stimulant, diuretic; for gonorrhea, leucorrhea, urethritis, etc. P. betel, tanbul, tamul, used as stimulant, appetizer, aphrodisiac.


Bellakhdar et al: kebbaba.  Bladder and uterus diseases, urinary disorders, aphrodisiac, calefacient.


Madanapala: Kankola. Hot. For heart disease.


Nadkarni: Stimulant, carminative, expectorant. P. betel used for these and many other purposes.


Dash: Pungent, bitter, hot. Appetiser. Cures bad taste and “sluggishness in the mouth.”


Li: Bidengjia. Pungent, bitter, warm, nontoxic.  Digestive for many purposes.  In mixes for several other conditions.



  1. longum L., Piperaceae. Baibibo 白蓽撥, “White Long pepper;” Bibo蓽撥; Falfalmūn[iya] /Falijialimeng法里賈里蒙. Hu 973.


Theophrastus: II, p. 315:  this and P. nigrum for heating; this one stronger.


Dioscorides: II-189, piperi, “long” noted as particularly sharp and biting, otherwise used like nigrum.


Levey: Dār filfil. In electuaries, eye powders, arthritis drug, etc. Stomachic.


Al-Bīrūnī: Dār-i-filfil. Cleans out uterus, etc.


Avicenna: Dār filfil. Hot and dry. Dissolvent. Heals cold diseases. For gout. With juice of roasted goat liver for day blindness (probably extreme sensitivity to light). Digestivve.  Aphrodisiac. Root for abdominal pain.


Lev and Amar: dār fulful and variants. Eyes, palpitation, purgation, tonic, indegestion, hemorrhoids, stomach, colic, sexual medicine, etc. Hot and dry (Maimonides).


Madanapala: Pippalī. Very hot. Aphrodisiac, rejuvenating, purgative. For dyspnoea, cough, fever, skin, urinary diseases, piles, abdominal conditions, spleen, colic, rheumatism.


Nadkarni:  Stimulant, carminative, alterative, aphrodisiac, diuretic, vermifuge, emmenagogue.


Dash: Cures cold diseases. Aphrodisiac, laxative. For asthma, cough, rejuvenation, etc. Root for a number of digestive conditions.


Li: Biba蓽苃 Pungent, very warm or hot, nontoxic. Digestive uses including cholera and other diarrheas; various other uses. P. betle, jujiang蒟醬, follows it in Li; root, leaf, spike all used; pungent, warm, nontoxic, for coughing, digestive purposes, other minor uses.

(This important medicinal plant, universally used in old Asia for its very “hot” and stimulant qualities, has fallen dramatically from favor since chile reached Asia. P. longum is “hotter” [more piquant] but less flavorful than black pepper, so chile replaced it almost totally in cooking, and to a great extent in medicine. Often, the very name was transferred to chile, its original meaning being forgotten, e.g. Malay/ Bahasa Indonesia lada.  Could lada be the source of or cognate with Chinese la, Cantonese laat, “piquant”?)



  1. nigrum L., Piperaceae. Hujiao/胡椒; Heihujiao黑胡椒. Hu 659


Dioscorides: II-189, piperi. Warming, dissolving, etc. Cleans eyes. Drunk or anointed for malarial attacks, poisonous bites, abortion. Pessary for birth control. Taken for chest, coughs, etc. Gripes, pains, etc. In sauces for provoking appetite. With pitch, applied for scrofulous conditions, and with nitre for white skin infections. Root warming.


Levey: Filfil. Pain of gum and throat, collyrium, happiness, stomachic.


Avicenna:  Filfil.  Hot and dry (very). Used for skin, tubercular lymph glands, eyes, coughs, sore throat, digestive, appetizer, diuretic; birth control; bowles.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: This and the other pepper spp. are important in Al-Samarqandī’s drugs, for the above reasons.


Lev and Amar: Filfil, fulful. Cureall: bladdertones, inflammations of tongue and gums, teeth, crying, laughing, cold, heat, paresis and weakenss of sexual organs, aphrodisiac, deafness, earache, hedche, joints, epilepsy, ulcer, colic, vision, etc. Hot and dry. Against insects. Topically on skin. Even said to prevent pregnancy. Basically a cureall.


Kamal: felfel aswad. Carminative, counterirritant, stimulant, antiperiodic, antipyretic, anthelminthic, aphrodisiac, rubefacient.


Bellakhdar et al: l-bzar lekhel, labzar labyed. Aphrodisiac, calefacient, reconstituant, antitussive. P. retrofractum, first 2 same.


Ghazanfar: Filfil. In honey for earache. Stomachic, jaundice cure, reduces phlegm. Tonic, stimulant. Topically for eyes, for vision.


Lebling and Pepperdine: In mixed spice foods, especially for women after childbirth, where it appears to be a universal restorative.


Madanapala: Marica. Hot. Digestive stimulant. For colic, dyspnoea, parasites.


Nadkarni: Acrid, pungent, carminative, antiperiodic; externally, rubefacient, stimulant. Widely used in many preparations.


Dash: Digestive, for parasites. Cures cold diseases.


Li: Hujiao. Pungent, warm or hot, nontoxic. Digestive, respiratory, general heating uses.  Strongly heating rather than warming, so used with caution. In Li’s book, followed by cubeb pepper in the “fruits” section, while long and betel peppers are together in the “herbs” section, though the uses are similar and Li must have seen the relationships.

(Pungent, stimulant, carminative, and antiseptic value of volatile oils is widely known and still useful.)



Pistacia terebinthus L., Anacardiaceae and other spp. ‘Ilk al-anbā® [resin of the terebinth, Pistacia vera]/ Yiligulianbati亦里古里唵把提; ‘Ilku l-bu®mi [terebinth gum, from Pistacia terebinthus]/ Yilikulibutemi亦釐苦釐卜忒迷. Bu®m/Butemi卜忒迷


Dioscorides:  I-177, pistakia, P. lentiscus. Nuts eaten or ground and drunk with wine, for stomach and for snakebite.


Avicenna: P. terebinthus, buṭm. Several other names. Hot and dry, but changeable in degree, according to condition and part of the plant. Cleanses skin conditioins, treats paralysis. Oil for facial paralysis. Treats ear, eye, pains, other external uses. Internally for spleen and liver.  Diuretic and somewhat aphrodisiac. P. lentiscus, maṣṭakī. Hot and dry. Dissolving; dissolves tphlegm. Usual external uses for a hot, dry drug. Strengthens stomach and liver, restores appetite.  Strengthens kidneys, intestines. Used for diarrhea and dysentery. For coughing up blood, also prolapse of uterus and anus (its drying, constricting action). P. vera, fustuq (Persian pistah), laxative, good for stomach. Oil for liver pain.


Graziani: P. lentiscus, mastakā, Medieval uses as stomachic, obstructions, nausea.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Mastic from P. lentiscus very important in Al-Samarqandī’s remedies.


Lev and Amar: P. lentiscus, maṣṭakā. Diet for weight increase. Diarrhea. Malaria, black bile, phlegm, obstruction, wind, pleurisy, trembling, eyes, etc. Constipative. Expectorant, analgesic, etc. Also used in food. P. atlantica, buṭm, ‘ilk (resin). Oil for kidneys, internal conditions, colds, birth pangs. Resin for various dressings. Hot and wet. Benefits stomach. P. vera, fustaq, fustuq, resin for same or similar uses.


Kamal: bottom [butm], fustuq, habbah khadra.  Fattening. Expectorant, diuretic. Galls used for ashthma and chest diseases. P. lentiscus for diarrhea, incontinence, moth conditions, etc. P. vera, food only.


Stol:[107] Nuts of P. terebinthus and P. vera eaten since ancient times in Iran and elsewhere in the Near East; mentioned in cuneiform texts (apparently P. terebinthus). Medicinal uses for terebinth resin also go back to cuneiform texts. Ancient Egypt also used resins from Pistacia spp. as aromatics.


Bellakhdar et al.:[108] Modern Moroccan use of P. atlanticus for stomach-ache, fever, cosmetics; P. lentiscus for oral hygeine and heart, emmenagogue, stomachic, diuretic, astringent.


Ghazanfar: P. lentiscus, mistakah, mustaka, resin for fevers; applied on wounds; chewed as breath freshener; taken for coughs and chest cramps. Topically on swellings.


Lebling and Pepperdine: P. lentiscus mastic. Mastaka, etc. With, or instead of, other incense gums, as incense for drying up womb after childbirth.


Madanapala: P. vera, pistā, aphrodisiac, nourishing, etc.


Nadkarni: P. lentiscus, stimulant, diuretic. P. terebinthus, astringent, restorative; resin used.


Li: P. vera, ayuehunzi, seed, pungent, warm, astringent, nontoxic; for genitalia and thus used in sexual medicine (and pleasure). Also for dysentery, cold, general nutrition (the last of these explains the sexual value; most of the Chinese sexual nutraceuticals actually work by providing concentrated protein and mineral nutrition in an easily-digested form).



Plantago asiatica L. & P. psyllium. Plantaginaceae. Seeds. Native. Qa®ūnā/Huguna忽谷納; Bizr Qu®ūnā/Bazilihatuna八子里哈土納 (Leaf); Bazr l-qa®ūnā /八子里哈土納 (Seeds); Bazr-e qa®ūnā /八子里哈土納;  Cheqianzi車前子  Iran Barihang.


Dioscorides: II-153, arnoglosson, P. major; arnoglosson mikron, P. lagopus. Leaves drying and binding, so applied for essentially all types of wounds, sores, and skin conditions, up to and including dog bites and mouth sores. Taken or as clyster for dysentery, etc. Taken for epilepsy, tuberculosis and asthma. Taken or as pessary for womb conditions. Seeds taken to stop diarrhea and spitting blood.  Root for mouthwash, or chewed, for mouth sores and toothache.  Root and leaves for bladder and kidneys. “Some say” (generally a sure indicator that Dioscorides disbelieves what follows) that three roots in wine help tertian, four roots quartan, malaria, and that amulets help scrofulous conditions.


Avicenna: Lisān al-ḥamal. Cold and dry. External for the usual sores, ulcers, skin diseases, and pains. Treats earache and mouth. Treats epilepsy. Treats coughing up of blood. With lentils for asthma. For liver, kidney obstructions. Extract or enema for internal ulcers and cholera. Stop bleeding piles. For kidney and bladder pain.


Levey:  P. albicans L., shawīk. Scrofula, boils, ulcers, hemorrhoids, tooth care, wounds.

  1. psyllium, qaṭūnāa, for coughs, mouthwash, head, sciatica, back pains, rheumatism.


Avicenna: bazr qaṭūnā, P. ovata. Husk of seed used. Cold and moist. Causes constipation, so used for diarrhea. Put on swellings, herpes, inflammation, nerves, rheumatism, headaches, chest.  Used internally for bilious thirst.


Lev and Amar: P. afer, dūfus, other names. P. major, lisān al ḥamal. Crying in infants; kdney stones; women’s diseasese; eyes. Various minor conditions. Infection of large intestine; oedema.  Hot and dry.


Kamal: P. major, lisan al-hamal, mesis, massas, musas, zummarat al-Ra’i. Roots and leaves astringent, refrigerant, diuretic. P. psyllium, hashishet al-Garaghith, bizr qatuna, burghuthi ibn al-Baytar, hunayn-physilion. Seeds for poultices, dressings, fomentations, sedating drinks, inflammations, vomiting, urinary troubles, skin conditions, eyedrops. (Just about everything except the standard modern use for constipation!)


Bellakhdar et al. Plantago sp., messasa, for ripening of abcess, analgesic, local anti-inflammatory.


Ghazanfar: Seeds for diarrhea, dysentery, fevers, tonic. Leaves on ulcers and abscesses.


Lebling and Pepperdine: P. major, laxative, and for dysentery and diarrhea. Poultices for boils. Seeds used.


Nadkarni: P. ispagula and other spp., including asiatica, but primarily ispagula: Seeds cooling, demulcent, emollient, laxative, diuretic. Mucilaginous seeds as laxative particularly important.


Eisenman:  P. lanceolata. Decoction diuretic and for cystitis, gastric conditions, tuberculosis, headaches, snake bites; antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, expectorant, used to treat all sorts of ulcers, wounds, internal inflammation, malaria, etc. Biomedically, seems effective as hemostat and anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, possibly other uses. Many chemicals isolated.  P. major, similar uses, and diarrhea, bladder inflammation, expectorant. Also has many compounds under investigation.


Li:  P. asiatica, P. depressa, cheqian車前. Seed, root, foliage; sweet, cold, nontoxic. Diuretic, laxative, cooling; other uses. Foliage has external uses for poultices etc.

(Seeds still a major laxative, especially those of P. psyllium.)


Meserve: P. major. “Leaves made into a plaster for ‘Siberian Sore.’”[109] Also to stanch blood, etc. She presents a great deal of comparative material.



Platycodon grandiflorum (Jacq.) A. DC., Campanulaceae.  Native. 桔梗, “Baloon flower”


Li: Jiegeng. Root cold, bitter, pungent.  General tonic with many uses; a major Chinese drug.



Plumbago sp.  Plumbaginaceae. Shī®araj/Shayitalazhi沙亦他剌只. Usually, and presumably in the HHYF, this Arabic name means Lepidium, q.v.  (Thus not scored.)


Madanapala: Citraka, P. zeylanica. Digestive, stimulant, carminative. For sprue, skin, edema, piles, parasites, cough.


Nadkarni: P. rosea alterative, gastric stimulant; P. zeylanica, root, same uses.


Dash: Same uses in Tibet as in Madanapala; he cites to the Tibetan sources, so the copying is presumably old.



Polygonum multiflorum Thunb., Polygonaceae. Native.Tuber. Bahman/Bahaman八哈蠻; ‘A©ā’ urrā’i [Polygonum bellardi]/ Asawulayi阿撒兀剌亦.


Dioscorides: IV-5, poygonon arren, P. aviculare, knotgrass.  Binding, refrigerating. Used for blood spitting, fluxes, choler, strangury. Helps with venomous bites and with malaria. Pessary for vaginal flow. Dropped in for earache. Applied with wine for ulcers of genitalia. Applied for wounds, inflammations, and related conditions.

II-191, ydropeperi, P. hydropiper. Leaves and seeds applied to destroy swellings and the like. Used to season food. Root useless.


Al-Bīrūnī: P. bistorta. Leaves for dog bites, ulcers, cankers, pustules, inflammations. P. hydropiper, zanjabīl, aphrodisiac, stomachic, dries out phlegm.


Avicenna: P. aviculare. Haft band, Narsiān dārū, etc. Poultices for many external purposes and for uterus and intestineal ulcers. Extract for ear worms, ear ulcers. Useful for coughing up of blood. Cooling. P. hydropiper, filfil al-ma‘. Warming, but not much use.


Kamal: P. bistorta, leflafah, godwar rokny. Root astringent; contains tannins; hemostatic, and for diarrhea, gonorrhea, angina, exudations.


Nadkarni: P. aviculare, expectorant, diuretic, tonic, astringent, antiseptic, antiperiodic; usually decoction of root used.


Eisenman: P. aviculare, for stomach spasms, intestinal infections, diarrhea, tonic, hemostat, etc.; decoction or infusion. Bath for skin infections and fungus, wounds, etc. Infusion on head for hair growth. In milk for convulsions. Biomedically, incresaes blood coagulation, decreases blood pressure, etc. Used as hemostat for women. P. coriarium, astringent, tea for diarrhea.  Biomedically seems to be effective.


Li: Heshouwu 何首烏. Bitter, astringent, slightly warm, nontoxic. Wide range of uses.

Fully a dozen other species are mentioned in Li, and this certainly does not exhaust the range of species used in China. The dozen have different uses and names. The genus has long been very important as food, spice, and medicine throughout eastern Asia.

In the HHYF, bahman—normally a word for Centaurea behen—is identified in the Chinese text as this species.



Polypodium vulgare L., Polypodiaceae. Basbāyij/Basibanizhi把思把你知/Bosibanizhi伯思八你知/Bosibaya伯思八牙/ Bosibanazhi 伯思把那知/Baxifayizhi八西法亦只; Basfāyij/八西法亦只  (Persian).


Dioscorides: IV-188, polypodion. Root for purging, with foods, or powdered. Also for phlegm and choler. Root applied for certain sores.


Levey: Basbāyij. Teeth. Modern uses noted as aperient, alterative, deobstruent, etc.


Lev and Amar: basbāyaj, basfāyaj. Roots cleanse intestines, liver, spleen; reduce swseelings.  Teeth. Purifies blood and gall bladder. Asthma. Can cause diarrhea. Reduces swellings. Said to be hot and dry.


Nadkarni: Minor use of P. quercifolium for fevers and diseases and P. vulgare for aperient and alterative.



Polyporus officinalis Fr., Polyporaceae, and/or Boletus purgans Gmel, Boletaceae. Ghārīqūn/Alihun阿里渾/Aligong阿里 公. Probably the former sp. here.


Kamal: P. fomentarius, soffan. Powder astringent for bleeding.


Nadkarni: P. officinalis, astringent, emetic, purgative.


Li: P. umbellatus, zhuling豬苓. Sweet, plain, nontoxic. Important for several serious conditions from fevers to leukorrhea. (Still an important medicine in 21st century China; astringent and drying qualities.)



Poria cocos (Schw.) Wolf (Wolfiporia cocos), Polyporaceae. Native. Baifuling白茯苓.


Li: Fuling茯苓. Sweet, balanced, nontoxic. Many forms, preparations, and uses; a very important, versatile medicine.



Prunus amygdalus Batsch., Rosaceae. Badam (Persian). Bādām/Badan把躭 Persian); Lauz/Liwazhi里瓦知.


Dioscorides: I-176, amygdale, almond. Root or nut of bitter var. mashed, applied to face, for sunburn. Applied (nuts?) also for menstruation, headaches, etc., with vinegar and rose; with wine, for ulcers etc.; with honey for dog bites. General for soothing:  chest, kidneys, etc.  Diuretic; for stone; etc. Keeps off drunkenness, eaten before drinking. Nut kills foxes. Gum for binding and heating; drunk for many of above conditions. The sweet almond is much less medicinal than the bitter. Green almonds eaten to dry up stomach (they are extremely high in tannin).


Galen: Cleaning, thinning.


Avicenna: Sweet is moist (neutral) but bitter is hot and dry. Almond, mostly bitter, used for liver, spleen, internal organs. Sprains and uclers  treated with the oil. “Bitter almond dissolves kidney stones.”[110] Many uses of both, and oil, for poultices, etc.

Levey and Al-Khaledy:. Oil for stomach and intestines.


Lev and Amar: Gaining weight; oil—cold and moist—for heart, stress, fevers, cancer, erysipelas, inflammations. Bitter almond for stones in bladder, stomachic, liver, spleen, ears, etc., and aborting dead fetus; in prescriptions for headaches, pain, and indeed almost everything, up to and including dog bites. This accords with modern uses in the Near East and China as an all-purpose emollient, soothing agent, lubricant, etc. (I can confirm this from experience).


Kamal: no uses noted, but peach (P. persica, khokh, durraq) used for laxative.


Bellakhdar et al: P. amygdalus var. amara, luz harr, hypoglycemiant, tonic.


Nadkarni:  Demulcent, stimulant, tonic, emollient.  Bitter almonds add laxative quality.


Li: Badanxing badanxing 巴旦杏 (lit. “the badan type of apricot kernel”—badan being the Persian name of the almond). Account follows the account of the true apricot.  Li knew the almond came from the Middle East, but noted it is now grown in China. Sweet, warm, balanced, nontoxic. For coughs and digestive problems.



Prunus armeniaca L., Rosaceae. Native. Xingzi 杏子; Xing 杏.


Dioscorides: I-165, armeniaca, apricot. For stomach.


Avicenna: Cold, moist. Drink; made into soothing syrup, with honey, etc. Seed oil on piles.  Water in which fruit (this with others) is boiled was used for fever.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Used by Al-Samarqandī for syrups, etc., largely as a vehicle for giving other medicines.


Lev and Amar: barqūq (the source of the English word, via Spanish albaricoque), mishmish.  Leaves for mouth sores, tonsils, throat. Fruit for itching stinging, thirst, burns, stomach, skin, ains, swellings, worms. Maimonides thought it was a bad food.


Kamal: mishmish. Oil noted but not for medicinal use.


Bellakhdar et al: ‘elk meshmash. Aphrodisiac.


Nadkarni: Fruit minor use as tonic, locally.


Sun: Apricot kernel (xingheren杏核仁): sweet, bitter, warm, cool, good laxative, diuretic (li利), poisonous [from hydrocyanates]. It is important for treating rising breath caused by coughing, thundering in intestines (changzhong leiming腸中雷鳴), the swollen throat (houbi喉痹), intestinal gas (xiaqi下氣), ulcer caused by giving birth or cutting (chanrujinchuang產乳金瘡), the illness of a cold heart running like a pig (presumably a heart beating with a fast, erratic rhythm like a running pig;  hanxin bentun寒心奔豚), fright illness (jingxian驚癇), anxiety and heat under the heart (xinxia fanre心下煩熱), the illness of the wind qi coming and going (fengqi qulai風氣去來), and chronic headache (shixing toutong時行頭痛). It also relieves hunger (jieji解肌)[111] and anxiety under the heart (xiao xinxia ji消心下急). It rids toxins from dog bites (shagoudu殺狗毒). It should be picked in the fifth month [when apricots are ripe]. If there are two kernels in one pit, they hurt people and should be discarded. When the apricot is still unripe, it is very sour. The kernel in it is not hard. Collect it and expose it in the sun till it is dry. Eat the dry kernel and it is very effective for ceasing thirst and ridding poisons of cool or hot nature. Bianque 扁鵲said, “Apricot kernels cannot be taken over a long time. Otherwise, it will make the person blind, cause his eyebrows or hair fall, and arouse all kinds of chronic illnesses. ”  [This would be due to the hydrocyanic acid liberated by chewing them; chewing releases an enzyme that acts on hydrocyanic glycogens in the seed. The seeds are still an extremely common medicine in China, used for throat and respiratory conditions among other things. They are usually powdered and cooked to eliminate the poison.]


Li: Xing. Usually the seeds (xingren or xingheren “apricot seed kernels”) used, though minor uses for fruit. Kernels, ground, are the sovereign remedy for coughs. Many other uses, even for epilepsy. Many other Prunus species are discussed at length in Li.

(Today the kernels, powdered, are used in milk, with sugar, especially for children, to treat cough, sore throat, and the like; ENA shamelessly used this milk drink all the time in East Asia, in spite of its identification with child culture, because it works so well for the purposes.)



Prunus domestica L., P. salicina Lindl., Rosaceae. Resin. Native. Li李; Ālūchah [plum, Prunus instititia].

Dioscorides: kokkymfelia, P. domestica, damson. Laxative, but a Syrian plum has the reverse effect. (Presumably a local high-tannin fruit of some kind.) Leaves or fruit gargled for mouth sores. Gum breakes stone if drunk with wine. Anointed with vinegar for skin eruptions of children.


Levey: Ijjās. P. domestica or possibly apricot and pear. Infusions.


Al-Bīrūnī: Plums in general; laxative. Enormous detail about local varieties.


Avicenna: P. domestica, ijjāṣ. Cold and moist. Gum mixed with vinegar for sores and ringworm.  Minor uses; expels yellow bile. Wild plums very constricting.


Lev and Amar:  P. domestica. ‘ijjāṣ. Constricting fruits. Mild. Cold and moist. Cathartic. Resi for various binding and resolving and skin conditions. Plum fruit relieves headache, throat pains, nausea, vomiting, blockages, etc. Leaves eliminate worms (they have enough cyanide, tannin and fibre that this might work).


Kamal: P. domestica, laxative.


Madanapala: Āruka. Digestion, urinary problems, plies.


Eisenman: P. sogdiana, a Central Asian plum close to P. cerasifera, above-ground parts used; laxative, stimulant to appetite and digestion. Gum for coughs. Roots and bark for diaphoretic, anti-pyretic, and anti-inflammatory use. Not tested biomedically.


Sun: Plum kernel (liheren李核仁): bitter, balanced, nonpoisonous. It mainly treats the symptom of falling down dead (jiangpuji僵僕躋), gores, and bone ache. Its fruit (plum) is bitter, sour, a little bit warm, astringent, non-poisonous. It rids obstinate heat (gure固熱), harmonizes the Middle Jiao, and is good for the heart. It cannot be eaten too much. Otherwise, it will make the person weak. The Yellow Emperor said, “Plums cannot be taken with white honey (baimi白蜜). That will erode the five internal organs (wunei五內).”


Li:  P. salicina. Li. (Yes, our herbalist is named Plum! It is, in fact, one of the commonest surnames in east Asia.) First of fruits, coming just before the apricot. Many, but minor, uses for all parts of the plant and fruit.

(Laxative effects of prunes are well known worldwide, and the tannins in the leaves and bark are very effective on minor skin conditions.)



Prunus mahaleb L., Rosaceae.  Mahaleb cherry. Mahlab/Muhalabi木哈剌必/Mahalabi馬哈剌必.


Avicenna: Miḥlab.  Hot and dry. Cleansing, dissolvent. Sour cherry with honey water for brief loss of consciousness (this app. refers to P. cerasus).


Lev and Amar. Maḥlab. Hot and dry. Minor uses.


Nadkarni: Tonic, stomachic, diuretic.


Eisenman: P. padus, Eurasian bird cherry, fruits astringent, for diarrhea etc. Bark, leaves, flowers also used. All contain glycosides.

(The kernel of this wild cherry is an important medicinal food in the Near East; tonic, stomachic, soothing, as for Nadkarni; oddly missing from our Arabic sources.)




Pterocarpus indicus Willd. and/or P. marsupium Roxb., Fabaceae.


Nadkarni: Gum (kino) astringent; for digestion, toothache, etc. Bark powdered for same. Leaves externally used as paste on boils, sores, skin diseases. Wood of P. santolinum astringent, cooling, tonic.



Punica granatum L. Punicaceae. Introduced; common cultivated plant, but usually for the flowers rather than the fruit. Nārmishk/Naermushiqi那兒木失乞/ Naermoshiqi納而謨失其/Naermushiqi那兒木實乞 [wild pomegranate flower]; Nārdān/Naerdang納尒當; Nār/Naer拿兒; Mughāth/Minghada名哈荅/Muaxi木阿西 [pomegranate root]; Rummān/Luman魯蠻; Jullinār /Gulinaer古里拏而/Gulinaer谷里納而; Ghūli/Guli谷里; Shiliu石榴, “stone willow,” i.e. “seedy willow,” in standard Chinese.


Dioscorides: I-151, rhoa, pomegranate. Good for stomach. Seed of sharpest (which are the most medicinal) ground and sprinkled on food for stomach looseness. In rain water for blood-spitting, or as bath for dysentery and childbirth problems. Juice for sores of many kinds.

I-152, kytinoi, pomegranate flowers. Similar uses. Binding and drying. Put on teeth and gums for problems. “Somme relate” (i.e., do not believe what follows) that taking three flowers prevents eye griefs for a year.[112]


Levey: Jullinār (this is the familiar “Golnar” or “Gulnar” so common in Iranian writings, often as a girl’s name). Flower. Liver, stomach, pains in spleen, and variously for limbs, throat, abscesses, teeth, gums.


Avicenna: rummān. Julnār is wild pomegranate. Persian, anār. Cold and dry, but wild is hot and moist. Syrup for yellow bile. Seeds with honey on malignant ulcers. Flowers on wounds. Wild form in poiultices for sprains, fractures, etc. Pomegranate with honey for toothaches, earaches, nose. Powdered seeds with honey on oral inflammations, ulcers. Many minor uses for eyes, chest, throatt, stomach, etc.


Lev and Amar: rummān. Flowers jullanār. Syrup used for various soothinguses. Oil of flower in water for eyes. Flowers in gargling and rinsing solution. Juice for diarrhea (tea of the skin works better). Juice also for fevers, cancer, erysipelas, sweelings, elephantiasis, etc. Peels and seeds used but no specifics survive. More generally, juice or fruit for thirst, stomach aches, liver.  Maimonides notes the peel for wounds, stopping diarrhea; cold and dry, though sweet is hot and dry.


Kamal: rumman. Rind for diarrhea, leucorrhea, hemorrhage, pharynx. Root starch powdered, cooked in milk, for tonic for weak or syphilitic patients.


Bellakhdar et al: qshur romman. Antiulcer, vaginal antiseptic, hypoglycemiant (presumably modern use). For gastro-intestinal disorders.


Ghazanfar. Fruit, especially rind, antihelminthic, and for diarrhea, jaundice; topically for skin rashes and vision.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Rumman. Usual uses for stomach and topically on burns and skin problems; also taken for diabetes, heart, sinus. Value as antioxidant and astringent, and possibly for cancer, noted from recent medical literature.


Madanapala: Dādimī. Alleviates dosa problems.


Nadkarni: Astringent, antihelminthic.


Dash: All stomach diseases; digestion; cold conditions. Cardiac.


Sun: Pomegranate (anshiliu安石榴): sweet, sour, astringent, and nonpoisonous. It ends hotness and thirst in the pharynx. It cannot be eaten too much. Otherwise it hurts the lung.


Li: Anshiliu. Sweet and/or sour, warm, astringent, nontoxic. Used, especially the rind of sour fruits, as a cure for diarrhea and dysentery. Powdered rind or flower stanches wounds and otherwise useful. Various minor indications, including flower decoction to turn graying hair black. (This would work if some iron got in the mix; the tannins in the plant would make a black dye with iron.)

(The universal old-time use against diarrhea is still standard, and biomedically verified; the tannins stop diarrhea and seem to kill dysentery germs. The fruit is very high in antioxidants and is now recommended for all sorts of conditions; evidence is slim but suggestive. Modern Near Eastern and Chinese uses of flower, rind, and root bark, as in HHYF, for vermifuge, etc. Here as in HHYF it is used for almost anything where a strongly astringent herbal would help.)



Quercus infectoria Oliv. Fagaceae. Galls made by Cynips gallae-tinctoriae. mushizi木實子; Māzū/Mazu馬祖in Iran.


Dioscorides: I-146, kekides, oak galls. Binding, and used for any condition needing that. Put on swellings, gum diseases, ulcers, toothaches, wounds, etc. Dye hair black when macerated in vinegar or water. Sitz bath for women for vulvar discharges. Good for dysentery, etc.

Also oak uses: I-142, drys, Q. aegilops, dyer’s oak. All parts astringent; inner bark best. Acorn cup lining is good. For dysentery, blood-spitting, etc., and as pessary for leucorrhea and/or similar condition.

I-143, balanoi, acorns. Same uses. Also eaten for venomous bites. On wounds and sores.

I-144, phegos, Q. aesculus; prinos, Q. coccifera, kermes oak. Root bark dyes hair black. Leaves help swellings.


Lev and Amar: Various minor purposes for powder; gargling, etc. Hemorrhoids, skin, teeth, sores, wounds, drying in general. Maimonides notes sexual medicine uses for constricting vagin (the tannin would do this), hardening penis, increasing sperm.


Bellakhdar et al: Q. suber, Q. ilex, hair-care (the tannin adds much to a hair wash), bowel and colon infections.


Nadkarni: Galls for obvious astringent uses.


Li: Galls of this and other oaks, wushizi, bitter, warm, nontoxic, powdered for use for dysentery, external conditions, and black dye; the tannins make it effective for all these.

Several other oak species are used similarly, the acorns in particular being employed.

(Very concentrated tannins in the galls make them extremely effective for the above uses involving drying, constricting, washing.)



Raphanus sativus L. Brassicaceae. Native. Luobo蘿蔔. Hu 659 seeds, roots


Dioscorides: II-137, raphanis, radish. Root for vomiting, etc. Cataplasm for spleen. Various external applications. Seed for several minor conditions, used externally or internally.

I-45, oil of seed for skin conditions.


Galen: With fish sauce as purgative. Root usually eaten; leaves sometimes.


Avicenna: Fujl. Wild radish is. Roots hot, seeds hotter. Oil hot and dry. Usual minor external and internal uses, but bad as a food because it causes belching and is laxative.


Lev and Amar: fujl. Mouth, throat, skin, deafness and earache, headache, fever, skin conditions, poison. Maimonides notes use of seeds for sexual health—strengthens, heats, increases activity. Hot and dry.


Kamal: fugl, figl. Stomachic. Diuretic, galactagogue. Oil from seeds used in ear. Juice for dissolving gallstones. Eaten for scurvy.


Bellakhdar et al: Calefacient.


Ghazanfar: Leaves with salt and honey for ears. Ground seeds on skin for spots, pains, baldness.  Eating seeds for lactation and for kidneys. Root reduces phlegm; eaten before breakfast.


Madanapala: Mūlaka. Hot. Appetite, voice, dyspnoea, throat, eyes, rhinitis.


Nadkarni:  Seeds and leaves diuretic, laxative; seeds emmenagogue. Seeds used for gonorrhea.


Dash: Constipative. Pungent, hot, can cure poison.


Li: Luobo. Many uses, including some fascinating folklore with songs and stories. Usually described as warm, though in modern China it is one of the coldest foods, used against heats of all kinds.



Rhamnus infectorius. Rhamnaceae. Òazaz/Haqiqi哈齊齊; Òu†a†/Hazaze哈咱則


Avicenna: Snuff for facial paralysis. Treats eyelid swellings.


Nadkarni: several species (not this one) for purgation and astringent uses.


Eisenman: R. cathartica, usual laxative uses. Infusion of fruits in vodka to treat rehumatism.  Decoction of branches for ulcers, and extern ally on wounds. Tea for catarrh.

(Rhamnus spp. are standard purgatives everywhere, holding their own even today. The Near Eastern species was no doubt used for that purpose, but is barely mentioned in HHYF.)



Rheum palmatum L. & other spp. Polygonaceae. Native. Dahuang大黃; Rāwand/Luoyina羅亦那/Liewandi列頑的


Dioscorides: III-2, ra, rha, R. rhaponticum, rhubarb. [Note the scientific name is “rha ponticum,” the “rha” plant from the Pontic area.] Root drunk for bloating, stomach conditions, pains, convulsions, and essentially any and all illnesses. Binding and heating.


Avicenna: Rheum ribes, R. officinale. Ribās, rīwand. Cold and dry. Used externally for bubonic plague. Massages and poultices for various external uses, including treatment of beatings.  Internally for disease of liver stomach, etc. Also for cholera.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Long tradition of rhubarb as very important in Near Eastern medicine.


Lev and Amar: Rheum spp. probably including R. officinale. Rībās, rāwand (these often treated as two separate things, presumably different spp. of Rheum). Cathartic. For liver including jaundice. Strengthens stomach, helps with vomiting and regulating heartbeat and appetite. For hemorrhoids, smallpox, pains, internal ailments, internal organs, plague, eyes, etc.


Nadkarni: R. emodi, R. officinale, other spp. Stomachic, tonic, cathartic, purgative. Standard cure for constipation and bowel complaints.


Eisenman: Rheum maximowiczii, decoction for diarrhea. Juice used for malaria.Young petioles and stemps for tonic, antipyretic, etc., and to prevent anemia and detoxify. Inreases appetite, treats gastritis and liver and gallbladder, tuberculosis, hemorrhoids, constipation (as well as diarrhea!), etc. Biomedically, well-known astringent; said to be diuretic, improve liver function, etc.


Li: Dahuang. This and other species. Bitter, cold, nontoxic. This major drug has a vast range of uses for basic regulation of the system. (Its fame spread throughout Eurasia in premodern times, to the point that 18th-century Chinese strategists assumed it was necessary to Europeans and thus usable to get a purchase on them by manipulating availability). Purgative and digestive, in particular.


Meserve: R. undulatum, “cathartic” (Meserve 2004:80).

(“I have observed Rheum nanum gathered for medical use in Mongolia; it is a widely used herb there.” Anderson has also had this experience.)



Rhus coriaria, R. chinensis Mill. & other spp., Anacardiaceae. Includes galls from Melaphis chinensis (Bell) & spp.  Summāq /Sumahei速麻黑/Sumaji速麻吉; Wubeizi五倍子; Fuyan 夫烟. [Note that the word “sumac” is a straight Arabic loan into English.]


Dioscorides:  I-147, rous, Rhus coriaria, tanning sumac. Leaves binding, and dye hair black. Clyster for dysentery; also drunk or as sitz bath. Various external applications (where tannin would do good). Applied for leucorrhea and hemorrhoids.


Avicenna: Sumāq. Cold and dry. Minor uses; causes constipation; stops excessive menstrual flow, or any excessive bleeding.


Levey, Levey and Khaledy: Summāq. R. coriaria. Gum and moth, anti-miscarriage, sore throat, sprue, collyrium.


Lev and Amar: R. coriaria, summāq. Diarrhea, toothache, gum pains, swellings, stomach, liver, measles, smallpox. Hemorrhoids, eyes.


Kamal: Rhus spp., sumaq. Tonic, stimulant. For incontinence of urine, and hematuria.


Nadkarni: R. coriaria fruit astringent, tonic, diuretic, styptic. For dysentery, etc. In paste on ulcers and piles.


Li: Yanfuzi鹽麩子, etc. Various minor uses for fruit and bark.

(Strongly astringent and sour. Very common spice in the Middle East then and now.)



Ricinus communis L., Euphorbiaceae. Bimazi鹽麩子, Hu 659.


Manniche: already very well known in ancient Egypt as a purgative, laxative, emollient, disinfectant, etc.


Dioscorides: IV-164, kroton e kiki. Poisonous. Oil laxative. Vomitory also, but dangerous. Oil put on sunburn. Leaves with flour in paste for eyes, milk-swollen breasts, rash, etc.


Avicenna: qanqabīn, the plant; the oil is khrū‘. Leaves with barley flour for swellings. Oil on ulcers, swellings, headaches, earaches. Laxative. Masage good for “uterine orifice and hot anal swellings.”[113] Expels worms.


Levey: Hair oil; epilepsy, clyster.


Lev and Amar: On skin for all the usual uses; internally for convulsion, tetany, fever, colic, purging. Also spleen, liver, kidneys, teeth, malaria, dysenery, lungs, thigh sinew, cough, heart, paralysis, hardened skin, joint pains, etc. Enema.


Kamal: Oil laxative and emetic. Seed powdered for skin diseases. Oil on ulcers. Pulverized seeds drunk to purge phlegm and abdominal worms. This from Avicenna. Presumably the seeds were used in very small quantities, since they are deadly poison. Seed mashed for external conditions; antiseptic on them.


Bellakhdar et al: Laxative, tonic.


Ghazanfar: ‘Arash, kharwa, khirwa. Smoke for bad breath. Topically for blisters, ulcers, toothache, eyes. Purgative.


Lebling and Pepperdine: For hair loss, indigestion, abdomen and liver.


Nadkarni: Usual purgative use of oil; used in an incredible range of illnesses. External applications for sores, soreness, skin conditions, etc.


Dash: Strong purgative. Red variety also cures colic, gout, various other digestive and abdominal conditions.


Li: Bima 鹽麩. Sweet, pungent, balanced, slightly toxic. Usual purgative uses, plus uses where its toxins would be effective externally, etc.

(Castor oil remained the laxative of choice for very stubborn cases until well into the 20th century, but it is too drastic for use now that better things are available.)



Rosa spp., Rosaceae. Jinyingzi金櫻子; Qiangwei 薔薇. Jull (=gul; [Arabized] Persian for “flower”), ward (standard Arabic name), lawarda (Persian; from Arabic?  Or possibly vice versa?).


Dioscorides: I-130, rhodon, Rosa spp. Kynosbaton, “dog thornbush, for dog rose (R. canina). Petals ground, in wine, externally applied for soothing all sorts of coinditions. Burned for eyelid makeup. Leaves can be used for the medicinal uses. The petal salve or extract is recommended in a very wide range of headings; it was used as a general carrier, emollient, or aid for herbal applications.

I-131, rhodides, pomanders (scent balls made up with myrrh and nard). For perfume, etc.

I-53, rhodinon, rosaceum oil. Various recipes for extracting rose petals in oil, with honey and/or other items. Resulting oil used internally for stomach, externally for boils, sores, toothache, etc.  Clyster for rectal problems. Applied to vulva for irritations. [Rose attar is in fact both highly soothing and fairly strongly antibiotic. Note, however, that Dioscorides is talking about roses macerated in olive oil, not rose attar, i.e. the oil actually extracted from the petals.] This rose oil is noted as used with other herbs in a very large number of Dioscorides’ entries. [The cultural importance of the rose in Greco-Roman culture guaranteed it a major place in all areas, including medicine. Conversely, some of the cultural importance is due to the medicinal value.]

Levey: ward, Rosa spp. Rose oil for hemorrhoids, ulcers, boils, ointments, poultices for liver; flower in poultices for stomach, liver, spleen, sore throat, mouth; electuary for jaundice and for f=phlegm. Excellent for perfumery. Notes names including Akkadian murdinnu, Egyptian wrt, Hebrew wered, Aramaic wordā. Today astringent, etc. [The soothing and antiseptic values of rose are also well known, as they have been for millennia.]


Al-Bīrūnī: ward, Rosa spp. Gives the “Roman” (i.e. Rumi, Byzantine) as “anthūs,” i.e. Greek anthos “flower.” Flowers/buds used. Perfumes for women; desiccatory, refrigerant, astringent; good for liver and stomach. Iran is major source. An Iraqi variety was so big it could not be fully contained in two cupped hands. Rose oil distilled from many varieties.


Avicenna: Ward, Rosa damascena.  Persian gūl-i-surkh. Cold. Drying; constricting and astringent. Laxative, cleansing. On ulcers, sores, skin. Inhaled for headaches, and to make one sneeze (the oil). Rose water for loss of consciousness. Various uses for stomach, often preserved in honey (rose jam in sugar or honey is still a very common Middle Eastern medicine). Nasrīn, R. canina. Hot and dry. Purifying. Kills ear worms and used for ringing eaer and for toothaches. Used on forehead for headaches. Useful—presumably as tea—for sore throat and tonsillitis. Four-dram dose (of petals, fruit…?)—stops vomiting and hiccups.


Nasrallah: Cooling, dry, astringent.


Lev and Amar: nasrīn, ward (the later is the usual Arabic word). Various uses for liver, eyes, headaches, purging, and even lice. Used in a vast range of recipes for every purpose from babies’ navels to black bile and phlegm. Seeds fom fruit for diarrhea. Rose syrup (presumably the modern type: rosewater cooked down with sugar) often used; sometimes rose oil, mostly topically for almost any and every purpose from ear problems to stings. Rose leaves for coughs and colds. Rose rubb mentioned (and may be the rose-petal jam now common in the Middle East). Rosewater mentioned in recipes for diarrhea, headache, salivation, colds, giddiness, stomach ache, eyes, etc. Also spleen, fevers, etc.


Graziani: ward, R. gallica. Ibn Jazlah used rose oil as stomachic, for headache and spleen, for eye and ear illnesses, for dressing wounds. Al-Kindī used it for ulcers, boils, hemorrhoids, stomach, liver, spleen, and in mixes for sore throat and mouth. Samarqandī used it in lozenges for fever, phlegm, jaundice, heart palpitation, cold liver, etc. Today, in Egypt for stomachic; in Iran and Iraq as astringent for colic and diarrhea. (Many of these uses are found in Latin America today, ultimately from Arab medicine.)


Kamal: R. canina, nisrin, gul-nisrin (from Farsi). Astringent. Root used to treat rabies, hence name of plant. R. gallica, ward (in Arabic), influsions astringent, for throat and rectum.  Bellakhdar et al:  l-werd, R. damascena, R. centifolia. Laxative, against headache, cosmetic.  (These spp. universal for throat, cough, etc. in Hispanic countries now.)


Ghazanfar: Rosa sp.  Flowers for skin, coughs, tonic.


Lebling and Pepperdine: R. damascena, ward. Tea with cinnamon for childbirth. In eyes for care.  For stomach, heart, insomnia.  On skin for general care (this worldwide use is oddly lacking in the other sources, but historical evidence shows it was extremely well known in the Mediterranean and Near East from time immemorial; so much for the completeness of the sources!)


Madanapala: R. moschata kubjakā, R. centifolia śatapatrī. Cardiac tonic, constipative, for semen, complexion, dosas, etc. Cold.


Nadkarni: Mildly astringent, aperient, carminative, refrigerant, tonic. Several spp. used.


Eisenman: Decoction of petals, leaves, branches, roots for rheumatism, stomach, heart. Tea of hips for scurvy, colds, diuretic. Decoction of roots for liver and gastrointestinal tract. Tea of hips also for astringent uses, including fevers, intestines, hemostat for uterine bleeding, and mouthwash. Seeds diuretic and for kidneys. Powdered leaves on wounds and skin ulcers.  Biomedically, various local uses, but potential apparently not well explored. R. fedtschenkoana, similar uses; remedy for scurvy; hips with honey for coulds and coiughs. Oil of rose used to treat cracked and injured breasts of nursing women. Also bed sores and other wounds and sores. Less successful uses of hips for tuberculosis, diphtheria, scarlet fever, flu. Biomedically, hips are a rich vitamin source.


Li: R. multiflora, yingshi, and R. chinensis, yuejihua 月季花. Range of minor uses, mostly for the former. Seeds and root. (Red rose is medicinal today for many internal purposes. The external uses are not traditional in eastern Asia.) Rosa laevigata Michx. Native. This is called “Cherokee rose” in the United States, because of its garden popularity and subsequent rapid spread in the south, but it is from China. Hip, jinyingzi (mistranslated “fruit” in Li 2003) sour, astringent, balanced, nontoxic. Male sexual tonic. Flower stops dysentery, makes a black hair dye, and kills worms (none of these seem biomedically very effective). More hopeful are several uses, external or digestive.


Meserve: R. acicularis, possibly various uses including diluent for infectious material in smallpox nasal inoculation.


(The rose was the Near East’s dream plant: both aesthetic and genuinely medicinal. The standard of beauty and sweet-scentedness, symbol of love and pleasure, and symbol of romance from earliest times, it was also known to be antiseptic, soothing both externally and internally, and effective against throat ailments—all of which it actually is, in biomedical terms. Rose oil is powerfully antiseptic. Rose-petal or roseleaf tea is extremely soothing to the throat. The preparations with sugar—syrup, rose jam—dilute the medical action too much to be more than symptomatically soothing, but they are so delightful that the Near Eastern belief that God made healing pleasant makes them inevitable parts of treatment. The high tannin content explains the widespread use of leaves and of tea of the plant for wounds, throat, skin, etc. By contrast, the more sober and pragmatic Chinese never used roses much in medicine, though the use of roseleaf tea for throat and stomach was well known and well established, giving us the English name “Chinese tea rose.” The place of the rose flower in romantic symbolism was taken by its relatives the peach and apricot. Nonsoothing items like ginseng and atractylis had the medical reputation. There is obviously an important and interesting cultural difference here. Rose hips are a source of vitamins, but there is a huge range in concentration; commercial roses have almost no vitamin value, whereas the rugosa rose of Japan is so rich in vitamin C that it is a regular commercial source thereof, and some other species, including R. fedtschenkoana as noted above, have high vitamin values.

Several HHYF recipes for treating wounds call for “rose dew.”  In modern Chinese, this is distilled liquor (baijiu) in which roses or rose oil has been infused to give a powerful damask-rose flavor.  In the HHYF it probably means the same, but just possibly could mean attar of roses, i.e. pure rose oil, usually water-extracted.

A minor rose mystery is the association with dogs of the small Eurasian wild roses: Dioscorides’ kynosbaton, Latin rosa canina, English “dog rose,” Mongolian noxoin xoshuu “dog snout,” etc. Explanations for this usage are inadequate.)



Rubia cordifolia L. Rubiaceae. Root. Native. Qiangen茜根; Rūnās/Luniyasi魯你牙思. Morocco, Fuwa.


Dioscorides: III-160, erythrodanon, Rubia tinctorum, madder. Root diuretic, abortifacient, emmenagogue, helps expel afterbirth. Helps with paralysis, venomous beast bites, etc. In short, a typical Dioscorides drug.


Avicenna: R. tinctoria. ‘Ushr.  Hot and dry. Constricting. Used on pains, ringworm, and internally for inflammations of spleen, clearing liver, diuretic, etc.—usual minor uses of hot and dry drugs.


Lev and Amar: R. tinctoria. Fūwa. Pains, hemorrhoids, childbirth pangs, etc. Eases childbirth, whitens teeth, cleases spleen and liver, cures leprosy, induces urine, etc. Hot and dry.


Kamal: R. tinctoria, fowah, fowat al-sabbaghin. Roots for emmenagogue, diuretic, childbirth.  Powder for rickets.


Bellakhdar et al: R. tinctoria, R. peregrina. Fuwa, tarubya. Aphrodisiac, antidiarrheal, antianemic, analeptic, for liver pain.


Ghazanfar: Fauwa. Root for irregular menstruation, with Salvadora persica and mulberries.  Crushed root as tonic after childbirth.


Nadkarni: Emmenagogue, astringent, diuretic, etc.


Eisenman: R. tinctoria, rickets, constipation, jaundice, joints, rheumatism in back etc. For kidney stones, gallstones, gout, diuretic, laxative. Roots mixed with honey for jaundice, memory improvement, diuretic. Biomedical activity as antibiotic.


Li: Qiancao茜草. Root used. Astonishing disagreement on its humoral qualities. Range of uses, from pain to bleeding to red dye.



Rumex spp. In China, mainly R. japonicus Houtt. Polygonaceae. Yangtigen羊蹄根; ummā©/Heimaxi黑馬西 [Rumex, sorrel]; Òimād/Hunmazi渾馬子 [Rumex, Sourwood, Sorreltree, Oxydendron arboreum]; Chokrī/Chukuli出枯哩 [dock, Rumex acetosa]. Root mostly used.


Dioscorides: II-140, lapathon, R. patientia, dock. Plant or seed boiled for stomach. Seed in water and wine for dysentery, scorpion stings, stomach and intestinal complaints. Leaves and/or roots externally for a wide range of conditions, from leprosy and impetigo to earache and toothache.


Galen: Also lapathon, R. patientia. Juice irritates stomach. Oxylapathon (“sour dock,” presumably R. acetosella), not good to eat.


Avicenna: ḥummāḍ, R. crispus. Cold and dry. Various poultices for tubecular glands, etc.  Mouthwash. With wine for black jaundice. Seeds cause constipation but leaves may be laxative. Minor internal uses.


Lev and Amar, Rumex sp., ḥummād. Minor uses including depressing sexual function.


Kamal: R. acetosa, hammad, hummayd. Diuretic (root). R. patientia, ‘rq. mushel, rawand barri.  Root infusion sudorific, and on skin and scabies. Leaves astringent.


Bellakhdar et al: Rumex sp., zerri’at l-hummida, laxative, for liver disorders.


Ghazanfar: R. vesicarius, ḥamid., leaves and seeds eaten for scorpion stings.


Nadkarni: R. crispus, Astringent, sedative.


Dash: R. acetosella and R. vesicarius. Alleviate dosas. Appetiser.


Eisenman: R. caesius, various diseases from scabies to scurvy; astringent for diarrhea.  Decoction of roots and leaves for skin conditions and wounds. Biomedically, astringent, purgative, and many intestinal conditions; vermifuge. R. tianschanicus, on abscesses.


Li: Yangti羊蹄 (can cover other species too). Range of uses, including root as vermifuge and antifungal. R. acetosa, suanmo, next in Li after this sp., sour, cold, nontoxic, for pain, scabies, tinea, dystentery, etc.



Ruta spp. (R. graveolens is the usual domestic species), Rutaceae. Rue, sādhab, is called for in the HHYF, but always glossed as “field mint,” and one can only assume the gloss is correct here, and that the rue actually used in the Near Eastern originals found a local substitute in field mint.  Either the Chinese did not have rue (but they do, now, and use it medicinally) or the translators were confused. Thus, see Mentha. However, in the HHYF Table of Contents, rue frequently appears, unglossed. Yunxiang雲香; Sadhāb/Sadabu撒荅不.


Dioscorides: III: 45: peganon to oreion (“mountain rue”). Pain in sides and breasts, asthma, coughs, lungs, joints, uterus, worms, ear trouble, itching, etc.


Levey: Various plants for pains in boys. Modern uses for diuretic, emmenagogue, abortive, etc.


Avicenna: Sadhāb, Ruta graveolens. Hot and dry. Pounded with salt for hot swellings. Used on tubercular lymph glands. Used for paralysis, pain, sciatica, arthritis; orally or poultice with honey. Usual minor uses of nose, eyes, chest. Used with fig as poultice for “watery swellings throughout the body.”[114] For abdominal pain. Internally or externally for fevers and chills.


Lev and Amar: sadhāb (wild rue), fayjān (cultivated). Diarrhea, wind, warts, dysuria, dysmenorrhea, hard swellings, aphasia, spasms, tension, shaking, palsy, baldness, fever, bile, phlegm. Rue oil specifically for convulsion and tetany, fevers, colic; seeds for eyelids; etc. Used with othe medications for anything and everything from sexual therapy to sore armpits. Hot and dry.


Kamal[115] translates Avicenna on rue; the account is very long and detailed. The plant is breaks up and resolves or soothes various conditions, clears vessels, etc. It is good on skin conditions for odor of garlic and onion, for tumors and pustules, for wounds and ulcers, for headaches and head conditions, for various eye, chest, and stomach conditions, and so on; it helps with fever and resists poisons. He gives formulations for all these purposes. Significantly, he says nothing about magical uses, though these were rampant in the west—at least later, and presumably in his time. The plant is, in modern biomedical terms, slightly antiseptic and quite soothing to the stomach, but not much else. Large quantities of it, made up as he recommends, would probably have action in most of the ways Avicenna mentions, though not necessarily very much action.


Meserve[116] lists R. sahurica as a Mongol medicine for nerves and possibly other uses, though there are problems with identification.

(Significant here is the thoroughly scientific and empirical way Avicenna treats the plant and its uses. He brought together an incredible amount of material that was obviously based on close observation and recording. Interestingly, rue never made it to East Asia in early times. It is very commonly grown as a folk medicine today, however. Li does not mention any Ruta sp. Possibly the easy availability of the closely related and similarly effective Citrus spp. account for this. Rue is extremely effective as an antiseptic [especially the oil], soothing and digestive agent, etc., but dangerous in overdose.)



Saccharum officinarum L., S. sinensis Roxb., Poaceae. Sugarcane. There is no sugarcane as such in the HHYF but hundreds of references to sugar in various forms. Shatang 沙糖/ shatang砂糖/Baishatang白沙糖/ Tang糖; Baishami白砂蜜; Zar nabāt/ Saernabate/撒兒那把忒; Fanīdh/Fanidi法尼的.


Dioscorides: II-104, sakcharon, sugar (from S. officinarum). Drunk for stomach, and pains of bladder and kidneys. Applied to eyes.


Levey: Sugar in various preparations, as a modifier. In clysters.


Avicenna: Hot and somewhat moist, but dry after aging. White sugar candy is moist. Laxative, cleansing, washing; the candy is especially laxative. Softens chest. Candy treats coughs. Cane for yellow bile. Various minor uses.


Lev and Amar: Cough, colds, heartbeat. Ash used for this and even malaria. Much more widespread was the use of sugar as the vehicle for carrying drugs; almost anything could be given in a syrup, rob (rubb), sugar pill, etc.


Ghazanfar: S. officinarum, juice for cough and diuretic, also in eyes for pain.


Madanapala: S. spontaneum, kāśa, cold; cures bronchitis, dysuria, stone, bleeding, consumption.  Other spp. noted.


Nadkarni: S. officinarum preservative, demulcent, antiseptic, cooling, laxative, diuretic. Juice used. Sugar for antiseptic and demulcent uses.


Dash: Sweet, cold. Promotes corpulence and virility. Laxative. S. spontaneum similar; also for thirst, cough, bleeding.


Sun: Sugar cane (ganzhe甘蔗): sweet, balanced, astringent, nonpoisonous. It helps the qi move downwards and harmonizes the Middle Jiao (hezhong和中) and nourishes the qi of spleen. It is good for the large intestine. It stops thirst and rids anxiety. It also treats intoxication caused by alcohol.


Li: Ganzhe (=S. officinarum, S. spontaneum, also). Sweet, balanced to cold, astringent, nontoxic. Minor uses including soothing stomach.



Salix babylonica L., Salicaceae. LiuBīd/ Biedi別的.


Dioscorides:  I-74, itea, Salix sp., willow. Leaves ground, taken as contraceptive; drunk with pepper and wine for colic. Fruit (seed) or bark tea, drunk for spitting blood. Various external applications.


Avicenna: Bahrāmaj, khilāf, ṣafṣāf (various species). Several external uses, including poultice for bone wounds. Fruits for gases in head. Smelling of leaves is good. Flowers and juice in ears for aches. Juice for liver and jaundice. Somewhat laxative. (Interestingly, the painkilling effects are not mentioned.)


Lev and Amar: Salix spp. S. aegyptica, khilāf, etc. Eyes, fever, colic, stomach-ache.


Kamal: S. alba, root for antirheumatic and antipyretic uses. S. nigra, sexual disturbances. S. babylonica not used medicinally.


Nadkarni: Antihelminthic, antiseptic, astringent, tonic. Several other spp. used similarly.


Dash: Cures aggravated heat in lungs and heart.


Li: Liu (“willow” in general; this sp. is the usual garden one in China). Bitter, cold, nontoxic.  For fever, of course, but also a variety of other internal and external uses, the external ones related to tannin values.

  1. purpurea, shiuyang水楊, twig and fruit for a number of internal and external uses related to strong tannin value.

(Willows are one of the most concentrated sources of salicylic acid, the natural “aspirin,” though the latter drug was actually discovered by the Bayer chemists in a Spiraea, of which the word “aspirin” is an anagram. Cultures around the world have learned to use willow leaf or bark tea, or simply chew the leaves, for fevers, headaches and inflammations.)



Santalum album L., Santalaceae. Sandalwood. Tan/ 檀. Hu 540.


Graziani: Ibn Jazlah used it for palpitation, headache, liver ailments; modern Iranian use for antiseptic action in genito-urinary tract. White sandalwood in Egypt against gonorrhea and other genito-urinary complaints.


Levey: ṣandal. Liver, spleen, erysipelas, etc.


Avicenna: ṣandal. Cold and dry. Dissolves hot swellings; used on inflammation. For headaches, fevers, weak stomach.


Lev and Amar: ṣandal. Black bile, phlegm, malaria, diarrhea, liver, ulcers, teeth, erysipelas, heart, etc.


Kamal: Sandal. Oil sudorific, heart tonic, cure for gonorrhea.


Al-Bīrūnī: used in India for treating acute swellings, as well as for making useful objects (that would then be scented), etc.[117]


Bellakhkdar et al: sendal. “Magic,” whatever that may be.


Madanapala: Candana. Cold. Cardiac tonic. For complexion, poison, thirst, bleeding, burning syndrome.


Nadkarni: Wood bitter, cooling, sedative, astringent. Oil used as disinfectant for membranes.


Li:  Tan, a name used also for Dalbergia hupeana. Root-bark balanced, pungent, nontoxic, good for external parasites. The gum, tanxiang (sandalwood fragrance/incense), warm, pungent, nontoxic, few minor uses including the same external ones and a stomachic use.

(This is, of course, also the most important Chinese incense, so important that it gave its name to Hong Kong [xianggang 香港, “incense port,” because sandalwood was once shipped from there; mistranslated “fragrant harbor” all too often] and the Hawaiian Islands (tanxiangshan 檀香山, “sandalwood mountains,” in Chinese, because they once produced this root-parasitic tree). As a sacred incense, its smell defines sacred space in Chinese culture. Its major medicinal importance, then, lies in its magical or religious function. Its scent when burned pleases the gods and spirits and makes them help and heal the worshipers.)



Satureja thymbra L., Lamiaceae. Savory. ßa’tar/Satela撒忒剌; hāshā/Hasha哈沙


Dioscorides: III-45, thymbra, Satureia thymbra, savory. Used like thyme.


Lev and Amar: za‘tar (sa‘tar) fārisī. Kidney pains and stones, urine flow, ears, eyes, intestines, growths on neck, emmenagogue, diuretic, stomach, etc.



Saussurea lappa C. B. Clarke, Asteraceae. Introduced to China as cultivated medicinal. Muxiang木香; Guang-mu-xiang. Hu 100.


Avicenna: Qusṭ (from the Greek kostos). Hot and dry. Various external uses; also for lethargy, chest pains, menstruation, worms, etc. Aphrodisiac but abortifacient. Treats bites; with wine and absinthe for snake bites. (Interesting that Avicenna is the only western source to go into much detail on this widely distributed and chemically active plant—a major Chinese medicine.)


Madanapala: Kustha. Pungent, sweet, bitter. Promotes semen. Cures gout, erysipelas, bleeding, cough.


Nadkarni: Carminative, antiseptic, disinfectant.


Dash: Bitter, pungent, hot, alleviates dosas, cures thirst, erysipelas, poison, fungus, skin conditions.


Li: Muxiang. Root pungent, warm, nontoxic. Dispels problems in general, even nightmares and weak will. General tonic and toner of system, with wide functions.



Scolopendrium vulgare Swartz, Polypodiaceae. As-saqūlūfandariun/Yisigulufandilirong亦思古魯凡的里榮.


Dioscorides: III-121, phyllitis. Leaves with wine for snakebite and the like, and dysentery and diarrhea.



Sedum sarmentosum.  Chuipencao垂盆草. Possibly a mistaken identification in sources.

However, Lev and Amar report use of possible Sedum sp., ḥayy al-’ālam, for nerves, lungs, bleeding, pains. Not scored.



Semecarpus anacardium L., Anacardiaceae. Balādur/Biladier必剌的兒/Baladuerdi八剌都而的; Anqardiyā/Anjiaerdiya安家兒的牙/ Anaqardiyā /Anhaerdiya安哈而的牙. Oriental cashew nut.


Presumably the cashews mentioned in HHYF is this sp.


Avicenna: Balādur. Hot and dry. On ulcers, inflammation, warts, vitiligo. Eliminates tattoo marks. Relieves baldness. Treats “coldness and laxity of nerves caused by paralysis and facial paralysis.”[118] May stir up melancholia. Snuffing it dries piles. Poisonous.


Madanapala: Astringent, sweet, hot.  Promotes semen. Cures abdominal diseases, constipation, skin including leprosy, piles, fever, ulcers, parasites, etc.


Nadkarni: Very important; many major uses. Antiseptic, stimulant, digestive, etc. Modern studies confirm effects; several active ingredients noted.

Powerful vesicant, rash producing, but oil highly antiseptic and cholagogue. “Ripe fruits are regarded as stimulant, digestive, nervine and escharotic…gastro-intestinal irritant. Kernel edible, digestive, carminatice. Cardiac and respiratory tonic.[119] Several pages of uses; very important in India, especially for skin and digestion.


Dash: Hot; digestive.




Sesamum indicum  DC., Pedaliaceae. Oil.  Introduced crop in China. Zhima芝麻; Ma 麻; Mazi痲子; Huma胡麻. In the HHYF, sesame oil is often confused with flax or cotton oil.


Dioscorides: II-121, sesamon, sesame. Hurts stomach. Causes bad breath if the seeds stick in the teeth. Gets rid of thickness of nerves (whatever that is), helps with fractures, inflammations, burns (evidently externally applied), and (presumably internally) for colon, etc. Used with rose oil on head. Herb in wine for the same and for eyes. Use of oil mentioned, but apparently it is not medicinal.


Galen: Warm, oily, not a good food.


Levey: Simsim. Ear, leprosy; oil general carrier for all sorts of poultices, clysters, etc.


Avicenna: Simsim. Hot and moist. Laxative. Soothing. Seeds on burns. Poultice for nerves.  With rose oil on head for headaches. For difficult breathing; seeds taken. Emmenagogue and abortifacient.


Lev and Amar: simsim. Oil is shīraj. Oil used in preparations for various topical purposes; part of a medicine for babies’ umbilical hernia and incessant crying that apparently included all the favorite curealls in the Genizah. Also for convulsion, tetany, fevers, colic, breast swellings, ears, headache, leprosy, lungs, abscesses, toothaches, cough, instanity, etc. Apparently always the oil.


Graziani: Simsim. Used by Ibn Jazlah for blood, hair, relaxation, snakebite. Fattening but makes thirst and slows digestion. Used today in Middle East to increase milk, for stomach and pulmonary diseases, emmenagogue, even abortifacient.


Kamal: semsem, simsim. Seeds for poultices.


Bellakhdar et al.: jenjlan. Hypnotic for children. Stimulant, including for lactation (a very widespread use in the Mediterranean and elsewhere).


Ghazanfar: Zait simsim (the oil). Seed oil for dysentery, colds, urinary problems. Seeds used as aphrodisiac.


Nadkarni: Seeds laxative, emollient, demulcent, diuretic, latagogue, emmenagogue. Leaves demulcent.


Sun: Sesame (huma胡麻): sweet, balanced, nonpoisonous. It especially treats hurt Middle Jiao (shangzhong傷中) and weakness (xulei虚羸). It is nutritious to the five internal organs. It enhances the qi and strength. It builds muscles. It fills the head with brains. It strengthens tendons and bones. It cures cutting wounds and relieves pain. It treats the striking cold (shanghan傷寒) and the illness in which at first the patient has fever and then feels cold (wennue溫瘧). It treats the feeling of weak, heat, and tiredness after excessive vomiting and diarrhea (datuxia hou xure kunfa大吐下後虛熱困乏). If one has taken it for a long time, his weight will be lessened and he will not get old [presumably “old” means “senile” here]. It is helpful to hearing and eyesight. It helps people resist cold and heat. It elongates one’s lifespan. Its oil is mildly cold. It particularly helps the large intestines (li dachang利大腸). It deals with the problem when a lying-in woman has difficulty pushing out the afterbirth (chanfu baoyi bu luo產婦胞衣不落). It will let hair grow on a bald head. One can use raw sesame to rub a wound or swelling (chuangzhong瘡腫). It eliminates wandering wind (youfeng遊風) on head and face. It has other names: jusheng巨勝, goushi狗虱, fangjing方莖, or hongzhi鴻芷. Its leaves are called qingxiang青蘘. It treats the striking heat (shure暑熱). Its flowers especially treat loss of hair. On the seventh day, pick those growing on the top (zuishang piaotou最上摽頭) and dry them in the shade for future use. [The nutritional uses stressed above are perfectly practical; the high content of protein, oil, vitamins and minerals in sesame seed has made it a valuable nutritional source for thousands of years.]


Li: hu ma (“Iranian hemp”—the seeds, not the fibre, being similar to hemp) or you ma油麻or zhima (“oil hemp”; the last of these is the modern term). Li reports it was introduced to China by Zhang Qian張騫in the Han Dynasty; he is credited with many introductions from the west). Stem, oil, leaves used, but mostly the seeds, with black seeds having a different nutritional and medical value than white/yellow ones. (Black seeds are now considered more nourishing and warming.)

(Sesame oil is an excellent skin oil, also nutritious, and a good vehicle for other drugs, but has no special biomedical value.)



Seseli tortuosa L., Apiaceae. Sisāliyūs/Xisaliyuxi西撒里欲西/Xisaliyusi西撒里雨思/Xisaliyuxi 西撒里玉西.


Dioscorides: Kagchru, possibly this sp. Warming, drying. For eyes. Dioscorides’ “seseli” is identified as Echinophora tenuifolia (seseli massaleotikon, III-60) and Bupleurum fruticosum (seseli aithiopikon, III-61). These were used—seed and root—for diuretic, emmenagogue, and abortifacient purposes and general internal complaints, from coughs and gripes to fevers.


Nadkarni: S. indicum, seeds stimulant, carminative, stomachic.



Solanum melongena L., Solanaceae. Eggplant. Wagdh/Wenda溫荅; Jiazi茄子. Mentioned as a food in the Index.


Avicenna: Bādhinjān. Produces black bile. Hot and dry. Minor uses but most of the entry consists of warnings: harms clomplexion, causes headaches, causes liver problems unless cooked with vinegar, etc.


Lev and Amar: Strengthens stomach, dispels nausea. Hot and dry. Improves smells of body, increases urine, blackens the hair, removes white spots and tears from eyes, et. Thorns used for hemorrhoids and the like.


Ghazanfar: Regulates cholesterol.


Nadkarni: hypnotic, antiphlegmatic, alleviate wind, etc. Ash used. Leaves narcotic, seeds stimulant. Fruit fried for toothache. Fruit good for liver.


Li: Sweet, cold, nontoxic. Not a particularly good food. Useful for poultices; stem burned for ash for aphtha. A large number of specialized medical uses, some magical: hang up an eggplant, gaze at it day after day; as it withers the disease withers. Many small, intensely flavorful eggplant species exist in south China and neighboring Southeast Asia. Li calls them “bitter eggplant,” kujia苦茄, probably lumping several species, and recommends them for a wash for carbuncle and swelling.  Some are used in local and Tibetan medicine (e.g. Dash, S. indica).

(Major food in the Middle East, where any eggplant dish is likely to be called Būrūniyā from the extreme fondness that an early ‘Abbasid Princess Burun was said to have for the fruit (sober history does not record this, however). This has given us “boronia,” “alboronia” and the like in various European languages. Converted Moors carried it to Mexico. Sometimes the dishes are made with green beans or other substitutes instead of eggplant.)



Solanum nigrum L., Solanaceae. ‘Inab ath-Tha’lab/Yinabusalabi亦拏卜撒剌必/Yegouputao野狗蒲萄 (“Wild dog grape”)


Theophrastus: II, p. 311, strykhnos, possibly not this species; makes one mad.


Dioscorides: IV-71, strychnos kepaios, garden nightshade. Leaves edible, cooling, applied for a very wide range of external conditions.


Galen: Medicine; extremely astringent, cold.


Levey: Rūzbāraj. In nasal ointment and for liver and stomach, hemorrhoids, etc. Also as ‘inab ath-tha’lab, for erysipelas.


Avicenna: ṭiqāqawāūn (enchanter’s nightshade). Many other names. Cold and dry. Usual uses in poultices; unusual is one with white lead and rose oil, for diffuse inflammation. Sedative. Used in eyes, for stomach and kidneys, cleansing. Primarily an anaesthetic or sedative.


Lev and Amar: eggplant, S. melongena, stoach, nausea, diuretic, etc. Hot and dry.


Kamal: ‘inab al-th’eb. Leaves for poultices and vaginal treatments. S. melongena leaves for fomentations for burns and leprosy; juice of fruit (eggplant) diuretic.


Bellakhdar et al: S. sodomaeum, limun n-nsara, quras l-jenn, antiepileptic.


Ghazanfar: Plant used as expectorant; for fevers, gonorrhea, kidney, bladder, stomach; on ulcers.

Madanapala:  Kākamācī. Hot. Cardiac tonic, rejuvenating, promotes voice and semen. For odema, skin, leprosy, piles, fever, urinary diseases. Several other Solanum spp. discussed.


Nadkarni: Not this, but several other spp. used, some narcotic; most very different in nature and effect from S. nigrum, however.


Dash: Hot, laxative. Promotes voice and virility and alleviates dosas. Cures skin. Can be poisonous.


Li: Longkui 龍葵. Bitter, slightly sweet, slippery and nontoxic (!). All parts used; a few minor uses including external uses on boils and the like.

Several other Solanum species used, including eggplants S. melongena and relatives for an astonishing variety of uses, including poultice on frostbite.

(Solanum nigrum sometimes contains dangerous alkaloids, giving it the name “deadly nightshade.”)



Spartium junceum L., Fabaceae. Badāshghān/Badashihan八達失韓Badashqan.


Dioscorides: IV-158, spartion, broom. Seeds purgative. Drunk or clyster for lower parts.

(Arab/Persian name obscure; very likely applies to a different species of broom, as in the case of the hairy thorn-broom above. But it is not in the Middle East sources under any name.)



Stellaria dichotoma L. var lanceolata Bge., Caryophyllaceae. Yincihu 銀紫胡 [?].


Sun: Chickweed (Stellaria media, perhaps including the above sp.; fanlou蘩蔞): sour, balanced, nonpoisonous. It treats especially the deteriorative ulcer that exist for years, and hemorrhoids that cannot be cured. Pick it at noon, the fifth day of the fifth month. It is also called zicao滋草, or jichangcao雞腸草. Dry and burn it. Use the parched ashes for medication. Bian Que扁䳍 said, “If a man has a deteriorative ulcer, or his glans (yintou陰頭) and penis have ulcers and are festered, and the pain is intolerable and the ulcer cannot be healed up for a long time, take one part ashes to two parts mud recently excreted by an earthworm. Add water and fully blend them. Make a paste like the dough that is used to make a pancake before it is fried. Apply the paste on the ulcer and change it when it is dry. Do not consume alcohol, flour food, the five spices (wuxin五辛), or hot food (reshi熱食).” The Yellow Emperor said, “When fanlou is taken alongside with (?zha[鱼旦]鲊), it will arouse the illness of losing weight and being thirsty and make the person forgetful.” There is another species, growing in warm and wet location, for instance a place close to the aqueduct. It grows in the winter and its shape is like coriander (husui胡荽). It is also called jichangcao雞腸草. It can be used to cure hemorrhoids. It has another name, tianhusui天胡荽.


Li: Fanlü繁縷. Trivial uses,



Strychnos sp. (S.  pierriana?), Loganiaceae. Jawz [al-]qāyi/Guoerji過兒吉… [Transcription incomplete]



Dash: S. nux-vomica L. bitter and astringent; cures parasites. Usable for rat-poison.

The fact that only Tibetan medicine seems to use this plant, among our sources, does not mean we have a Tibetan influence here. Note the Arabic name and the fact that S. nux-vomica is known all over the Old World, but mostly as a poison rather than a medicine.



Styrax benzoin Dryand., Styracaceae. Resin.  Anxixiang安息香. Hu 659.


Dioscorides:  I-79, styrax, S. officinalis. Gum used. Warming, softening. Cures coughs and other respiratory conditions. Drunk or applied for vulva and as emmenagogue. Soot also used.


Al-Bīrūnī: Usshaq, usshaj. Deeobstruent, haemorrhagic, resolvent, purgative. With vinegar and tar for scrofula, sclerosis, enlargements, cleaning away bad flesh, etc. With honey and barley for arthritis and uralgic problems, and joint pain in general. Al-Bīrūnī  records some controversy over exactly what plant is meant.


Avicenna: S. officinalis, aṣṭarak; lubni for liquid. Hot and dry. Usual minor uses for hot dry drugs.


Kamal: gawi. Inhalations for cheat disease and throat inflammations. Resin stimulant, expectorant, astringent; cough sedative, dries expectoration. Antiseptic dressing powder for wounds.


Bellakhdar et al: jawi. Ripening of abscesses.


Nadkarni: Antiseptic, disinfectant, stimulant, expectorant. Gum. Used as incense.


Li: Anxixiang. (Identified in Li 2003 as S. tonkinensis, but Li notes it may have come from Anxi in central Asia, and had a Sanskrit name, so S. benzoin is surely included.) Gum pungent, bitter, plain, and nontoxic. A number of uses, most of them, unusually, psychological; it dispels nightmares, unnatural sexual dreams, fright, visions of ghosts, evil, and devils, and the like. This is the only plant in this canon that the hard-headed Li uses primarily for such purposes.



Syzygium aromaticum (L.) Merr. et Perry (Eugenia caryophyllata Thunb.), Myrtaceae. Imported. Dingpi丁皮; Dingxiang丁香 (“nail aromatic,” cf. English “clove” from French clou “nail.” Hu 973. Flower bud, dried, becomes clove.


Avicenna: Qaranful. Hot and dry. Strengthens stomach and liver.Treat vomiting and nausea.  Can help eyes, also epilepsy.


Levey, Levey and Al-Khaledy: Qaranful. In electuaries, dentifrice, collyrium, and for breathing and stomachic.


Lev and Amar: Qaranful. Heat, dryess, black and red bile, coughs, colds.  Freshens breath, treats gums and stomach. Hysteria, epilepsy, etc., and for sexual medicine (Maimonides). For nausea.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Qaranful, mismar. Coughs, colds, cuts, eyes, hair loss, headaches, menstruation, nauseal and vomiting, sore throat, toothache, and childbirth (cinnamon, cloves, honeyu, dates during labor). Antiseptic and antifungal activity noted here.


Nadkarni: Dried buds stomachic, carminative, stimulant, aromatic, antispasmodic. Oil antiseptic, local anaesthetic, rubefacient. (These uses are all well documented by modern biomedicine; the volatile oils are responsible.)


Dash: Cold. Cardiac, promotes eyesight and virility, cures poisons.


Li: Dingxiang.Pungent, warm, nontoxic.Topical for mouth and nose. Cures gum disease, bad breath, etc. Digestive. Some minor uses. Used since very ancient times.

(Clove is highly effective, still in some medical use, and perhaps the most effective in biomedical terms of anything mentioned in the HHYF. Its volatile oil is strongly antiseptic, antifungal, carminative, stomachic. It has been used since time immemorial for toothache, since it not only kills at least a few bacteria but also has some numbing or pain-relieving effect; treats gums, sweetens breath.  Still almost universally used, worldwide, in folk medicine.)



Tamarindus indicus L., Fabaceaae.  Tamarind. Bādranjabuyah/Badilangjiboye把的朗吉波也; khurmā’ Hindī/ Huermaxindu忽而麻忻都; Òumar/ Huerma胡而麻. Mentioned only a few times including in the table of contents volume.


Avicenna: Cold and dry. Laxative.  Treats vomiting, thirst from fever, yellow bile, and effects of excessive vomiting.


Lev and Amar: Astringent. For menorrhagia, jaundice, laxative, purgative, cooling; in modern Egypt as mouthwash for thrush; seeds for plaster; for nausea, fever, etc.


Nadkarni: Pulp contains tartaric, citric, malic, ascorbic, and acetic acids, as well as oter useful items.  Cooling, carminative, digestive, laxative. Antibilious. Leaves and seeds strongly astringent. Two pages of fine print on local uses.

(Oddly not in Li. A very popular cooling drink throughout much of the Mediterranean world, and its extension into Hispanic America, is prepared from the pulp, and no one who has tried it can fail to be impressed by the cooling effect of the astringent but sweet pulp rich in vitamins and minerals.)



Taxus baccata L., Taxaceae. Zarnab/Zhaernabu札而拿卜


Levey: Zarnab. Uncertain identification as yew. Good for spirits and happiness.


Avicenna: Hot and dry; minor uses typical of hot dry drugs.


Lev and Amar: zarnab. Disinfectant. For bad smells. Softens voice, dissolves phlegm, improves digestion, diuretic, etc.


Nadkarni: Leaves and fruits emmenagogue, sedative, antispasmodic.


Li: Torreya grandis, feishi榧實, seed, sweet, balanced, astringent, nontoxic. Vermifuge, mouth sores, sore throat (still standard in the 21st century for this; the nuts are roasted and eaten.)

(Berries of Taxus are highly toxic.)



Terminalia bellerica (Gaertn.) Roxb., Combretaceae. Balīlaj/Balila八里剌.


Avicenna: balīlaj. Cold and dry. Cleansing. Oxidizing, assimilative. Maturing for stomach.  Laxative. (Note this is another of the many Indian medicines not mentioned by Islamic authorities other than Avicenna.)


Madanapala: Bibhītaka. Astringent, purgative, for eyes, cough, etc.


Nadkarni: Astringent, tonic, expectorant, laxative; yunani use as cold and dry tonic for stomach etc., used also for headache, hemorrhoids, diarrhea.


Dash: Cures all diseases caused by either heat or cold!  Pungent, hot, corrosive. Cures abdominal diseases.

It would seem highly likely that this drug got into HHYF practice via Tibet.



Terminalia chebula Retz.,Combretaceae. Hozi訶子; Hawm al -majūs /呼木麥乎思/Humumaishuzi呼木麥朮思; Halĩlaj/Halila哈里剌. Hu ds659


Levey: Halīlaj. Loose uvula; ears; throat; mouth; preventing miscarriage. Levey notes its wide use in Asia, giving even a Tokharian word for it (arirāk).


Avicenna: halīlaj. Cold and dry. Internal pains. Digestive. Evacuates black bile and phlegm. Laxative. Good for memory, sense organs, intellect.


Lev and Amar. Terminalia spp. ‘amlaj, halīlaj, etc. Various kinds used but hard to sort out in the Genizah material—which has a very great deal about them. As in India, they tend to have been curealls. Eyes, stomach, cough, cold, pains, and most other minor ailments.


Bellakhdar et al: astringent; also for liver, stomach and bowel disorders.


Ghazanfar: Leaves on skin rashes. Enema from crushed fruit with other substances. For childbirth.


Nadkarni: Astringent, purgative, etc. Myrobalans—this, T. bellerica, and Emblica—are standard Indian medicines, universally used.


Dash: Root cures bone diseases, trunk for muscles, branches for vessels and tendons, bark for skin, leaves for hollow viscera, flowers for sense organs, fruits for solid viscera—a wonderful bit of correspondence theory, obviously influenced by the Chinese (note the classification of viscera). Stimulant, appetiser, laxative.


Li: Helile, hezi, the former explained by Li as Sanskrit for “coming of the heavenly god”!  (Note that it is actually a transcription of the Arabic name.) Very wide range of uses, but most cluster around respiratory and digestive. Myrobalans, from India, have a long history in China.



Teucrium chamaedrys L. Lamiaceae. Kamāduriyūs /Kemadiyusi可馬的雨思/Kemadieryusi可馬的兒雨思; Kamādariyūs /Kemadaeryuxi可馬達而玉西/Kemafeixixi可馬肥徙西 (Gr).


Kamal: Kamadrios, ballat al-ard. Used for tuberculosis; antipyretic, anti-gout. T. maritimum, kamadrios al-bihhar; tonic, astringent, dissolvient. For nasal polypi.


Nadkarni: Tonic, diuretic, sudorific.



Teucrium leucocladum Boiss. and Teucrium polium L., Lamiaceae. Ju’dah /Zhuwuda主兀荅/Shuwuda述兀荅; Sādhaj/Sada撒荅.


The former is a local Middle Eastern plant. All sources probably trace back to Dioscorides’ comments on T. polium, possibly including T. chamaedrys, a European plant still widely used medicinally including in the HHYF. See above.


Dioscorides: III-124, polion, T. polium; Goodyer Englishes it as hulwort. Bites, dropsy, jaundice, spleen. Purgative, emmenagogue. Bad for stomach.


Avicenna: A range of germander species are treated. All are hot and dry. Most are opening and diluting. They have the usual range of uses for hot and dry herbs.


Lev and Amar: T. capitatum, ja‘da, kamādriyūs. Wounds abscesses, spleen swellings, fevers, stings, diuretic, purgative, emmenagogue. Hot and dry. Dropsy, jaundice, spleen, etc.


Bellakhdar et alj’idiya. Against chill, oedema, liver pain [a folk category]. Blood-cleansing.


Ghazanfar: Ja’ada and other names. Leaves boiled and drunk for pain, jaundice, fever; topically on bites and abscesses; for childbirth. T. mascatense for colic, diabetes, stomach pain, fever.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Diabetes, rheumatism, swellings, purgation, stomach. Leaf influsion used. Effective, but toxic, so inadvisable.


Mandaville: Mention (ja’dah) but no medicinal use reported.


Nadkarni: Arab knowledge noted. No Indian use.



  1. scordium L., Lamiaceae. Asqūdūriyūn /Sugudierrong速古的兒榮; Suqurdiyun; Saqūrdiyūn/Suguerdiyun速古兒的云


Dioscorides: III-125, skordion, T. scordioides [or possibly scordium?], water germander. Herb warming. Diuretic. Snakebites, poisons, dystentery, old coughs, convulsions. Applied in vinegar or water to gout. Aplied for emmenagogue and for wounds. Various external uses.


Al-Bīrūnī: Shaqardiyūn. Astringent, bitter, sharp. Purifies organs. Diuretic and emmenagogue.  For pains from obstruction and coldness. Granulates gaping wounds. Antitoxin. With wine for stomach, intestines, strangury. Cleansing. Dry for coughs and cramps. With medicine with oil and wax, reduces iflammation and pain. Pessary, emmenagogue. Detergent for wounds; generates new skin, removes hard dried flesh. Extract for pains. Most of this from Galen.


Kamal: T. scordioides, water chamaedrys; al-thom al-barri, magl al-safsaf. For preservative.


Nadkarni: Antiputrefactive. Antiseptic, diaphoretic, stimulant.



Thapsia sp. (e.g. T. garganica L.), Apiaceae. Not. Thāfsiyā/Tafuxiya他福西牙 (Persian).


Dioscorides: IV-157, thapsia, T. garganica. Root or sap for purging. This helps not only with stomach pains but for asthma, etc. Applied to sunburns, eruptions, etc. Noted that “it behoves him that takes ye liquor not to stand against ye wind, but rather to doe it in still weather. For it puffs up ye face mightily, & ye naked parts are blistered by the sharpness…”[120]  In other words, it, like some relatives, contains furanocoumarins that sensitize the skin to ultraviolet radiation, causing massive sunburn.


Al-Bīrūnī: Tāfsiyā. Vesicant, very heating.


Bellakhdar et al: Analeptic, antirheumatic, revulsive



Thuja orientalis L. and other Cupressaceae. Some native. Unclear what species is or are mentioned in the HHYF. Bozi柏子


Al-Bīrūnī: Juniperus, one name being ‘ar‘ar (see below), cited to Rāzī as emenagogue and treatment of “foetal disorders.”


Avicenna: rīs for tree; abhal for the berry; ‘ar‘ar for the tree and berry; sandrūs for gum.  Hot and dry. Fruit roasted in sesame oil for ear drops. Fumes help respiratory ailments. Fruits for chest pain and cough. Gum—sandarac—for palpitations, asthma, etc. Berry cleansing, laxative; sandarac taken for inflamed spleen. Berry diuretic. Berry and oil a famous abortifacient. Gum used for diarrhea; fumes of it on piles.


Nasrallah: hot, dry, purging, diuretic. Antihelminthic. Emmenagogue, abortifacient.


Lev and Amar: ‘ar‘ar.  Hot and dry. “Regulates” menstruation, treats fractures, skin, heart, eyes.


Kamal: T. articulata, leaves diuretic and anticatarrhal, sedative for reumatic pains. Wood sudorific; for syphilis.


Bellakhdar et al: Juniperus phoenicia for urinary antiseptic, emmenagogue, stomach pains; Tetraclinis articulata, ‘ar‘ar, a native Moroccan juniper-like plant similar to Thuja, as antidiarrheal, antipyretic, antivertigo, anti-headache, astringent.

(The fame of juniper oil as abortifacient is widespread; it is dangerous, not infrequently fatal, but very effective.)



  1. vulgarus. (generic thyme) Òāshā’/Hasha哈沙; ©a’tar/Sadala撒荅剌/Satela撒忒剌; Dijiao地椒


Dioscorides III-44, thymos, Cretan thyme. Loosens and drives out phlegm, helps with asthma, expels worms. Not surprisingly by now, it is diuretic, emmenagogue, abortifacient, clears out afterbirths. The usual variety of minor external uses. Eaten with food, helps the sight.


Graziani: “Wild thyme,” nammām, used by Ibn Jazlah, unspecified use. Ordinary thyme and marjoram, sa’tār, use (unspecified) by Ibn Jazlah who gives other names. Note that the general term sa’tar or za’tar covers both thyme and marjoram, and sometimes other wild herbs too.



Thymus serpyllum L.  Lamiaceae. Native?  Dijiao地椒 [Thymus serpyllum and T. mongolicus]


Levey: Ḥāshā’, T. vulgaris (which is almost the same as T. serpyllum). Liver, stomach, spleen.  ṣa’tar, various thymes and thyme relatives; erysipelas, stomach, neck pustules. Notes the asses’ thyme, ṣa’tar al-ḥamīr, possibly T. capitatus. See below.


Avicenna: T. praecox, nammām, thūmūn (evidently from Greek). Hot and dry. Kills lice and dissolves warts. Externally on cold swellings, hard inflammations, etc. “Boiled down in vinegar and used with rose oil on the head, it is useful in treating amnesia, mental confusionk, sluggishness, irritation and swelling…of the brain and headache”[121] (a very useful plant, if it worked). Internally for weakness of nerves, eyesight, chest, digestion, worms. Expels dead foetus, menstrual discharge, etc.  Diuretic and emmenagogue.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: hashā (totally different transcription from that in Levey 1966!). T. vulgaris. Al-Samarqandī uses this and zatar (wild thyme) for, presumably, the usual purposes.


Nasrallah: Thyme in general, hot, stomachic, good for liver, relieves nausea and toothache, cures gum diseases, etc.


Kamal: T. vulgaris, hashā, za’tar al-hamir, i.e. asses’ thyme. Stimulant, diuretic, emmenagogue. Cooked in honey to ease breathing and asthma. Anihelminthic.


Bellakhdar et al.: Thymus spp. z’itra, za’ter, tazukenni. For all diseases. Gastro-intestinal antiseptic.


Ghazanfar: T. vulgaris, za’ater. Taken for colic, kidneys, bronchitis, cough.  Leaves boiled and tea massaged on breasts to bring down milk. Mixed with salt and water to wash vaginal area after childbirth.


Lebling and Pepperdine: T. vulgaris, za’tar etc., for colds, coughs, diarrhea, fatigue, stomach, liver, memory.


Nadkarni: Antiseptic. Very minor in India.


Eisenman: T. marschallianus, tea for stomatitis and toothaches, also fevers, headaches.   Decoction in milk for acute respiratory infections, amenorrhea. Biomedically, expectorant and antibiotic.


Li:  Dijiao. Includes also T. mongolicus. Relieves pain and swelling. Insecticide.

(Thyme is a well-recognized stimulant and antiseptic. Thyme oil is still the antiseptic of choice when all else fails, used e.g. for sterilizing areas contaminated by multiple-drug-resistant staphylococcus and streptococcus.)



Tragopogon pratensis L., Asteraceae. Badi (Yemenite).

Probable misidentification. Liyatu [al-] Taysi/Lihayitutaisi里哈亦土台思


Nadkarni:  bare mention.



Tribulus terrestris L. Zygophyllaceae. Native. Òasak/Hasaqi哈撒其Ḥasak (Arabic); Jili蒺藜.


Dioscorides: IV-15, tribolos. Binding, cooling. Various external applications, including mouth sores, mouth ulcers, gums, tonsillitis. Applied to eyes. Seed brewed for stone. Made into tea for snakebite.


Avicenna: Hot and dry, but only slightly. Swellings, ulcers, etc.


Ghazanfar: Diuretic and for kidney stones. T. longipetalus diuretic, aphrodisiac.


Madanapala: Gokshura. Urinary diseases, asthma, cough, blood, heart.


Nadkarni: Plant and fruit cooling, demulcent, diuretic, tonic, aphrodisiac; powdered.


Dash: As in Madanapala, also arthritis, kidneys.


Eisenman: Many uses including malaria and energizing. Biomedically, used for scerotic conditions, worms, fungus and yeast infections; possible anti-cancer activity.


Li: Jili. Bitter, warm, nontoxic. Disperses Cold and Heat, etc.

(An infamous worldwide pest, widely used but apparently ineffective as medicine.)



Trigonella foenum-graecum L., Fabaceae. Huluba葫蘆芭/Huluba葫蘆巴 (Òulba);


Manniche: Helps in childbirth. Ointment (oil cooked out of ground seeds) to make the old look and feel younger [the description of the process makes one think the old would have had to work so hard they would have gotten healthful exercise, at least]. “It is a million times efficientk”[122] (translating from Edwin Smith papyrus of ca. 1500 BC; the hypertrophe is typical—no false modesty in the Smith papyrus).


Dioscorides: II-124, telis, fenugreek. Seed meals applied for inflammations. Sitz bath for women’s conditions (vulvar inflammations, etc.), and applied with goose-grease to soften and dilate the womb. Grens in vinegar for ulcers, etc. Tea for dysentery. In oil with myrtle for cleansing genitalia and treating scarring there.

I-57, telinon, seed oil. For all external conditions.


Galen: Warming. With fish sauce for laxative, cleaning out intestines.


Levey: Ḥulba. Swellings, phlegm, kidneys, ulcers.


Al-Bīrūnī: Hulbah. Bran with natron for spleen. Sitz bath for women prepared from the plant. Used on wounds. With duck fat to cure scirrhus of the uterus. Note this is straight out of Dioscorides.


Avicenna: Ḥulbah. Hot, dry, but only to first degree. Discharges pus; laxative. Cleansing and drying. Used externally (oil) for hair, scars, skin disease, eye conditions, ruptures, freckles, ulcers, etc. Poultice on swellings. With rose oil on burns. Internally for voice, lungs, chest, throat, cough and asthma. Especially good for these when boiled down with honey, dates, figs.  (This would indeed work well.) Mix with dates and honey, heated over coals, taken before meals, is particularly good. Used with sodium nitrate for spleen; with vinegar for stomach, gastric ulcers, etc. and to make one vomit. For uterus, taken or as hip bath, boiled down.  Vaerious uses for diarrhea, anal swellings, intestines, many other related conditions.


Graziani: Hubbah; food.


Lev and Amar: ḥulba. Heats, cures cough and ailments of lung and womb. For bites and stings.  Swellings, headaches, stomach ulcers, and kidneys. Infections, intestinal problems skin, hair, women’s diseases, etc.


Kamal: hulbah, fariqah. Hot fomentations, sedative. Seeds stomachic, antihelminthic, sedative for cough and asthma, used for emphysema, and said to be aphrodisiac. (Because of the stomachic qualities, which are very real in biomedical terms, it is added in large quantities to many Arabic dishes, especially in Yemen where it is a major food ingredient.)


Bellakhdar et al: l-helba, reconstituant, hair-care, hypoglycemiant, blood-cleansing, and for aortic palpitations.


Ghazanfar: ḥelba, ḥilba. Powdered for colic, fruits for bronchitis, cough. Topically (seeds ground) on sprains. Seeds boiled, mixed with egg, given to new mother for 7 days after birth.  Enema for new mother to strengthen her back. (The cultural importance of fenugreek in Ghazanfar’s native south Arabia is enormous; it is used in vast quantities in Yemeni cooking as well as medicine.)


Lebling and Pepperdine: Externally for bleeding, headache, breast abscesses and mastitis; liver, eaten for diabetes, bones, menstrual cramps, stomachaches. Very many uses in childbirth; eaten during and after delivery, especially as one of the spice foods used for recovery from childbirth.  Also used for babies—presumably in tea, but also put on fontanel (presumably to prevent it falling).


Nadkarni: Seeds mucilagionous, demulcent, diuretic, tonic, carminative, emmenagogue, astringent, emollient, aphrodisiac.


Li:  Huluba (from the Arabic—one of very few common Chinese words that is a straight Arabic transliteration). Bitter, very warm, nontoxic.  Important heating drug, against various results of Cold.



Triticum spp.  “T. spelta” L., Poaceae. Maizi麥子; Xiaomai 小麥. Khandarūs /Handaluxi罕荅魯西 (Greek orig).  There is no such sp. as “T. romanum,” and T. spelta is not a valid species either, being merely a variety of T. x aestivum, itself a complex hybrid of T. dicoccoides and Aegilops squarrosa.)


Manniche:  T. dicoccum water (grains boiled in water, which is then strained and drunk) for “heart,” i.e. internal complaints, and constipation. Also eaten in cake for cough, etc.


Dioscorides: II-107, pyroi, T. vulgare [of which spelta is actually just a variety]. Wheat. Eaten raw (soft new kernel, evidently), causes roundworms. Chewed, applied to mad dog bites. Bread from it is nourishing. Meal with Hyoscyamus juice applied to fluxes of the nerves, puffing of bowels, etc. Bran also used as carrier in cataplasms. Made up with rue for breasts, bites, gripes, etc.  In general the meal is obviously just a carrier vehicle for the medicinal herbs. Leaven warming and extracting; reduces calluses; ripens boils and the like. Taken for blood-spitting, and with mint and butter for coughs and blod. Various other external applications. Old dry bread constipating.


Galen: Under wheats, long discussions given of types of bread, the whiter being the more digestible and better for health. Only peasants can digest the very coarse (wholemeal) breads, and even they only because they sleep so well (digestion going on during rest). Better-baked breads are better for digestion. Notes gruel is good but simple boiled wheat almost indigestible.


Avicenna: ḥinṭah (bran), sawīq (roasted, or flour), harīsat (wheat preparation), etc. Hot and somewhat moist but slightly drying also. Mostly a food, but flour for face, bran for swellings, other minor mostly external uses.


Lev and Amar: Triticum sp. (probably mostly T. aestivum), ḥinṭa, burr, ḥabba, qamh. (flour). Skin, wounds, minor pains.


Kamal: T. vulgare, infused in vinegar for pains.


Nadkarni: various uses, mostly flour pastes for external conditions.


Sun: Wheat (T. vulgare, xiaomai小麥): sweet, mildly cold, nonpoisonous. It nourishes the qi of the liver. It rids fever caused by invading qi (kere客熱). It terminates anxiety and thirst. It treats dry throat. It helps discharge urine. It stops loss of blood (louxue漏血) or blood in slaver (tuoxue唾血). It helps women become pregnant. It can easily be made into leaven, which, if made in the sixth month, is warm and nonpoisonous. It treats especially children’s epilepsy (xiao’erxian小兒癇) and helps digest food. It rids the Five Hemorrhoids (wuzhichong五痔蟲).[123] It pacifies qi in the stomach. It helps digest grains and stops diarrhea. Its powder is warm and nonpoisonous. It cannot eliminate fever or anxiety. It cannot be frequently taken. Otherwise, it will aggravate chronic diseases, and enhance “stranger qi” (keqi客氣), which is difficult to cure.


Li: T. aestivum, mai 麥, grains, flour, bran, leaves, shoots, straw ash, ferments, and other preparations, for a vast range of ills; often for the nutrition value or value as carrier for other drugs, but often in its own right.

Leaven (from wheat among other things), qu, also important.



Urtica. There are several mentions of generalized Urtica spp. in the text under the generic Anjrah/ Anzhila安知剌/Anzhula安諸剌 (also specifically U. dioica).


Avicenna: U. dioica, qurayḍ; seed, falanjah. Hot and dry. Used inpoultices, for nerves, for nose when can’t smell, and usual minor uses. Seeds aphrodisiac.


Nadkarni: U. dioica L. Used for laxative and diuretic vegetable and as antiscorbutic (works for all these). Also for catarrh, leucorrhea, hemorrages, etc. Syrup used for these and said very successful against uterine hemorrhage. Tincture on burns. Dried leaves powdered and inhaled to relieve asthma and bronchial troubles.


Li:  U. cannabina L. and U. angustifolia Fisch. ex Hornem., xunma, pungent, bitter, cold, very toxic; causes vomiting and diarrhea. Pounded for snakebite; juice applied to rash in rubella.

(Nobody in our sources, or to my knowledge anyone else, uses the tiny seeds, making it almost certain that the HHYF reference is not to Urtica. Possibly the HHYF intends some sort of hemp plant—very likely marijuana.)



Valeriana dioscorides Sibth. (=V. officinalis L.), V. celtica, Caprifoliaceae (Valerianaceae).  Nārdīn/Naerding納尒丁/ Naerding納而丁 [Nard, Valeriana celtica]; Fū/ Fu福 [valerian, Valeriana phu or V. dioscoridis]


Dioscorides: I-7, nardos keltike, V. celtica, valerian. Little stalks and roots ground, made into balls. Diuretic. For stomach, inflammations, jaundice, bloating, spleen, bladder, kidneys.  For venomous bites. For ointments.

I-8, nardos oreine, Valeriana tuberosa, mountain nard. Same uses.


Levey: V. celtica, nārdīn. Bladder, kidneys.


Al-Bīrūnī: V. celtica, Celtic nard, nārdīn. Similar to spikenard. Roots used.


Avicenna: . Hot and dry. Warming, laxative, pain-relieving. Treats opaque cornea, inflamed chest, etc. Boiled for emmenagogue.


Kamal: Waleriana. Stem and root oil relaxing and antipyretic.


Nadkarni: V. officinalis antispasmodic, stimulant. V. wallichii, similar uses, nervine, calming, etc.


Eisenman: V. officinalis sedative, carminative, vermifuge, and for psychological conditions from hypochondria and hysteria to epilepsy and insomnia. Used for pains, heart, anxiety.  Biomedically, well-known sedative, calming to nervous system and heart; treats insomnia, overactive cardiovascular system, spasms.

(Strongly active on nervous system and thus not a safe remedy, but very widely used.)



Veratrum album L., Melanthiaceae (Liliaceae). Hellebore. Kharbaq/ Haliji哈里吉/ Haerbaji哈而八吉. See Helleborus niger for black hellebore. (Veratrum is often called “false hellebore,” but it is not “false”—it has always been called hellebore. Apparently the similar activity, including toxic effect, is what mattered to the ancients who named them.)


Dioscorides: IV-150, ‘elleboros, Veratrum album, white hellebore. Roots for purging by vomiting. In eyes with collyrium for sight. Emmenagogue and abortifacient, to the point where planting it near grapevines makes the wine abortifacient (V-77).[124] For choking. Poison; kills mice.


Levey: Purgative, vermifuge, etc. Toxic.


Avicenna: kharbaq abyaḍ. Hot and dry. Poisonous; used to kill rats, dogs, wild pigs; Avicenna even warns that chickens have died from pecking the excrement of humans who use it. Externally on wounds, joints, ears, etes; internally to produce vomiting, but this is very dangerous, and a range of antidotes and diluents must be kept on hand and instantly used if suffocation (i.e., breathing cessation or incipient heart stoppage) appears. Expels black and yellow bile and phlegm.


Lev and Amar: Possible confusion with Helleborus albus, q.v.


Eisenman: V. lobelianum, on eczema, rheumatism, neuralgia; internally for mental illness. Biomedically, an insecticide and miticide. Analgesic and hypotensive. Highly toxic.

(Powerful heart stimulant and dangerous drug. Native Americans of the west coast of North America use V. viride for heart conditions, notably dropsy, and for other conditions in which stimulation is appropriate; but with extreme caution. It is sometimes called “mountain onion” in Chinese, and some at least of the HHYF recipes call for “mountain onion” to treat what looks like stroke or heart attack; in these cases Veratrum might be appropriate as a substitute, or at least would be seen to have a strong effect.)



Vicia ervilia Willd., Fabaceae. Kasnā/ Kexini可西尼; Karsana / Kelaxina可剌西納/ kirsinnah/kelexina可剌西納 /Kexini可西尼 (Persian); bāqqilā/Baheili八黑黎  [Vicia faba].


Dioscorides: II-131, orobos, vetch. Meal used [presumably cooked] for belly. Diuretic. Causes pain and bleeding if overeaten. External for almost everything imaginable from dog and human bites to griping. Presumably the soothing quality is all that matters; there is no medicinal value.

II-127, kyamos hellenikos, Vicia faba, fava bean. Ground for a vast range of external uses, mostly the same as above; a unique one is to delay growth of pubic hair in children.


Galen: Cleans thick fluids from chest and lungs. Drying and laxative.


Avicenna: Broad bean cold, cleansing (weakly), produces gas, etc. Poultices for external conditions.  Poultice with honey for eyes. Good for chest, coughs, etc.; poultice on throat for laryngitis, tonsillitis. Treats diarrhea.


Levey: Karsanah. Salve for skin and cankers. Widely used for various minor functions; cleansing, etc.


Lev and Amar: V. ervilia for cough, heart, skin, leprosy, blood in urine, spitting blood; skin diseases, cancer. Seed flour hot and dry to Maimonides, who used it for burns distinfecting, cleansing. Diuretic (plant, not seeds), cleans urinary tract. Overeating causes headaches. Seed powder on wounds, bites, (including human), stings, etc. V. faba (Arabic fūl) for soothing inflammations and skin irritation, mixed with egg white, oil, etc. Purgative, digestive, anti-constipation, etc.; for ears, muscles, swellings, various external uses. (It provides bulk in the diet, and the powder mixed with other things would indeed be soothing, but otherwise this would be largely a “mother’s chicken soup” sort of remedy.) A version of the Egyptian national dish fūl medames (cooked broad beans, now eaten with garlic, olive oil and lemon juice) is noted in one Genizah fragment.

Lentil, ‘adas, for toothache, head, reducing urine, stanching blood.


Eisenman: V. cracca, demulcent, hemostatic, healing on wounds. Tincture to treat diarrhea, and as diuretic. Poultice for rectal prolapse and hemorrhoids. Used on abscesses. Antibacterial.


Li: V. hirsuta, qiaoyao翹搖; V. sativa, wei薇.  Minor uses.



Vigna spp. incl. V.  radiata (L.) and Vigna mungo, Fabaceae. Native. Lūbiyā/ Luobiya羅必牙 [?]. There is also a reference to a “small white eyebrow bean (Baixiaomeidou白小眉豆),” probably V. unguiculata.


Manniche: Vigna sinensis (which is now V. unguiculata): meal for constipation, in enema. Used in various unguents, etc.


Levey: V. sinensis, lūbiyāh, possibly the one used for freckles (cf. Dolichos lablab); “Phaseolus mungo” (=V. radiata), māsh, again for skin discolorations, also for lips, hemorrhoids, scrofula.  It would seem to be a soothing vehicle for medicines.


Avicenna: Lūbiya. Treats chest and lung, often in poiultice or paste with more obviously medicinal items. Produce thick humor (indigestion), remedied by mustard or wine.  Emmenagogue with nard oil.


Graziani: V. mungo, mash, maj; Ibn Jazlah used with sumac for cough, and with myrtle for pain.  Weakens teeth. Ibn Sīnā cosidered it aphrodisiac Rāzī gave it as a refresher.


Kamal: Lobia (lubiya), fasolia, dagar. Nutritious.


Bellakhdar et al: V. sinensis, hair-care, pulmonary infections.


Li: Lüdou綠豆 (V. mungo). Cold. Minor cooling and detoxifying uses. (Green bean soup is a standard modern cooling medication.) V. cylindrica, baidou白豆, minor uses.  V. sinensis, jiangdou豇豆, sweet, salty, balanced, nontoxic. General regulating and detoxifying value.



Viola sp., Violaceae. Violet. Two mentions as such as Banafshah/Bunafusha不納福沙 (V. odorata). The “purple flower” widely called for in the HHYF is probably V. yedoensis Makino, important in Chinese medicine as is V. odorata L. in the west.


Avicenna: Banafsaj, V. odorata. Hot and dry. Usual minor uses; also for kidney pain, and diuretic.


Lev and Amar: V. odorata, banafsaj. Like many other soothing and medicinally active flowers, it is recommended for essentially everything, from mumps and toothache to splitting hair and backache. Oil often used. (The plant does not produce significant quantities of oil, so one assumes the flowers were steeped, though possibly an incredible number was gathered and soaked in hot water which was then skimmed, as with roses.)


Nadkarni: “Flowers are astringent, demulcent, diaphroetic, diuretic and aperient.”[125] For “bilious affections” lungs, uterus, cough, liver, etc. Syrup usual. Mixed with almond oil (possibly a hint to how Lev and Amar’s oil was made). The Hindi name banafsha is an obvious borrowing from Arabic.


Eisenman: V. suavis. Syrup diuretic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, diaphoretic, choleretic.  Decoction for coughs, colds, eyes, throat, stomach. Roots for emetic and laxative use. Decoction of flowers with sugar to treat heart illnessses.


Li: V. yedoensis (V. philippica) Makino, zihuadiding 紫花地丁. Bitter, pungent, cold and nontoxic.  Carbuncles, boils, scrofula, skin infections, sore gums, sores, etc., mostly as extermal application but sometimes internal. Plant with root usually used.



Vitex sp., possibly intended for Vitex agnus-castus L. or V. negundo L. Verbenaceae. Manjing蔓菁/蔓精, Seashore Vitex (Vitex trifolia or V. rotundifolia)


Avicenna: Dissolving, diluting, relieving. Hot and dry, somewhat. Relieves suffocation feelings, and melancholia. Increases bresatmilk but decreases semen. Opens obstructions to liver and spleen. For swellings, piles, etc.


Nadkarni: V. agnus-castus: Berries stimulant, diuretic, alterative. For liver, spleen, dropsy. Also hiccups. Several other spp. of Vitex widely used, esp. V. negundo, used for inflammations incluiding rheumatism and arthritis, sprains, bites, etc., often as poultice or pillow or smoke. Juice of leaves for external uses including sores, etc. Oil also.


Li: V. negundo, Mujing牡荊. As medicine, bitter, warm and nontoxic. Disperses cold and heat in joints (clearly derived from the Indian usage!), facilitates stomach qi flow, stops coughing, etc. Many prescriptions given. V. rotundifolia and V. trifolia, both manjing, similar uses; dispels heat and cold, helps teeth and orifices, kills tapeworm, makes happiness, treats eyes, etc.

(Used for female complaints throughout European history; Lewis and Elvin-Lewis 2003:523.  Legendary use as anti-aphrodisiac explains the names “chaste-tree” in English and agnus-castus, chaste lamb, in Latin.)


Vitis vinifera L., Vitaceae. Grape; wine. Putao葡萄; Putaojiu葡萄酒/putaojiu葡萄酒.


Manniche: in laxatives and other remedies. Wine to stimulate appetite. Wine was used as a vehicle for various drugs, as it has been throughout time.


Dioscorides:  V-1, ampelos oinophoros, Vitis vinifera, grapevine.  Applied for headaches, inflammations, stomach, etc.  Juice for dysentery, blood-spotting, stomach, and “women that lust.”[126] Various other external applications.

V-2, ampelos agria, V. sylvestris, wild vine. Similar uses.

V-3, staphyle, grape. Green grapes disturb the stomach and bloat it. Ripe or dry they are good for the stomach, improve appetite, etc. Usual variety of external applications, especially for women, as clyster, sitzbath, fomentation. Seeds used for binding stomach, etc.

V-4, staphis, raisins. Various external applications [one of those external curealls].

V-5, oinanthe, fruit of wild vine. Dried. Binding. Tea for stomach; diuretic but stops diarrhea and blood-spoitting. Usual vast range of external applications.

V-6, omphacion, juice of unripe grapes. Tonsils, uvula, mouth sores, gums, ears, fistulas, ulcers, etc. Clyster for dysentery and women’s problems.

V-7-83, various kinds of wine, each with long list of virtues; irrelevant to the present work.  Most involve brewing grapes with herbs; rose wine (V-35), for instance, involves added rose petals to the fermenting grapes. There is even an abortion wine (V-77), but it is made by planting abortifacient plants by the grapevines; the vines supposedly [but not really] take up the chemicals.

IV-183, ampelos agria? wild Vitis vinifera, or possibly another Vitacea or even a Cucurbitacea.  Root for purging, dropsy. New shoots eaten.

Wine is used in a vast number of preparations with other herbs.


Galen: Acid or sour ones bad for health. Wine good for many conditions.


Levey: ‘inab, grapes, for jelly for stiff neck.


Avicenna: cold, dry peels, but flesh hot and moist. Unripe grapes sour, acrid. Help with gas, etc.  Pulp on wounds; juice for skin conditions. Ash for pinched nerves. Poultice for eye, with barley flour. Extract of leaves for coughing up blood; fruit can help with this. Leaves and tendrils in barley-flour poultice for abdominal pain. Fruit for nausea and stomach ache. Wine and water, boiled down, expectorant. Resin for internal pains and problems. Fruit slightly laxative. Leaves for dysentery, etc. Ash with vinegar for piles. Wine used for wounds, to clean them; white wine diuretic; Honey wine useful for birth pains. Old wine an antidote against insect bites. Many recommendations to drink sparingly.


Lev and Amar: The usual list of eyes, headaches, aphrodisiac (raisins), topical, muscle pains and swellings (vinegar), etc. Wine was used for sexual therapy and aphrodisiac function, as well as bites and stings, variouis diseases, etc. Vinegar was used for diarrhea, stomach in general, teeth, headache, head cold, fevers, and so on. The vinegar-and-honey mix so well known from ancient Greece up to today was used by Maimonides and others for many reasons. Grapes and raisins had further minor uses, including liver. Leaves for poultices, roots for swellings. Grape juice concentrate (dibs, also used for date and carob syrups; considered at the time a subtype of ‘asal, honeys and syrups; further concentrated, this became rubb, very thick syrup, English “rob”), hot and moist, for obesity, blood, jaundice, heart disease, depression, epilepsy. Grape juice for neck pains. Vine resin for skin diseases.

Wine was, of course, forbidden to Muslims, but—quite apart from the fact that this prohibition was often taken quite lightly in medieval Islam—health and survival made for exceptions.


Kamal:  karm, ‘enab (ripe grape), zabib (raisin), hosrom (unripe fruit), kashalmish, keshmesh.  Fruit laxative; for liver. Raisin for bronchitis. Naturally, the Arabs do not use wine medicinally, especially in modern times when Islamic rules have grown stricter.


Ghazanfar: ‘anab, ‘eneb.  Raisins boiled for drink for coughs. Grape juice with honey in ears for earache.


Madanapala: Drāksā. Cold. For thirst, fever, dyspnoea, vomiting, gout, jaundice, dysuria, bleeding, burning, consumption, etc. Fruit for alcoholism [hair of the dog?].


Nadkarni: Grapes demulcent, laxative, refrigerant, stomachic, diuretic, cooling. Raisins similar; attentuant, suppurative, blood-purifying. Juice astringent.


Dash: Cures fever and diseases of lungs. Other uses as above.


Sun: Grape (putao蒲桃): sweet, spicy, balanced (ping平), and nonpoisonous. Its major effects are to cure the illness caused by wetness (shibi濕痹) in tendons and bones. It is good for qi (yiqi益氣), enhances one’s strength as much as severalfold (beili倍力), and strengthens one’s memory (qiangzhi強志). It will make people strong and healthy, capable of enduring hunger, wind and cold. If one keeps taking it, his body will be lightened and he will not get old [presumably meaning something like “senile” here]. It elongates life. It also helps with the water in intestines (changjianshui腸間水), nourishes the Middle Jiao (tiaozhong調中).[127] It can be used to make wine, which is good for health if one keeps having it. It would drain water (zhushui逐水) and is diuretic (li xiaobian利小便). [The west Asian grape was still something of an exotic plant in China in Sun’s time, which may explain the preposterous claims made for it here.]


Li: V. vinifera, putao.  Sweet, balanced or warm, astringent, nontoxic. Many minor uses.



Vladimiria souliei. Muxiang 木香. Probably “muxiang” means Saussurea (q.v.) more often than not in the HHYF but both species share the name.



Zingiber officinale Rosc., Zingiberaceae. Native. Zanjabīl/Zanzhebili贊者必厘; Jiang薑.


Dioscorides: II-190, zingiberi, ginger. Warming, softening, good for stomach and eyes.


Levey: Zanjabīl ṣīnī. In collyrium for sight; in drugs for sore throat, earache, arthritis, stomachic.


Avicenna: Zanjabīl. Hot and dry. Warming. Laxative and digestive; relieves gas, and coldness of stomach and liver. Oil used on skin for mites, etc. Enriches memory.


Lev and Amar: zanjabīl. Extensively used for the usual range of things: stomach, aphrodisiac, kidneys, black bile, phlegm, eyes, etc. Stimulates sexual desire.


Graziani: Zanjabil. Ibn Jazlah used it for headache, sight, liver, stomach, and reducing swellings.  Antidote.


Kamal: Stimulant, cardiac tonic, aphrodisiac. Added to other medications to improve taste.


Bellakhdar et al: skenjbir, skenjabil. Calefacient, antirheumatismal, antitussive, stomachic.


Ghazanfar: zingībīl. Rhizome for bronchitis, carminative, for coughs, stomach. Juice in eyes for cataracts.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Rubbed on woman giving birth. Eaten after delivery. Used for colds, coughs, diarrhea, eyes, headaches, mentrual pain, sore throat, stomach. Effectiveness for stomach, vomiting, etc. noted.


Madanapala: Śunthī (dry ginger). Pungent, hot, sweet; treats rheumatism, constipation, vomiting, dyspnoea, cough, colic, heart, edema, piles, other abdominal conditions. Green ginger (ārdraka) is purgative, aphrodisiac, and cures most of the same conditions as dry.


Nadkarni: Aromatic, carminative, stimulant, stomachic. Externally, stimulant and rubefacient.  Unani uses as hot and dry drug for above plus aphrodisiac, sedative, memory-strengthening, and other uses.


Dash: Sweet, hot. Appetiser, digestive, tonic.


Sun: Dry ginger (ganjiang幹薑): spicy, hot, and nonpoisonous. It is especially valuable for treating fullness in the chest and vomiting caused by coughing, and rising qi. It also warms up the Middle Jiao and terminates continuous bleeding (louxue漏血). It heals sweating. It heals paralysis caused by the feng and wetness. It treats the liquid remaining in the intestines and diarrhea (changpi xiali腸澼下利). It cures coldness and stomachache. It treats the illness of being attacked by the noxious qi. It cures cholera. It treats fullness in the stomach (zhangman脹滿). It treats noxious winds and every kind of poison. It treats the blockage of the qi (jieqi結氣) in the skins. It treats the illness of spitting blood (tuoxue唾血). When it is raw, it is better.


Ginger (fresh; shengjiang生薑): spicy, mildly warm, nonpoisonous. The spiciness will go to the five internal organs. It mainly treats spells of cold (febrile conditions; shanghan傷寒) and headache. It also eliminates phlegm and helps the qi move downward. It helps sweat break out (tonghan通汗). It breaks through blockage in the nose. It treats vomiting caused by coughing, and rising qi. It stops vomiting. It dispels the bad qi above the midriff (xiongge胸膈). It lets the spirit free (tong shenming通神明). The Yellow Emperor said, “In the eighth and ninth month, do not eat ginger. It will hurt the spirit and shorten the lifespan.” Hermit Hu (hujushi胡居士) said, “Ginger kills the long worms in the abdomen. If one has taken it frequently, it will lessen his memory and wisdom and make his temper worse.”


Li: Jiang (fresh ginger, shengjiang). Pungent, warm, nontoxic. Noted as accompanying every meal. General dispersing function.

(In modern China, one of the commonest strongly heating drugs, used in large quantities for Cold conditions generally. It is well known in modern practice as a stimulant, rubefacient, digestive, and carminative. As a tonic, stimulant, stomachic, etc., it is used today throughout the world. The aphrodisiac reputation survives in colloquial English:  “gingery,” “the ginger man,” etc.)



Zingiber zerumbet (L.) Rosc., Zingiberaceae.

See Curcuma zerumbet.



Zizyphus spp., Rhamnaceae. Jujubes. Several mentions, but this word probably (and certainly in some cases) refers in many of them to dates (Phoenix dactylifera L, Arecaceae), which are routinely confused with jujubes in China (dates being called “foreign jujubes,” just as jujubes are called “Chinese dates” in colloquial English). However, nothing as important to Chinese medicine as jujubes can be completely ignored here. Zao 棗; Wannien zao 萬年棗, “Ten-thousand year jujubes” (Z. jujuba);


Avicenna: ‘unnāb, other names—“different people call it by different names depending on their language.”[128] Moist and cold but with dry propertiews also. Fruit used; sometimes its flour, or vapor from cooking it. For hot blood. Constricting. Avicenna does not think it is blood-purifying. Various minor uses, but Avicenna does not seem to think much of it.


Eisenman: Z. jujuba, fruit for catarrh, fever, intestinal infections. Root bark stimulant. Decoction of fruit for “anemia, chest pains, asthma, coughs, smallpox, diarrhea, and as an analgesic for diseases of the liver, kidneys, and intestines…hypotensive” (271). Biomedically, the fruit and leaf infusion seems to work as a huypotensive and diuretic tea.


Li: Z. jujubaZao. “It is sweet, pungent, hot and nontoxic. Overeating of it causes chills and fever. An emaciated and wek person should not have it.”[129] Usual wide mix of minor uses. (Used more recently to strengthen body and blood; black ones best for body, red for blood, sympathetic magic being obvious, but also the fruit contains some iron and vitamin C, enough to make a difference if nothing else is available. This has been, in modern times at least, one of the very favorite “nutraceuticals” in the Chinese repertoire, being used for weaning babies, restoring strength to new mothers after childbirth, treating invalids, etc. It is used in soup or congee, as opposed to the more ordinary method of simply eating the fresh or dried fruit, which is excellent.)

(The fruit has a high vitamin value, especially for vitamin C, and has some iron; it has probably saved many a Chinese child from malnutrition.)


Zollikofera angustifolia Coss. et Dur.,  Saliyy.

Obsolete name for Launaea angustifolia, q.v.





A few other animals are mentioned in the Table of Contents, but data on them is lost.


Accipiter sp.?, Accipitridae. Hawk mentioned in one recipe in the HHYF; too unspecific to identify. Ying鷹; Qa®āmī/Qiandamu箝達木 [sparrow hawk, etc.].



Anser spp. and probably other geese would be expected. Anatidae. There is one reference to Yan雁. “Wild goose,” to make a comparison, and once to Rakham/lahama剌哈麻, probably as a medicinal food.


Li: E 鵝 (tame goose Anser domestica and domesticated strains of A. cygnoides), yan (wild goose A. albifrons, A. fabalis, wild A. cygnoides; when birds are recognizable in classical Chinese paintings, tame geese are A. cygnoides, wild usually A. fabalis).

Sweet and plain, but arguments over toxin. He says: “I have witnessed cases of toxins being activated by the eating of goose meat.” (Recall that “toxic” said of animal meat means that it brings out toxins in the system, not that it is itself poisonous.) Some say white geese are safe but gray are toxic, others that young are toxic but old are not. Goose fat is soothing—a good skin tonic. Goose, and goose blood, can help with certain worms, according to at leas one tradition. Gall used medinally, also eggs, feathers, and even saliva. Wild geese: fat used; soothing on hair and skin, including for boils and sores; medicinal when eaten, for deafness among other things. Bones, feathers, and even dung used (the last on sores).



Apis cerana Fabricius, Apidae.  Native. Used in China in place of Apis mellifera, which is the species referred to in the western herbals. Feng 蜂, one direct reference but feng can also be wasp. There is also a reference to honey bees, Mifeng蜜蜂, more specific.

The products of bees are far more common. Honey (Mi 蜜), also ’Asali/Asali阿撒里/suali速阿里/Suwali速洼里/Suoali璅阿里/Asali阿撒力, and “yellow wax (Huangla 黃蠟),” obviously beeswax from the indications, is used very widely in the HHYF; honey is the universal vehicle for medicines and beeswax is used in many, if not most, poultices etc. Honey is in fact the second most often mentioned item in what we have of the HHYF.


Dioscorides: II-101, meli, honey. II-102, 103, different kinds. Various external applications, mostly as a soothing agent, often as a carrier for herbal medicines.

  1. mellifera important in medieval Near East, honey being used for skin, throat, eye and stomach conditions, and wax for hemorrhoids, burns and wounds, sore throat, etc.[130] A. cerana is the east Asian equivalent. Doubtless A. mellifera is actually meant in the recipes that served as originals for the HHYF.


Levey; Levey and Al-Khaledy: ‘asal. Honey. In many recipes as carrier and sweetener.


Avicenna: Hot and dry. Cleansing. Dissolvent. In addition to the universal carrier and demulcent values, it is used externally to prevent lice and kill their eggs; with ginger for freckles; with salt for bruises (odd but effective); for cleaning deep ulcers. Boiled down for wounds; fosters healing. With dill for ringworm. Beeswax used for softening scabs, but pollutes ulcers (it would be very difficult to maintain it sterile).  Relaxes nerves, cleansees ear, cures dim vision. Rubbed on palate for suffocation and pains. Ointment on chest. Cane sugar “honey” laxative (this would be the unrefined juice); refined sugar or boiled-down honey do not do this. Honey is taken with rose oil for insect bites; also for opium addiction. Various anti-toxic uses. Honey wine (ūnūmālī, from Greek oinomeli) hot and moist; used for ulcerative itches and rheumatism, and internally for purging bile, etc.


Lev and Amar: ‘asal, ‘asal nah.l. They note that ‘asal also covers fruit syrup concentrates. Bee honey used for eyes, headache, brain, diarrhea, wind, wars, urine, dysmenorrhea, hard sweelings, crying of infants, fever, black bile, phlegm, sciatica, varicose veins and venesection, paralysis, trembling, wind, facial lotion, and so on—any imaginable soothing purpose. Often the base or carrier of other medicines, but its sweetness and healthiness made it valued for itself too.  Oxymel—the classic vinegar-honey drink of folk medicine—used for stings, etc. Wax for ulcers with fever, and other skin applications. Also legs, nails, sciatica, varicose veins, convulsion, tetany, fever, colic. Oxymel (honey and vinegar mix) for colds, coughs, spleen, liver, bowels, malaria, black bile, hematuria, bites, cold sweat, baldness, etc.


Lebling and Pepperdine: Honey used on burns, cuts, wounds, etc.; taken for fatigue and general health, and more specifically for heart, indigestion, insomnia, sore throat, stomach; taken after childbirth, by itself or as vehicle for the spice foods used at that time.


Sun: Honey (shimi石蜜) is sweet, balanced, mildly cold, and nonpoisonous. It treats especially the evil qi in the heart and abdomen. It cures fits caused by fright and characterized by twitching (jingxianjing驚癇痙). It pacifies the five internal organs. It cures every kind of incompleteness (buzu不足). It enhances the qi and compensates the Middle Burner. It kills stomachache. It detoxicates every kind of toxin in medicines. It dispels various kinds of diseases. It can be used to make dozens of medicines. It nourishes spleen qi. It extinguishes the feeling of being vexed (xinfan心煩). It treats the problem of being unable to eat or drink (shiyin buxia食飲不下). It stops the illness characterized by the liquid remaining in the intestines (changpi腸澼). It expels the pain in muscles. It cures ulcers in the mouth (kouchuang口瘡). It enhances the hearing and eyesight. If one has taken it for a long time, it will solidify his memory, lessen his weight, help him resist hunger and aging, elongate his lifespan, and help him become an immortal. It is also referred to as shiyi石飴. [Honey] that is as white as fat is good, which is found in the mountain and cliff. Black-red honey (qingchimi青赤蜜) is sour. If one swallows it, it will make him feel vexed. The bee is black, like a horsefly (meng虻; this is probably one of the local Apis species of east Asia, different from the domestic A. mellifera). The Yellow Emperor said, “In the seventh month, do not eat raw honey. It will cause serous diarrhea (baoxia暴下). It will cause cholera.” Beeswax (mila蜜蠟) is sweet, mildly warm, and nonpoisonous. It mainly treats diarrhea and pyaemia (nongxue膿血). It compensates the middle burner. It heals wounds involving severed body parts, and cut-wounds (jinchuang金瘡). It enhances qi and strength. It helps resist hunger and aging. White wax (baila白蠟) mainly treats the patient that has long suffered diarrhea and just recovers from it, and then is found bleeding (jiu xiepi chaihou chongjian xue久泄澼瘥後重見血). It compensates [for damage done by] wounds involving severed body parts. It is beneficial to children. If one has taken it for a long time, it will lessen his weight and help him resist hunger. It grows in the honeycomb or on a rock or lumber. It [the bee, presumably] dislikes lilac daphne and lily (wuyuanhua baihe惡芫花百合). This is what we use nowadays.


Li: Mifeng (“honeysharp”). Minor uses, especially larvae. (Very widely used today in Chinese medicine for soothing, tonic, antiseptic, adjuvant, and other reasons.)

(Honey is mildly antiseptic, and certainly soothing, but does not have the many virtues given to it by folk medicine—in the United States as in the old Near East and China.)



Bat. One mention, in a magical-type recipe, of an unidentified bat. Bianfu蝙蝠.


Avicenna: Milk cleansing and used on benign growths in eye; oil has quasi-magical uses that Avicenna denies categorically; brain for cataract.



Bedbug. Fasāfis/Fasafeixi法撒肥西. Mentioned in contents as being in lost food section.


Avicenna: Expel leeches from pharynx. Vapor for hysteria. Treats painful urination (powder in appropriate openings). Swallowed for inset bites. “Swallowing seven bed bugs with broad beans” treats quartan fever.[131]



Bombyx mori. Bombycidae. Silkworm. Dūd-i qirmiz/ Dudiliheimiji都的里黑迷即. Mentioned in contents as being in a lost food section.


Avicenna: Chrysalis exhilarant. Some say silk clothing is less apt to carry lice.


Li: several recipes using its binding and blood-stopping/absorbing qualities, either really or by what appears to be sympathetic magic.



Bos taurus, Bovidae. Ox/cow. Niu 牛. Mentioned in HHYF Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed. Specifically wild ox is also mentioned, and could be some other species. See also Butter (Suyou 酥油), Milk (Nai 妳; ruincluding human).


Li: many pages on medicinal values of all parts and products, from penis and marrow to urine and the material in the umbilicus of a newborn calf. Far too much to summarize. Meat warm, nontoxic, sweet.


Butter (butter oil, i.e. ghee, being usually called for): the Chinese aversion to dairy products seems to have influenced the HHYF. One would expect more butter; it abounded in Near Eastern and Indian medicine. It is barely mentioned in the HHYF.


Avicenna: Hot and moist. Discharges pus, dissolves, relaxes. Fumes drying and constricting. For swellings and wounds including in mouth. For cold dry coughs, “especially when given with almonds and sugar”[132] (I can second that recommendation). Treats yellow bile, etc.  Laxative, even purgative (evidently in huge amounts).


Lev and Amar: Soothing on skin etc.; strengthens penile erection (with milk).


Li: Niu you 牛油 (or you , oil, of other milk-giving animals). Several references from older literature, back to Tao Hongjing, summarized. Various soothing and moistening functions; detoxifying.



Callorhinus ursinus, Phocidae. Seal genitalia was extensively used in the Chinese medicine of the time but not apparently in the HHYF, at least not by name. There is only a single reference to what may be seal gall, Marāratu kalbi al-mā’i/ Malalatukelibilima馬剌剌土可里必里麻.



Camelus sp., Camelidae. Brain used in one magical recipe, the lung and the urine and even a camel tail. Milk also called for several times. Luotuo駱駝.


Madanapala: Ustra. Meat sweet and light; for eyes, dyspnoea, piles.


Dash: Similar.


The recipes presumably refer to dromedaries, but the Chinese would have known primarily Bactrian camels, which were then common in both wild and domestic forms. (A few dromedaries were used in the Silk Road trade from fairly early times, but did not thrive in the cold winters.  They later came to dominate, perhaps evolving to deal with local conditions; I have seen a camel caravan on a bitterly cold mountain pass well above timberline in the Hindu Kush).[133] Wild Bactrian camels survive in Northwest China and Mongolia, but fewer than 1000 are left. They are somewhat different genetically from domestic ones.[134]


Li: Tuo Sweet, warm, nontoxic. Various minor uses. Dromedary known but only by one report.  All medicinal references evidently to Bactrian camel.



Canis lupus, Canidae. Wolf. Lang 狼; Laolang 老狼. Wolf meat and fat and parts and even oil are used in HHYF recipes, some magical. Does not seem to be a traditional Near Eastern drug. “Old wolf” is mentioned along with just “wolf.”



Canis sp., jackal, zi’b/Zabuyi咱卜宜, mentioned in probably magical recipe context.


Li: Invigorates the Five Viscera and otherwise strengthens. Good-tasting; formerly much eaten.  Several magical uses, some of which are too much for the long-suffering Li, who doubts or frankly contradicts claims.



Canis lupus familiaris, dog. Gou狗. Probably a medicinal food in lost sections of the HHYF.


Except for numerous references to the bite of a “wind” or rabid dog, the dog is naturally absent from the Middle Eastern sources as meat, for example, the dog being unclean and avoided in the Near Eastern religions. Similarly, like most animal products other than dairy, it is absent from the Hindu and Buddhist sources.


Avicenna: Kalb. Rabid dog’s blood used for its own bite (compare the English “hair of the dog that bit you”).


Li: Many pages on various dog products. Every part has its own medical use. Dog meat is salty, sour, warm and nontoxic. Yellow dog meat usually preferred to black (the opposite of modern preference; Guinness named itself “black dog” in Chinese to sell its product).



Cantharides. Banmao 斑貓. Two references, one to Cantharides as being in the lost food section and another to a recipe.


Avicenna: usual uses.



Capra spp. Capridae. Goat. Shanyang山羊. Mention of tame and wild goats as food, probably with medicinal value. Horn and dung and blood also used.


Li: Does not diferentiate between domestic goat (C. hircus) and sheep. Meat is bitter, sweet, very hot and nontoxic. Countless medical uses and prescriptions. Blood detoxifies several chemical and heavy-metal poisons, with the interest side effect that it thus ruins attempts at manipulating one’s lifespan and health by Chinese “alchemy.” One should immediately drink about a pint. Milk is also ecommended for many purposes, from spider bite to aptha. Other body parts from horns to uvula all have their uses. The wool, for instance, treats twisted tendons: stew with vinegar, then wrap around the limb.



Castor fiber, beaver, Castoridae. Jandbādstar/Zhundibiedaxidaer肫的別荅西荅兒; Bidstar/ Biediasidaer別的阿思荅兒.


Avicenna: castoreum, “the testes of a water animal,”[135] diluting; “more potent than all substances that are hot and dry.”[136] Relieves gas. Absorbent.  Warming. Used on ulcers and swellings. Helps with headache. Vapor inhaled for inflammation of lung, etc. Several other minor uses.


Levey: Jundubādastur, castoreum. Nasal; head enlargement, swelling; clyster for urine; insantiy; electuary.


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Important remedy. Al-Samarqandī thinks it needs opium to balance it.  Today a resolvent, antispasmodic, stimulant, antihysteric.


Lev and Amar: castoreum, qast.ūriyūn, for eyes, brain, fever, palpitation, sexual weakness; aphrodisiac. For nose, head, insanity, bites and stings, etc.—the usuals.



Cervus nippon Temminck, Cervidae. Possibly other deer spp. implied. Lu鹿; She麝, “musk deer;”


Li: Lu. horns for a large range of conditions, including nutrient tonic and male sexual health.

(As with seals, the heroic abilities of the adult male Cervus are recognized here.)



Chamaeleon. Òirbā’ /黑而八; Badhūr irbā’/ Bazuliheierba白祖里黑而八. Two mentions in list of foods in lower table of contents. Identifications and species uncertain.


Avicenna: blood used to prevent hair in eye; eggs poisonous.



Columba spp. (focally C. livia, domestic pigeon, a descendent of the wild Rock Pigeon).  Columbidae. Pigeons. Mentioned in lower Table of Contents for the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed. Boge 鵓鴿; Huojiu火鳩, “fire pigeon” or “fire turtledove.”


Li: Ge 鴿. Salty, plain, nontoxic. Detoxifying. Blood, feces also used. Li transmits some fascinating folklore: “Zhang Jiuling thought the pigeon could carry letters, os it is called Feinu 飛奴(…flying servant)….  All birds mate in such a way that the male is on top of the female. But for pigeons, the female is on top of the male. This shows that the pigeon is a very risqué fowl.”[137]  Interesting to note that carrier pigeons were barely known and not normally used. The “risqué” (a delightful translation for yin 淫, “lewd, debauched,” behavior is pure travellers’ tale; pigeons mate normally, as anyone can observe in any park on any spring day. Obviously birdwatching was not a major pastime of doctors.



Coral (?Corallium japonicum Kish.) Shanhu珊瑚; bussad/ busadi卜撒的.


Dioscorides: Some kind of coral for diarrhea, spleen, coooling, cleansing, hemorrhage.


Avicenna: Bussad. Cold and dry. Constricts. Drying; stops profuse bleeding (presumably powdered and put on the wound) and otherwise externally used for purposes of this sort. Stops coughing up blood; expectorant (presumably taken, powdered). Black coral is tonic for heart, especially when burnt and washed.


Lev and Amar: Eyes, teeth, breath. For wounds, bleeding, spleen, urinary tract, deafness, etc.  Strengthens heart. Maimonides used it for this and considered it cooling and drying. Many modern uses, mostly related to the above.


Madanapala: Pravāla. For nourishment, complexion, strength, semen.


Dash: Cold, laxative, cures poison and eye disorders.


Li: Shanhu. Minor functions include eyesight improvement.



Crane. Gruidae (?). Mentioned as being in the lost food section and also among those things raised perversely by people. He鹤.


Li: a wide range of cranes, each with its name and uses.



Crocodile. Crocodylus spp. ñimsāḤ/Tansahei嗿薩黑 (Arabic). One mention in list of foods and a reference to bites.


Avicenna: Excrement for eyes and to strengthen sexual desire (!). Its fat is used to relieve its bite (presumably because when it bit a person and was then killed, its fat was there at hand). Avicenna has a very long, detailed, interesting discussion of fish in general, discussing several kinds including the crocodile.



Cuttlefish. Sepia spp. “Ocean” (Hai 海) piaoshao螵蛸 [cuttle fish bone]. Unidentified species in a recipe.



Cygnus spp., Anatidae. Swan. Hu (mute swan, Cygnus cygnus; wild swans are “golden-necked wildgeese” in Chinese). Unidentified species mentioned in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed. May actually be the cormorant. The term hee is Cu… 鷀… [Second character illegible]. Cormorant is Cu鷀 + a second character, 老+鳥.


Li:  Sweet, plain, nontoxic.  Fat used on sores.



Cynips gallae-tinctoriae Oliv. (on Quercus infectoria Oliv.), Cynipidae. Mushizi木實子; generally Māzū/Mazu馬祖.


Li:  Wushizi無食子, galls. As noted above under Quercus, a number of uses of galls turn on their high gallotannic content.



Cypraea moneta? Cypraeidae. Wada’/Wada瓦荅.


A rather indeterminate reference to cowrie or perhaps simply snail shells. Probably the former.


Madanapala, Dash: A number of shell drugs for all manner of reasons.



Dragonfly larvae.  Called for in a few recipes.



Earthworm (Allobophora, Lumbricus or similar spp.). Dilong地龍; Qiuyin蚯蚓.


Avicenna: Lumbricus and/or relatives, dūd, kharāṭīn. Cooling but drying. Used for various magical and quasi-magical uses.


Li: various minor medical, magical and alchemical uses. Long section.



Elephas sp. Ivory. Xiang 象.



Equus asinus. Equidae. Donkey. Luu驢. Minor products mentioned but including milk.


Avicenna: ḥimār. Ashes of flesh and liver for ruptures caused by cold, also tuberculous lymph swellings. Tetany treated with broth (external).  Roasted liver for epilepsy. Burnt hoof similarly used. Urine for kindney pain. Wild ass (a different sp., E. hemionus) for bladder stones.


Lev and Amar: ḥimār. Milk meat etc. strengthening. Modern uses include dung and urine, as in China.


Li: . Mule is luo騾. Minor uses of minor products. Meat sweet, cool, nontoxic. Several medical uses for various parts, including penis (nourishes sexual energy, of course). Meat of mule pungent, bitter, warm, slightly toxic. Gives names of some hybrids, including hybrids of donkey or horse with cattle! Again, observation was not a strong suit of some writers


Equus caballus. Equidae. Horse. Ma馬. Mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed. Milk frequently called for once. Interestingly little in view of the values the Mongols assign to it.


Avicenna: Rennet from horse for treating chronic diarrhea, intestinal ulcers, intestines.


Li: Pungent, bitter, cool and toxic to very toxic, though some disagree with this. White stallion best. Many uses, and more uses for parts of horse. Mare’s milk wine (i.e. kumys) mentioned. The keratin spot on the “knee” (foot joint) of the horse was considered a “night eye” allowing the horse to see at night; it was used for hiccups and toothaches and other purposes. Teeth, skullbone, hide, tail hair, etc. all used. The soil from the hoofprints of an eastbound horse, which, according to the normally more reasonable Tao Hongjing, was used to detect whether a wife is having an affair, and, according to the Huainanzi淮南子, to prepare a method for keeping a person lying down and unable to get up.

The old belief that horse liver is deadly poisonous is mentioned, but a more recent prescription indicates this belief may have faded. (ENA believes that the old story was based on fact; liver accumulates toxins, and horses can eat some plants poisonous to humans. It is interesting, however, that even the skeptical and realistic Li relates such a bizarre farrago of absurd folklore. For no other entry in the entire Bencao Gangmu is the ratio of folklore to serious medicine so high. Clearly there is something special about the horse.)



Erinaceus sp.  Hedgehog.  Raz /Zhulaji諸剌即. Mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.



Eriocheir sinensis.  Pangxie 螃蟹Chinese mitten crab. Mentioned in the Index.


Avicenna: minor uses for unidentified crabs.

Felis catus L., Felidae. Cat. Qi®®a /Keta可塔 (female).

One mention in lower table of contents probably as medicinal food.


Li: Mao. Many uses. Meat sweet, sour, warm and nontoxic. As with other domestic animals, a vast range of uses for each part of body, many magical.



Fly. Mentioned in contents as being in lost food section. 班貓 (=banmao 班蝥);



Francolinus sp. Phasianidae. Francolin. Durrāj/Duerlazhi都而剌只

One mention as a food, in the Index.



Frog. Ha蝦+ nonstandard character (insect plus hemp) = Ma蟆; ¾ifdi’un / Jifudaxi即福達奚; Zefde’i-ye zardee/Jifudaxizaerdi即福達奚咱而的. Unidentified; food but also in medical recipes.


Avicenna: Ash for bleeding organs; boiled down for leprosy, mothwash, etc. Oral intake of blood causes swellings. Very minor item.


Li: Hamo蛤蟆 (rice frog, Rana limnocharis), xigou (unidentified frog), some others. Meat of rice frog pungent, cold, toxic (some say nontoxic). Removes pathogenic factors. Magical uses.



Gallus gallus/domesticus Brisson, Phasianidae. Chicken. Yuan鶢 (may not be a chicken); ji雞.


The universal panacea, chicken soup, was not missed by the medieval Near East, and it was already “Jewish penicillin.” The Jewish doctor Ya’qūb ibn Ishāq wrote around 1202: “if the strength is weak…there is nothing more appropriate for that than the right amount of chicken broth.”[138] The Genizah physicians also knew and loved it. [139]


Dioscorides:  eggs (species uncertain) for soothing and various related reasons; wounds, sunburn swellings.  Obviously topical.


Avicenna:  Chicken is dajāj; Persian murgh wa khurūs. Inevitable uses of chicken soup, including meat of yong hen to strengthen intellect. Various eggs of various birds used, but Gallus best. Yolk hot, white cold. Both moist. Constipating, especially fried yolk. Adhesive. White of egg for sunburn, etc. Yolk, cooked, with honey, for spots on skin. Eggs in general for ulcers, swellings, inflammations, etc. Stop bleeding from membranes. Whites used in eye for inflammation; yolk with saffron and rose oil, or with barley flour, for throbbing eye. Large number of internal and external uses, largely of a soothing nature, e.g. for displaced uterus. “All eggs are highly aphrodisiac, particularly the eggs of sparrows”[140] (the extreme sexual energy of sparrows was a watchword in Europe too).


Lev and Amar: Topical uses continued from Dioscorides. Nutrition. Sexual strengthener (eggs).


Madanapala: Kukkuta. Nourishing. Hot. Good for eyesight and semen.


Dash: Wild, for general nutrition. Domestic heavier for digestion.


Sun: (Very extensive entries on different colors, sexes, and growth stages—too much to quote or even summarize. The nutritional and tonic value stands out.)


Li: Ji. Many pages cover all sorts, colors, conditions, and parts (even to the membrane of the gizzzrd), all with different medical indications. Black roosters are famous tonic foods, and especially the black-boned chickens so common in northern Southeast Asia and southwest China.

Some birds described as “chickens” are not that; “wild chicken” or “mountain chicken” can mean “pheasant.” A “black chicken” mentioned in Juan 12 is a small songbird, not a chicken; it is described as being smaller than the “painted eyebrow bird” (huamei 畫眉), a common thrush-sized songbird.

(The nutritious value of chickens, and especially their easy digestibility and high iron content in the dark meat, has made them perhaps the most important of Chinese medicinal foods over the millennia. They are usually warming, especially the dark meat. Roosters are now often held to be toxic—not poisonous of themselves, but bringing out poisons in the eater—and are thus avoided by cancer patients and others.

Chicken soup has survived biomedical tests; it really is the best medicinal food for clearing the nose, providing easily digestible protein, etc.)



Gecko. al-Wazaghat/Aliwaeratu阿里瓦兒阿禿; wazaghah/Yizaya亦咱牙; Wazhaa洼札阿; Hehu 蝎虎; Saqanqūr/Saganhuer撒干胡兒; Sōsmār/Susimaer速思麻而

Several recipes in HHYF use geckos or lizards.


Avicenna: lizards, including probably geckos, minor uses.


Li: several species of lizards, including some geckos, for all sorts of uses, often magical.



Homo sapiens. Human dung, etc., in the more magical recipes. Ren人; Furen婦人


Avicenna:  semen for skin conditions including skin fungus. Urine for fever including deep-red inflammation in skin or mucous membranes. Ashes of hair for pimples. Semen and human milk with opium, wax and olive oil for gout. Rumen with honey in a copper vessel for conreal opacity.  Hair with lead oxide for scabies. Human milk for tuberculosis and for the bite of a sea rabbit (what this meant to Avicenna, living hundreds of miles from the sea, can only be conjectured). Milk diuretic and may be good for stomach. Menstrual blood used for uterus and to prevent contraception, but Avicenna is very skeptical of this. Various other uses, including human excrement on human bites—a use found in the HHYF (juan 34). Avicenna is aware that human bites are notably prone to infection.


Li: Similar dreckmedezin is found abundantly in Li. Humans may be second only to horses in the ratio of folk magic to Chinese medical tradition in Li’s book.



Kerria lacca (Laccifer lacca). Purple keng. Imported. Zikeng紫梗.


Lev and Amar: Weight loss, liver, etc. Opens obstructions and fortifies organs. Cough, asthma, swellings, etc. Helps lose weight.



Leech. Mentioned in contents as being in lost food section. Mahuang螞蟥 (here second, non-standard characters is insect +皇); Shuizhi水 insect +至.


Avicenna: usual use for bleeding.



Leptoptila sp. Ciconiidae. Haiqing海青Adjutant stork rather improbably mentioned in the food section of the index. Possible magical use. Neither Middle Eastern, nor Indian, nor Chinese medicine normally use this huge uncommon bird.



Lepus sp. Leporidae. Hare. Tu兔; Arnab barī/ Aernabibahali阿而拿必八哈黎 (steppe hare).

Mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed. Also the meat is found in one set of instruction.


Avicenna: Lepus trerrisi, brain for nervous complaints (sympathetic magic) and other rather magical uses. Rabbit also used.


Li: Not distinguished from rabbit.



Lizard. See under Gecko. Several terms mentioned. Not really identifiable. Avicenna has notes on some lizards, including monitor, waral (Varanus sp.).  Some minor, slightly magical uses there.



Milk, yogurt, cheese: Extremely important in Near Eastern medicine, these are little mentioned in the HHYF—in fact yogurt is not certainly mentioned at all, and cheese barely. Milk including human and other milks do turn up. Greek, gala (milk). Ru 乳; Nai妳; Rubing乳餅;


Avicenna: Milk, shīr, consists of water, cheese (i.e. protein solids), and fat. Camel’s milk is thinner than cow’s (an interesting observation; not true today, but cows have been bred for more watery milk). Ass’ milk is dilute, goat’s milk moderate, sheep milk thick and rich, cow even better. Horse milk very dilute (not true). “Human milk is best, especially when it is fresh and sucked directly form the breast.”[141] Whey is hot but yogurt is cold and dry. Very long account of milk as food. Medically, it relaxes bowels but the protein fraction is constipating.  Colostrum is thick and requires honey to make it good for humans. External uses on swellings, boils, fever-caused inflammations, skin diseases, scabies, ulcers, etc. Many soothing uses of skin and head and in eyes, often combined with actually medicinal items. Soothing salve of ilk, egg white and rose oil for bruises and the like. Various species’ milk recommended for every imaginable internal use. Used to treat poisoning of all sorts. In general, the soothing and nourishing value of milk, and its oil content that makes it good for skin and membranes, made it useful for virtually every purpose in medieval Islamic medicine.

Cheese is moist, but the cured salty cheese is hot and dry. Cleansing. Fresh cheeses nutritious, fattening. Eaten with honey. Stle cheese causes yellow bile; hot, purifying. Buttermilk is dissolvent. Cheeses used in poultices for all sorts of external conditions. Cheese is poor for the stomach. The whey expels yellow bile, however. Alkalinity noted, interestingly. Enema for diarrhea.


Levey: Leprosy, spleen, etc. Ass milk for collyrium for ophthalmia, scury, fistulas, etc. Good for eyes and teeth (Ibn Sīnā—right again).


Lev and Amar: Food values recognized. Poultices and similar uses of dairy products.


Li: Several minor uses for cream (tihu 醍醐). Pain, apoplexy, fever, runny nose, etc. Yogurt (rufu 乳腐) moistening, lubricant, benefits channels and stirs up qi, etc. Making of congealed yogurt, yogurt cooked down into a solid, etc. mentioned; the solid is cut up and mixed with flour for dysentery.

(The Yinshan Zhengyao also fails to say much about dairy products. Evidently, in spite of the Mongol dependence on these foods, they were not salient enough in the Yuan Chinese world to rate much attention.)



Moschus moschiferus. Cervidae. Musk. native. She麝; Shexiang麝香; muski/Mushiqi木失其; miski/ Misiqi迷思乞/ Misiqi密思乞.


Avicenna: Hot and dry. Tenuous, tonic. Sniffed for headaches. Strengthens eye and heart.  Exhilarant. Used for palpitations and restlessness.


Lev: Medieval Near East: musk purgative, and for eyes, headaches, potency, cold ailments generally.[142]


Levey and Al-Khaledy: Widely used for many purposes in Al-Samarqandī and other texts of the age.


Lev and Amar: misk. Headaches, brain disease, paresis, weakness of sex, aphrodisiac. Against flatulence, warts, dysuria, dysmenorrhea, sweelings, etc. Aborts dead fetus. For aphasia, muscle spasms, tension, shaking, palsy. Headache, eyes, limbs, etc. Hot, dry, stimulant.


Li: She. Musk, shexiang, used. Pungent, warm and nontoxic. Bitter. Good for sores, bites, worms, etc., and various psychological diseases including fright and convulsions.



Oryctolagus cuniculus. Leporidae. Tuer 兔兒.  Rabbit brain is used in a couple of recipes also other products.


Li: Similar species, various, native to China. Applied to frostbite; for childbirth (magical uses; presumably because rabbits breed so successfully); applied on chapped skin and sores. Other parts of the rabbit are also used.



Ostrea incl. local O. rivularis, Ostraeidae. Oysters. Bangge蚌蛤; Muli 牡蠣.


Avicenna: uses for shells.


Li: This and other spp. muli. Shell powdered and used for a variety of conditions, including some psychological ones. (Did calcium deficiency cause nervous affections?)



Ovis aries, Capridae. Sheep. Mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed. In the recipes tail fat frequently called for, also furs, sheep parts and dung, etc. Yang 羊.


Avicenna: gall bladder used.


Li: See under Goat. The fat-tailed sheep was recognized by Li but had no special medical values.  Some mythical creatures, one deriving from the “vegetable lamb” myth of Europe (which in turn was a garbled and highly colored account of cotton), are noted. One evolves from a 1,000-year-old tree.



Pavo spp. Pavidae. Peacock. Mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.


Li: Meat salty, cool, slightly toxic or perhaps nontoxic. Detoxifying agent.



Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis (Blumenbach) native. Cormorant whole and gall bladder. Cilao [?] 鶿鳥+老


Li:  Luci 鸕鶿Meat sour, salty, cool, slightly toxic. For distended abdomen and similar conditions.  Quotes (with a straight face) a source that says one can dislodge a fishbone from the throat by repeating this bird’s name over and over. (Cormorants disgorge fish for their young, and in China for fishermen too.) Li has some other good stories about birds in this chapter.



Physeter catodon, Physeteridae. Ambergris. Longyan 龍涎; “black” ‘Anbar/ Anbaer安伯兒aromatic. Morocco, Anbarhorr. Hu 1228.


Avicenna: Hot and dry. Useful for elderly for mild warming. Scent cheeering. Musk used in womb for displaced uterus, swelling, menstruation, and general health.

Medieval Near East: Sore throat, heart diseases, paralysis.[143] Heating.[144]


Lev and Amar: ‘anbar. Aphasia, muscle spasms, tension, trembling, paralysis, brain, obstruction, wind, dirrhea, pleurisy, etc. Heart, joints, etc. Significantly, noted for hemi-paralysis of face, that condition so amply treated in what is left of the HHYF.

(Ambergris is a product of the intestines of the sperm whale.  It is found washed up on beaches.)



Pteria margaritifera and pearls in general. Zhenzhu 珍珠/ Zhenzhu 真珠.


Lev and Amar: lu’lu’. Treat gums, tonsils, teeth, uvula, throat, eyes, liver, depression. Presumably powdered. Powder specifically for depression, palpitations, hot temperament, stomach, liver.


Li:  Pearls, zhenzhu, from this and other bivalves. Salty, sweet, cold, nontoxic. In eye for cloudiness; on face to moisten and brighten the skin; helps with skin in general; etc. Pacifies mind and soul. Some other minor uses.



Quail. Sumānā /Sumana速馬納, focally Coturnix coturnix. Unidentified species mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.


Li:  several species.



Rattus spp., Muridae. Rat. Shu鼠.

Meat and excrement used.


Li: Mouse and rat not distinguished. Many varieties described, most of them mythical; one has asbestos fur. Meat of real mice/rats is sweet, slightly warm, nontoxic. Only males used medicinally. Various poultice uses, also for convulsions, epilepsy, etc. Sympathetic magic in an ascription that since it is good at digging holes its meat is good for sores and fistulas. “This is based on the understanding that something having a certain function will work in the same way when it is used as medicine” (citing Liu Wansu劉完素; as neat a definition of sympathetic magic as exists in the literature).[145] Many other uses.



Scorpion. Mentioned in contents as being in lost food section. Jiehe解蝎; Hezi蝎子;


Avicenna: Burnt for dissolving hard masses in urinary tract, also kidney stones.




Shellfish. Unidentified “shellfish,” as well as oyster (species uncertain), mentioned. Shanj/ Shanji善吉.


Avicenna: shells for various reasons.




Snake. Unidentified snakes mentioned for medicinal or magical uses, also in terms of responding to specific snake bites. She蛇; Af’āyi/Afuaye 阿福阿耶; Af’āyi/Afuaye 阿福阿耶snake (She蛇); Habb al-āfā’ya/ Habuliafayu哈不里阿法與; Afuyuya阿夫雨牙; Wushao 烏稍Snake (She蛇); Kha®®āf /Hutafu忽他福Snake (She蛇); Bazzāqah/Buzaha卜咱哈Snake (She蛇); Muqrinah/ Muhulina木忽里納 Snake (She蛇); Adhariyus/Adaeryuxi阿荅而玉西Snake (She蛇); Mu’a®ishah/Muatisha木阿體沙 Snake (She蛇); Ballū®iyyah/Baludiya八盧的牙Snake (She蛇); Jāwarsiyyāh/Gewaerxiya各洼而西牙Snake (She蛇); Òayyah/ Hayiye哈亦也Snake (She蛇); Af’āyi/Afuaye 阿福阿耶 Snake (She蛇).


Avicenna: Again, various spp. for various minor and mostly magical uses.


Li: many species. Of course snakes are common medicinally in China for warming, poisonous ones being most effective.



Sparrow. Jiaque家雀; Queer雀兒. Unidentified species mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed. Also occurs in a recipe as food.


Li: the common Asian sparrow Passer montanus, Que, has many uses. Meat sweet, hot, nontoxic. Warming; sexually stimulating. Various prescriptions, and many parts and products used.



Spider. Zhiju蜘蛛; Xizhu 喜蛛; Biaoshao 螵蛸 [?]; Mentioned in contents as being in lost food section also call for in recipes including references to spider webs.



Struthio camelus, Struthidae. Ostrich. ḥalīm/ Zhalimu扎里木. Mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.



Swallow. Yan燕; Alkha®ā®īf /Lihatatifu里哈他提福. Unidentified species mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed. Also called for in recipes.



Syrrhaptes paradoxus, Pteroclidae. Pallas’ sandgrouse. Shajier沙雞兒Mentioned in one HHYF recipe.


Li: Tujueque突厥雀. Sweet, hot, nontoxic.  Invigorates and warms.



Trimeresurus sp., Crotalidae. Viper. Af’āyi /Afuaye阿福阿耶Snake (She 蛇). See above under snakes.


Not in our sources. (Common today at least as a warming food in winter.)



Turtle. Bie鱉. Unidentified species mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed. Also occurs in a recipe.


Avicenna: Testudo elegans, Arabic sulḥafāt, two or three uses reported with obvious skepticism; magical.


Li: Many medicinal uses of many species of turtles.



Vulpes spp., Canidae. Fox. Huli狐狸; tha’labi/Salabi撒剌必. Unidentified species mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed. Elsewhere meat and testicle and dung called for.


Li: Red fox, V. vulpes, Hu 狐. Sweet, warm, nontoxic. Many uses for various parts. The countless folkloric beliefs about foxes are summarized ably. Most of the recipes have a magical tinge, in line with the demonic and shapeshifting nature of foxes in East Asian lore.



Vulture. Karkas/Keergexi 可而各西. Unidentified species mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.


Avicenna: Rakhmah, Pseudogyps spp. Gall in ear, collyrium, etc.; basically magical uses.



Weasel. Huangshu 黃鼠; Shulang鼠狼Unidentified species mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed. Also mentioned in connection with treatment or problems presented by.


Li:  Siberian weasel, Mustela sibirica, youshu 鼬鼠, sweet, warm, slightly toxic, a few trivial uses.



Note: Al-Bīrūnī covers many animals.

A 14th-century zoologist, al-Damiri, described hundreds of animals, many medicinal.[146]





Agate ‘Aqīq/Ajiji 阿吉吉; huihuihungmanao/ 回回紅瑪瑙.


Lev and Amar: ‘aqīq. Dispels fear, stops bleeding—mainly of women. For teeth, gums.





Alum. Baifan白礬; kuhongfan枯紅礬 (red potash alum).


Dioscorides: V-123, stypteria. Warming, binding, purging. All the expected external uses as styptic (after all, it is the source of the English word). Among other things, strengthens “wagging teeth.”[147] Also kills nits and lice. Deodorant. Alum from Melos was used as a contraceptive or abortifacient; applied to uterus before intercourse.


Avicenna: Constricting. Hot and dry. External, for ulcers, lice, body odor. Rubbed on teeth, including toothache. Styptic.


Levey: shabb. Tooth care.


Al-Bīrūnī: astringent. Hot. Clears eye, cures pustules on breasts etc. With honey to strengthen loose teeth and cure pustules of mouth. Also for ears. With grape leaves or honey on mange, wounds, itch, whitlow, nails, chapping of skin. With oak galls and vinegar lees for corrosion of flesh. Granulates chronic wounds with salt and water. With asphalt water (liquid asphalt?) for pustules. With water to kill lice and ticks. Antiphlogistic if applied externally. Uterine pessary to stop menstruation etc. Can be abortifacient. Cures body odor, gum swelling, inflammation of throat, mouth, cheeks; helps with pain in ears, uterus, testicles. Note close similarity to Dioscorides. Galen also cited. Rāzī adds that it clarifies impure water etc.


Lev and Amar: Minor uses including teeth. Mimonides notes it for stimulating sexual desire in men. Modern uses for eyes, gums and teeth, wounds and bleeding, lice, etc. (as in many areas).


Lebling and Pepperdine: Stops bleeding. Shrinks tissues after childbirth.


Li: Fanshi 礬石. Sour and nontoxic; various forms have different values. Huge range of uses.



Amber. Hupo琥珀; kharabā/Kehalaba可哈剌拔.


Li:  Hupo. Sweet, plain and nontoxic. Correct origin known. Various uses.



Armenian bole (“Armenian [Ārmānī] mud”). Aermainini阿而麥你泥/ Yiermainini亦兒麥你泥/ Aermainini阿而麥你尼; gel-e Armanī [subtext].


Avicenna: “Armenian stone” (usually lapis) purgative of black bile, but unsuitable for stomach. Notable for melancholic diseases; replaced black hellebore in Avicenna’s medicine. Armenian bole, cold and dry, constricting; minor uses; “wonderful healing effects on wounds.”[148] Good for respiratory tract including coughing up blood. Internally for intestinal ulcers, diarrhea, uterine bleeding. Good for fevers; live-saving.


Lev and Amar: Many kinds of clay are mentioned in the Genizah documents. This one, identified as oxidized iron in lime chalk, was used externally for skin diseases, burns, and pain; also eyes, breast swellings. Chalk itself is useful as soothing agent for eyes and swellings, usually with more active items.

(It would have a soothing action and might clear up some minor skin diseases.)


Borax, bauraq/Bola博剌; Jian鹼; Na®rūn/Natilong納體籠; Būra/Bola博剌.


Avicenna: Hot and dry. Cleansing. Disintegrates thick humors. For hair, complexion, skin (itchy eruptions), dog bites, beetle bites, dandruff, ears. Expels worms but is bad for stomach.


Levey: Dental medicine, swellings, itch, baldness. Lev and Amar give many uses.



Coal. Shihui石灰; Hui


Li:  Shitan 石炭.  Fuel; few medical uses.



Copper & copper powder. Mes/Misi迷思; Tong銅; Tongyuan銅緣 (copper rust, copper green, copper chloride); rōsakhtaj/luoyisoheida羅亦鎖黑達  (copper oxidants);


Dioscorides: V-87, khalkos kekymenos, burnt copper. Brass (not copper) burnt till it can be powdered. Binding, drying, repressing, cleansing.  Antibiotic for sores, “proud flesh,” eye problems, etc. Causes vomiting.

V-88, khalkou anthos, flower of copper. Scum on molten brass being refined. Similar uses; “mightily biting.”[149]

V-89, lepis, scales of copper. Brass flakes. Corroded in water. Similar uses, especially for eyes.

V-90, lepis stomomatos, smithy scales. Similar.

V-91, ios xystos, verdigris. Preparation explained in detail, but little medical use indicated; evidently as the previous.

V-92, ios skolex, corroded brass. Again various preparations explained. Binding, warming, wearing off or removing; for eyes, inflammations, ulcers, etc. Purgative.

V-114, khalkanthon, copperas-water. Binds, warms, kills tapeworms, causes vomiting and thus good for mushroom poisoning, etc.

V-115, khalkitis, copper ore. Various external uses.

V-117, misy, copperas.  Minor external use.


Levey: Burnt copper in collyrium for eyes. Also for itch.


Avicenna: nuḥās. Hot and dry. Copper oxide is more diluting than the metal. Constricting. Used to blacken hair, for malignant and creeping ulcers, for wounds, eyes, etc. With honey to massage hard and burning ulcers. With honey wine, taken to purge. Avicenna warns that one should not keep meat, oil, or salty, bitter, sour, sweet, or fatty items in copper containers, no rhould one drink from copper utensils. Red copper oxide, zahrah al-nuḥās, constricting; dries up ulcers.  Evacuates thick humors, etc. Dries up piles. Verdigris, zanjār, copper acetate, hot and dry (very), cleansing, piungent, corrosive. External uses to clean out ulcers and skin disesaes, including ascabies. Cleanses eyes; in colliyrium. For piles. No internal uses. Vitriols: various uses for the several forms.


Lev and Amar: Copper: nukhās, etc. Eyes, skin. Tūbāl (they translate “scoria” but explain it is a copper product). Mouth and teeth, eyes. Cuprite, rāsakht, rāsukht, for unknown uses (only a few mentions in the Genizah documents).


Madanapala: Tāmra. Cold.  Laxative, for anemia, skin, piles, edema, dyspnoea, cough.


Dash: As above. Apparently a cureall in Tibet.


Li: Tongqing 銅青, verdigris. Minor, mostly topical uses.

(Most users recognize the danger of these highly toxic metallic chemicals.)



Dung Fen 糞.


Sheep, goat, fox, wild ox, horse, donkey, pigeon, and other dungs are mentioned. Magical uses for these exist in Chinese medicine but this sort of dreckmedezin is not common in the Near East.  However, burned dung of herbivores is suggested in one list of things that can go into a poultice, and this would be perfectly reasonable; the burning would sterilize them and the high-fibre ash would be a good absorbent.


Li mentions various dungs. Dungs of all common animals were used.



Ferric oxide Tiexiu鐵鏽


Dioscorides: V-93, ios siderou, iron rust. Binding. In water, contraceptive. In vinegar for many external uses. Hot iron, quenched in water or wine: liquid drunk for dysentery and other digestive problems.

V-94, skoria siderou, iron slag. Similar uses; less force.


Li: tie 鐵, iron; teixiu, tieyi 鐵衣, ferric oxide; many other iron preparations. Vast range of uses.

Ferric oxide mostly external use, on sores etc.



Gold. Jin金; Jinzi金子; Jinsha針砂  (gold dust)


Avicenna: For blood diseases, eyesight, heartburn, talking to oneself pathologically.


Lev and Amar: Dhahab. Treated with vinegar, produces a preparation used for bad breath. Gold in eyes for sight. Heart and other problems.


Madanapala: Suvarna. Astringent, bitter, sweet, cold. Aphrodisiac, for strength, rejuvenating, for dosas, posions, insanity, fever, phthisis.


Li: Jin. Pungent, balanced, toxic or nontoxic (one source says crude is toxic, refined nontoxic; in fact gold is as poisonous as any other heavy metal, but normally so chemically resistant to digestive fluids that eating it is perfectly safe, in spite of the frequent literary device of suicide by swallowing gold in Chinese fiction). Minor topical uses, including an unusual one of absorbing mercury spilled on a person, which would otherwise be deadly.



Iron. Tie鐵 (Iron), occurring in various shapes and forms in the recipes; khabthu l-adīdi/Habasulihadidi哈八速里哈的的 (iron or steel shavings); Qalqadīs/ Halihadixi哈里哈的西 (red oxide of iron, iron pill); qalqa®ār/ Halihadaer 哈里哈達而 (burnt vitriol, impure iron sulfate).


Dioscorides: V-144, aimatites lithos, hematite. Binding and warming. Takes off scars and problems of eyes. With woman’s milk, or as collyrium, for eye conditions.  Drunk with wine as diuretic and against women’s fluxes, and with pomegranate juice for spitting blood.

V-145, schistos lithos, hematite; Spanish, less effective than above.


Levey:  Hematite, shādhanah, in collyria, etc.


Lev and Amar: Eyes, preventing nosebleeds (doctrine of signatures—hematite being red).  Maimonides held it cold and dry, and used it for hemorrhages, diarrhea, skin disease, swelling, wounds, worms, fractures.


Li: See above.



Jade. Yu玉.


One astonishing HHYF recipe combines jade with gold, silver, mica, petroleum salt, aluminum oxide (?), lapis lazuli (two kinds?), ivory and a whole range of valuable herbal ingredients.  Clearly some sort of magical effect involving all these extremely expensive items is intended.


Li: Yu. Superior drug. Many recipes, most alchemical or magical, plus a great deal of lore.



Lapis lazuli. Lāzward/ Lazhuwaerdi剌諸洼兒的; Òajar Armanī/ Hazhaeraermani 哈札而阿而馬尼/ Hazheleaermani哈者里阿而馬尼; Jinjingshi金精石; Òajar l-yahūdī/ Hazheluliyehudi 哈者盧黎野乎的.


Lev and Amar: lāzward, Eliminates warts, shapes lips, etc. Diuretic, cleansing. For kidneys, black bile, menstruation (stops excess), curls hair, treats leprosy and skin conditions, eyes, etc.; helps the mad and depressed. (Much, if not all, of this is purely magical.)

(Not used in Chinese medicine and almost unknown in China except as an ornamental stone.)



Lead oxide, lead peroxide. Huangdan黃丹 (minium); Mituoseng蜜陀僧 (litharge); Dingfen定粉 (white lead); Heixi黑錫 (“black tin,” lead).


Dioscorides: V-95-98, molybdos (lead) in several preparations. Various mostly-external uses; cooling, binding.

V-103, psimythios, white lead, cerussite. Cooling, pore-closing, molifying, filling, lowers swellings, helps scars develop, etc.


Levey: Several modern uses, similar to above.


Avicenna: various names for various lead salts. In general, cold and moist. A “red lead oxide is cold and dry.”[150] Black lead cold and moist. Zinc oxide cold and dry. Most of these salts stop bleeding, treat wounds and swellings, treat ulcers and tubercular lymph glands, etc. Red lead oxide on burns in ointment. Used in eyes. Used on bites and stings. Avicenna is aware that lead salts are poisonous and dangerous to use.


Lev and Amar: White lead for kohl (eye treatment), aphrodisiac, itch, children with umbilical hernia and incessant crying; various skin conditions, etc. Dressings to prevent orgasm. Stings, fleas, removes dead skin, etc. Red oxide of lead—minium—for abscesses, boils, lacerations.


Li: Qiandan 鉛丹. Pungent, slightly cold and nontoxic (!). Range of internal uses.

(This and other lead salts were amazingly common drugs in both the western world and old China, leading to many deaths. Some remained in use in modern biomedicine, for external purposes, within living memory.)



Litharge (lead oxide). See under Lead oxide.


Dioscorides: V-102, lithargyros. Binding, mollifying, fills hollowness, lowers swellings, helps with wounds and the like. Long and complex details on preparation.


Levey: Murtak, martak. External applications for scrofula, vitiligo alba, boils, abscesses, hemorrhoids, dirty wounds, eyes.


Avicenna: Murdāsanj. Dryish but fairly neutral. Constrictive and drying; cleansing.  Diluting.  Many external uses, especially on ulcers, wounds. Deadly poison, so not much used internally, but given to children for diarrhea and intestinal ulcers (this horribly dangerous usage persists in Mexico to this day, and poisoning from it occur in California’s Mexican-American communities occasionally).  Avicenna notes similar preparations of silver and, improbably, gold.


Lev and Amar: martak. Sores and skin conditions including boils, abscesses, dirty wounds.  Hemorrhoids. Eye diseases.


Li:  Mituoseng. Like other lead salts, which it follows in the book, this was used for a range of purposes, including dysentery, hemorrhoids, other intestinal conditions.



Melanterite. See under iron. qalqa®ār/ Halihadaer 哈里哈達而.


Li: Lüfan綠礬. Sour, cool, nontoxic. For inflammations, stagnation, dispelling phlegm, etc. Several pages of preparations.



Mica.  Jinxingshi金星石; Jinjingshi金精石;



Naft (naphta or crude oil). Naft Nafute納福忒/ Nafuti納福提. Mentioned in Lev and Amar[151]  but not in their texts. Local use in Arabian medicine. No significant use in Chinese medicine.



Orpiment. Cihuang雌黃.


Dioscorides: V-121, arsenikon. Binding. Strongly biting. Makes hair fall out.


Levey: Realgar, zarnīkh aḥmar, for ulcers; al-Kindī seems to confuse it with red lead.


Lev and Amar: Ulcers, teeth, gums, soap (presumably disinfectant), hair removal, poisoning lice and other vermin. The Arabic word is arsin (from the same Greek source as the English word, now used for the metal rather than this salt thereof). Modern uses include small does for most of the above purposes. Of course the poisonous effects of strong doses are and were known.


Madanapala: Haritāla (yellow arsenic). Hot. For poisoning (!), itch, skin, mouth, blood, hair, affliction by evil planets (!).


Dash: Pungent, astringent. For skin, mouith, ulcers, hair removal. Realgar adds repulsion of evil spirits.


Li: Cihuang. Pungent, balanced, toxic. Li cautiously recommends it largely for topical use, but does mention the internal uses for digestive conditions etc. Realgar, xionghuang, gets more uses and attention. Sources differ on its qualities, but agree it is toxic.

(These deadly drugs were much used in early medieval Chinese medicine, including immortality medicine; they caused brain poisoning and thus hallucinations, and then preserved the corpse, so the dying man seemed to see visions and the dead seemed not to have truly died. By Li’s time, such medicine was known to be pernicious.)



Salt(s). Fan 礬; namāki/ Nanaqi拏馬其; Yan鹽;


Dioscorides: V-126, ‘ales. Notes various types of sea and lake salt. Binding, cleansing, dissolving, repressing, etc. An even longer list than usual of external applications. Used in preparations with soothing ingredients for bites (including crocodile bites!), stings, boils, sores, etc.


Avicenna: milḥ. Persian namak. Hot and dry. Cleansing, dissolvling, constricting, drying; relieves gas. Burnt salt is more drying and dissolving. Anti-putrefaction. Used as rub for teeth and gums, in poultices of all sourts for various reasons, as corrosive for excssive flesh on wounds, on skin diseases, etc. Rub with pulp of colocynth for head. Ingredient of various rubs for chest, etc. Helps elimination. Many other uses, usually with other items.


Lev and Amar: In medications for most purposes, from eyes to bile. Dissolves phlegm, reduces weight, relieves poisons, treats diarrhea and hemorrhoids; topical uses on teeh, skin, stings, bites, etc.


Madanapala, Dash: several kinds of salt with various uses.


Li: Yan; shiyan 石鹽 (rock salt). Used in many preparations for varied reasons. .



Silver and silver residue. Yin銀.


Avicenna: Silver, fiḍḍah. Cooling and drying. Minor external uses.


Lev and Amar: fiḍḍa. Skin, heart, hemorrhoids, breath; diuretic.


Madanapala: Rūpya. Cold, sweet, laxative, rejuvenating. For aging, etc.


Dash: Happiness, cures gray hair, complexion, etc. Cures poisoning and several ailments.


Li: Yin. Pungent, balanced, toxic. Flakes usually used. For psychological conditions (fright, convusions, willpower, depression, mania) as well as a range of physical ones.



Soil (including mud from an altar, soil from a crossroad, etc.). Tu土.


Dioscorides V-170, ge. Cooling, stops pores. Various kinds; descriptions of many follow (171-181).


Avicenna: various minor uses.


Arabic sources, Li:  Many kinds of dirt used in various, usually magical ways.



Sulphur. Liuhuang硫黃; l-kibrīti/Qibuliti其卜黎提/ Qibiliya乞必里牙.


Dioscorides: V-124, theion. For coughs, asthma, spitting. External uses for infections and other conditions. Abortifacient. External use for jaundice (clearly sympathetic magic).


Avicenna: Kibrīt; Persian, gugard. Hot and dry (very; fourth degree). Diluting, cosmetic, effective for skin including scabies. External uses except vapor for colds.


Lev and Amar: kibrīt. Skin conditions, including bites and stings; paralysis, inflammation, leprosy (presumably on skin), even mental illness. Kills lice.


Madanapala: Gandhaka. Laxative; for skin, consumptioni, spleen.


Dash: Pungent, bitter, hot. Cures poisoning, itch, skin.


Li:  Sour, warm/hot, toxic. Many uses, mostly in formulations.

(Well-known skin medicine.)



Zinc oxide. Tōtiyā/ Tuotiya脫體牙 (zinc sulfate); Qalīmiyā/halimiya哈里米牙 (scoria).


Avicenna: sifīd āb; external uses for wounds, swellings.


Lev and Amar: tūtiyā. Eyes.



Several recipes refer to a an apparent burnt vitriol, “red potash alum” (a mix powder?). See also under Iron, qalqa®ār/ Halihadaer 哈里哈達而 (burnt vitriol, impure iron sulfate). Totally mysterious are reference to an andarūn (possibly for andarini, a form of salt) among things to put on blood vessel wounds (juan 34).


Lev and Amar have many uses for vitriol and related compounds.





See also the Index list.



Hongjiezi紅芥子 (red mustard); Hong 紅 (“red”) [Pr.] Sipandān/Xipandan西盤丹; Isfandān/ Xipandang西攀當 (white mustard seeds).



Baijiezi 白芥子 (white mustard); Sipandān/ Xipandan 西盤丹. Egyp. Xardal.



Qūqīyā/ Gujiya古吉牙. Three recipe mentions Qūqīyā Pills apparently containing ivory; the dictionary gives “narwhal” which is more than improbable although not entirely since Narwhal ivory was being imported to Europe at the time from Greenland.



圓芥子的根 Yuan jiezi di gen (“root of round mustard seeds”). Dārshīsha’ān/ Daershishian荅而失實安/Daershishian荅兒失失安/Daershihiang荅兒失失昂. Not mustard some other plant. Uncertain.



Zihua紫花, “purple flower.” Frequent mentions, but there is no plant by this name in Chinese medicine. Probably the violet Viola yedoensis, although apparently the clear violet of the text , which occurs under the general term Banafshah/Bunafusha不納福沙 is probably Viola odorata.



Some drugs strangely absent from what we have of the HHYF:


Camellia sinensis. Tea was a cureall for al-Bīrūnī (as for the good Dutch Doctor Bontekoe in the 17th century).  Al-Bīrūnī knew that in China it was used to counteract alohol, help the stomach, purify the blood [i.e., help qi], etc. He even knew some of the Chinese folklore about the plant.


Li:  Cha, ming. Bitter, sweet, cold, nontoxic. Cureall, but uses for diarrhea/dysentery, stimulant effect including clearing head, and hydration stand out.



Lawsonia inermis. Henna. This plant, so widely used in the Middle East especially for external uses of all kinds, is strangely absent from the HHYF.



Salvia spp. These plants, widespread as medicines in Europe and west Asia, never seem to have made it to East Asia as significant herbal remedies, though Li mentions S. miltiorrhiza, danshen丹參, as a disperser of Cold, Heat, pathogenic factors, etc., and for many minor uses, including fright and evil.  It tranquilizes the spirit, stabilizes the willpower, etc.

Sage spp. are used in the west for stomach, pain, throat, general nutrition and tonic. Antiseptic and antioxidant properties well documented and effective.



Operculum: Snail opercula were a major drug in the Near East and common in China too. They contain substances that are highly aromatic when used as incense.Various species were used. These may be hidden under some other name among shells mentioned in the text.


Lev and Amar: az.fār t.īb. Used for skin, wounds, purgative, emetic, menstrual regulation, uterus, epilepsy, paralysis, etc.





Appendices:  Tables and Comparisons (items marked with * are not in the main text)/


Foods in Table of Contents; starred ones not mentioned in the main text that survives.





Domestic Ox

Wild Ox

Domestic Donkey

*Wild Donkey



Mountain Goat



Old Wolf [Unidentified]


[Ar.] Zi’b [Jackal]

*[Pr.] Nakhjīr [? unidentified]


*[Ar.] Arnab ba [Steppe Hare]




Male Chicken and Female Chicken




*[Ar.] Durrāj [Francolin]

*[Ar.] Rakham [kind of goose]

*[Ar.] Sumānā [Quail]


Sand Grouse

*[Ar.] Qi®®a Cat [female]




[Ar.] Af’āyi Snake [Viper ?]

*[Ar.] Timsā  [Crocodile]

[Ar.] Òirbā’ [Chameleon]

*[Ar.] Sāmm ābras [Gekko]



*Eriocheir sinensis

[Pr.] Jandbādstar [beaver]

* [Ar.] Saqanqūr [scincus lizard]

*[Pr.] Sōsmār [lizard]




*[Ar.] Òirdhawn [a lizard]

*Ma-tse [insect + hemp] 蚱 [Unidentified]

*Dung Beetle

*[Ar.] Dūd [Worm, maggot, etc]

*[Pr.] Dūd-e qirmiz [silk worm]


*House Fly




*[Ar.] Fasāfis [Bedbug]




*Adjutant Stork [Leptoptilus javanicus]

*Xunhu [to smoke + bird] 鹕 [Unidentified]

*[Ar.] Gha®ghā® [Lapwing, Hoplopterus spinosus]

*[Ar.] ḥalīm [Ostrich]

*[Ar.] Mūghāli, “shrew mouse”]

[Ar.] Qa®āmī [sparrow hawk, kite, harrier, etc]

*[Pr.] Karkas [Vulture]



Division: Various Flowers, Fruits, and Vegetables for Treating Illness


Category: Various Fruits


“Foreign 10,000-year Jujubes” [dates]

Sweet Grapes


Sweet Pomegranate

Sour Chinese Quince [Chaenomeles sinensis = C. speciosa]

Southern Pears


Sour Apple


[Pr.] Badam [Almonds]

Seedless White Dried Grapes

Hazel Nuts


Wild Indian Eggplant [Deadly Nightshade Fruits]

Pine Nuts

Hemp Seeds


Opium Poppy Seeds


Category: Various Vegetables


Garlic chives


[Ar.] Sadāb [Rue]

Basil [or mint]

*[Pr.] Mavīzak [Pedicularis ?resupinata]

*[Ar.] Bādrūj [Melissa officinalis, mountain balm]

[Ar.] Tarkhūn [Tarragon]


Seashore Vitex



[Ar.] Lāfah [garlic mustard?]

[Pr.] Chugundur [Sugar Beet]


Ampelopsis cantoniensis

Green Onions

*K’o-lan 可藍  [Unidentified]



*Cimi 刺 [tree + without] [or mieh; unidentified]

*Lizijiao 李子膠 [Unidentified]

[Pr.] Chokrī [dock, Rumex acetosa]

*[Pr.] Zumārōg [a mushroom]


Category: Various Flowers



[Ar.] Shahsibargham [sweet basil]

Chinese Sacred Lily

*White ma-lan 馬藺 Flower [Unidentified]

[[Pr.] Mūrd [Myrtle]

*[Pr.] Āzargōn [autumn peony ?]


*Red lo-san 羅傘 Flower [Unidentified]

[Ar.] za’farān [saffron]

[Pr.] marzanjūsh [Marjoram]




Some remedies from Al-Kindī:


Contents of the nosh-dārū electuary, labeled as Indian by Al-Kindī, which is intended to make one happy and to make sadness disappear:[152]


Red rose, sweet rush, clove, mastic, nard, wild nard, cinnamon [presumably cassia], Ceylon cinnamon, yew, saffron, sebesten, large cardamom, ordinary cardamom, walnut.


Contents of the longest formula in the book, a “black remedy” (presumably a nonstandard or somewhat magical one) for insanity:[153]


Nard, mastic, wild ginger, leopard’s-bane, opium, euphorbium, henbane, white pepper, soapwort, black Indian salt, red Indian salt, mandrake root, rhubarb root, pyrethrum, myrrh, aloe, sesame oil, frankincense, sweet flag, sagapenum, gum ammoniac, long birthwort, round mustard, blue bdellium, chicory root, castoreum, colocynth root, yellow sulfur, seed of rocket, chaste-tree, mountain raisin, opopanax, wild harmel seed, fennel flower, galbanum, saffron.


Stomachic and treatment for sexual overindugence:[154]


Cardamom, clove, walnut, ginger, pepper, long pepper, saffron, Chinese cinnamon (presumably cassia), ‘ūdnī, sukk (these unidentified), ganga, rocket seed, carrot seed, secacul (a carrot-like root, not certainly identified), small desert lizard.  (Note that most of these are indeed effective stimulants, carminatives, and stomach medicines.)


Maimonides on diet for the insane:  oxtongue drink (borage?); counterindicated coriander seed, fruit, and purgatives.



Plant Families Represented in the HHYF


Numbers refer to separate taxa in the HHYF, not to species, since it is unclear how many species are included in the vaguer taxa. There are, for instance, clear references to several different species of rose, but only “Rosa” is scored here (as one taxon).


Acoraceae, 1

Agaricaceae, 1

Agavaceae, 1

Alliacea, 3

Altingiaceae, 1

Amaryllidaceae, 1

Apiceae, 27

Apocynaceae (now in Asclepidaceae), 2

Araceae, 1

Araliaceae, 1

Arecaceae, 4

Aristolochiaceae, 2

Asparagaceae, 2

Asteraceae, 22

Avicenniaceae, 1

Berberidaceae, 1

Betulaceae, 1

Boraginaceae, 4

Brassicaceae, 7

Burseraceae, 5

Campanulaceae, 1

Cannabaceae, 1

Capparidaceae, 1

Caprifoliaceae, 2

Caryophyllaceae, 2

Chenopoodiaceae, 3

Cistaceae, 2

Clusiaceae, 1

Colchicaceae, 1

Combretaceae, 2

Convolvulaceae, 3

Cornaceae, 2

Crassulaceae, 1

Cucurbitaceae, 4

Cupressaceae, 1

Cyperaceae, 1

Dipterocarpaceae, 1

Dracaenaceae, 1

Ephedraceae, 1

Euphorbiaceae, 5

Fabaceae, 18

Fagaceae, 1

Gentianaceae, 1

Hypericaceae, 1

Iridaceae, 2

Juglandaceae, 1

Lamiaceae, 19

Lauraceae, 5

Linaceae, 1

Loganiaceae, 1

Loranthaceae, 1

Malvaceae, 4

Melanthiaceae, 1

Menispaermaceae, 1

Menyantheaceae, 1

Moraceae, 2

Moringaceae, 1

Myristicaceae, 1

Myrtaceae, 2

Oleaceae, 3

Onagraceae, 2

Orchidaceae, 1

Orobanchaceae, 1

Paeoniaceae, 1

Papaveraceae, 3

Parmeleaceae, 1

Pedaliaceae, 2

Pinaceae, 3

Piperaceae, 3

Plantaginaceae, 1

Poaceae, 8

Polypodiaceae, 3

Polyporacese, 2

Poygonaceae, 3

Primulaceae, 1

Primulaceae, 1

Punicaceae, 1

Ranunculaceae, 6

Rhamnaceae, 3

Rosaceae, 11

Rubiaceae, 1

Rutaceae, 6

Salicaceae, 2

Santalaceae, 1

Solanaceae, 5

Styracaceae, 1

Taxaceae, 1

Thymeleaceae, 2

Usneaceae, 1

Verbenaceae, 1

Violaceae, 1

Vitaceae, 2

Zingiberaceae, 8

Zygophyllaceae, 2


Lichen, 1

Moss, 1



It may be useful to compare this with total numbers of species in the major families in Central Asia. A. R. Mukhamejanov provides the following numbers:[155]


Asteraceae, 1351 spp. in the Central Asian region

Fabaceae, 927

Lamiaceae, 455

Apiaceae, 419

Poaceae, 415

Liliaceae, 396

Brassicaceae, 390

Caryophyllaceae, 286

Rosaceae, 264

Chenopodiaceae, 242

Boraginaceae, 230

Polygonaceae, 157


This includes over 70% of the total species for the region. Endemicity is high, 65-70%.

Of course this is only somewhat similar to the basically Mediterranean flora of the HHYF.

Mukhamejanov notes the existence of montane forests that are largely walnut, almond, apricot, pistachio, etc., with no pines, larches, oaks or similar large trees. Such forests are surely the result of human selective cutting (personal research, Afghanistan, ENA; cf Harlan[156]). Timber is cut, fruit trees preserved.





Places of Origin of Major Medicinal Items


This involves some arbitrary scoring. In the first place, many of the HHYF taxa, such as rose, poplar, rhubarb, dock, and willow, include several species, distributed all over Eurasia, with local species being medicinally used in China and western Eurasia.These have been coded as “All” below. Secondly, some individual species, such as apricot, sweetflag, and hemp, occurred throughout the Eurasian heartlands from very early times, and were used medicinally throughout their ranges. Third, some species, such as citron, barely reach China and were probably not known medicinally there, and seem to be treated as “western” plants in the HHYF. It is important to note that in all these cases the names given are Near Eastern ones, and the indicated uses tend to follow the Dioscorides-Galen traditions. We are thus dealing with western uses of the plants, however Chinese or universal the plants may be. Honey presents a special problem, since the domesticated bee Apis mellifera, was an introduction from the west, but the similar east Asian A. cerana was always known and used. Honey is regarded here as in the “widespread” category.


On the other hand, the HHYF does separate some groups, e.g. Artemisia and mints, into roughly species-level categories, and different species were used in east and west, so these can be scored more precisely.


In the second place, many medicinals were widespread in India, the Near East, and Europe long before the time of the HHYF. These have all been coded as “Western,” since this is a book of Near Eastern medicine. However, some are known to have come from India originally (most, however, were genuinely widespread). “India” thus becomes something of a residual category, for plants that clearly came from India and were not known, or at least not much used, in the western world much before the HHYF’s time. Even this presents maddening conundrums, like sugar, which we code as “India” though it was, in the 14th century, rather recently popularized in the west and China.


Similarly, some medicinals made it to China slightly before the HHYF’s time, but they have all been scored as “Western” here, because they were recent arrivals as of the 14th century and had not been well assimilated into Chinese culture. This, also, is obviously maddeningly ambiguous. We have scored grape as “Western,” for instance, though it was known in China since the 2nd century B.C.; it remained as of the 14th century an overwhelmingly western crop, though widely grown in western China (often or usually by Hui peoples). Walnut, probably native to China as to west Asia, scores western because it is “Iranian peach” in Chinese and the common large edible form is evidently an import.[157]


The Southeast Asian eleven are, similarly, plants that would have been seen at that time as rather exotic Southeast Asian items, though long known in India and China. They are mostly spices and incenses. Cloves are the extreme case here; they were still strictly an import, but the importation had started by 300-400 BC.


Note the importance of India even after it has “lost” many of its drugs to scoring as generically “Western.”





Found in all regions, 31

Western, 152

India, 26

China, 38

Southeast Asia, 11


Total 258 taxa


Number of these mentioned in Dioscorides:  136


Mentioned in Li: 148 (as well as most of the animals and animal products)


The vast majority of these overlap, and many of the rest are obscure. The rest of the exceptions are several plants in Dioscorides that cannot grow away from the Mediterranean, and several native to East and South Asia were not known to Dioscorides.


In most cases, when the genera are the same, the species used by Li and slightly different from the one(s) used by Dioscorides. Rheum is one example.


This indicates a flow of knowledge from west to east. Since Dioscorides has priority, and since most of the overlap is in western-origin or Indian-origin plants, we can safely infer that the botanicals in question went in that direction.  However, in many cases—from Artemisia and Asparagus to Ricinus and Vicia—the genus, if not the species, is widely distributed and independent discovery is possible. When the plant has such obvious medical value that no one could miss it, as in Artemisia and Ricinus, independent discovery becomes probable.


The only clear and unmistakable western borrowings shared by the HHYF and Li are common foods and a few other products of early (often very ancient) presence in China:[158] ball onion (A. cepa), dill, celery, beet, frankincense, cabbage (B. oleracea, specifically said by Li to be western), safflower, myrrh, coriander, saffron, carrot, asafoetida, fig, fennel, barley, flax, basil, poppy, pistachio, almond, apricot, pomegranate, possibly sumac (but there are native sumacs in China), rosemary (Li says it came from the west in the Wei Dynasty), madder, sesame, styrax, fenugreek, wheat, and European grape (but there are also native Chinese grapes). This totals 30 species. Some, such as wheat and barley, go back to very ancient times in China. Others, such as grape and coriander, reached China in very early imperial times.


The only clear borrowings from India or southeast Asia are galingale, Aquilaria, Areca (its Chinese name is a loanword from Malay), turmeric, zedoary, Daemonorhops, Dryobalanops, nutmeg, Phyllanthus, the Piper species, sugarcane, clove, Terminalia chebula. Several other largely Southeast Asian species probably ranged into China in ancient times. Possibly even turmeric and zedoary did.





Analysis and Comparison


Plants mentioned in the Yinshan Zhengyao, a nutrition and dietary guide from the same decade


Starred ones occur, or their close congenerics do, in the HHYF.



Acanthopanax sp. Wujiapi五加皮. Bark liquor.


*Aconitum chinese. Chinese aconite


*A. carmichaeilii. Sichuan aconite


*Acorus calamus. Sweet rush, sweet flag. Root


*Aframomum sp. (more likely, in context, Amomum villosum). Grains-of-Paradise


*Agaricus spp.


*Allium cepa (and probably also A. fistulosum). Onion


  1. chinense. Chinese leek.


*A. sativum. Garlic


  1. tuberosum. Chinese chives


*Alpinia officinarum. Lesser galingale


Amaranthus sp. (possibly also Chenopodium sp.) Greens


*Amomum spp. (notably A. tsaoko, probably also A. villosum, A. xanthioides). Large cardamoms


*Angelica sinensis. Danggui當歸


*Aquilaria agallocha. Eaglewood, gharuwood


*Arctium lappa. Burdock


Asarum forbesii. Forbes’ wild ginger


*Asparagus cochin-chinensis, A. lucidus (possibly also Zizania caduciflora?). Chinese asparagus (“reed shoots’)


Atractylodes macrocephala. Baishu柏樹


Atractylodes spp. (A. lancea, A. chinensis, A. japonica). Cangshu 蒼朮


Auricularia auricula. Tree ear fungus


*Bambusa spp. etc. Bamboo shoots


Begonia sp.


Benincasa hispida. Winter melon


*Beta vulgaris. Beet, sugar beet, Swiss chard


Biota orientalis. Boshi


*Brassica campestris (including B. chinensis). Chinese cabbage, oil greens


*B. juncea (?). Mustard (possibly Sinapis sp.); mustard greens


*B. rapa (?). Rape-turnip


Camellia sinensis


*Canarium album


*Cannabis sativa. Hemp seeds



*Carduus crispus. Thistle root, feilian 蜚蠊


*Carthamus tinctorius. Safflower

Castanea mollissima. Chestnut
*Chaenomeles sinensis. Chinese quince


*Chrysanthemum coronarium. Edible chrysanthemum


Cicer arietinum. Chickpea


*Cinnamomum camphora. Camphor


*C.  cassia. Cassia, Chinese cinnamon


*C. zeylanicum (?). Cinnamon


Citrullus vulgaris. Watermelon


*Citrus reticulata and various hybrids and related spp. (taxonomy unclear)


*C. sinensis


Cnidium officinale


Coix lachrymae-jobi. Job’s tears


Colocasia esculenta. Taro


*Coptis chinensis. Goldenthread


*Coriandrum sativum. Coriander, cilantro


Corylus spp. (many present). Hazelnuts


*Croton tiglium (and possibly other spp.). Croton beans


*Crocus sativus. Saffron


*Cucumis melo. Melon. Var. conomon, Oriental picling melon.


  1. sativus. Cucumber


Cuminum cyminum. Cumin


*Curcuma longa (possibly also C. aromatica, etc.). Turmeric


Cynanchum sp.


*Daucus carota. Carrot


Dichroa febrifuga or Orixa japonica. Chinese quinine


Dimocarpus longan. Longan


*Dioscorea spp. Chinese yams


Diospyros kaki. Chinese persimmon


Elaeagnus angustifolia and possibly E. pungens. Russian olive fruits.


Eleocharis dulcis. Water chestnut


*Elettaria cardamomum. Small cardamom


Euryale ferox. Foxnut


Evodia sp.


Fagopyrum esculentum, F. tataricum. Buckwheat


*Ferula asafoetida. Asafoetida


*Foeniculum vulgare. Fennel


*Gardenia jasminoides


Ginkgo biloba


Gleditsia sinensis. Chinese honey-locust


Glycine max. Soybean


*Glycyrrhiza uralensis. Liquorice


Hordeum vulgare. Barley


Juglans regia. Walnut


*Lablab purpureus (formerly Dolichos lablab). Hyacinth bean


Lactuca sativa. Lettuce


*Lagenaria siceraria. Bottle gourd


*Ligusticum sinense. Chinese lovage


Lilium concolor and probably other spp.


Litchi chinensis (=Nephelium litchi). Lychee


*Lycium chinense. Chinese wolfthorn


Magnolia liliflora. Magnolia flower


*Malus spp. (=Pyrus subgenus Malus). Crabapples, Chinese apple


*Malva parvifolia complex. Mallow leaves


*Malva sp.? Musk mallow


*Mentha spp. Mints


Millettia lasiopetala. Baiyao 白藥


Morus alba. White mulberry


Myrica rubra


*Nardostachys chinensis. Chinese spikenard


Nelumbo nucifera. Lotus


?Ocimum spp. Basil  (uncertain)


Oenanthe javanica. Water celery


Orchidaceae sp. (or epidendrum?) Orchid


Orobanche sp. Broomrape


Oryza sativa. Rice


Osmanthus fragrans. Sweet olive, kueihua 桂花


*Paeonia sp. (probably P. suffruticosa). Tree peony


Panax ginseng. Ginseng


  1. japonicus? Korean ginseng


Panicum miliaceum. Panic millet


*Papaver somniferum. Poppy seeds


Perilla frutescens. Perilla, beefsteak plant


Phragmites communis. Reed. Juice


*Phyllanthus emblica? Myrobalans (type unclear)


Phytolacca acinosa. Chinese poke


Pinellia ternata. Banxia 半夏


*Pinus spp. (probably focally P. koraiensis for the nuts). Pine nuts; pine pollen; pine liquor, pine root


*Piper cubeba. Cubeb


*P. longum. Long pepper


*P. nigrum. Black pepper


*Pistacia vera. Pistachio nuts


Pisum sativum. Peas


*Platycodon grandiflorum


Pleurotus ortreatus. Fungus


Polygala sibirica. Chinese senega


Polygonatum spp. Solomon’s seal.


*Polygonum aviculare. Smartweed


*P. multiflorum. Chinese cornbind


*Poria cocos. China root


Portulaca oleracea. Purslane


Prinsepia uniflora. Prinsepia


*Prunus amygdalus. Almond


*P. armeniaca. Apricot. Kernels, fruit


*P. mume. Oriental flowering apricot


*P. persica. Peach


Prunus (subgenus Cerasus) spp. Cherries.


Pteris sp. Bracken fern


Pueraria lobata. Kudzu


*Punica granatum Pomegranate


Pyrus spp. Chinese pears


*Quercus spp. Acorns


*Raphanus sativus


Rehmannia glutinosa (possibly also Digitalis purpurea?). Chinese foxglove


*Rheum officinale and probably other spp. Rhubarb


Ribes rubrum. Red currant.


*Rosa spp. Flowers, attar, hips


*Saccharum officinale. Sugar


Sanguisorba sp? Burnet (?)


Santalum album. Sandalwood


Saussurea lappa (and possibly also Vladimiria souliei). Muxiang 木香


Schisandra spp. Schisandra fruits


Schizonepeta tenuifolia. (A small herb of the mint family)


*Sesamum indicum. Sesame


Setaria italica. Foxtail millet


Solanum melongena.  (Chinese) eggplant


Sonchus arvensis (and probably other spp.). Sow thistle. Greens.


Spinacia oleracea. Spinach


Spiraea media (or possibly Gentiana sp.). Tabilqa


Stachys sieboldii. Chinese “artichoke”


*Torreya grandis. Torreya nuts


Trapa bispinosa. Water caltrop


Tricholoma mongolicum. Mushroom


*Trigonella foenum-graecum. Fenugreek


*Triticum aestivum. Bread wheat


Tussilago farfara. Tussilago flower


Typha spp. Rhizomes, pollen, shoots


Ulmus macrocarpa. Stinking elm


  1. parvifolia, U. pumila (and/or relatives). Elm seeds


Urtica sp. Nettle


*Veratrum nigrum and/or V. maacki. False hellebore


*Vicia spp. (focally V. sativa). Vetch


*Vigna angustifolia. Adzuki beans


*V. mungo. Mung beans


Vitex trifolia. Seashore chaste-tree. Fruits.


*Vitis spp. Grapes; wine


Xanthium strumarium. Cocklebur


Zanthoxylum sp. Flower pepper


*Zingiber mioga. Chinese ginger, Japanese ginger


*Z. officinalis. Ginger


Zizyphus spp. Jujubes (various; mostly Z. jujuba)



Unidentified fungi


Total 173 taxa (not counting the unidentified fungi).



Some 85 are also in the HHYF. Many of these are native Chinese equivalents of western plants (Allium, for example) or western plants long established in China even before the HHYF (almond, saffron). Others, such as lesser galingale, cassia, sugar and ginger, are East/Southeast Asian in origin and spread west by early medieval times. Only 27 plants are clearly western species borrowed into China. Most are in the HHYF, but some (e.g. spinach, peach) are strictly foods with no special medicinal value, and are thus not mentioned in the HHYF. All these 27 are probably much older in China than Yuan.  Most of the rest are strictly Chinese remedies or foods.



Some Plants and Minerals with Real or Probable Medical Effect besides Low-level Stimulant and Soothing Values


Acacia (DMT release when brewed with harmala and maybe other plants)


Aconite (strongly toxic, can produce hallucinations or delusions; like other Solanaceae below, contains psychotropic tropane alkaloids)


Acorus (mental effects not well studied scientifically, but widely alleged in folk medicine worldwide; confirming evidence for at least some strains).[159]


Artemisia (toxic effects can include mental influences; active ingredient in absinthe)


Boswellia (mental effects alleged in sources, probably with considerable foundation; research shaky but there is evidence for antidepressant effect from inhaling the incense)


Cannabis (mental effects well known and well described in all early sources, Near Eastern and Chinese)


Saffron (mental effects real but little studied and rather minor; see species account above; at least some of the reported effects check with contemporary experience)


Ephedra (strong stimulant effects; used in Near East with other drugs for mental effects)


Hellebore (white and black; well-known producer of visions and other mental effects)


Hyoscyamus (henbane; notorious in witches’ brews and such for its psychotropic effects, which are reported to include visions of devils)


Hypericum (St. John’s wort; famous antidepressant)


Lavender (mental effects little studied, but undeniable; “broom of the brain” in Indian medicine; recent research confirms rather striking antidepressant and soothing value, even from simply inhaling the scent)


Lead, copper, and arsenic compounds


Lemon balm (antidepressant effect; needs confirmation)


Mint (stimulant, harmonizing, antidepressant effect from mint oil taken or sniffed; needs research)


Peganum harmala (harmal; major, very widely used psychedelic in Near East)


Soda and other alkaline minerals


Solanum nigrum (deadly nightshade; toxic effects include some mental ones)







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[1] Hu Shiu-ying, Food Plants of China, Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2005.

[2] Wyjastyk 2003: xxxvii.

[3] Theophrastus 1926: II, 257.

[4] Pavord 2005: 146.

[5] Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists, tr. Charles Burton Gulick, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (Loeb Classics Series), 1928-41.

[6] Gunther 1934: 661-679.

[7] Galen 2003.

[8] See Anthimus, On the Observance of Foods, Totnes, England: Prospect Books, 1996.

[9]  Levey 1966.

[10] Jamal Bellakhdar, Renée Claisse, Jacques Fleurentin, and Chafique Younos, “Repertory of Standard Herbal Drugs in the Moroccan Pharmacopoea,” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 35 (1991):123-143.

[11] Al-Bīrūnī 1973.

[12] See Maimonides 1979 below.

[13] Avicenna 1999-2014, II.

[14] Avicenna 1999-2014, I.

[15] Nawal Nasrallah, Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchens: Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq’s Tenth-Century Baghdadi Cookbook,  Leiden: Brill, 2007.

[16] Joseph Salvatore Graziani, Arabic Medicine in the Eleventh Century as Represented in the Works of Ibn Jazlah, Karachi: Hamdard Foundation, 1980.

[17] Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon), Moses Maimonides on the Causes of Symptoms, ed. and tr. by J. O. Leibowitz and S. Marcus, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

[18] Maimonides 1979.

[19] Levey and Al-Khaledy 1967.

[20] Lev and Amar 2008.

[21] See Wallis 2010, passim.

[22] Kamal 1975.

[23] Kamal 1975: 117.

[24] Kamal 1975: 118.

[25] Kamal 1975: 164-189

[26] Bellakhadar et al. 1991.

[27] Shahina A. Ghazanfar,  Handbook of Arabian Medicinal Plants,  Boca Raton, FL:  CRC Press, 1994.

[28] Robert W. Lebling and Donna Pepperdine, Natural Remedies of Arabia, Riyadh and London: Al-Turath and Stacey International, 2006.

[29] James Mandaville, Bedouin Ethnography: Plant Concepts and Uses in a Desert Pastoral World, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011; See also his earlier work, James Mandaville, The Flora of Eastern Saudi Arabia,  London: Kegan Paul, 1989.

[30] Chishtiyya 1985.

[31] Vaidya Bhagwan Dash and K. Kanchan Gupta, Materia Medica of Ayurveda based on Madanapāla’s Nighantu, New Delhi: B. Jain, 1991.

[32] Nadkarni 1976.

[33] Dash and Laliteshkashyap 1980.

[34] Dash 1994.

[35] Dash 1994, xvi,

[36] Terry Clifford, Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry: The Diamond Healing, York Beach, ME:  Samuel Weiser, 1984. This overlaps with or is partially based on Dash 1994.

[37] Sasha W. Eisenman, David E. Zaurov, and Lena Struwe eds., Medicinal Plants of Central Asia: Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, tr. David E. Zaurov, Sasha W. Eisenman, Dilmurad A. Yunusov, and Venera Isaeva; New York: Springer, 2013. Medicinal herb accounts by the editors and Igor V. Belolipov, Anvar G. Kurmukov, Ishenbay S. Sodombekov, and Anarbek A. Akimaliev.

[38] Li Shizhen, Compendium of Materia Medica (Bencao Gangmu), tr. and ed. By Xiao Xiaoming, Li Zhenguo, and committee, 6 vols, Beijing:  Foreign Languages Press, 2003.

[39] Now available for consultation is Zhang Zhibin and Paul Unschuld, eds., Dictionary of the Ben cao gang mu, Volume 1: Chinese Historical Illness Terminology (Ben Cao Gang Mu Dictionary Project), Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2014.

[40] Sun Simiao, “Recipes Worth a Thousand Gold, ” trans. Sumei Yi, 2007, available by email from E. N. Anderson or on his website

[41] See Unschuld 1986 for their history.

[42] Ruth Meserve, “A Mongolian Medicinal Plant List,” Journal de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 90 (2004): 67-100.

[43] Chipman 2010.

[44] J.C. Th. Uphof, J. C. Th., Dictionary of Economic Plants, Lehre, Germany:  J. Cramer, 1968.

[45] Graeme Tobyn, Alison Denham, and Margaret Whitelegg, The Western Herbal Tradition: 2000 Years of Medicinal Plant Knowledge, London: Singing Dragon, 2011.

[46] Gunther 1934: 527.

[47] Gunther 1934: 232

[48] Nunn also notes this. See John F. Nunn, Ancient Egyptian Medicine, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

[49] Wujastyk 2003: 154-160.

[50] “I cannot find the compound [匿蟲] in the dictionary. It seems to be some kind of ulcer. ” (Note by Sumei Yi, translator of this passage.)

[51] Elisabeth Hsu, “Qing hao 青蒿, Herba Artemisiae annuae, in the Chinese Materia Medica,” in Elisabeth Hsu and Stephen Harris, eds., Plants, On the Interface of Ethnobotany and Medical Anthropology, New York:  Berghahn, 2010, 83-130 [2010b].

[52] See especially Hsu 2010b, 109-110, 116.

[53] Elisabeth Hsu, “Plants in Medical Practice and Common Sense: On the Interface of Ethnobotany and Medical Anthropology,” in Hsu and Harris 2010, 1-48. [Hsu 2010a].


[55] Nasrallah 2007: 672.

[56] Li 2003:1673.

[57] Bellakhdar et al. 1991: 126

[58] Li 2003: 1788.

[59] Chrysanthemum coronarium L. var spatiosum Bailey.

[60] Gunther 1934: 42.

[61] Gunther 1934: 43.

[62] Graziani 1980: 180-215.

[63] Shi is an important concept in Chinese medicine, which means the noxious qi proliferates so much that it fills certain parts of the body.

[64] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 376.

[65] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 284.

[66] Eisenman 2013: 83.

[67] Nasrallah 2007: 678.

[68] Ghazanfar 1994: 207.

[69] Lev and Amar 2008: 399.

[70] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 804.

[71] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 726.

[72] The ba in the transcription is clearly in the Arabic Script entry but the Chinese transcription leaves it out.

[73] Avicenna 1999-2014, II: 650.

[74] Levey 1966: 342.

[75] Zhong means zhongjiao, or the Middle Jiao or burner.

[76] Gunther 1934: 181.

[77] See Henry Koerper and A. L. Kolls.  1999. “The Silphium Motif Adorning Ancient Libyan Coinage: Marketing a Medicinal Plant,” Economic Botany 53: 133-143.

[78] Chip Rossetti, “‘Devil’s Dung’: The World’s Smelliest Spice,”Saudi Aramco World 60 (2009): 4: 36-43


[79] Gunther 1934: 91.

[80] Li 2003: 2819; the pollinator wasps’ young do emerge thus, from eggs laid in the fig.

[81] Levey and Khaledy 1967: 173.

[82] John Evelyn, Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets, Lexington, KY:  High Quality Paperbacks; (typescript from a 1937 publication by Brooklyn Botanic Garden), 2012/1699: 22.

[83] Li 2003: 1229.

[84] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 535.

[85] Kamal 1975: 86.

[86] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 98.

[87] Eisenman et al. 2013: 138.

[88] Eisenman et al. 2013: 140.

[89] Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standl var. clavata Ser.

[90] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 487.

[91] Levey and Al-Khaledy 1967: 191.

[92] Liu Fei-Hu, Xia Chen, Bo Long, Rui-Yan Shuai, and Chen-Lin Long, “Historical and Botanical Evidence of Distribution, Cultivation and Utilization of Linum usitatissimum L. (flax) in China,” Vegetation History and Archaeobotany online, 10.1007/s00334-011-0311-5, retrieved Sept. 14, 2011.

[93] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 684.

[94] Gunther 1934: 72.

[95] Metaplexis japonica (Thunb.) Mak. The proverb rhymes in Chinese.

[96] It is caused by the liquid that remains in the body and cannot be excreted out of the body.

[97] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 359.

[98] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 743.

[99] Lev and Amar 2008: 356.

[100] Eisenman et al. 2013: 175.

[101] Eisenman et al. 2013: 178.

[102] Part of the transcription is missing.

[103] Gunther 1934: 383.


[104] Eisenman et al. 2013: 187.

[105] Li Shizhen 2003: 2804.

[106] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 332.

[107] M. Stol, On Trees, Mountains, and Millstones in the Ancient Near East, Leiden: Ex Oriente Lux, 1979.

[108] Bellakhdar et al. 1991.

[109] Meserve 2004: 73.

[110] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 26.

[111] The character ji肌 might be ji饑.

[112] Gunther 1934: 81.

[113] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 207.

[114] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 948.

[115] Kamal 1975: 433-436.

[116] Meserve 2004: 19.

[117] Hamarneh 1973: 87.


Avicenna 1999-2014: 707.

[119] Nadkarni 1978: 1120.

[120] Gunther 1934: 551.

[121] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 753.

[122] Manniche 1989: 152.

[123] The character chong might be superfluous. The Five Hemorrhoids are male hemorrhoids (muzhi牡痔), female hemorrhoids (pinzhi牝痔), mai hemorrhoids (maizhi脈痔), intestine hemorrhoids (changzhi腸痔), and blood hemorrhoids (xuezhi血痔).

[124] Gunther 1934: 621.

[125] Nadkarni 1976: 1275.

[126] Gunther 1934: 601.

[127] Zhong means zhongjiao, or the Middle Jiao.

[128] Avicenna 1999-2014: II 603.

[129] Li 2003: 2703.

[130] Efraim Lev, “Healing with Animals (Zootherapy) from Practical Medieval Medicine to Present-day Traditional Medicine in the Levant,” Ms, 2002.

[131] Avicenna 1999-1214: II, 108.

[132] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 170.

[133] David R. Harris, Origins of Agriculture in Western Central Asia: An Environmental-Archaeological study,  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2010, 81.

[134] Matt Walker, “Wild Camels ‘Genetically Unique,’” BBC Earth News Online, July 24, 2009.

[135] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 208.

[136] Ibid.

[137] Li 2003: 3791.

[138] Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007: 49.

[139] Lev and Amar 2008: 142.

[140] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 119.

[141] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 728.

[142] Lev 2002.

[143] Lev 2002.

[144] Nasrallah 2007: 644.

[145] Li 2003: 4106-4107.

[146] Lev 2002.

[147] Gunther 1934: 643.

[148] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 921.

[149] Gunther 1934: 628.

[150] Avicenna 1999-2014: II, 629.

[151] Lev and Amar 2008: 553.

[152] Levey 1966: 32-34.

[153] Levey 1966: 198-200.

[154] Levey 1966: 220.

[155] A. R. Mukhamejanov 2000: 275-276. [Full citation needed]

[156] Jack Harlan,  Crops and Man.  2nd edn., Madison, WI: American Society of Agronomy and Crop Science Society of America, 1992.


[157] Berthold Laufer,  Sino-Iranica. Chicago:  Field Museum, 1919.


[158] Laufer 1919; Edward H. Schafer, The Golden Peaches of Samarkand, a Study of T’ang Exotics, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1963.

[159] Timothy Motley, Timothy, “The Ethnobotany of Sweet Flag, Acorus calamus,” Economic Botany 48 (1994): 397-412.


The Wolf You Feed

November 30th, 2018

The Wolf You Feed

  1. N. Anderson




Human evil is here defined as gratuitous harm to people and other lives.  It very often comes from simply following orders or doing a job, or from “greed” (gain by predatory taking from others).  At root, however, it can ultimately be traced to irrational, overemotional responses to fear and threat.  Social hate is especially damaging, seen in genocide, bigotry, warfare, allowing people to starve or die of disease when they could have been saved, and other mass destruction.  Empowerment, rational coping with stress, and comprehensive morality based on “we’re all in this together” are the major cures.



“Son, it’s time to teach you the most important lesson about life and people.  It is that everyone has within him, or her, two wolves:  a good wolf that wants to help everyone and do what’s best for all, and a bad wolf that wants to do evil and hurt people and the world.”

“Father, that’s scary.  It really worries me.  Which wolf wins out in the end?”

“Son: the wolf you feed.”

Native American folktale


This story—perhaps more Manichaean than Native American—captures much of what I have learned in my life.  I was raised to think people are good, and that evil is merely ignorance.  The people around me gave the lie to that.  They were often quite deliberately bad.  Many, perhaps most at one time or another, hurt themselves just to hurt others.  Humanity has a sorry record.  Despite claims of moral progress, the genocidal dictator and the suicide bomber are the emblems of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Yet, obviously, many people are good, some are saintly, and almost everyone is good some of the time.  Even mass murderers and psychopaths usually have a history of decent behavior when not having a psychotic break.

Jesus said:  “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?  It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13).  The salt of the earth—as opposed to sea salt—came from salt springs, and was contaminated with ordinary dirt or carbonate.  Over time, aerial moisture would leach the salt out, leaving only the residue.  Natural human goodness and sociability is subject to similar leaching.  This was, of course, Jesus’ real message.  (One wonders what Biblical literalists make of verses like this one.)

Most people are in a rather neutral, everyday state most of the time, not thinking of acting saintly or demoniacal, but they are still torn between virtuous ideals of helping, sheltering, and caring, and vicious ideals of excluding, ignoring, and hurting. They are either working for and with people, or working against people.  We are constantly forced to decide.  As Pascal Boyer (2018:33) says, “Observers form outside our species would certainly be struck by two facts about humans.  They are extraordinarily good at forming groups, and they are just as good at fighting other gorups.”

The nature and promotion of good have been addressed by every religious writer in history, as well as countless psychologists and other scientists.  Covering this literature is neither necessary nor possible in the present brief essay.  Evil is less well studied.  Outside of religious imprecations against sin, there are rather few studies, mostly by psychologists.  Of these, particularly valuable are Roy Baumeister’s Evil (1997), Aaron Beck’s Prisoners of Hate (1999),  Alan Fiske and Taj Rai’ Virtuous Violence (2014), Ervin Staub’s books (1989, 2003, 2011), the Sternbergs’ The Nature of Hate (2008), and James Waller’s Becoming Evil (2002) and Confronting Evil (2016).  Simon Baron-Cohen’s Zero Degrees of Empathy (2011), Steven Bartlett’s The Pathology of Man (2005), Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear (1997), Fiske and Rai’s Virtuous Violence (2014), and Kathleen Taylor’s Cruelty (2009) cover some important psychological terrain.  Zeki and Romaya (2008) review the physiology of hate.  Albert Bandura’s book Moral Disengagement (2016) exhaustively treats that aspect of evil.

Most of these books, as well as the literature on genocide, spice up their texts with horrific stories.  Baumeister is especially graphic.  I have absolutely no interest in transmitting such stories here.  If you need to know how bad people get, seek out those sources.


Part I.  Human Evil in Context


Starting with Genocide


This problem always occupied my mind, but it has become increasingly foregrounded since my wife and I got involved in genocide research.  She had done her doctoral research on Cambodian refugees in Thailand and the United States.  Later, visiting Cambodia together, we saw the relics of genocide and the devastation it had wrought.  We resolved to study genocide seriously.

At that time, little was known about genocide in general.  Thousands of historical sources covered Hitler’s Holocaust, and a much smaller but still important literature covered the mass murders by the Young Turks, the USSR leadership, and Mao Zedong.  Much more recent genocides, such as those in ex-Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Cambodia itself, were only beginning to be visible in scholarly sources.

Very few generalizations had come out of this work.  Rudolph Rummel had just written a book, Statistics of Democide (1998; see also Rummel 1994), arguing that genocide was the natural result of totalitarian regimes.  His oft-repeated conclusion was direct: “Power kills, and absolute power kills absolutely.”  (This was a rephrasing of Lord Acton’s famous quote about corruption.)

We quickly realized that this was not far wrong, but that it was not quite true or adequate.  Hitler was democratically elected.  So were several other notorious genociders.  They seized absolute power in the process of killing, but often not until the killing was under way.  We thus set off on a long voyage of discovery, comparing all documented genocides since 1900 to find common themes.

We developed a predictive model (Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017).  It is quite a simple one.  A would-be leader wins by developing a whole ideology based on ethnic or ideological hate, but going beyond mere hate to promise a utopian world—usually, harking back to a lost golden age and promising to recall it and improve it–if we can only eliminate “certain people.”  He often flourishes only when difficult and uncertain economic times give people economic incentives to look for radical solutions, but many such leaders take power in good times; mobilizing antagonism is always available as an easy and straightforward way to win in politics.  John Kincaid says of American far-right politics, “right-wing movements are successful when they deploy rhetorical frames that synthesize both material and symbolic politics” (Kincaid 2016:529), and this finding summarizes a fact that seems well documented worldwide.  Oliver Hahl and collaborators (2018) have shown that “lying demagogues” succeed with disaffected voters who feel disrespected by elites and cultural brokers; lying, violating norms, openly expressing widely-held prejudices, and economic populism are a particularly successful (and deadly) combination.  Trump in the United States was only one of many leaders who triumphed in the early 21st century by using this technique.

When he (such leaders are always male, at least so far) takes over, he quickly moves to consolidate power.  He suspends whatever democratic or institutional checks exist, and becomes a dictator or functional equivalent.  Many small genocides have taken place in democracies, but, in almost all such cases, the victims were not citizens and were under de facto authoritarian rule; Native Americans in the 19th century are the prime example.

A dictator begins to consolidate his rule by killing “certain people”—whether they are Jews, bourgeoisie, political enemies, educated people, “heretics,” or any other salient group that seems opposed in some way to the idealized order.  The savagery and scope of the killing sometimes depends on the number of targeted groups, which in turn depends on the extremism of the dictator.  Hitler’s indiscriminate hatred extended from Jews to handicapped people to gays to modern artists, totaling over six million dead.  The Khmer Rouge killings in Cambodia included people defined by ethnicity, education, foreign influence, and other broad variables.  The Rwandan genocide began with Tutsi, but quickly moved on to eliminate many Hutu (Nyseth Brehm 2017b).  At the other extreme are mass political killings that eliminate the opposition and anyone related to it, but at least stop there, such as Agustin Pinochet’s in Chile, which killed only about 10,000 people.  These political genocides blend into the sort of mass political elimination characteristic of medieval empires.

Usually, there is then a lull in the killing.  The leader has his power.  However, eventually, unrest challenges his position.  In some cases, he is forced out by popular movements.  Dictators do sometimes fall.  Often, however, he meets the new challenge by another wave of mass murder.  The challenge is often external war, as in Hitler’s case and as in Cambodia.  Sometimes it is power jockeying within the ruling party, as in the USSR and Mao’s China.  Sometimes it is civil war or revolt, as in the Indian subcontinent when successive episodes of violence accompanied the breakaway of Pakistan from India, the later breakaway of Bangladesh from Pakistan, and the failed revolution of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

This simple model—exclusionary ideology, dictatorship, consolidation, and challenge—turns out to be 100% predictive.  Of course, anything so reasonable and clear was apt to be discovered by several people, and our findings were paralleled by others, using different databases and theoretical perspectives:  Barbara Harff (2012), Hollie Nyseth Brehm (2017a), James Waller (2016), Gregory Stanton (2013—only partially parallel), and others.  Nothing makes a scientist feel more secure than independent confirmation, and we had plenty of it.

We concentrated on genocide under the strictest construction of Raphael Lemkin’s definition of the term—actual mass murder of innocent citizens or subjects by their own government—as opposed to general killing of civilians in war.  Some of the best work on genocide has used that wider definition (e.g. Kiernan 2007, Shaw 2013). Our model does not work for this extended use of the term.  One would have to have a predictive model of all war—something that has so far defied scholarship, despite literally thousands of attempts.  Wars are notoriously multicausal; it usually takes several reasons to make leaders decide to go to war.  Economic gain (or plain loot), political power of the state or its leaders, land, ethnic and religious conflicts, maintaining warrior culture, and other factors all operate.  By contrast, genocide is usually rather simple: when autocratic leaders feel they are in a shaky situation, they kill.  Very often—famously with Hitler, Stalin, and Mao—they come to depend more and more on the level of hatred of their backers, and thus must whip up more and more hate to stay in power; this makes them take still more power and kill still more minorities, to provide red meat to their “base.”  Moreover, there are four ways to hate: hate upward (elites), down, laterally (real enemies or social rivals), or not at all.  Bad leaders, and often even relatively good ones, move more and more toward getting their followers to hate downward—to hate the weak, the powerless, the minorities.  Even those who took power by marshaling upward hate, such as the Communists, soon find it pays better to get their followers to hate downward.

A marginal sort of genocide is “cold genocide”:  Slow and not very sure elimination of an ethnic group by selective killing over a long time, coupled with every effort to destroy the group as a distinguishable entity with its own culture or ideology.  The term was coined by Kjell Anderson to describe the Indonesian pressure on West Irian (West Papua).  It has been applied to the far larger and bloodier repression of the Falun Gong movement in China since the late 1990s.  This movement, a spiritual discipline that by all accounts was utterly inoffensive, seemed dangerous to the Communist leadership, because of its size and rapid growth.  Suppression included propaganda wars, but also mass torture, imprisonment (“reeducation” in “camps”), and killing by extracting body parts for transplantation or the international black market (Cheung et al. 2018, citing a huge literature).  The Falun Gong has become the major source of hearts, livers, and other vital organs in China, a practice that may seem even more ghoulish than anything the Nazis thought of doing.  The Chinese government has now expanded its reach to include the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang.  Approximately a million have been placed in concentration camps (“vocational training centers”) and subjected to intense pressure to acculturate to Han majority norms (Byler 2018).  Children have been removed from homes and parents, and educated according to Han patterns.  Islam is attacked in particular.  The Uighurs’ sin appears to have been agitating for minority rights guaranteed by the Chinese constitution.  The Chinese government has accused them of ISIS-style terrorism because of a very few extreme individuals.  Recently, government agencies in Uighur territory have been ordering thousands of clubs, stock probes, tear gas canisters, spiked clubs, handcuffs, prison uniforms, and other instruments of suppression and torture (SBS News 2018).  This constitutes “culturocide,” the form of genocide that involves destruction of an entire culture by restriction of personal freedoms and forced removal and re-education of children—one of the forms of genocide specifically addressed by Lemkin.

Most genocides have been propagated by elites: ruling governments or powerful groups that whip up hatred to consolidate their power.  However, these groups may have started as small popular movements, like the original fascists.  Moreover, settler genocides are largely bottom-up phenomena, and so are many small-scale religious massacres and revolutionary bloodlettings like the French Terror.

However, one thing is common to all genocides and wars:  Some individual or individuals whip up hatred, and the public goes along.  Usually, the leaders are desperate for power and are not particularly restrained by morals.  The masses, however, can be almost anyone, anywhere, any time, though most sources agree that genuinely threatening and unsettled conditions make it easier for tyrants to whip up enmity.  There are on occasion mobs that spontaneously riot and destroy minority neighborhoods, but even these always turn out to have a single instigator or small group of instigators.  Mobs, genocides, and wars do not just happen, and they are not the result of blind forces.  They are invoked by individuals.  People do not spontaneously go into orgies of murder, unless some leader or leaders are profiting in important ways.

Many of these individuals fall into two types.  Most are elites, but a surprisingly large number of them are marginal—subalterns or regional-derived, educated in metropoles or big cities, and educated in contexts that are also somewhat marginal, ranging from military academies (very often) to extremist mentoring (by other radicals or lovers of violence).  The range is from Napoleon (Corsican), Stalin (Georgian), and Hitler (Austrian) to Mao (educated in Japan) and the Cambodian genocide leaders (educated in Paris but with radical mentoring).  Very many of the genociders have been military men: Napoleon the corporal, the Argentine colonels, General Rios Montt in Guatemala, Idi Amin in Uganda, and many more.  Leading in mass killing is, of course, the job of military officers.

These leaders all share a quite specific ideology of the purity and superiority of one group over the abysmal badness of another, with the further concept that all members of each group have those respective essences.  This can be broken up into 20 specific ideas, carefully extracted from an enormously extensive analysis of the rhetoric of genocide leaders in 20 of the major historic cases by Gerard Saucier and Laura Akers:  “tactics/excuses for violence, dispositionalism/essentialism, purity/cleansing language, dehumanization, dualistic/dichotomous thinking, internal enemies, crush-smash-exterminate-eliminate [language], group or national unity, racialism in some form, xenophobia/foreign influence, uncivilized or uncivilizable, attachment/entitlement to land, body or disease metaphor, revenge or retaliation language, traitor talk (treason, treachery, etc.), conspiracy, subversion, something held sacred, nationalism/ethnonationalism, threat of annihilation of our people” (Saucier and Akers 2018:88).

They add some other fairly common themes, including “placing national security above other goals,” wanting to move fast and thoroughly, and thinking “individuals must suffer for the good of the collective” (Saucier and Akers 2018:90). They find all of these present in many cases, from Hitler’s and Stalin’s rhetoric to the less widely known writings of the Serbian and WWII-Japanese leadership and the propaganda of mass murderers of Indigenous people in Australia and the United States.  One can add the Communist Chinese leadership’s invocations against Falun Gong, “rats,” “subversives,” and otherwise condemned (Cheung et al. 2018).

On the other hand, the people must be susceptible.  As Mao Zedong used to say, “a spark can ignite a prairie fire.”  Humans are easily enough turned to evil to give any credible leader a chance.  Understanding such events involves working back from the event to the direct perpetrators and their mindsets, and then on to the back stories.  The casual tendency of modern historians and other scholars to attribute causes of historical events to abstractions (“the economy,” “politics,” “culture,” “climate”) is wrong.  Marx is often blamed for it, because of vulgarization of his theory of history, but he was careful to specify that real people must lead the revolution, even if it is “inevitable” sooner or later because of economic forces.  Marx was also aware that those economic forces were themselves caused by the choices of real people.  Other thinkers from Ibn Khaldun to Max Weber have made the same general point.

Genocides fall into three types: settler, consolidation, and crisis genocides (see Waller 2016).

Settler genocides occur when a large, powerful society takes over land from small or scattered groups, especially when the powerful society is technologically advanced and the smaller victim groups are less so (“Whatever happens, we have got / the Gatling gun and they have not”—Hilaire Belloc; also quoted as “Maxim gun”).  The most famous cases are the United States (Dee Brown 1971; Madley 2016), Brazil (Hemming 1978), and Australia (Pascoe 2014), but the same story can be told of societies from Russia to China to Japan.  It goes far back in time.  Ancient Babylon and Assyria exterminated captives.  The Romans and medieval Europeans exterminated rebellious subject peoples and took their possessions.  The Bantu took southern Africa from the Khoi-San with attendant exterminations.

This counts as genocide only if the victims had been conquered and subjected.  Extermination of enemies who are fighting back with everything they have is normal war, not genocide.  The dividing line is obviously blurred, but extremes are easy to see; the wars with the Apaches and Comanche (Hämäläinen 2008) in the United States and Mexico in the 1870s were fair fights with no quarter given by either side, but the extermination of the Yuki in California in the mid-19th century was the systematic massacre of helpless conquered people (Madley 2016; Miller 1979).

Modern genocides fall into four categories: communist, fascist, military dictatorship, and random cases of rulers who lack ideology.  The last are usually military, since military men have an advantage in seizing power, but almost as often they are democratically elected politicians.  Sometimes an initially able ruler becomes more and more extreme (or even demented) with age.  The one common thread is that they come to power by marshaling hate.

Some genocides have direct corporate backing.  American corporations acting through the CIA established genocidal regimes in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Chile.  European colonial powers sometimes established murderous successor regimes in liberated colonies, or, conversely, set up a hopeless government that soon fell to genocidal rebels.  Former colony status is a fair predictor of genocide.  Many genocidal regimes have survived and flourished despite mass murder because states support business interests that are benefited by the regimes in question.  Cases range from early fascist Italy under Mussolini to more modern states such as Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.  The oil industry is notorious for this, but armaments merchants are interested for obvious reasons, and one recalls “blood diamonds,” blood coltan (columbium-tantalum ore, source of conflict in DR Congo), and other commodities deeply stained.  Plantation slavery is the back story for a vast amount of murder.

On the other hand, there is no definite link between genocide and any particular economic system, organization, interest, or condition.  Claims that genocide is likely during economic downturns or is associated with deprivation do not hold up (Anderson and Anderson 2012; Nyseth Brehm 2017a, 2017b).  International war generally dominated mass bloodshed before 1945, but since then genocide has far overshadowed it, causing more deaths than all wars, murders, and crimes combined.  One suspects this has something to do with the dispensability of labor.  Kings of old could not afford to decimate their own work force.  Now, with rapid population growth and machines displacing workers, governments can deal with problems by thinning out their own people, saving the price of war.

Consolidation genocides are the commonest and often among the worst.  They occur when a rather shaky totalitarian regime based on exclusionary ideology takes over full control of a country.  They usually occur in that situation, but the kill totals range widely, from rather small-scale politicides (like Marcos’ in the Philippines and Pinochet’s in Chile) to vast mass murders (like Mao’s in China).  The scale depends on the extremism of the new government, especially its exclusionary ideology.  Ideology was not a huge factor in the pragmatic (though murderous) Marcos government; at the other extreme, the indiscriminate hatreds of the Nazis, who hated almost everyone not a zealous Nazi, led to the vast massacres of the Holocaust.

Crisis genocides occur when genocide is brought about or exacerbated by war, either international or civil.  Very minor local rebellions can serve as excuses for already-planned genocides, as in Guatemala in the 1980s, or international war can vastly escalate already-ongoing genocides, as in Hitler’s Germany in the 1940s.  Sometimes consolidation and crisis occur together, as in Cambodia in the late 1970s, producing the most extreme of all genocides.

Almost all genocides fall into one of these three types.  The only exceptions are cases in which an extreme (if not downright psychopathic) dictator continues to kill whole populations without let or stay.  Stalin and Mao are the major cases in history, but other apparently demented monarchs from Caligula to Tamerlane might be mentioned.

Genocides range greatly in the numbers and percentages of people killed.  The Cambodian genocide, which killed perhaps ¼ of the total population, is unique.  Rwanda’s genocide killed 10% of the population—a million people—in only 100 days, a rate of killing calculated at 333.3 murders per hour, 5.5 per minute (Nyseth Brehm 2017b:5).  Most genocides are fortunately smaller; many are “politicides,” confined to classes of political enemies of the dictator.  Mere political killings do not count as genocides, but mass political murders by people like Agustin Pinochet of Chile and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines threw far wider nets.  Not only actual opponents, but families of opponents, ordinary protestors, children who seemed somehow opposed to the regime, and random suspects were killed.  The scope of genocide depends on the size and range of targeted groups, which in turn depends on the extremism of the exclusionary ideology of the leaders.  Hitler targeted a huge and, at the end, almost random-looking assortment of peoples.  Pinochet narrowly targeted suspected liberals and leftists.

Genocides have become much commoner and bloodier since 1900.  Earlier genocides were largely religious persecutions (such as the Inquisition) or settler genocides.

Through history, genocidal states just kept killing till conquered by outsiders or popular movements.  Then they often returned to bad ways unless they underwent decisive political changes—sometimes forced on them by conquest, as with Germany and Japan after WWII.                       Slavery, though not genocide by our definition, is very close to it, and requires a similar mentality: the basic idea that one whole group of humans does not deserve human consideration.  By establishing that mind-set, it helped the progress to modern genocide.  The slave trade was notoriously bloody.

The Enlightenment gave rise to ideas of peace and freedom.  War was reduced, and slavery slowly but surely was outlawed everywhere.  However, the Enlightenment was founded not only on rapid expansion of trade, commerce, communication, and science, but also on the slavery and exploitation it eventually fought.  As the world filled up in the 20th century, problems of overpopulation, pressure on resources, and competition for goods became more salient.  Leaders by this time tended to be old and not battle-hardened, so they did not always deal with such problems by international war, as almost everyone had done before 1800.  Often, either during war or instead of war, the modern leaders turned on sectors of their own people, waging genocide campaigns.  Wars and slaving were partially replaced by internal mass murder.  Genocide developed from religious persecution and settler colonialist practices.

Genocide, like other violence, must ultimately reduce to hatred.  The government must be able to whip up mass hatred, to get support and help in its project of mass murder.  To the extent that people are hateful and angry, they are susceptible to this persuasion.


Mass Killing in General


The forms of mass killing are international war, civil war (which differs from interpolity war in causes and usual course; see Collier and Sambanis 2005), revolution and rebellion, genocide, structural violence on large scales, mass poisoning by pollution, denial of medical care, and mass starvation through refusing to take action on agriculture, welfare, or food security (on famine as mass murder, see Howard-Hassman 2016).  Large-scale human sacrifice, once a major part of religion and kingship, has fortunately been eliminated, but sacrificing millions to the cults of guns, automobiles, and oil continues.  These form something of a continuum—genocide being very close to bureaucratic neglect.

These all have different risk factors.  International war is hard to predict and almost always multicausal.  The War of Jenkins’ Ear was not just about Jenkins’ ear.  Usually, desire to capture a neighbor’s territory and resources, a desire to support one’s own military machine and sometimes one’s armaments industry, pressure by hot-headed males hungry for glory and loot, claims of wounded national pride, and ideological differences with the enemy are all involved.  Traditional or manufactured hatreds are always conspicuous.  So are lies; “truth is the first casualty,” and George Orwell’s analyses remain unsurpassed.  War seems to have been around forever, if one counts the local raids and small wars typical of small-scale societies, but war seems to have been especially common in chiefdoms and early states.  Population growth and hierarchic institutions had run ahead of peace-keeping mechanisms.

With the state, maintenance of order slowly developed.  Even so, the incidence of violence and war varied widely within tribal and early state societies.  Just as there are violently aggressive people and saintly ones, there are bloodthirsty and pacific groups.  Particularly interesting from the point of view of wolf-feeding are profound changes over time.  Scandinavians changed from Vikings to democratic socialists  (Pinker 2011).  English changed from Shakespeare’s blood-drenched warriors to peaceable folk.  Germany changed from the most demonic country in history to leader of a peaceful Europe in only one generation.  Most dramatic was Rwanda, where gradual increase in hate and violence built up to the genocide of 1994 that killed 1/10 of the population—but then ended suddenly and was followed by amazingly peaceful, tranquil, well-regulated recovery.  The ability of people to change dramatically from war mode to peace mode, from bad wolf to good wolf, is truly astounding.  Recent studies have shown that this is heavily contingent on social pressure.  Michal Bauer and coworkers (2018) found that in an experimental setting, Slavic high school students in Slovakia were twice as likely to play hostile toward Roma in a game than toward other Slavic students—but only if someone started it.  They would all play peacefully unless someone made a hostile move, but if that happened all the Slavic students generally joined in.  It was easy to flip the group from tolerant to ethnically discriminatory.

Civil war is different: it stems from rebellion, revolution, or coup, or—very often—from breakaway movements by local regions, as in the United States’ Civil War (Collier and Sambanis 2005).  Structural violence is usually a matter of passing public costs onto those held to deserve no better, usually poor and vulnerable people (see below on big dams).  Again, ethnic and religious hate is very often involved.  The targeted victims—selected to pay the costs of industrial development, public works, crop failures, and the like—are almost always poor, and very often from minority groups.

Today, a range of violent engagements are common.  International war is still with us, though current ones all grew from local civil wars.  Civil wars abound, and merge with local rebellions.  Criminal gangs dominate whole countries; the governments of Honduras and El Salvador are particularly close to their gangs.  Genocide continues, in Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan, and several other countries.

Violent, evil regimes now control about 1/6 of the world’s countries.  It is highly contingent.  In countries like Honduras and Thailand, the dice could easily have rolled the other way.  Bad leaders now are the rule, but instead of needing to charismatically lead troops, they conspire in evil circles and appeal to the worst citizens.

Evil ranges in extent; Hitler had real power, his American imitators very little.  The degree of evilness is not well correlated with its success.




At the slave museum in Zanzibar, built on the old slave quarters there, one can see the hellholes were slaves were confined, read their stories, and see many excellent exhibits with contemporary accounts, drawings, and even photographs.  The most disquieting, and the most pervasive, message is that the slave trade was an ordinary business, like selling bananas.  Hundreds of people routinely raped, murdered, tortured, brutalized, and oppressed their fellow humans, for eight hours a day (or more), simply as a regular job.  These slavers no doubt felt like any other workers—bored, annoyed by trivial problems, angry at the boss every so often, but indifferent to the subjects of their effort.  They were not people who were singled out for being violent, or psychopathic, or intolerant; they were simply locals who happened to be available.  Anyone could do it.

Mistreatment of enslaved people involves minimalizing them—not denying their humanity, but denying that it matters.  They can be treated brutally because they do not count.

It is at least as hard to imagine the mind-sets of people who worked in the slave trade, day after day, for a whole working lifetime, as to imagine the mind-sets of genociders.  Today, most people in developed countries are repelled even by bad treatment of farm animals.  I remember when people treated animals worse than they do today, but even in my rural youth, animals were never treated as badly as slaves were treated in Zanzibar, Byzantium, the American South, and other places where slavery occurred.  The animals needed to stay healthy to turn a profit.  By contrast, the whole goal of slaving is to reduce humans to helpless, terrified victims, through intimidation and brutalization.  Their health was a secondary concern at best.  It was easier to get new slaves than to deal with well-treated ones.

Slavery has cast a long shadow over America, influencing American politics profoundly to this day (Acharya et al. 2018).  Many, possibly half, of Americans believe slavery was happy blacks playing banjos and occasionally picking a bit of cotton under the benevolent eyes of the plantation owners.  The rest usually think of slavery as the work of a few utterly evil men, like Simon Legree of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  The fact is that slavery involved thousands of men (and many women) brutalizing other men and women, simply as a regular job, carried out with varying degrees of racist hate but with little thought about the whole issue.  In America the brutalizers were white and the victims black, but in most of history—and today in countries like Thailand and Ukraine—the slaves were the same race and very often the same culture and society as their oppressors.  Roy Baumeister, in his book Evil, comments on how repugnant most people find evil acts, and how quickly they get used to them and see them as routine.  There is no evidence that slavers found even the initial phases of their work particularly unpleasant.  They put in their eight hours (or more) of rape, torture, and murder with a “just doing a job” mentality.

John Stedman wrote a classic 18th-century account of the horrors of slavery in Surinam (Stedman 1988 [1790]).  Stedman was a mercenary in the service of the plantation owners, so at first he was biased in favor of slavery and against slaves; his horror at what he saw convinced him that slavery was an evil practice.  He reports a great deal of real hatred by slaveowners of their slaves, and a great deal of torture simply for torture’s sake, often because of extreme (and not wholly unjustified) fear of slave rebellions, and the fear-driven belief that only brutality could prevent those.  His writings became foundational to the antislavery effort, first in England, then worldwide.  Most interesting, though, is his extremely extensive documentation (confirmed by every other early report) of the matter-of-fact, everyday, routine brutality.  It simply never occurred to most people of the time that this was monstrous.

One also recalls John Newton’s conversion, at about the same time, from slaving captain to extremely repentant Christian; after years of depression, he felt divine forgiveness, and wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” which, somewhat ironically, became a favorite of African-American churches.  As with resisters of pressure to commit genocide, repenters of slaving are rare in the archives.

Slavery, especially in traditional societies (from the Northwest Coast of North America to pre-slave-trade Africa), was sometimes less murderous and torture-filled.  But it was never other than cruel and oppressive.  All records from all societies speak of rape, terrorizing, and brutalizing.  Yet, no one in history—not Buddha, not Jesus—opposed slavery as an institution, until the Quakers in the 18th century concluded it was against God’s law.  The tide then turned with striking speed.  Enslavement of Europeans was basically over, outside the Turkish Empire, well before 1800.  Enslavement of Native Americans was theoretically banned in the Catholic countries, and was actually reduced to a rare and local phenomenon by 1800.  Enslavement of Africans continued well into the 19th century, being abolished between 1820 and the 1880s.

            Slavery continues today, especially sex slavery, with all the attendant horrors, carried out in the same spirit of “all in a day’s work,” by thugs and pimps from Thailand to Hollywood.  Reading reports of child sex slavery shows how low humans can sink, all the time thinking they are doing what culture and economics require.  As always, there is no evidence that most of these people are especially evil to begin with.  The child sex-slavers are often clearly psychopathic, but others simply drift into the life and do what they believe is necessary.


Structural Violence and “Bureaupathy”


Millions of deaths today come simply from the bureaucratic attitude that people are merely things to move around, like rocks.  One of the most chilling books I have read is The Future of Large Dams by Thayer Scudder (2005).  Scudder spent his life studying refugees from huge dam projects.  In almost every case, people displaced by big dams were simply ordered to move.  Their homes were bulldozed, their livelihoods flooded.  There were usually token “relief” efforts, but these were so trivial as to be more insulting than helpful.  Millions of refugees were left to shift for themselves, and in poorer nations that meant many of them died.  Scudder bends over backwards to be fair, which makes the stories sound even worse.  The bureaucrat perpetrators are cut from the same cloth as the cold “doing my job” slavers and Nazi executioners (for which see e.g. Paxton 2005, Snyder 2015).

Almost always, the displaced are poor, and often from minority groups, while the benefits go to the relatively rich: irrigation farmers, urban power-users, and the like.  Similarly, pollution is generated by giant firms producing for the affluent, but the pollution is almost always dumped on the poor and vulnerable (Anderson 2010 covers this issue in detail).  The populations sacrificed for the greater good of the giant firms are the stigmatized ones, and Erving Goffman’s classic work Stigma (1963) is highly relevant.

Related are the horrific famines invoked by governments against their own people, as described in State Food Crimes by Rhoda Howard-Hassmann (2016) and for specific, particularly horrible cases by Anne Appelbaum (2017) for Ukraine in the 1930s and Hazel Cameron (2018) for Zimbabwe in 1984.  Not only totalitarian governments, but the British in 1840s Ireland and most settler societies in their campaigns to get rid of colonized peoples, either allowed natural causes to produce famine (as in the Irish potato famine) or deliberately invoked famine as a form of state policy (as in many Communist countries, and America’s 19th century extermination of the buffalo to destroy Native Americans’ livelihood).

Johan Galtung (1969) coined the term “structural violence” to describe destruction by the cold workings of the social system, ranging from the results of institutionalized bigotry to bureaucratic displacement and refusal to provide famine relief.  Robert Nixon has used the term “slow violence” for this.  I hereby introduce the word “bureaupathy” to describe the associated attitude and mindset.  It is a mental state as sick and destructive as psychopathy and sociopathy.


How Much Violence?


Several recent studies attempt to quantify deaths by violence in human societies.  Stephen Pinker (2011) famously concluded people kill much less than they used to.  This is apparently wrong (Fry 2013; Mann 2018), but small-scale societies kill at a relatively high rate.  Many small-scale farming societies, especially chiefdoms, are particularly bloody.  Human average seems to be about 1% dying by violence per year, but it varies from insane meltdowns like the 100 Years War, the fall of Ming, and the Khmer Rouge genocide to total peace.

A recent study by Dean Falk and Charles Hildebolt (2017) finds a wide range, from small-scale societies that have essentially no violent killings to those where a large percentage of deaths are violent.  Variation is much higher than among state-level societies.  In general, it appears that small-scale societies do have a somewhat higher percentage of violent deaths than large state societies, but the margin is not great (if it exists at all).  The genocides, slaving deaths, and mass murders of modern states go well beyond Pinker’s estimates (Mann 2018).  In few societies is murder and war the norm; such a society would quickly self-destruct.  In fact, there are records of societies that did so.  Something very close happened to the Waorani, but they were persuaded by missionaries to be more peaceful (Robarchek and Robarchek 1998).

Since death is forever, the consequences of murder are irreparable, while good is easily undone.  A society requires countless small good acts to make up for a terminally bad one.  Human nature must average out positive to keep societies functional.

Human tendencies to defend social position, defend the group, and defend or seize land and resources continue to keep violence at a high level in most societies.  From the books cited above, a clear pattern emerges of why people kill.  As individuals, if not killing in simple defense of self and loved ones, they kill either for gain (as a paid job or for loot) or for social control.  Most often, they kill to maintain social position: control over a spouse, “honor” in local societies, revenge on a neighbor, dominance over minority members, or control of a personal position of some kind.  Even psychopaths who kill compulsively usually wait for such opportunities.  Probably most killing is done for “defense.”  Even aggression in war becomes “preemptive strikes.”  Genocide is occasioned by paranoid fear of minorities.

Gavin de Becker’s many accounts of psychopaths and mass murderers all turn on the obsessive need of the killer to control someone—the woman he is stalking, the parents who have tortured him growing up, the owner of a valued good who has tried to protect it.

Killers in such situations either commit suicide or are fairly easily caught, but gangsters who kill randomly may not be.  In particular, many gangs in the United States and elsewhere require a new recruit to commit a murder, as a rite of passage.  Such initiates seek out homeless mentally ill individuals who will not be missed (or even identified, in many cases) and whose death will not be investigated seriously.  This murder-for-position leads to further crime.  In the United States, the killer usually is jailed eventually, but in Latin America he (or sometimes she) will often be accepted by society and escape the law.

As groups, humans kill largely to maintain the power of the group over perceived and hated rivals.  These structural opponent groups may be traditional enemies, new rivals, or ideological or ethnic opposites.  The hatreds lead to international war, religious strife, civil war (most often between regions), ideological murders and genocides, and other types of group violence.  War for land is also extremely frequent.  This led Ben Kiernan to title his great study of warfare and genocide with the old Nazi phrase Blood and Soil (2007); he saw identity and land as the two great reasons for mass killing. Nationhood and religion, both sources of a fictive or socially constructed identity, are deadly, much more so than actual blood relationship.

War for loot (portable wealth) seems largely limited to Viking raids and such, but war to acquire land and mineral resources, to help one’s national armaments industry, and to support its military, are all too common.  Still, group hatred remains the great reason for war, just as individual social control is apparently the commonest reason for murder.  Greed, even for land, is controllable; the deadly mix of social fear, social hate, and need for social control is the real “heart of darkness” within humans.


People Almost All Join In


In all genocides, the mass of the population is susceptible to messages of hate, and goes along with the evil leaders.  The public follows the leaders as loyally as they do in international wars or in actual defense of the nation.  The leaders are power-hungry and hateful individuals, but their followers are not; yet their followers do appalling things on command.  Detailed interviewing over time in Germany, China, the USSR, Rwanda, and other states showed that people were swept away by the rhetoric, and then strengthened in murderous resolve by the fact that everyone else was involved in the killing.  Most people simply did what they were told, or what their neighbors were doing.  They often took a sort of pleasure or satisfaction in doing it, but often found it simply a job that had to be done.

This mass conformity is very extensively documented.  (Particularly good recent reviews of it are found in Staub 2011, Tatz and Higgins 2016, and Waller 2016.)  It seems particularly common where hatreds are traditional, as with the Jews in “Christian” Europe, but it is reported everywhere.

The same is true in criminal gangs everywhere, slave procurement, police work in less lawful parts of the world, and indeed every situation where ordinary people get caught up in violence.  They almost always conform (see esp. Baumeister 1997; Waller 2016).

Finally, the testimony of many anthropologists (e.g. Atran 2010, 2015), psychologists (Baumeister 1997), criminologists (De Becker 1997), and other experts all confirm that perfectly normal people can and do become terrorists and murderers in any social situation that puts a high value on such behavior as serving the group.  Scott Atran’s accounts of Islamic terrorists are particularly revealing: they are usually young persons who have lost a relative to wars against Islam or against their branch of it, or other terrible anti-Islamic or anti-their-branch events in their own small worlds.  They are not particularly violent, certainly not psychotic.  They are very often recruited through intensive influence by leaders of local terrorist organizations—leaders who rarely endanger themselves.

Otherwise, worldwide, accounts of recruits to violent gangs often speak of neighborhoods where the only alternative to membership in a violent gang is being killed by one.  Criminals who are not part of gangs are far more apt to be genuinely demented—usually psychopathic—but even there, writers like Roy Baumeister and Gavin De Becker stress the number who seem superficially normal.  For the record, the pirates, smugglers, and sometime killers I knew on Asian waterfronts in my youth were largely a perfectly normal lot; they got caught up in an ugly world and had few or no alternatives.  By contrast, the one American mass killer I have known was a deeply troubled individual, bullied and treated cruelly for his obvious mental issues till be finally snapped.

There are, in short, some people whose inner demons drive them out of control—though they can be identified and stopped (De Becker 1997).  Far more common are ordinary individuals: we normals who have within us the two wolves, waiting for food.  The relevant works are surprisingly silent on what makes one or the other wolf take over.  The old Victorian clichés—coming from bad seed or a broken home, falling in with bad company, taking to drink—are echoed to this day in one form or another.  They have much truth, and we now know more, but there is still much to learn.


Genocide is a particularly interesting case because ethnic genocide is a relatively new form of evil.  Huge-scale elimination of vast numbers of peaceable fellow citizens, simply because they fall in some arbitrary category, is new enough that people have not adjusted to it as a matter of ordinary life since time immemorial (as slavery was).  Conforming to genociders is, or was in the early 20th century, a new way to be bad.

In fact, virtually anyone can be converted, rather easily, into a monster who will torture, rape, and murder his or her neighbors and even family members for reasons that no rational person could possibly accept after serious consideration.  Religious wars over heresies are somewhat of a limiting case.  In such conflicts as the Albigensian Crusade, the 13th-century genocide that gave rise to the infamous line “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out,” probably not one in a thousand participants could explain the differences between Catholic and Albigensian Christianity (see Anderson and Anderson 2012).  Yet the murders of neighbors and friends went on for decades.  The same endures today, as in the persecution of Shi’a by ISIS (Hawley 2018).

Such phenomena raise the question of how and why normal, peaceable human beings can so easily flip into genocidal states.  (They often flip back into peaceful states after the genocide is stopped.)  Many of the most horrible genocides were committed in countries long known for the tranquility, peacefulness, cooperativeness, and even tolerance of their citizenry.  Cambodia was a particularly clear example.  Other genocidal countries, however, had a long and bloody history of independence and conflict.  No pattern emerged from this line of enquiry.

In most genocides, those who resisted and worked to save victims were astonishingly few.  Tatz and Higgins (2016) have recently collected the data from the Holocaust and other genocides.  They find that even when there was no penalty for refusing, ordinary people went along with mass murder.  This was as true in the United States and Australia in the 19th century as in Hitler’s Gemany and Pol Pot’s Cambodia.  It is sobering for modern Americans to read how otherwise normal, reasonably decent, “Christian” Americans could perform the most unspeakable and unthinkable acts on Native Americans—often neighbors and (former) friends—without a second thought (see e.g. Madley 2016).  Colin Tatz’ harrowing summary of settler genocides in Australia reveals the same (Tatz 2018).  Nor did more moral citizens do much to restrain the killers.  The “Indian lovers” who agitated to protect Native Americans in late 19th century America were few.

Hollie Nyseth Brehm (2017b), in a particularly thorough analysis of the Rwandan genocide, found that killing was clearly top-down-directed, with a concentration around the capital and major cities and among well-educated (and thus elite) people, but also was commoner in areas with low marriage, high mobility, concentration of Tutsi, and political opposition—especially by Hutu themselves—at the grassroots.  The areas in and around the capital, Kigali, were far more deadly than areas at the northern margins of the country.  This is the opposite of the pattern seen in settler genocides, where murder was far commoner on borders where settler populations were expanding at the expense of Indigenous people.

Accounts from China’s Cultural Revolution indicate that people were swept up in mass hysteria, but were also afraid of appearing to be neutral, since lack of enthusiasm in persecuting victims led to substantial trouble, up to being made a victim oneself.  A few of the many memoirs indicate that the writers were unreconstructed Maoists, but the vast majority repented, and write agonizing stories of their internal sufferings as well as the sufferings they inflicted and endured.

Genocide always includes far more than mere killing.  Victims are routinely tortured.  Women and girls are almost always raped.  People are burned or buried alive.  Ordinary people are as prone to do all this as the leaders themselves.  Similar findings are common in studies of warfare and criminal gangs.  Ordinary people caught up in even the most mundane street gangs soon learn to commit unspeakable acts without second thoughts.

Older literature often described such behavior as regression to “animal” or “savage” behavior, but no other animal does anything remotely close.  Nonhuman animals rarely fight at all, and when they do it is usually mock combat or display.  Animals do fight and kill when threatened or when vying for mates or territory, but they rarely kill without those immediate motives, they rarely torture (though cats and many others will toy cruelly with prey), and they certainly do not make social decisions to starve millions of their fellows to death.  “Savages” in the old sense of the term do not exist and never have.  The small-scale societies of the world do about the same things that modern states do, but on a very much smaller scale, and they lack the technological ability to carry out the more horrible tortures or mass murders so common now.  They could not force mass starvation on their societies even if they wanted to.  Claims of greater violence among early, small-scale societies and early states, e.g. in Pinker (2011), are based on outrageous sampling bias (Fry 2013; Mann 2018).  Pinker compares the most warlike of documented small societies with the most peaceful modern ones, which does show we are capable of being better than we often are, but says nothing about what social levels are most murderous.


Anyone, Anytime, Can Turn Evil


The alternation between peace and rage is typical of animals, especially carnivores; we see it often in dogs and cats.  Chimpanzees show it too.  Humans are different in two ways.  First, many humans are always “on the fight” or “in your face,” seemingly looking for imagined slights, threats to their honor, and excuses for a fight.  This is both individual and cultural, with some cultures and subcultures teaching it as normal behavior (Baumeister 1997).  Such cultural groups always have a bloody, unsettled, poorly controlled past.  Second, humans fall into rage states not only when fighting immediate rivals for food or territory or mates, as dogs and cats do, but also over issues that do not directly concern them: war with remote enemies, malfeasance in distant countries, terrorist attacks in far-off cities, political injustices to other groups of people.  Humans specialize in outrage, antagonism, and hate, and will take any excuse.

Antagonism is the opposite pole to Agreeableness on the Agreeableness scale of the widely used Big Five personality test.  Worldwide, people range between the two extremes, and there is a substantial inherited component, though much (I believe most) of one’s level of agreeableness/antagonism is learned.  Highly antagonistic people are, of course, heavily overrepresented among doers of evil, and are very susceptible to inflammatory rhetoric (Kaufman 2018).

People, even quite antagonistic ones, are usually peaceful, and even helpful, generous, and tolerant.  Many are curmudgeons, even snappish or bigoted, but at least not violently cruel.  It takes some effort to make them do deliberate harm to those who have not harmed them.

However, it does not take much effort.  Following discovery of this among Nazi survivors, psychologists experimented with students, seeing how easy it was to make them be cruel to other students.  Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments with faked electric shocks, Philip Zimbardo’s with students acting as jailers and prisoners, and many subsequent experiments showed—to the horror of psychologists and the reading public—that it was very easy indeed.  Zimbardo’s experiment with a mock prison, at Stanford, had to be stopped within a week, because the students took their roles too seriously (Blum 2018 criticized this experiment, but has been effectively answered by Zimbardo, 2018).  This led to major reforms of experimental ethics, as well as to much soul-searching (Zimbardo 2008).  Contrary to published accounts, Zimbardo did not initially allow the “prisoners” to leave the experimental situation, and in any case privileged white and Asian young men (as these students were) hardly provide a realistic prison situation, given America’s racist and brutal prison system (Blum 2018).  However, Zimbardo’s main finding stands: people, even the “best” young men, can turn into evildoers with astonishing ease if they are following orders.

People flip easily from a normal state—mild and peaceable—to an aroused state of anger, hatred, aggression, brutality, or rage.  There is a continuum, but phenomenologically it often feels as if we are dominated by either the good wolf or the bad one—not by an intermediate, neutral wolf.

Moreover, we have a choice.  We normally choose to be angered.  A punch in the face is hard to ignore (though some can manage it), but by far the most anger we feel is over trivial slights that can easily be ignored, or over social issues that may not concern us directly.  I am much more frequently angered by reading about injustice, murder, or war in places I have never been and involving people about whom I know nothing than I am by threats to myself.  Reading the political literature, one realizes that some people are outraged by the very existence of African-Americans somewhere, or by the fact that not everyone worships the same way.  An excellent column by Ron Rolheiser (2018) talks with some ironic detachment about the human proclivity to moral outrage.  Humans love to work themselves up into anger, or even hysteria, about perfectly trivial issues irrelevant to their own lives.  Most of us in the scholarly world know teachers who turn red in the face at such things as bad grammar in student papers.

Indeed, almost all the evil discussed in this paper is deliberately chosen because of outrage over something that does not directly or seriously concern the chooser.  The Jews were not really destroying Germany, nor were the Tutsi causing much trouble in Rwanda, nor were the victims of Mao’s purges doing anything remotely worthy of national outrage and mass murder.

All of us have encountered a great deal of everyday prejudice, bigotry, and open hatred of people for being what they are (as opposed to what they may have done).  This too has been studied.  Gordon Allport (1954) reviewed early sources; since then a huge literature has accumulated (see below).

Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is uncomfortably compelling.  We sense, somehow, that we could all go there.  Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase “the banality of evil” (Arendt 1963) is also compelling.  Indeed, evil is banal, for the very good reason that it is usually done by the kid next door, or his equivalent.

Peace came to Colombia after more than 50 years of conflict between the government—often via paramilitary gangs—and FARC, which began as a rebel organization but became largely a cocaine ring.  The paramilitary groups were little if any better.  Both sides accommodated to and dealt with the organized drug cartels.  Thousands of people were involved, and they committed the usual torture, rape, and murder associated with such activities.  With peace came rehabilitation.  Sara Reardon (2018) investigated the process.  She quotes one of the rehabilitation psychologists, Natalia Trujillo:  “I realized not all of them are sociopaths. I realized most of them are also victims.”  In fact, it is obvious from Reardon’s account that the vast majority were closer to victimhood than to pathology.  They were local people, some originally idealistic, swept up in a nightmare.  Many were forced to fight to save themselves and their families.  Most of the combatants have returned to ordinary life with varying degrees of success; some have been killed by revengeful farmers and others who were devastated or had loved ones murdered.  The way that ordinary people can be caught up in senseless civil war is clearly shown.  Similar stories from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other civil wars, back to the United States’ own, show this to be typical.


In short, the vast majority of killing and harming in the world is done by people “just following orders.”  Especially successful are orders to kill or oppress minorities or to ignore their suffering when displaced.  Orders or requests to care for people and help them meet far more resistance.  The United States has faced continual protests and objections over its exiguous and miserable government safety nets, but no trouble finding soldiers for wars in the Middle East, and Trump had no trouble whipping many of his followers into frenzies of violence and hate.  For better or worse—usually for worse—people are easily mobilized by antagonism, but difficult to mobilize by religious teachings of love and care for fellow humans.



Part II.  Roots of Human Evil


The Dilemma


The problem facing us is that the world is far from perfect.  Wars, crimes, and genocides happen.  We have to deal with them.  We are rarely equipped with perfect ways of doing this.  Cool, rational action in the face of hostility requires both courage and knowledge of what to do.

Failing that, action is difficult.  The most available and simple option is to follow the orders of those who do know, or to conform with cultural norms that provide strategies for dealing with problems.  The next most available option is to maintain a front of hostility: to be touchy, aggressive, or downright paranoid.  Ideally, one can seek out the knowledge to cope better, but this requires effort and time.  One can also flee, hide, become a hermit, act as virtuous as possible in the hopes that virtue will prevail, or simply die.

Recognizing this choice matrix makes the victory of the bad wolf more understandable.  Facing a hostile world, people are prone to let the bad wolf roam, or to follow the orders of those who do.


Human Nature?


Speculations on human nature have taken place throughout the ages.  The classic Christian and Buddhist views are that people everywhere are basically good; evil is a corruption of their nature by bad desires.  The problem, according to Buddhist theology, is giving way to greed, anger, and lust.  The Christian tradition is similar; “love of money is the root of all evil,” according to Paul (I Timothy 10).  Most Confucians follow the great Confucian teacher Mencius in seeing people as basically prosocial, corrupted by bad or inadequate education.  Many small-scale and traditional societies hold that people are basically sociable and well-meaning, but must develop themselves through spiritual discipline and cultivation.  Quakers speak of the “Inner Light.”  Modern biologists and anthropologists have found it in the social and proto-moral inclinations now known to be innate in humans.

Conversely, the commonest western-world view is probably that of Thomas Hobbes and Sigmund Freud: people are basically evil, selfish, competitive, and out for themselves at the expense of others.  Social behavior must be forced on them by harsh training.  Hobbes saw “man in his natural state” as being in a permanent condition of “warre of each against all” for resources (Hobbes 1950 [1651]).  Freud had a darker view:  Innate human nature was the Id, a realm of terrifying lust, murderous hate, and insatiable greed.  Both men thought “savages” showed “man in his natural state”; they believed travelers’ tales rather than real descriptions, and saw “savages” as bloodthirsty, cruel, and driven by the lusts of the moment, with no thought of the future.  In fact, even without modern anthropology, they should have known from actual accounts that small-scale societies are as peaceful and orderly as our own.

Hobbes, Freud, and their countless followers assumed that society will force people to act decently through powerful discipline.  This is impossible.  One cannot make mountain lions form social contracts, or teach crocodiles to cooperate.  An animal that is naturally individualist, each animal competing with others, cannot create a society capable of enforcing rules.  Hobbes, Freud, and others expected far too much of human rationality.  Rationality is notoriously unable to restrain emotion.  Ask any teenager, or parent of one.

The other current mistaken view of humanity is the rational self-interest view.  The briefest look at humanity instantly dispels that.  People do not act in their self-interest, and rarely act rationally (see e.g. Kahneman 2011).   The “irrational” heuristics that people use can be highly useful as shortcuts, creating mental efficiency (Gigerenzer 2007; Gigerenzer et al. 1999), but they constantly cause trouble when cool reason is needed.  Human limits to rationality are now so well documented that they need no further notice here.

The rationalist view is a far more positive view of humanity than Hobbes’ or Freud’s, and it does not give much space to evil; evil would occur only when it really pays in material terms, which is not often.  Unfortunately, irrational evil appears much commoner in the real world.  Tyrants may often die in bed, but they often do not.  Suicide bombers and other front-line fighters for the wrong are obviously not advancing their rational self-interest, except by truly perverse definitions of the term.

A more realistic, but still dubious, take on humans comes from the Zoroastrian-Manichaean tradition.  This tradition sees (correctly) that people are a mix of well-meaning, helpful, prosocial good and cruel, brutal evil.  It further holds, less verifiably, that the good comes from the immaterial “spirit” realm, evil from the flesh.  This view lies behind the extreme Puritanism of much of western society—the view that sees sex, good food, good wine, and dancing as Sins with a capital S.  Everything of the flesh tends toward corruption.  Good sex is the door to hell.  “The fiddle is the devil’s riding horse,” held the old American saying.  I was raised in a time and place when this view was widespread.  The social revolution of the 1960s cut it back sharply, but it keeps resurfacing.   Yet, a great deal of human good comes via those “sins.”  Good music, dancing, and sex make people happier, friendlier, and overall better to have around.  Condemning these is regularly used to distract people from the real sins: cruelty, oppression, gratuitous harm, selfish greed, hatred.

A deeper problem with the Manichaean view is that people are usually neither saintly nor demonic.  They are just trying to make a living and then get some rest and relaxation.  Their forays into proactive goodness or proactive evil are extensions from ordinary low-profile getting along.

This leaves us with the Native American folktale: the two wolves, like the “good and bad angels” that folk Christianity borrowed from the Manichaeans, are symbols of the prosocial and hostile sides of humanity, of working with people versus working against them.

It is now well established that humans are innately “moral,” in the sense that they have natural predispositions to fairness, generosity, tolerance, welcoming, acceptance, sociability, friendliness, and other social goods.  (There is now a huge literature on this; see e.g. De Waal 1996; Bowles and Gintis 2011.  It is basically a rediscovery of what Mencius knew in the 4th century BCE.)  People are naturally interested in the world and the other people in it.  More neutral are anger at real harms, and desire to satisfy basic wants, including a desire for pleasure and beauty.  Bad traits that appear universal, but possibly not inborn, include hatred of nonconformists and structural opponents, a tendency to grab desired stuff from others, a tendency to resent real or imagined slights, and above all weak fear.  Truly inborn is a strong tendency to form coalitions that act against each other and, in the end, against everyone’s best interests (Bowles 2006, 2008; Boyer 2018).  Individuals may not be locked in “warre of each against all,” but groups very often are.  People act for social security; often that comes at the expense of groups perceived as threats.  The tighter the society, the more deviance or challenge appears as threat.

At worst, these lead to cruelty, viciousness, nastiness, greed (here defined as hurting others by taking their goods for oneself, without fairly compensating them), and other vices.  We are still not sure how much these are inborn tendencies—like minimal morality—and how much they are learned.  Most authorities think they are learned.  Others concentrate on the learned aspects.  However, broad capacities to fight, hate, and destroy are clearly innate in all higher animals, and humans seem to have more of these innate cruel tendencies than do other animals.

We are gifted by our mammalian heritage with the ability to love, care, fear, hate, and fight.  These we share with all higher mammals.  We are also gifted with the uniquely human ability to form complex, diverse social and cultural systems that construct care, fear, aggression, and other natural drives in ways that can amplify both good and evil out of all bounds.




How did humans evolve their capacity for cruelty?  The most interesting thing to observe is that most gratuitous violence, and almost all cases of otherwise perfectly ordinary and decent people carrying it out, are done in the service of the group.  It is done for loyalty and at the order of leaders.

Solidarity in the face of attack by an enemy group is a human norm.  It is probably an evolved behavior, selected for by that situation occurring frequently over the millions of years.  Samuel Bowles (2006, 2008) held that it came from the tendency of larger groups to kill out smaller ones.  Since these groups had cores of relatives, kin selection operated, and gradually wider and wider circles of kin would be solidary, as people evolved or learned the ability to demand loyalty, detect disloyal members, and punish them.  By that model, violence against outgroups would have evolved along with detection and punishment of nonreciprocity within groups.  So long as it is actual defense against an attacking enemy, group loyalty in violent confrontation is a matter of necessity.

Most groups are peaceful internally but often at war with neighbors.  These are impossible to explain from old, simplistic models of human behavior.  How could Hobbesian savages or Freudian ids differentiate so cleanly?  How could virtuous “noble savages” be so bloody to their neighbors?  The only view of humanity that allows it is one in which humans are usually living ordinary low-key lives, but can easily be motivated to support their group in conflict, and somewhat less easily motivated to be peaceful and proactively helpful.

Recently, Mauricio González-Forero and Andy Gardner (2018) set out to test what model fit best with what we know of the evolution of the human brain, which more than tripled in size in a mere 2 million years—incredible speed for the evolution of a basic organ.  These authors needed to take into account the origin and dispersal of humans from east Africa between 150,000 and 70,000 years ago.  Their enterprise was highly speculative, involving assumptions that may be wrong, but at least they had considerable data on the genetics, dispersal rates, and behavior of the humans in question.  They conclude that conflictual models of human evolution are not supported.  Conflict is too costly.  Animals that fight all the time would not develop large brains—in fact, they probably would not survive at all.  Human conflicts are indeed costly, reducing cooperation even against the others (Aalerding et al. 2018).

Simple sociability is even less well supported.  They found that highly social animals generally have smaller brains than closely related, less social species.  Being taken care of substitutes for thinking.  They conclude that only ecology can account for it.  A positive feedback loop exists between finding more and better food and having a bigger, better brain.  More brain enables us to find, select, and prepare highly nutritious food.  We have adapted increasingly over time to seek out rich patches of good food.

Graeber and Wengrow (2018) have recently pointed out that humans probably evolved in larger and more complex groups than usually thought, and that problems of equality and conflict are endemic to such groups, which then develop ways to cope.  Such coping may be successful or may not be.

As I have pointed out (Anderson 2014), an animal that can find such patches can support a large group.  Best of all, we can talk, and thus tell the group that there is a dead mammoth behind the red hill, a patch of berries across the stream, and so on.  Language helps explain how to get, prepare, and process food.

González-Forero and Gardner have not explained how humans became so violent.  The obvious answer, avoiding the high costs of conflict, is that humans evolved to move rapidly into new habitats, displacing smaller groups they found in the way.  The resulting gains would outweigh the costs of conflict.  This has happened countless times in history; it surely happened countless times in prehistory.

People also have very poor innate controls on killing off their food supply.  Most human groups have learned how to manage sustainably, but they often overshoot, and in any case the learning was originally done the hard way, if local myths and stories are any guide.  Traditional peoples usually have tales of overhunting and then starving.  Children are told such stories with the morals clearly spelled out.  Human hatred of opponent groups and disregard for nature probably came from predatory expansion.

The nearest to a common thread in the evolution of human badness is “my group and I at the expense of others.”  Self first, group next, humanity hardly at all, though cross-cutting and nested allegiances make groupiness problematic.


Fight, Flee, Freeze


People are usually sociable, but react to threat as all large, strong animals do, by fighting back.  They are stressed not only by direct threat, but by threat to their social position, and their sense of control of their lives (Bandura 1982, 1986; Langer 1983).

The fight-flight-freeze response is wired into the nervous systems.  It arises from the limbic system in the brain.  Faced with superior strength and an escape route, an animal will flee; with no escape, it will freeze; if it is cornered and attacked, it will fight, even against superior strength.  Humans have considerably complicated the response.  Flight can be into video games and daydreams, freezing can be labeled “depression” or “laziness” by psychologists or judgmental peers, and fighting is usually verbal rather than violent.  Still, all the limbic responses are there, underlying the prefrontal plans and cultural instructions that introduce the complexity.  (Much of what follows is derived from, or at least agrees with, Beck 1999 and Staub 2011; Gian Caprara [2002] has critiqued Beck’s model for being too narrow and not covering a wide enough range of situations and contexts, so it is somewhat expanded here.)

The most basic root of aggression is fear (on which see LeDoux 2015).  Any animal capable of fighting will fight when threatened or attacked, if there is no alternative.  Animals also fight for resources:  for mates above all, but also food, space, and other necessities.  This may involve fear of loss of necessary resources, but often—especially with mates—it is simply fighting to win desired goods.  Sheer discomfort—sickness, hunger, loss—can also make most animals more aggressive or fight-prone.

The human difference is that humans are compulsively social.  They live by, through, and for their social systems: families, communities, neighborhoods, networks, and—in the modern world—states.  Humans feel fear when these communities are threatened.  Even humans not at all involved in a community will often feel fear or anger over seeing it attacked.  People willingly die for their communities.  We routinely observe the heroism of soldiers sacrificing themselves in war, parents dying to save children, suicide bombers blowing up supposed enemies (Atran 2010; Bélanger et al. 2014), and even gutter punks dying for their drug gangs.

Such fighting, fleeing, and freezing are structured along social lines.   The usual human condition, socially constructed on the innate bases described above, seems to be kind, friendly, and warm to one’s in-group, hospitable to strangers, hostile to opponent groups in one’s own society, and deeply hostile to individuals in one’s own society who seem to be a threat to one’s control or society’s most fundamental beliefs. The real problem is threat to social place and position, which often leads to partner abuse and other abuse of those that one should be protecting.  Threats to social beliefs lead to savage persecution of “heretics.”  Heretics and minority religions are the victims of many of the very worst massacres.

It is also universally known that people are most easily united by being confronted with a common threat, especially a human threat—an invading army, looting gangs, or simply those “heretics.”  Leaders and would-be leaders thus tend to seek or invent enemies.

Thus, natural human tendencies to deal with fear by fighting or escaping can be mobilized by leaders who wish to commit genocide or other evils.  All they need to do is mobilize fear—whether it be fear of war, or economic problems, or change, or minority groups getting ahead, or any other stress—and convince an increasing sector of the population that this problem can be handled by removing some group.  Typically, people will redirect anger against the strong, or even just anger from stubbing their toes or having problems with the house, into hatred.  Scapegoating—hating weak people or groups through displacement—is the most cowardly of the defense mechanisms.  Intolerance is a close second.  Denial, rigidity, and low-level escapism are among the next few.

Doğan and collaborators (2018) have found, studying modern Ethniopian groups, that war is much less likely in egalitarian groups, because everyone is at risk and no one gets a huge chunk of the spoils.  In hierarchic societies, the leaders are less at risk (young men do the dying) and yet get disproportionate shares of the loot, as well as increased power.  So they are happy to invoke war.  The current world situation, where national leaders are not only safe from fighting but often never served in the military, is an extreme case of this.


Motivation and Morality


Alan Fiske and Taj Rai (2014) have argued that almost all violence is moral: it is justified by the moral teachings of the society in question.  They point out that violent behavior such as blood revenge, horrific initiation rites, war, raiding, human sacrifice, brutal discipline, and physical punishment have all been considered not only moral but sacred duty in literally thousands of societies around the world.  Steven Pinker (2011) reminds us that revenge killings, duels, killing of one’s own disobedient children, killing of slaves, and many other forms of mayhem were not only accepted but approved in western society—including the United States—well into the 19th century.  Disapproving of such behavior is very recent.  Antiwar sentiments are also recent, and the idea that taking over land by exterminating its occupants was universal until the mid-19th century.  Of course we remember with Plato and Aristotle that surgeons have to commit “violence” to cure, and we still accept defensive war.

Fiske and Rai see societies as displaying relational models.  These come in four kinds, which can all be combined in one society:” communal sharing: unity… authority ranking: hierarchy…equality matching: equality [Rawlsian fairness]… and market pricing: proportionality” (Fiske and Rai 2014:18-21).   There are six “constitutive phases” of moral violence: “creation [of relationshiips]… conduct, enhancement, modulation, and transformation [again of relationships]….protection; redress and rectification…termination…mourning” (sacrifices, self-mutilation, and the like as mourning rituals) (Fiske and Rai 2014:23-24).  Violence follows the models: a result of group solidarity (usually against other groups) in unity-driven societies; keeping people in their place in hierarchic ones; maintaining equity in egalitarian societies; and “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” in market-driven ones.  Complex societies can be expected to have all four types of relational models operating inside people’s heads and in the cultural spaces, and thus to have violence for all those reasons and more.

Genocide, as we have seen, is moralized as necessary to eliminate the loathesome and hated groups within society.  Aggressive war is moralized by a felt need for land and loot—Hitler’s lebensraum, American settlers’ manifest destiny.  Murder is moralized as honor killing, or revenge, or any of many dozen other motives.  Brutal punishment is moralized as necessary to keep people in line and maintain proper behavior.

Fiske and Rai deal largely with cultural groups and cultural norms.  Unusual events like genocide are not quite in the picture, though, for example, Europe’s massacres of Jews go back many centuries.  Exceptional murder and violence for gain or from psychopathy or sadism are explicitly exempted from their theory, being immoral even to the perpetrators.

The problems with this work are numerous.  First, and most obvious, there is no explanation of where such morals come from, beyond the idea that violence is seriously believed to be necessary to maintain any social order at all.  We are left wondering why honor killings, cruel initiation rites, and the like are found in some places and not others.  (As for the rites:  John and Beatrice Whiting showed decades ago that they are found in societies where all children, including boys, are raised almost exclusively by women, and have to transition to men’s roles at puberty.  They occur in almost all such societies and in few others.)

Second, all societies, and especially all those more complex than a hunting-gathering band, have multiple moral alternatives.  One does not have to be a violent barroom brawler in the modern United States, even in the working-class white south (cf. Nisbett and Cohen 1996 on honor and violence in that milieu).  Very few Middle Eastern Muslims become terrorists or suicide bombers, despite western stereotypy.  Intimate partner violence is normal in some societies—19%, according to Fiske and Rai (2014:160)—but is uncommon and a “marked case” in most.

Third, Fiske and Rai do not distinguish between genuine cultural rules, individual moral poses, and outrageously lame excuses.  It is certainly a cultural rule almost everywhere to kill attackers who are trying to kill you and your family.  It is a cultural rule in all civilizations that if you are a soldier you must kill enemies when ordered.  It is an individual choice, not a rule, to beat your wife and children, murder your rival, or commit suicide.  And doing such things is sometimes done for deeply held moral reasons (murdering your wife’s lover in many societies) but is usually done for reasons that do not play well in courts of law.  Political violence often is clearly due to hatred, however cloaked in rhetoric.  Much becomes clear when one listens to playground bullies:  “He was littler than me, so I beat him up.”  “I’m torturing this squirrel to death because it’s a varmint, it ain’t good for nothin’.”  “I hit my little sister to make her shut up.”  (Fiske and Rai quote a number of young peoples’ justifications for killing that are no more persuasive, but sounded moral in some sense.)  The grown-up forms of such excuses, “all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men” as G. K. Chesterton put it, are no less lame for being suave and phrased in proper political language.

My personal experience with violence—and I have known mass murderers, pirates, criminals, and other assorted perpetrators—is that almost all violence except obvious self-defense or defense of one’s country and loved ones is based on excuses as lame as the schoolyard bullies’ offerings.  Reading the genocide literature is particularly revealing.  The actual sins of the Jews, Tutsi, Hutu, urban Cambodians, and so on were trivial.  The hatred was whipped up deliberately for the basest reasons; the high moral justifications were blatant lies.  How many followers believed them remains unclear.  People did what they were ordered to do.

We are left with the near-universality of moral justifications for violence, but with a range from genuine, deeply held moral belief through serious but not-very-moral personal grievance down to the skimpiest of fig leaves covering crude hatred, rage, and greed.  Fiske and Rai have done a major service in focusing on these justifications and on the social poses that evoke them.  The claim that such moral arguments actually motivate violence must be evaluated case by case.


Cognition and Antagonism


All the above is heavily influenced by cognitive psychology, and specifically by the rational-emotional psychology of Albert Ellis (e.g. 1962), the cognitive-behavioral work on evil of Aaron Beck (1999), and the work of Albert Bandura, Roy Baumeister, and less directly Abraham Maslow (1970).  These are all cognitive social psychologists who give a major place to emotion in their theories.  Theories that focus solely on cognition have nothing to teach us about the emotional side of hatred; theories that focus solely on emotion (there seem to be none in the area of hate) would fail to account for the targets selected.  I have also drawn heavily on the literature on how people come to hold false views, especially the work of Daniel Kahneman (2011) and Gerd Gigerenzer (e.g. 2007).  Gigerenzer has been particularly useful in showing how wrong beliefs can be not only plausible but useful.  In the present case, they are useful in defending weak people against other people, and against confronting the horror of their own behavior.  It was discovering (back in 1980) the work on heuristic biases by Kahneman and his coworkers that started me on the path of understanding how people come to hold dangerously mistaken beliefs.

The basic principles of a cognitive-emotional explanation of evil can be summarized as follows.  First, people tend to blame other people—not fate, not the structures of the economy, not the weather, and most certainly not themselves—for whatever goes wrong in their lives.  Their misfortunes are caused by the Jews, or the poor, or the rich, or some such vague group.  The most usual problems people face—threats to their livelihood or wealth, threats to their social place, threats to their security—are assumed to be caused by other people, especially those who can be seen to be directly involved as “competition” or “disrespectful” or simply saliently different.  The root of evil is the belief that we can fix our problems by controlling or eliminating other people, rather than by rational means.  In fact, the usual problem in all cases of evil is power and control.  People try to maintain control over others, and it gets out of hand.  If they are also aggressive, it turns violent.

Second, this scapegoating is done from fear, so is most easily and typically done with weaker individuals or groups as scapegoats.  Wives, children, minorities, isolated individuals, desperately impoverished persons, do the paying for problems that they can very rarely have caused.  It is not true that “others” and “strangers” are the targets.  What stands out from accounts of genocide is the mass murder of friends, neighbors, even family members.

Third, social conformity is usually bent to this task.  The vast majority of harms in the world are done by people following customs, orders, or group pressures.  The more their leaders can whip up hatred among their followers, the more the ultimate harm that results, but simply following orders can be bad enough.  The leaders are then caught in a feedback loop: they have to whip up more hate, and eventually start killing the scapegoated groups, to keep their increasingly fanatical followers happy.  In the old days, the enemy was most often the neighboring country (English against French, Greeks against Persians, Chinese against steppe peoples, and countless other cases).  Today, it is usually the internal minorities.

In short, fear, threat, and insecurity make people seek enemies to hate, but since hatred is a result of cowardice in these cases, the hate is usually misdirected toward weaker but believably “competing” individuals or groups.


Antagonism is the general cover term for the usual sources of evil.  It is usually mindless, coming from culture, conformity, or orders.  Its natural basis is the normal “fight” response to threat, but it is increasingly distorted by weak fear, especially when weakness is part of cultural norms.  Some cultures, such as the Afghan-Pathan culture of the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands, are extremely violent, aggressive, and warlike; others, such as the Semai of Malaysia, are extremely peaceful.  People are duly socialized to be violent or to abhor violence.

Outright antagonism grades into callousness, which begins from the natural inability to do everything for everyone, but quickly becomes a way of morally disengaging from doing what one could do for ignored or despised groups.

Fighting over social place, control, and power is an entailed cost of sociability in a highly aggressive animal.  Culture, society, and structure all play into it, making everything worse or better, according to the specific teachings they provide.

The daily kibble of the bad wolf is frustration, resentment of trivial or imagined slights, everyday irritation, rejection, disempowerment, harassment.  This is especially true if one assumes the slights and minor rejections are due to malignant intent (Ames and Fiske 2015).  The raw red meat that gives it strength and power to take over is social hate.


The real problem is inordinate drive for security, status, control, and power (again following Bandura, Baumeister, Beck and others).  “Greed” is almost always cruel vying for social position via wealth.  Those who just want a lot of stuff tend to be reasonably decent people.  They are willing to work and avoid risks.  What we consider greed in politics is usually a mix of desires for social place and for wealth.  To be like the Kochs, Princes, and Mercers, one must be both hateful and committed to an evil business: fossil fuels, military supply, mercenary fighting, corrupt politics, or outright crime.

Greed can be defined as negative-sum gaming for acquisition of wealth.  Power-hunting, similarly, is playing zero-sum or negative-sum games to get power, as opposed to working honestly for better administration and governance.  Antagonistic pursuit of social place is typical of societies where high place is limited, especially top-down hierarchies in stagnant economies.

Historically, the biggest reason for evil is maintaining and defending social power: oppression, suppression, from kings down to domestic violence.

Ultimately, the personal component of evil-doing—defined, recall, as gratuitous harm—usually traces back to fear and defensiveness.  The cure is empowerment such that one can rationally cope with fears.

Cowardly emotions differ from their normal equivalents.  Honest fear is not the same as cowardice.  Real anger—wrath at actual injury—is different from the coward’s petulant resentment and hatefulness.  Carelessness from sheer inattention to detail is not the same as defiant sloppiness or toxic irresponsibility.  Real religious feeling is not bigotry.  Love is not the same as the coward’s dependence and controlling clinginess, especially since the latter competes psychologically with real caring interest in the other person.  Treachery and betrayal follow from cowardice.

This may be the world’s commonest problem.  Callousness and bureaupathy follow from cowardly obeying, toxic conformity, toxic loyalty, and the like.  Mass shootings fit the profile: alienated, usually young, male, dealing with threats to their personal security by indiscriminate murder-suicide.  Islamic bombing and any suicidal warfare is similar.  The Big Lie and other fascist methods of rule and control take advantage of this cowardly defensiveness.  It causes anhedonism, taking offense at imagined or trivial slights, and negative overreaction in general.

Cultural variables include traditional enmity, direct threat, structural opponent status within a society, role expectations (especially for young males, warriors, “bad dudes,” and bureaucrats).

Situation variables include “offense,” “slights,” etc.  Threats to cultural and social position and standing are especially problematic. Scapegoating is the ultimate source of much or most genocidal murder.


Some anger is almost automatic and very hard to stop, notably when one’s self or loved ones are physically attacked.  Most anger, however, is decided on.  Political anger—which appears to be the main anger in modern societies—is most certainly decided: one learns who to hate and persecute and how angry to get, and one must decide to follow the leaders in this.  Fear is similarly decided on, when it is fear for long-term, wide-flung consequences or of vague political entities.  The decision component of social fear, anger, and hate has been too little assessed.  The degree to which these are taught by peers and media is better studied.

The steps one’s mind goes through in dealing with stress involve decisions at every point.  First, one must identify something as a threat.  Then one must decide whether to react with flight or fight.  One must decide how much flight or fight to apply.  Deciding how to react, and what level of reaction to display openly, is complicated.

This requires attention to what is actually causing the threat.  If one is being chased by a bear, no questions need be asked, but dealing with widespread social problems is something quite different.  Culture and society are all-important in deciding what caused the problem.  Is widespread crime caused by minorities? Inequality? Poverty? Bad upbringing? Weather? Injustice? Human greed? All of the above?  Morality and religion then largely determine how to decide, and then how to intervene.

All this is predictable from basic insecurity and weak fear, left over from childhood and never dealt with by learning rational coping techniques.  To the extent people learn to cope reasonably and rationally, they escape weak, fearful, irrationally negative coping mechanisms.  People need security, status, control, and some material goods; they can get these rationally, or through cooperation, or through irrational levels of harm to others.  Mindsets change from working with others to working against them.

Reasonable alternatives include distancing oneself, resenting silently, turning the other cheek, being as pleasant or fearless as possible, and just bearing hardship.  From there, the next step is to actual caring: helping, enjoying, working.


Authoritarian and Bullying Personalities


If people learn rational or common-sense ways of coping with fear and threat, they are less likely to fall into hatred and toxic conformity.  If they do, however, they may become authoritarians.  The “authoritarian personality” created by Freudian mechanisms (Fromm 1941) has not stood the test of time, but “authoritarian predispositions” leading to an “authoritarian dynamic” are now well attested and studied (Duckitt 1994, 2001; Stenner 2005).  They are called up or exacerbated especially by normative fear: fear of the breakdown of the social norms that give what the authoritarian mind considers necessary structure to society.  These norms typically involve norms that keep minorities and women “in their place,” and otherwise create a rigid top-down order.  Learned helplessness (Peterson et al. 1993) often leads to toxic conformity.

Authoritarian predispositions and behaviors may include devotion to strongmen, hatred and fear of homosexuals and other norm-benders, love of stringent punishment for lawbreakers (especially those low on the social scale), militarism, and similar conditions.  There is, however, a great range of ideology here, from the near-anarchist violent right wing to the genteelly hierarchic older businessmen of a midwestern suburb.  It seems likely that we are dealing with several different responses to weakness in the face of threat, the common denominators being a need for a strong-man leader and a need for underlings to blame and oppress.  Authoritarianism is surprisingly common within societies and surprisingly widespread over the world (Stenner 2005).

This rests on several observations about human responses to threat and stress.  Three other important ones deserve attention:  People hate in others what they dislike in themselves (especially if they feel guilty about it); they like in others what they want for themselves; they use their strengths to make up for their deficiencies.  These are all involved in bullying and authoritarianism.  Bullying can have permanent negative effects on bullied children’s brains (Copeland et al. 2014).

The problems usually follow from cowardice and hostility, which reinforce each other.  In an isolated person, they come out as giving up, or as setting oneself against the world.  In the far commoner case of a social person, they come out in displacing aggression against the weak.  Fear forbids aggressing against actual offenders (if there are any); antagonism is displaced downward, to scapegoats.  This usually leads to bullying them.  Bullying involves belittling them: regarding them as low or worthless.  Underlings use malicious gossip to get back at powerful bosses. “I’m better than you” and “I’m worse than you” are bad enough, but the worst is “I’m worse than you, so I have to pretend I’m better, and if in power I have to bully you.”  The classic bully does what he can to get in your face.  He is resentful toward the world at large.  He attacks both the weak (“contemptible”) and those in authority; he revels in breaking laws and conventions.  Bullies resent civility; it interferes with their activities, and they brand it as “weakness.”  They resort to lying and “gaslighting” as routine methods of manipulating others, and to insults.  They tend to be violent and unpredictable.

A standard bullying routine is to insult the victim, then take any response as an “offense” and “slight” that justifies attack.  Imagined slights are quite adequate.  The genociders’ version of this is the attribution of all manner of horrific but imaginary sins to the targeted group; Hitler’s claims about the Jews are the most famous in this regard, but all genociders seem to do it.

Another very common aspect of bullying is that bullies are adulated as “strong” and “independent” by those who would love to be bullies but are too personally weak.  They become groupies, followers, toadies.  Women who are afraid to be violent themselves, but would love to be bullies, find male bullies irresistible, leading to a remark attributed to Henry Kissinger, “power is the best aphrodisiac.”

Evil people, from ancient Greek demagogues to Hitler and Trump, whip up hatred.  They can most effectively get the least competent of the tier-just-above-bottom to hate the bottom tiers.  Failing that, they can always whip up nativistic hate of foreigners, especially immigrants.  Evil people seem often desperate for control and power.  Saints, on the other hand, tend to be meek and deferential.  So evil wins unless the middle 70% or 80% are on board to stop it.

Most movements that end in authoritarianism and genocide start by recruiting bullies and haters, then gather momentum.  Not until they win, and succeed in turning the polity into a dictatorship or turning a local community into one defined by hate, can they recruit the vast mass of ordinary people.  However, there are cases in which many followers are genuine idealists, not bullies, and then the picture is complicated by the restraint introduced by the idealists.  Stalin in the USSR was infamous for purging his movement of these idealists, leaving only those who were either bullies or saw repression as simply a necessary job to do.

Stalin and Hitler were probably psychopathic or at least highly destructive individuals who seized power and were then in a position to get the masses to imitate and follow them.  Their power-hunger was not necessarily emulated by the majority, but their hatred was.  Many evil leaders, however, seem reasonably normal except for their inordinate lust for power at all costs and their ability to mobilize those scared into following at all costs.




Fear and fight lead to three overarching social vectors: ingroup versus rival group; general level of hostility; and minimizing.  The usual direct causes of evil appear to be cowardice, hostility, and minimizing or infrahumanization.  The first two are overreaction (overemotional reaction) to fear, threat, and hurt, with structural opponentship (not just difference) seen as a threat.  The common ground is seeing people, or some people, as bad or unworthy.  All or some people are to be bulldozed, dominated, or preyed oneven family and friends, let alone real opponents.

The third is failure to consider people as fully human, or even failure to consider people at all.  People become Kantian objects (Kant 2002): mere numbers on a spreadsheet or dirt to be bulldozed out of the way of construction projects, or, at best, underlings to be disregarded.

Such minimizing includes othering.  It can be aggressive.  It can be cold and calculating. It can be simply mindless—just not thinking of the problems of the servants or workstaff.  It usually consists of devaluing people: maintaining that they are unworthy of attention, concern, or care.  Sometimes it involves not noticing people at all.  It tends to go with callous indifference, as opposed to hostility and anger.  Anger shows at least some respect for the opponent; the opponent is worthy of being noticed and hated.  Not infrequently, the opponent is even considered superior, as when revolutionaries attack the state, or a David goes up against a Goliath.

Othering without much hostility is typical of traditional people; they know the “others” are different, but have little to do with them.  Exceptions are neighboring groups, often traditional rivals for land and resources.  Hostility without much othering—without displacing it to an outgroup—produces gangsters and aggressive loners.  The human norm seems to be occasional anger and aggression against even one’s nearest and dearest, great aggressiveness against structural-opponent groups, and indifference to the rest—the unknown multitudes out of one’s immediate ken.

One consoling lie that such people tell themselves is that we live in a just world (Lerner 1980), in which people get what they deserve.  The poor are lazy, the rich worked for their wealth.  People displaced by dams somehow deserve to be displaced.  Genociders come to believe fantastically overstated lies: the people they hate are truly evil, subhuman, the sources of all ills.

The common theme of all these matters, and of all evil, is rejection of people simply for being what they are.  In Paul Farmer’s oft-quoted remark, “the idea that some lives matter less is the root cause of all that is wrong with the world.”  (This line is very widely quoted, but without attribution.) They are condemned simply because they are poor, or Jewish, or female, or black-skinned, or rich, or any of the other things that give hateful people an excuse to dismiss whole categories of humanity.  However, extreme rage and hate are very often deployed against wives, husbands, children, parents, close friends, and other loved ones.  Family violence seems, in fact, to be a strikingly accurate small-scale model of genocide.  Assassination is even farther from Farmer’s general case; it involves targeting people because they are important.  Thus, while usually the targets of evil are downvalued, sometimes they are targets specifically because they are highly valued.

Othering takes many forms.  One recalls the British stereotypes of “foreigners” and “savages” in the days of the British Empire: French ate frogs and snails and were effeminate, Germans drank beer and were big and dull, Italians were dirty and noisy and smelled of garlic, and so on for every group the British contacted.  American stereotypes of the 20th century were usually similar, though less well defined.  Children’s books reveal these stereotypes most clearly, and were one of the main ways they were learned.  Political cartoons often trade on them to this day.

The same general rules apply to hate and disregard for other lives—for animals and plants.  Cruelty to animals and destruction of nature are common.  The mindset seems to be the same: either uncontrolled rage at the familiar, or displacement of hate and fear to weak victims, or sheer indifference backed up by social attitudes.  The Cartesian idea that animals are mere “machines” that have no real feelings has justified the most appalling abuses.

Summing up, one finds four rough attitudinal clusters:  negative stereotypy; callousness (cold indifference, selfish greed, cold callousness, etc.); anger, rage, and hate, variously directed; and psychopathy-sadism.  Anger is the most complex.  Anger in proportion to actual challenge, and directed toward the challenger, is perfectly normal and usually reasonable enough.  The problem is that humans—in proportion to how scared they are—exaggerate the anger and misdirect it, usually toward those immediately available and weaker than self.  Bashing weaker people or animals to take out aggressions against stronger ones is probably the commonest form of active evil.


Groups and Group Tensions


It follows from human social solidarity that people will fight, without mercy or quarter given, against any group that their community can credibly claim is a threat.  This is the simplest part of the back story of genocide.  Communities and polities throughout history, and at least some of prehistory, fought each other.  Genocide is different in that the targeted group is a part of the community doing the killing.  Genociders identify some fraction of their own citizenry as a direct and immediate threat that needs to be removed.  They then convince the rest of the citizenry that this fraction is indeed a threat, and that every member of it is threatening and must be destroyed.

This must be negotiated.  There will always be those who do not agree.  This is one reason why the great genocides are always carried out by dictators; they can silence dissent.  Usually, they simply add the dissenters to the target group, and execute them all.  Settler genocides, however, often occurred in democratic or partially democratic societies, where dissent was real, and often effective.  Settler genocides depended on convincing a large part of the citizenry to kill the Indigenous peoples, and to threaten protectors and dissidents into silence.  A particularly good study of this is Benjamin Madley’s study of California in the 19th century (Madley 2016); for a full worldwide survey, see Ben Kiernan’ Blood and Soil (2007).

A final key part of the back story is that humans everywhere dislike foldbreakers—people who conspicuously resist conforming to basic social rules.  Even people who are unusually good may be disliked because being so good is “different” (Parks and Stone 2010).  Usually, this serves to maintain conformity by making cantankerous or poorly-educated people fall in line.  Very often, however, it simply makes people hate anyone conspicuously unlike the herd.  Individuals (including geniuses and artists) or groups (Jews in Christian countries, black people in white countries, and so on) are targeted.   (On discrimination, see Kteily, Bruneau, et al. 2015; Kteily, Hodson, and Bruneau 2016; Parks and Stone 2010.)

The failure of religion to change people much, noted above, projects back into history.  Despite Steven Pinker’s attempt to maintain that people have been getting less violent over time (Pinker 2011), and despite the reaction to it from those who still believe in the “noble savage,” there is no real evidence that people have changed.

Critically important is awareness that there is a continuum from good to evil, and specifically from actual enmity to utterly unprovoked genocide: from treating people with antagonism, as enemies, because they actually are so, to treating them as enemies because they might really be a threat, to treating people as enemies because they seem different and numerous enough to seem a threat to fearful leaders, to treating any different group as a threat simply because its difference is obtrusive or because it is in the way of settlement or “development.”  This tends to correspond very closely with the continuum from courageous fighting against attacking force to increasingly cowardly displacement of aggression to ever weaker targets.  Bullies are cowards, and authoritarian leaders are bullies.

Broad overviews hide an enormous amount of small-scale variation.  Modern regions like Scandinavia and the Low Countries have reduced violence to a minimum.  The Vikings—among the most predatory of humans 1000 years ago—are now among the most peaceful, orderly people on earth, showing the extent to which change is possible.  The Cambodians, as noted above, went from famously peaceable to record-setting mass murder and back to tranquility within a few years.  This is not new: among traditional societies, the peaceful San hunters and Semai farmers are balanced by violent subarctic hunters and Upper Amazon farmers (Robarchek and Robarchek 1998), and changes from peace to violence and back are common.  Within every major religion, there are sects that ban violence with considerable success, and others that idealize mass murder for the faith.  Christianity ranges from Quakers to southern US evangelicals; Islam ranges from Ahmadiyya and some of the Sufi orders to the Wahhabis and Taliban.  Within the United States, there are communities where violence is almost unknown, and other demographically similar ones with astronomical violence rates.  Moreover, these rates vary over time, according to often quite minor circumstances, such as change of police chief or greater availability of dangerous drugs.

All religions attack the major evils, but people do evil and then claim their religions made them do it.  There are always excuses.  Morality is never enough.  Society needs laws, and needs to enforce them.  The most important conclusion is that people can create peaceful communities.  Evil is not necessary.  It can be reduced to low levels. 

Evil begins when hostility is deployed, in the absence of credible serious threat, toward an individual or group that is being peaceable and reasonable.  This means that evil is hard to define; the boundary between rational defense and irrational defensiveness is hard to set, and tends to be highly subjective.  Societies need moral codes to sharpen the lines.

Excessive and misdirected hostility often occurs when people displace their anger.  The genuinely threatening group may be too strong and widespread to attack.  Then people often find a weaker, more vulnerable group to hate.  This clearly occurs in many cases of persecuting minorities.

Also, people may believe that a currently weak group is secretly powerful, or might become so, and could be a threat.  Preemptive strikes then occur.  Both this and the preceding dynamic clearly operated in the case of Hitler’s persecution of the Jews.  The Jews were a small, innocent, relatively defenseless minority.  Hitler directed against them all the anger stirred up in Germany by the loss of WWI and the Depression, and then revived and greatly extended the old image of the Jews as all-powerful and all-destroying.

A more local example is intimate partner violence.  This almost always involves a man, usually the physically stronger of the pair, beating a woman because he feels that he is somehow losing control of her (B. Anderson et al. 2004).  Very often, he feels generic anger against the world, or against stronger people in his life, and takes it out on the most vulnerable available person: wife, child, older parent.  Domestic violence is extremely close to genocide—it might even be called the individual-level equivalent.  Diana Young (Facebook posting of April 11, 2018) has correctly noted that the mass shooters so common in our day almost all have a background involving domestic violence and threats.  She suggests that mass shooting may be an extension of domestic violence.  This is an idea worth serious exploring.

Desperate need to assert control is the motive for a great deal of personal violence; it is notoriously basic in domestic violence and other ingroup, interpersonal trouble.  The husband beating his wife because he fears she might stray is strikingly similar to the insecure leader exterminating suspected political enemies; intimate partner violence provides much insight into genocide (Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017).


Moral Disengagement


Moral disengagement is eminently visible in the treatment of slaves and other victims, and in bureaucratic neglect of populations.

Albert Bandura’s book Moral Disengagement (2016) covers that aspect of evil in detail. Evil is often done for alleged moral reasons (as in religious persecutions), or for openly immoral ones (as when a sadist psychopath kills), but most evil involves some degree of moral disengagement: minimizing, excusing, or justifying what is done.  Bandura covers the individual agency involved in this, and also the way society magnifies that by marshaling euphemisms, blaming others, playing the “you do it too” card, minimizing damage, dehumanizing or partially dehumanizing victims, personally disengaging and becoming callous or escapist, causal displacement, attribution of blame to the victims or to the wider society, and above all justifying one’s behavior by claiming a higher morality.  Bandura covers recent newsworthy events: gun violence and gun culture, terrorism, banking crimes, pollution and environmental damage, capital punishment, and others.  He thus spares us (usually) the endless citing of Hitler that tends to let moderns off the hook.

Moral disengagement, victim-blaming, and self-justification are indeed typical of almost all human activities that do harm and of almost all humans that harm others.  They are a major food of the bad wolf.  The problem with Bandura’s book is that he lumps evil morality (fascist ideology, Communist extremism) with disengagement, which is surely wrong.  Sheer hatred and antagonism is the real root cause of evil and the true bad-wolf chow.  Still, Bandura has done an extremely important task in covering with great thoroughness the ancillary mental gymnastics that allow people to harm and kill without much guilt.




Roy Baumeister, in his book Evil (1997), documents at length the unexceptional nature of people who do evil things.  He also documents the degree to which they self-justify: they think they are doing the right thing, or the reasonable thing, or the expedient thing, they rationalize to avoid guilt, and they use carefully disinfected language.  Most commonly of all, they think or say that they are only doing what everyone does.  In genocides and slave camps, they are right; everyone in their situation is indeed doing it.

Baumeister demolishes the old idea that evil people are those with low self-esteem; it appears that the worst problem in that area is with people who have “high but unstable self-esteem” (Baumeister 1997:149; his emphasis).  They are often bullies, because they think highly of themselves but are insecure enough to be wounded by challenges.  People need some degree of self-esteem and self-regard, so they concentrate on their strong points and minimize others’ lives and endowments.

He also debunks the idea that evil people dehumanize their victims.  They most often see their victims as fully human—just not deserving of normal consideration.  In recognition of this, Castano (2012) suggests the term “infrahumanization.”  Many recent studies of genocide have made the same point.  Baumeister runs through the standard explanations for violence (“greed, lust, ambition…” on p. 99—the classic land, loot, women, and power—as well as sadism and psychopathy), only to show how inadequate they are; crime rarely pays much, lust turned evil does not feel particularly good, and ambition served by evil rarely ends well.  He sees “egotism and revenge” as more important (Baumeister 1997:128-168).  People committing evil are often showing off their ability to maintain their power.  “Threatened egotism” (Baumeister 1997:377; Baumeister et al. 1996) is the deadliest of the factors he lists.

This, however, results from two things: basic predisposing factors of personality (threatened egotism, sadism, psychopathy) and immediate triggering factors (greed, idealism).  Moreover, “greed” is not desire for material goods; it is willingness to get material goods at the expense of other people, harming them in the process.  The same goes for social position, social acceptance, and even desire for power and control.  They are not bad in themselves, because they can be, and often are, used for good.  They become evil and cause harm when they are won at the expense of others.  Those triggers do not cause evil in people who are not in a state of hatred, bullying, or overcontrolling others.  In people who have fed the good wolf, desire for material goods is satisfied by working with others for the common good, or at least by healthy competition of the Adam Smith variety; desire for social acceptance and approbation is satisfied by being nice enough to be genuinely liked; desire for power and control is satisfied by being a good leader and administrator.  We all know people who are not particularly nice or pleasant people, but who make good administrators anyway, simply because it is the reasonable thing to do; being a vindictive bully is common, but helps no one.  People are notoriously sociable, and do not need Immanuel Kant to explain that good social strokes are, in the end, better than inordinate wealth or power.  We are left no closer to an explanation of why ordinary people without the basic personality factors of a psychopath become genocidal or become slavers.

Baumeister also points out that much evil is done in the name of good—of idealism.  He is, in my opinion, far too quick to believe that murderous “good-doers” (from the Inquisition to the Khmer Rouge) believe what they say.  My rather wide experience of those who talk good but do evil is that they are simply hypocrites.  At best, their willingness to do real harm in the name of imaginary good is hardly a recommendation for their morals.  Suicide bombers claim to be fighting for the right, but killing innocent strangers out of pure hate is right only in a very strange values system; it is within my definition of evil, and not within my definition of idealism.

Idealism that involves little beyond torturing people to death hardly deserves the name of idealism.  It is not an explanation for evil; it simply raises the question of why people sometimes think that torturing is idealistic, or that idealism can mean little beyond murder.  Usually, hypocrisy is suspected, not without reason.

The trouble with greed and idealism as reasons for evil is that a sensible person, even if greedy or idealistic, would see that it is better to work with others for mutual benefit, or at least to compete fairly.  Greed to the point of ripping others off, or crushing them, is not profitable in the long run.  It is normally done when society forces people into evil ways of making a living, such as slaving.

Idealism that necessarily costs lives but really is for the greater good, like the fight against fascism in WWII, can be genuine.  Plato and Aristotle already pointed out that the “harm” a surgeon does to his patient is necessary and beneficial.  Similarly, defensive war against invaders is often a good thing.  Very different is the “idealism” of the Khmer Rouge and their ilk, who did nothing but kill innocent and helpless victims.  Of course, idealism can get corrupted fast, as in the French and Russian revolutions.  The boundary between good and evil is the point at which a reasonable person, independently judging the situation, would judge that there is clearly gratuitous harm occurring.  Rationality is hard to achieve in this world, but necessary in this case.

Acting reasonably good seems the default option for most people most of the time.  It is even difficult to make people into killers.  Not only the Nazis, but also armed forces everywhere, have always had trouble accomplishing this (Baumeister 1997:205-212 is a particularly good review).

However, even the most trivial differences in feeding eventually allow the bad wolf to take over from the good one.  The strongest desire of humans is social belonging; therefore, people feel strong needs to conform to social norms and to whatever social currents are flowing (see e.g. the studies of Kipling Williams [2007, 2011] on ostracism).  The currents are not always good ones.


Human Variation


Individuals vary.  A few seem saintly.  They are the ones that resist even pressures to kill during mass genocides.  They have strong internal controls on aggression.  Others are less constantly moral, but most humans have a great deal of innate empathy—abilities to feel others’ emotions and sensations, understand them, and act accordingly (Denworth 2017).

Others seem genuinely evil; they seem almost incapable of acting without harming someone.  These are generally called sociopaths or psychopaths—people who appear to have been born without a moral compass and without a way of acquiring one.  Others seem moral enough most of the time but apt to lapse into uncontrollable violence.  These are not insensitive individuals.  Unlike autistic people, who are usually well-meaning despite lack of social abilities, psychopaths and hyperaggressive persons often seem to have preternatural social skills.  “A person with autism spectrum disorder has little ability to assume the perspective of someone else.  Psychopaths, on the other hand, understand what others are feeling but have a profound lack of empathetic concern” (Denworth 2017:61; cf. Baskin-Sommers et al. 2016).  They may have anomalies in neural connections in the brain.  Serious killers may be far more troubled than ordinary psychopaths.  The one mass murderer I have known was both mentally deficient and severely disturbed.  By contrast, people I have known who killed in war were perfectly normal.  They were traumatized by the experience.

Sociopaths seem residents of a different world.  They lie without a second thought, and, even when it clearly is against their better judgment, they seem to prefer dealing treacherously and unfairly with others.  Ordinary rational self-interest simply does not work for them.  I have known several who regularly wrecked their lives by wholly gratuitous betrayal.  They simply could not understand why betraying others brought outrage. One of the sociopaths I knew was a prominent politician, and—though rather notorious—he was never singled out as being worse than many colleagues.

There are also extremely aggressive individuals, sadists, and others who verge on psychopathy; most have a background of brutal abuse in childhood, by parents and peers, or of major trauma.  Some may simply be “born that way,” others appear made by environment; a harsh, hostile, critical environment worsens all.

Most people are peaceable, empathetic, and reasonable most of the time.  We can arbitrarily guess that 10% of humanity are deeply evil—not always acting badly, but doing evil on a regular enough basis to produce serious net harm to their communities.  This 10% figure is supported by crime rates, voting for extremist candidates, and common experience, but is basically a guess.  More serious estimates are that about 1% of the population is psychopathic, but even this estimate is shaky.  Others show social dominance orientation, looking favorably on high levels of social and economic inequality in society and to patriarchal social organization.  Dominance is not a human need, but certainly is a widespread want, and the simple desire for it is a major source of evil.  Most mammals have dominance hierarchies.  Humans are notably lacking in innate tendencies in that direction (Boehm 1999), but very often develop them anyway, especially via top-down hierarchic systems.

These dubious actors can be balanced by the best 10% or so:  the individuals who never say an unkind word, are unfailingly sensitive and considerate, give gifts and donations freely and save little for themselves, and devote their lives to careers in healing, teaching, charity, and aid.  The sad evidence of the genocide literature suggests that even such people can be corrupted, though only with difficulty.  The reasons for such variation in mentality are partly unknown, partly developmental.  The latter shall be discussed below.

The other 80% (approximately) of us are the people within whom the two wolves constantly compete for pride of place.  Common experience suggests that there is a straight and unbroken continuum from the most evil through the bloody-minded to ordinary middling souls, and then to the 10% who are near sainthood.   There are continua from acceptance to rejection of groups, from positive to negative-sum gaming, from laudable ambition to power-madness, from necessary defense against enemies to defensiveness based on cowardly fear.  It is hard to cut these continua at safe points.  The common ground is simple: wanting social and economic security, especially in social acceptance and position.  What matters is how rationally and cooperatively one seeks to satisfy those wants.

One might think of a continuum from a clearly demented psychopath (like Mexico’s drug-gang leaders) to an ordinary criminal gangster, then to a schoolyard bully grown up to be a spouse abuser, then to an ordinary person who grumbles and scolds and occasionally fights but rarely harms anyone, and then onward to a basically good and honorable soul who loses her temper on frequent occasions but does no worse than that, and finally to a truly virtuous individual—say, the leader of a charitable medical group.  This continuum exists everywhere I have been, and through literature and psychological studies we can be sure it is essentially universal.  People everywhere range from very bad to very good, as they range from passive to active and from weak to strong (the classic three dimensions of agentive evaluation).

Common experience also teaches that those of us in the 80% tend to weasel good and bad (thanks to Jennifer Skornik on this point).  We drive too fast.  We eat at cafes that underpay their staff.  We take advantage of cheap deals when we know there is some dirty game on.  We weasel on public commitments.  We spend too much time giving nibbles to the bad wolf while trying to serve the good one.  We are, in short, frail and fallible humans—and require strong social standards backed up by law to keep us on the straight and narrow path.  Religious and moral ideals are all very fine, but must be enforced by social conventions.  Most of us have experienced life in communities where traffic laws were laxly enforced, and have seen ordinary “good” people slip into more and more dangerous driving until accidents make the police take better note.

Allow that people are, on average, 50% good and 50% bad.  (Again, these are guesses.  We have no real measures.)   The worst 10% can win by mobilizing the 40% who are worse than average but not totally evil, and then getting enough of the relatively good to make a majority.  In fact, Hitler was elected with a bare plurality, not a majority, and the same is true of many elected evil leaders.  Trump was elected by 25% of the voting public, with almost half of registered voters not bothering to vote at all.

Half good, half bad predicts the institutions we see in societies: they are meant to preserve the good, and to redirect the bad to fighting “the enemy” rather than the rest of us.  And they never work perfectly.

People vary from best to worst along several dimensions.  The most important of these from the point of view of explaining evil are agreeableness vs. hostility, tolerance vs. hatred, peacefulness vs. violent aggression, help vs. gratuitous harm, open-minded vs. closed, and charity vs. greed.  All these are related (and are consistent with the “Big Five” and “Hexaco” personality theories), but not the same.  They must be unpacked.  Often, however, we observe truly good or truly evil persons who are at the best or at the worst ends on all six measures.  Genocide and other extreme mass-level evils come from hatred, so it must be considered the worst of the lot.

Greed is generally regarded in the US as the worst of sins, a belief going back to Paul on love of money (p. 17).  However, selfish greed succeeds in mass politics only when it marshals support through whipping up hate.  The few rich must have the support of millions of less affluent; these can be persuaded to act and vote against their self-interest only by making them rabid with hate for minorities.  We have seen this in every genocidal campaign in history, as well as in almost all wars, and many political and religious movements.

Greed, though, is generally a social hatred issue; it is about rivalry for power, for control of people, for competition with people over resources.  The normal expectation if one actually wants some item or some wealth is to cooperate with others to work for it, or at least to work for others in a peaceful setting.  Smash-and-grab is not the normal way to get goods.  The rich who desire endless wealth are not after wealth; they are after social position and social adulation.

Really extreme, high-emotion evil thus usually comes from social hatreds—whether due to psychosis, greed for position, “honor,” extreme defensiveness, extreme need to control others, extreme sensitivity to slights, or—most common and deadly of all—displacing hatreds and aggressions onto weaker people or onto defenseless nature. When not feeding from those troughs, the bad wolf tends to go to sleep, leaving the field to the good wolf.

In short, there are huge individual differences between those who are antagonistic and touchy about everything, and those who feel secure.  Personal factors involved are concerns of power, control, social place, and greed and other wants.  The social and cultural contexts are all-important, telling individuals whom and how much to hate.  The worst individuals seek out each other.  They also seek out the worst cultural and social values and attitudes.  This produces a strong multiplier effect, highly visible in right-wing social movements.  Cowardly defensiveness, gain (not just greed but even routine jobs), power and control needs, and innate aggression levels all play into such attitudes.


Cultures Vary


Cultures also vary.  A pattern broadly visible in eastern Asia is one in which both individuals and societies can flip from extremely peaceful to extremely violent and back to peace.  Chinese dynasties exhibit this pattern: during times of strong government, they were very peaceful and orderly, but in dynastic breakdown periods, violence became universal and appalling.  Japan had similar flips, for example from the rather calm Ashikaga shogunate to the civil wars of the 16th century and then the peaceful and orderly Tokugawa shogunate.  A modern case is Cambodia; the Cambodians were famously peaceful, and dropped rapidly back to peaceful behavior after the meltdown in the 1970s that killed some 25% of the population.  Rwandans moved from genocide to peace and order with surprising ease; like Cambodians, they are usually gentle and tolerant people, far from the western media stereotypes of “savage tribal Africans.”

Still other societies have chronic low levels of violence, fluctuating but never very high.  Still others, especially in the Middle East and northern Africa, have fluctuated over time from constant low-level violence to major outbreaks.  Some few, such as the Waorani, are or were almost continually violent.

The differences are often in the cultural construction of bullying, power-jockeying, and hatred.  These can become idealized and culturally taught, via religion and other ideologies.  Nazism is the most obvious and extreme case of a culture constructed from such bases, but it is only the most extreme of many movements.  All religions eventually construct power via hierarchies, initiations, and other institutions.  All cultures construct aggression through ideas about war and defense.

Many of the cultural groups that committed the worst genocides were famous for their obedience to authority: Cambodians, Rwandans, Chinese, Germans…the list is long.  Many warlike and independent groups also became genocidal, but the link with obedience is clear enough to be thought-provoking


Power and Control


The counter is any natural emotion that does not involve doing down other people to maintain the illusion of control.  Normal interest, enthusiasm, love, care, concern, generosity, cooperation, and innocent fun are not about to end in evil, and they are best satisfied by warm, close personal relationships.  Rational self-interest, cultural teachings, and innate senses of morality must be aligned to keep the good wolf fed.

Evil-doing individuals often are willing to dedicate their lives to the pursuit of power.  This is both a symptom of their basic disorders and a cause of their evil behavior.  They therefore are disproportionately represented in high places.  Studies show that psychopaths are much commoner in high levels of business and government than in the general population.  Conversely, good people tend to be deferential, humble, and self-effacing.  Their good is divided into many small good deeds.  They are also easily unified behind leaders who appeal to solidarity and group loyalty.

It is notoriously easier to unite people against a perceived enemy than for a good cause—a point so often made that it needs no citation.  Thus, evil tends to win, in the “real world.”   The larger the organization the more dangerous this tendency becomes.  An empire or a giant firm will attract the power-hungry, and they will often rise rapidly, since they are unencumbered by the scruples that restrain most of us.  Since people follow their leaders, history shows that people are considerably worse in aggregate than they are as individuals.

The easiest way to motivate and above all to unite people is set them against “enemies.”  The weaker, more salient, and more physically and socially close they are, the easier to go after them.  So evil often starts with domestic violence.  Even more often, it starts with attacks on the neighbors or on oppressed minorities.  Actual enemies are often the last to be attacked, since they will fight back.  It is easy to unite people through conformity to exclusionary norms.  Tolerance and openness, however, are a bit of a psychological luxury; they sharply decline when people feel their mental energy is exhausted (Tadmor et al. 2018).  Still more of a luxury is actual enjoyment; one must be out of threat zone to relax enough to cultivate the arts of life.

The worst problems occur when power-mad people figure out how to use morality to sell their drive for power.  Religious hatred is the commonest and worst way, but nationalism, militarism, and communist and other revolutioinary ideologies have done all too well.   In the United States we have seen hatred justified by opposition to illegal-immigrants, by appeals to law and security, and by opposition to “hate speech,” which seems generally defined as speech by one’s opponents.

Almost anyone will use any power they have to live as luxuriously as possible, kill their enemies and imagined enemies, and help their families and friends at the expense of others.  Many, not all, will go on to hate the weak and the different.  Old-time kings killed along political and kin lines, not ethnoc-religious lines, except in the western world.  But they often killed as many people as genocide kills now


Evil is usually done for four reasons:  callousness toward people who “don’t count”; anger toward people who do count—very often loved ones and family that one wishes to control but cannot control; hatred toward specific groups, almost always scapegoated minorities; and hatred of actual enemies.  Greed as a factor may lie behind these, but it generally acts through them; the selfishly greedy dehumanize or disregard their victims.  This produces some ambiguity.  In a war, one must maximize killing of the opposition soldiers—either civilians or those ordinary unfortunates drafted by evil but personally safe overlords.

Another major background factor in evil is negative-sum gaming.  This often involves seeing the world as steadily declining, such that one can do better only by taking from others.  Often, people who feel the world is getting worse see themselves as hopelessly downward-bound, and see no way to slow this except by taking more and more from weaker people and groups.  This was visible in much of the voting for Donald Trump.  His backing was concentrated among people who saw their groups as downwardly mobile.  They saw their best hope in getting what they could, while they could, at the expense of other groups.  Fear is abundantly obvious in such cases.

Most common and dangerous is social hatred.  Hate is successful at unifying society, blinding people to ripoffs and corruption, getting otherwise unmotivated people to fight for their exploiters, and otherwise allowing evil people to get the mass of ordinary people on their side.  Over the centuries, the worst social hatred has tended to be nationalist or religious, but any social identification can be mobilized antagonistically.  The main generalization is that the more deeply important a social identification is, the more hatred it can mobilize.  This is why religion so often leads to especially irrational and extreme violence:  it is about basic issues.  Even sports team rivalries may lead to war (Anderson and Anderson 2012).

Weak fear remains one root of the problems.  Callousness and bureaupathy follow from cowardly obeying, toxic conformity, abd toxic loyalty.  The range of behaviors goes on to touchiness about “honor,” overattention to negativity, holding people to ridiculous standards, rage, overcontrolling, dominating, domineering, general antagonism, inimical attitude, and finally violence and murder.  Common or universal is an attitude that everyone’s bad traits are what count; their good does not.  People become rigid and judgmental. The result is factions and fractions.

The worst results of weak fear are the need to assert more and more control over those who are potentially out of control, and the need to attack disproportionately those who attack one.  Minor slights become cause for murder.  These can be at individual or group levels.  Mass shooters fit the profile: alienated, usually young, males, dealing with threats to personhood or social place by indiscriminate murder-suicide.  Suicide bombing and any suicidal warfare is similar, but often done by well-adjusted individuals doing what they have been led to do.

In short, weakness leads to low self-efficacy and irrationally fearful and defensive behavior.  This leads to displacing anger and hatred downward, to vulnerable individuals and groups.  Ability to think rationally or morally suffers in proportion.  Ability to enjoy and love suffer too (Bandura 1982, 1986).

From this and from actual enmity come traditional hatreds.  Evil people who rise in society exploit these.  Society is thereby progressively degraded.




The basic axioms of authoritarianism are:

Since I’m in power, I’m better than you.

My first need is to keep you under control.

Your differences from me—especially in such basic matters as religion and ethnicity—are bad: threatening, inferior, inappropriate, offensive.

You must be kept weak.

Since raw fear is the easiest and most straightforward way to do this, torture and cruelty are central elements of power and discipline. But, since those attract resistance, in time they must be softened by a phony ideology of “good” and “ideals” plus development of a socio-political-economic structure that keeps the weak down.

The rulers, or would-be rulers, are the Chosen People.  “Progressives” are often as bad in this regard as other bigots.

I’m more powerful than you, so I make the rules (then there is the q of how the power comes: force, majority rule, money, etc.). I’m in charge here.  This holds all the way from “I’m the mom, that’s why” up to the dictator level.


Trying to Cope


Most communities and states have systems of checks and balances.  It is when these break down, or are deliberately dismantled, that the psychopaths and hatemongers take over, and genocide can begin.

Throughout history, people have had to cope with human evil.  Religion has been by far the main and most important way, over and above ordinary community solidarity.  Religion has produced countless saints, sages, holy men, holy women, teachers, and meditators, most of whom were genuinely virtuous people (though many were not, at least by modern standards).  Religion has been the carrier vehicle for most of the moral messages in human history.

However, religion has, notoriously, been the excuse for many of the most horrific mass murders.  No religion has a notably better track record than any other.  Christianity became the excuse for the Crusades.  Islam declined from a call for unity and peace to a call for jihad.  Classical Greek stoicism and related philosophies of ataraxia (suppressing desire) became excuses for expanding the empire.  Even Buddhism, which explicitly bans violence and teaches compassion to all beings, became the religion of the samurai, and has also been the excuse for countless wars over time, and for two of the worst genocides in modern history: the long-continuing campaigns to exterminate Tamils in Sri Lanka and Rohingya Muslims in Burma.  There are many other cases in history.  The Rohingya massacres should end (but have not so far ended) the stereotypes about peaceable Buddhism and violent Islam widely current in American society.

There is a basic common theme of religion turned evil: it is obsessed with control, especially control over sexuality.  The clearest and most obvious common theme of religions that harm and oppress is that they focus on harming and oppressing women.  This is the clear distinguishing feature between right-wing and liberal Christianity, extremist and ordinary Islam, ultra-Orthodox and reform Judaism, extremist and ordinary Buddhism, and so on throughout the world’s religions.  Repression of women usually carries over to repression and abuse of children (“Spare the rod and spoil the child”).  Degree of intolerance for heresies, including the most minor and trivial divergences from practice, also tracks religion turned harmful; the opposite is ecumenism or tolerance.

Religions all seem to fall into the trap of seeing ordinary innocent need-satisfaction and fun as “sin,” while social jockeying for position and control is taken for granted, and even put to evil use to promote the faith.  No religion seems to face the obvious fact that most evil in the world is done to maintain social position or control.  Religions have hierarchic orders, organized monasteries and priesthoods, and so on, thus leaving themselves open for the worst sins of all while fighting the trivial ones.

Killing desire, the goal of some religions and philosophies, frequently succeeds in killing desire for the morally good, while leaving hatred intact.

Some argue that religion is “the problem,” but the alternatives do not have a good track record.  Nationalism, fascism, and communism are the leading ideologies developed as alternatives.  Stalin and Mao repressed religion (all religion) with as much sadistic enthusiasm as Christians in the 17th century demonstrated in repressing heretics.

The problem is clear: all these are social, all of them define groups, and it is social group hatred that is the main and usual problem.  Religions usually blame greed and lust, but cannot get rid of them.  The real problem is social hate, and the religions do not even try to get rid of it.  In fact, they often cause it.


Inevitable Conflicts


The great Greek tragedies, the best of the medieval epics, the Scottish tragic ballads, and equivalent literature around the world (including many Native American tales), reveal people in crisis situations, where they are forced to reveal their deepest selves.  In the crises when ordinary life is disrupted, individuals are forced into extreme good and evil behavior.  Many of these dramas turn on inescapable conflicts between two loyalties, often loyalty to true love versus loyalty to family.  The heroes and heroines are powerful, but have the costs of their virtues, the fatal flaws that comes with their power.

These stories may be the best ways to understand humanity and its conflicts. Great literature strips off ordinary everyday conformity and reveals the bare human in full glory or vileness.  Greek tragedies do this.  So do Medieval epics, Scottish ballads, Chinese classical stories, and other great works.  Folk literature always contains such stories.

Another inevitable conflict often recorded in song and story is between security and advancement.  Advancing in society requires taking some risks.  People usually and naturally act to minimize risk for maximum advancement, but there are plenty of exceptions, and they are often the leading entrepreneurs and inventors.  Managing to try to make advancement opportunities more secure is a major part of economic behavior for many of us.  Cutthroat competition is thus stressful.

These songs and stories turn on courage and on failure, on individuals against the world and on the world as opportunity and challenge.  They are the corrective to dismissing and devaluing people.  The hero powerful against the storm, especially if the hearer or reader can identify with that hero, is humanity in compelling form and inescapable predicament.

In modern society, traditional folk and elite societies, communities, and cultures are thinned down or extirpated.  People are left to the tender mercies of vast, impersonal governments and firms.  This out-of-control inequality, and above all the sheer bigness, makes people feel weak, out of control of their lives, and lacking in self-efficacy.  They become timid, and succumb all the more easily to toxic conformity and obedience.  Lost are such empowering and strengthening cultural forms as great art and literature, and even ordinary civility and decency.  Weakness and fear makes people desperate for security, including material security; the result can look like greed, but is actually cowardice.


Feeding Wolves Over the Life Track


The roots of evil have a genetic component.  Psychopathy, sociopathy, and aggressiveness seem to run in families.  The fight-flight-freeze response is in everyone.  It appears, however, that most evil is learned, as the enormous person-to-person, time-to-time, and group-to-group variation shows (most of what follows is derived from or paralleled in Beck 1999 and Ellis e.g. 1962).

More important is the clear genetic drive in infants to explore, engage, learn, socialize, communicate, and even create.  Babies are surprisingly interactive, and mostly in a positive way, trusting and smiling.  They cry a lot when they are uncomfortable, and can fear strangers, but they are basically a rather positive set of humans.  Allowing them to explore and interact in a secure, supportive environment is the key to feeding the good wolf pup.

“Learning” may be too narrow a word for environmental influences.  Trauma even generations ago can affect the brain, via epigenetics.  Trauma in the womb and during birth can more directly affect the brain.  One common result of such trauma is reduction in control over violent emotions and actions.  It does not occur in all cases, but it is not rare.  The exact location of the trauma may matter, but trauma is usually widespread enough to affect at least some relevant brain centers.  Fear is focused in the amygdala, aggression more widely in the limbic system, but interpretation of stimuli as frightening and reaction to fear by rational or irrational means are distributed over the brain, typically following neural pathways from the amygdala and other basal structures to the frontal lobes and the motor centers.  Eventually, all the brain is involved.  Any trauma can impact the fear-aggression pathways somewhere.  (See, again, Beck 1999; also Bandura 1982.)

Werner and Smith (1982, 2001) children growing up resilient or otherwise.  They found that about ¾ of children raised in poverty and rough surroundings did perfectly well.  These were the ones who had strong, reliable families.  Half the rest were redeemed by institutions—good schools, the military, and the like.  The final fourth were products of broken homes, and usually of abuse and neglect.  Unfortunately, abuse teaches children to abuse, and neglect teaches them to neglect.

Infants start by feeling generalized discomfort when scared, wet, cold, hungry, or otherwise needy.  They cry for what they want.  Failing in that, they can bear it or become frustrated.  Over the first two years of life, frustration turns to anger.  Good parents teach children to bear when needs cannot immediately be met; bad parents punish the child for whining.  Young children quite normally throw temper tantrums if they are tired, frustrated, uncomfortable, scared, or in need of affection or a sense of control.  Ignored, these taper off; punished, they turn to lifetime anger.  This turns to hate if the child learns to hate from parents and peers—not otherwise.  Meanwhile, better-raised children learn to help, share, and be sociable.

Adults usually acts from fear of losing social place, but the babyish causes—fatigue, discomfort, and the rest—still operate.  On the other hand, children learn to reason, to think things through, to obey, to be considerate, and to conform (for good or ill) at the same time they learn to throw temper tantrums.  The good parent will act accordingly.

Security, especially security within a supportive circle of family, is the child’s greatest social need.  Childen denied acceptance or other social validation lose security and become fearful, often acting out fear through anger.

A human child with poor parenting has trouble coping with the world in general.  More common are situations in which the child learns to deal adequately with some things but not with others.  The child then overcompensates, by using learned coping mechanisms to deal with weakness and fear based on failure to learn other (and more appropriate) coping mechanisms.  Since humans are supremely social animals, it is fear of social rejection—of isolation, abandonment, hate, scorn—that is the truly deadly fear.  Physical fears are less important; in fact, they are easily handled by a child or adult who feels that her social group “has her back.”

This produces, for example, the unintelligent but physically strong schoolyard bullies who beat up “smart kids” as a way of using what they have—strength—to deal with ego threats caused by what they lacked.  The converse is the intellectual arrogance of many a physically less-than-perfect academic.  Weak fear due to failure to learn good coping mechanisms also leads to abject conformity, especially conformity to ego-reinforcing notions like the superiority of “my” group to “yours.”  White supremacists are often (if not always) those who fear or know that they have nothing else to feel supreme about.

People begin as scared babies, who then, to varying degrees and in varying areas of their lives, grow up.  Most of us partially succeed and partially fail, and that is a dangerous combination.  We are fearful and defensive because of the remaining weakness and failure.  We use our strengths to defend—often to overdefend, and often to deflect our hostility downward, to those weaker than we are.  Caring for others is innate, but must be developed, and ways to be caring and considerate must be taught.  All cultures have rules about this, and all cultures have alternatives, including “nice” ones for everyday and less nice ones for dealing with actual threats and enemies.  Learning when to use the appropriate coping mechanism is thus crucial.  Gradually, the child learns to feel appropriately, and to use the appropriate cultural forms to express feelings.  A great deal of bad-wolf behavior comes from getting this wrong.

Teaching is especially important for those that were especially stressed growing up, or developed especially inadequate responses to stress.

Anything that empowers the growing child to take care of her own problems, by teaching proper and effective responses, feeds the good wolf.  This means that the child must be taught what to do—preferably as the situation unfolds; backed up for doing it; and backed up further in case the response is inadequate.

If the parent, peer, teacher, or elder then criticizes the child and takes over, “fixing” the situation that the child has “ruined,” the bad wolf gets a huge meal.  Nothing feeds the bad wolf better than deliberately weakening a child by telling her she can’t cope.  The resulting frustration and weakening turns into aggression eventually.  Widespread rejection follows, and rejection is the common sink of hatred, indifference, coldness, and petulance.  It is the immediate cause of much of the harm and evil in the world.

It appears that being raised by one highly critical parent and one parent who retreats and becomes passive is the canonical formula for producing a scared and defensive child and adult.  If both parents are punitive, the child tends to become a bully and ultimately a right-winger; if both mild and gentle, the child becomes well-adjusted but often frail in the face of the world’s harshness.  Firm but accommodating and communicating seems to be the ideal parenting stance, but research is ongoing.

A critically important point made by the psychologists above is that a typical young child comes to depend especially on one specific immature defense mechanism, which then becomes the most stubborn and intractable problem in adulthood—the one thing most resistant to psychotherapy and life experience, and the one hardest to bring to full consciousness and self-awareness.  The bigot’s hatred and overreaction to threat are very often, perhaps always, the products of such deeply entrenched immature mechanisms.  Psychologists also find that it is challenges to precisely the most relied-on defense mechanism that bring out the greatest fear, anger, and reactive defensiveness in people.  If your favorite coping mechanism is racism, for instance, you will be more defensive about your racism than about other defenses.

Conversely, nothing feeds the good wolf better than praising the child for doing what she could, while instructing her how to do even better next time.  Wolves feed on power: empowering and supporting the child feeds the good wolf, empowering other people at the expense of the child feeds the bad wolf.  Empowerment means, among other things, teaching coping strategies that work (Cattaneo and Chapman 2012).  To work, they must be reasonable, which random violence and other evil behaviors are not.  (Adults can be coldly and rationally evil, but that usually comes later.)

Somewhere in between is providing support without teaching proactive coping strategies.  A child who knows her parents have her back is in good shape.  But for coping methods she must rely on whatever methods are available.  She must copy or improvise.  These are rather random and unsatisfying methods, especially since copying without real instruction is not often successful.  The essential pieces of the strategy can easily be missed, or underemphasized.

In short, not teaching good coping mechanisms leads to fearfulness and stress, which in turn lead to deploying the fight-flight-freeze response too widely and generally.  The deadliest thing in any individual is the immature defense mechanism that is so useful that it is retained into adulthood, often becoming much worse in the process.

In the family, or at the latest in school or playpack, the child will run into bullying.  “Big kids” and even adults will take out generalized anger on the weaker people around.  Any young, small, or emotionally less assertive person is at the mercy of anyone larger, older, and more aggressive.  Bullying is probably the most important learning context, or wolf-feeding context.  The ideal solution would be to stop the bullying, but that is probably not for this world, though reducing it as much as possible is obviously desirable.  The best real-world solution is to make the child as physically and psychologically tough as possible, by the empowerment-and-support method.  The worst solution is to let the child learn that bullying is the way the system works.  Children abused by their parents and older siblings at home typically become bullies of smaller children.  Almost as bad is blaming the child: “You must have done something to make them go after you.”

Later the child—especially if female—is exposed to sexual harassment, which is a form of bullying.  (It is not a form of romance or normal sexuality.  Men do it to dominate, control, and demonstrate power, not to be affectionate.)  The same rules apply.  Telling a girl “you dressed too provocatively” undermines the girl’s confidence in herself and her ability to deal competently with the situation.  It implies that she should turn herself into a mouse, instead of taking assertive action.

Supportive and considerate parenting vs unsupportive and harsh parenting can be set up as a 2 x 2 table.  Supportive and considerate is ideal.  Supportive and harsh was the traditional European and frontier American way.  Unsupportive but considerate and gentle is more or less the classic “spoiling.”  Unsupportive and harsh is the abusive parenting that produces bullies and brutes. Parents should be firm but reasonable and loving, and aware of growth stages and family dynamics; authorities should have functioning bureaucracies, check and balance systems, and ways to buffer hate.

The normal order of learning a new skill is a very good one: from most simple and direct to most abstract.  Children learn to walk, talk, play musical instruments, and do homework by gradual steps, from simple and direct to abstract and complicated.  This is the way to learn civil behavior: from politeness formulas to basic considerateness (sharing etc.), then to basic principles.  The simplest virtues are carefulness, civility, mutual aid, sociability, considerateness, and generosity.  Children should be empowered and made self-confident through acting accordingly and getting praised for it.  Then they can move on to more abstract virtues. Teenage angst and misbehavior can be cured by giving rights in proportion to responsibilities.

In teaching, exposure to real (and realistically taught) contexts (laboratories, field, great art) works; books and schoolrooms are slightly above neutral.

The result is that raising a child to be caring and sociable, but also to bear stoically the discomforts of life, feeds into a sense of justice, fairness, compassion, and social decency.

Broadly, there are three sources of evil.  Some are born psychopathic, or have inborn aggression and anger.  Then upbringing makes the rest of the difference.  The bad traits add up to antagonism: ideation and behavior appropriate to dealing with enemies.  More common is bad parenting that makes the child overcontrolling, overnegative, and overdefensive, and often violent.  Finally comes culture, usualy in the form of the peer group, whose importance is often underestimated (J. R. Harris 1998).  The family creates the basic psychodynamics.  The peer group provides the ways to express those—whether through bullying, random violence, and cruelty or through mutual help, support, and kindness.  These all feed back on each other.  A born psychopath will probably have a difficult family, and will almost certainly seek out bad company and bad coping strategies.  A badly-raised person will adopt bad ways of acting.

Failure of control scares everyone (Bandura 1982), especially loss of social control.  If children continue down this route, they become cowardly and hostile.  Most people pick up their lives and learn to cope rationally, or at least to find social support and live calm, relatively inoffensive lives.  Those who do not, or—worse—who learn to cope by bullying, violence, antagonism, and abusing power, are the evildoers.  Psychology seems to agree that such people are low in agreeableness and openness.  They have shaky emotional control.  Most are low in empathy (Robin Bergh, pers. comm.).  They are the classic bigots, those who hate those below them on the social scale or those physically weaker.  (Those who hate upward, so to speak, have a much less specific emotional profile; they can be anyone outraged.  We need more data on all these matters; standard personality scales do not measure ordinary evil very well, though there are scales for assessing psychopathy.)  The authoritarian persuasion seems to be driven by such matters: a combination of social norms and an upbringing that combines condign enforcing of those social norms with treatment of the child that tends toward brutality and a lack of support or empowerment.  However, various forms of authoritarianism are widely distributed across social and family dynamics.

Finally, in a situation where control is lost, or where evil people are in control, everyone seems to regress not only into “following orders,” but into the combination of cowardice and hostility that drives brutality in the first place.  Post-traumatic stress disorder is very common among former soldiers, and more so among victims of genocide, and probably perpetrators also.  Post-traumatic stress is a risk factor for violence, but most PTSD sufferers do not become violent.

The bottom line is that all children are born with a capacity to care and a capacity to fight, flee or freeze when threatened.  What happens after that is what feeds the two wolves.  Teaching the child to expand considerateness, caring, and empathy feeds the good wolf.  So does teaching self-reliance.  Teaching fear and hate, and teaching the child to take offense easily, snap at legitimate concerns, and resist learning, feed the bad wolf.  So does breaking the child’s self-reliance; that guarantees fear and defensiveness, and above all it teaches the child to conform to hateful norms—the problem identified at the beginning of this paper.

The result is the range from people who can handle anything and continue to care to people who can handle nothing without complaining and attacking others.    Meekness makes for law-abiding and doing one’s job.  Antagonism plus fear causes the problems.


Learning and Hating


From this we observe that the personal problems that make people hate, or make them vulnerable to social hates, develop very early, and are at the individual level.  However, the hates themselves are socially learned.  One has to learn that “Jews,” or “Armenians,” or “poor people,” or “heathens,” or any other devalued category is regarded as “bad” by the community.  This makes category hatred at least theoretically easier to deal with than personal fear-based antagonism.   We can establish cultural norms of acceptance and valuing.             Genetics, trauma, and these types of parenting explain much of the variation in people, but most may still be the result of culture and society.  A lifetime of coping reasonably with problems is partially inoculating against bad wolves, but culture is always a problem.  Most cultures have many clauses that allow or encourage fear and hostility toward all sorts of groups.  Usually, the groups are familiar.  Very often, they are internal minorities.  Anti-Semitism, for instance, was rampant in Europe from the Middle Ages onward.  Hitler needed only to take advantage of it.

Contrary to popular opinion, few groups automatically fear strangers.  Culture teaches, instead, hatred of one’s own minorities.  Culture also usually teaches intolerance of rulebreakers—exceptional people of all kinds, whether geniuses, deviants, handicapped persons, or original creators.  Going beyond the system is always problematic.  Most evil behavior is due to cultural and social learning, not to the badness of the individual.  Children raised in gang or militia environments are often forced against their will to join such forces.  Children are not born racist; they learn it.  They may bring personal extremism to religion and other social ideologies, but they learn those ideologies, including any encoded hatreds.

Another social and cultural force is pressure on young men to prove themselves by acts of social daring or self-sacrifice.  In warlike or violent societies, and sometimes even in peaceful ones, young men are under extreme pressure to be soldiers, fighters, or just “bad dudes.”  Young men are high in aggression and testosterone with or without cultural pressure, but they are peaceful enough in peaceful societies; their activity is used in work, or sports, or community service, or studying.  But in warrior societies it becomes the “toxic masculinity” of the current popular press.  Usually, it requires specifically bad education to make a young man truly vicious or murderous, but there are many cases—the nomadic societies of old Central Asia, the Plains Indians, the New Guinea highlanders, for instance (Bandura 2016:17-22)—where every young man is expected to be a fighter and to see action.

The very simple psychodynamic scheme above predicts that the very weak and isolated child will turn escapist and quietist; the weak but socialized one will be a lifelong conformist, and therefore all too available for genocide if the leaders order it.  The strong child will grow up to escape the negative dynamic.  There are few such people, and experience suggests they too will fall in with genocide if the stakes are high.  The most dangerous child is strong in some areas, weak in others.  Unless channeled in helping directions—to use the strengths to help the weaker ones—such a person often ends by bullying and oppressing the weak.

Cultural teachings about the inferiority and badness of certain groups are most effective on people who are already aggressive and fearful.  Cultural teachings of tolerance and civility are most effective on those who are already more sociable, self-confident, and well-meaning.   Those who are not prosocial may find teachings of tolerance and civility to be red flags, rubbing in failure and guilt; the intemperate hatred by the American far right of “political correctness” is a case in point.

Status emulation guarantees that the upper classes, elders, and superiors have more effect on this than the rest of us do.  “The people strive to imitate all the actions and mannerisms of their prince.  It is thus very true that no one harms the state more than those who harm by example…. The bad habits of rulers are harmful not only to themselves but to everyone.” Petrarch (as quoted by Sarah Kyle, 2017:157.)

In sum:  People learn—from culture, society, bad parenting, bad peer groups, bad schools—that the way to deal with threats and stress is by hostility, defiance, and aggression; that the way to direct this hostility is not toward the actual threat, but toward weaker people; that certain groups are particularly deserving of being attacked; and that “different” people of all kinds also deserve attack.  If your boss insults you and you don’t dare confront him, find a nonconformist or minority person to attack.

Fear and hostility are the back story for a range of ills.  These may vary according to emotionality from bureaucratic callousness to genocidal hatred.  They may vary according to group solidarity from an isolated individual against the world (a familiar barroom figure) to the group-mind of genocidal attacks.  They may vary according to social situation from hating the rich to hating the poor.  They may vary according to economic conditions from selfish greed to looting.  A midpoint is ordinary unpleasantness, nastiness, and incivility.  Most people are unfairly hostile to certain others in their environment, often family members or close neighbors.  This small-scale daily bloody-mindedness can be used and manipulated by evil leaders, who can translate it into group hate.

People are not innately evil, nor do they automatically respond to threat with attack, but they are extremely prone to accept these messages of displaced hate.  The degree to which such messages take effect is proportional to the degree of fear, weakness, and anger that individuals have, but it is also proportional to the degree of bad training they have had.

On the other hand, people clearly have a strong innate tendency to become hateful, cruel, and violent.  It is not a mere ability that society trains into us.  The generalized cognitive abilities to make computers, drive cars, and trap fish in weirs are all innate, in that any trained human of reasonable intelligence can do them; but humans do not have any innate tendencies to carry those specific tasks.  They do not make computers unless taught, within a society with a long history of technological development.  Evil is different.  Every known cultural and social group in the history of the world has had its cruel, brutal, murderous individuals, and the horrible record of wars and genocides proves that almost every human will act with unspeakable cruelty under social pressure.  As long as humans are social animals with strong fight-flight-freeze responses, the chain from defense to hostility to evil is sure to be reinvented, and to become popular wherever displaced aggression is socially tolerated.  Whenever people are stressed, they will become scared or angry, and will often go to irrational lengths with their responses, harming themselves and those around them.  Only cool reason and cultural guidance can keep them in line to fix, bear, or escape, and cultural guidance is all too often in the wrong direction.

The same can be said of callous indifference.  Almost everyone is prone to it.  If it is tolerated, it becomes common.  However, as with evil, its level differs from person to person, according to innate tendencies shaped by good or bad child-rearing.

Summing up the model: because of innate characteristics and learning in inevitably difficult and uncertain and often challenging environments, people develop varying degrees of weakness and defensiveness.  These lead to cowardice and hostility, which in turn—combined—lead to deflecting hatred and coldness downward, to anyone weaker, to anyone in one’s power, to anyone temporarily or permanently subjected.  Thus, the more frightened and defensive people will be those most prone to hate minorities, to display intimate partner violence, to commit genocide, or to displace poor people to make way for a reservoir—depending on the circumstances they find themselves in.  Being weak, they are also the ones most prone to do what superiors tell them, no matter how evil.  Combining those two things, they will be especially prone to obey superiors who tell them to exterminate minorities.


The front story may consist of violence or other gratuitous real harm, invoked for direct reasons of security, control, greed, resentment, revenge, or sheer sadism.

The mid story includes intemperate anger (brief), hatred, callousness, bad leadership, unsettled times, individual differences.

The back story is the endless one of intemperate wants for security, status, control, power, and material goods.  The classic word for this was “lust”—not a sexual term, but a term for overweening desire for things of this world.  This was worse in contexts of warlike culture, plantation-type socioeconomic forms, and top-down hierarchies, especially if the top levels are willing to do anything to maintain and increase power.


Immediate problems include taking offense too easily, scapegoating, selfishness (hurting others to get stuff), and callousness and bureaupathy (plus the very rare actual sadism).  Immediate drivers are belittling and not counting others, or downright hatred.

However, this is only the central or focal line of the model.  It extends to people who are merely violent (not fearful), merely fearful (not violent—they make the best heartless bureaucrats), able to hate laterally or even upward as well as downward, and so on.

Thus, evil is not inevitable, and can be prevented, but it takes over when given even a small chance, due to the human fight responses to threat and stress.  Almost any person will become evil if pressured enough, but almost any person can be kept from evil if pressured in that direction.  Culture usually provides both good and bad models and teachings.

All the above can be reduced to the simple points that psychopaths are often well placed to seize power; obedience and conformity will then do the rest of their work for them; and humans, in the end, are most easily united and—in groups—motivated by fear expressed in hate.


A Bit of History


All societies have three processes always operating: negative feedback loops maintaining the situation without change; cycles; and positive feedback loops producing slow progress or decline over long periods of time.  Progress has generally dominated throughout history, despite long declines like that of the Roman Empire.

Over the last 50,000 years, there has been progress in science, arts, lifespan, food production, and other areas.  In agrarian societies, resentment and antagonism is directed against bandits and barbarians, as well as coups and religious deviants.  Early trade and commerce led to mercantilism and then freedom and democracy as the alternative, so the hopeful revolutions.  Early but full industrialization produced socialism and communism.  Later industrialization produced fascism, because elites were entrenched and powerful and good at oppressing and at divide-and-rule.  Resource squeezes made everyone worse off and less hopeful, thus easily turned to hate.

Following Adam Smith (1910/1776) and other political economists, and oversimplifying them somewhat for convenience, we find that almost all of this developed in expanding economies, especially those dominated by the trade, commerce, and human resources sector of the economy.  That sector has to invest in people to survive; it depends on skilled workers and innovation  Economies dominated by rentier primary production—plantation agriculture, mining, fossil fuels, and the like—are regressive, and often repressive.  Agrarian societies from the Inca to Sumer to China wound up the same: city, king, court, bureaucracy, vast mass of farmers from rich to landless.

In between are the vast majority of people—the ordinary workers and businesspersons who have to make a living today, and are thus more concerned with whether the immediate economy is going up or down than with vast forces of Progress or Return to the Old Days.  Especially if they are in business, they default conservative, but can shift rapidly and easily rightward or leftward.

Class is also, famously, a relevant factor; it has diminished from great importance in the mid-20th century in American voting to near irrelevance now, with almost equal shares of rich, middling, and poor voting Democrat or Republican.  This has tracked the rise of social issues such as racism and medical care at the expense of concern for immediate economic returns.

In many traditional societies, “honor” and distinction come from killing and looting, not from honest work or trade.  Not only warlike but even quite peaceful agrarian societies shared this attitude.  Fighting is honorable, compromising dishonorable.

One can predict with considerable accuracy the amount of evil in society by assessing the amount of rentier or primary-production-firm dominance of the political economy and the level of warlikeness of the culture.  Afghanistan, rampant with landlordism and steeped in a heritage of violence already noted by Alexander the Great, compares with more peaceable Bhutan.  The Vikings, ruled by landholding and slaveholding earls, contrast with their peaceable descendants in modern Scandinavia’s world of trade, commerce, and education.

The ancient Greeks saw a cycle: democracy gave way to autocracy (monarchy or oligarchy), which gave way to tyranny, which collapsed and left the way open for democracy.  This proved less than predictive, but cycles from relatively open to relatively totalitarian societies and back do appear in many historical records.

Really new good ideas spread from rich cores of trade and communication-based systems.  Military technology seems to spread fastest of all innovations.  Next come innovations in communication; people want to be in touch.  Then comes ordinary production.  Last comes the spread of morality.  Then in the twentieth century, primary production, especially fossil fuel production, took over., and now rules most of the world.

Critical to progress were several steps, mostly taken in Europe or China.  One was rapid discovery science, foreseen by the ancient Greeks, then developing between 1100 and 1600 in Europe.  Rationalized property rights and freer markets followed, for better or worse, in the 17th century.  The “worse” part of that development led to more attention to law and recourse, then to ideals of free speech, press, religion, assembly, and conscience.  (It is not mere coincidence that this took place at the same time as the explosion of slavery.)  Equality before the law for full citizens, and expansion of the citizen concept, came a bit later in the 18th century.  The logic led to a rapidly growing movement to end slavery, beginning in the mid-18th century and continuing till slavery was legally ended (though not ended de facto) in the late 19th.

The Enlightenment succeeded not just because of the rise of trade, commerce, and science.  Another key was the development of world trade too fast for any nation-state to control it.  Opportunity exploded, and traders managed it themselves, through international networks.  They had to deal, without government supervision, with people of very different cultures, faiths, and technologies.  This was one breeding ground of concepts of liberty, self-governance, tolerance, freedom of conscience, and personal responsibility.  One can compare the rapid rise of enlightenment in multinational Europe with its relative failure in East Asia during the centuries when the Qing Dynasty imposed its crushing weight on the East Asian world-system.

Another milestone was free public education, an idea from the early 19th century.  Through all of this, popular demand by people rising in society but left out by the elites was the usual cause.  It was always a fight: entrenched interests always opposed good changes, and religious elites were often the worst.  When self-interest combined with needs for fairness and equality, progress occurred.  The more normal human tendency to weather down and adapt to the system was always used by the elites to repress the masses.  So were hatreds of all kinds, as we have seen.

The Founding Fathers worked with a strong sense that we are all in this together and that my rights stop where yours start, sometimes phrased as “your right to swing your arm ends at my nose.”   Finally, they were aware that a society and its laws and economy exist within a moral shell, and that shell must be embodied in the laws and indeed in the whole system.  (They got this thoughtful perception from Adam Smith’s writings on morals.)  These basic principles lie behind the Constitution.

This led to emphasizing freedom of conscience, thus of speech, religion, ideology, assembly, and voting.  It meant free enterprise, within reason.  It also meant freedom from torture, warrantless search, and other abuses of government power.  It meant equality in justice, opportunity, and law, with protection in oppression.  It meant rule of law, not of men.  It meant presumption of innocence, protection of all, and mutual defense.

These were seen as necessary because evil so often wins unless actively stopped.  A polity must have balances of power, equality before the law, universal voting rights, full recourse (rights to sue, etc.) in the event of direct harm, and the other rights the Founding Fathers thought—wrongly—that they had guaranteed in the Constitution.  It is amazing how easily Republicans now get around those rights.


The United States failed at the beginning, in allowing slavery and in refusing citizenship to Native Americans while taking their land.  It failed again in the Reconstruction by not enforcing full civil rights, and by letting the carpetbaggers cream off wealth from the south.  These ills were eventually corrected, but not the lingering racism and power abuses that resulted.  These failures have led cynics to dismiss the entire American program, equality, freedom, and all.  This is not a helpful approach.

The Depression was much better managed.  Fairness and, eventually, civil rights followed from bringing some degree of justice to the economy.

While the world was wide-open, when exploration and colonization were running wild, and then as long as technology was increasing wealth faster than population, freedom and Enlightenment values flourished.  Today, with closing frontiers, people are rushing to make all they can.  Failing that, they support and follow the powerful, in hopes of at least holding onto something.  The poor have given up hope of getting rich; they can only hope to cut other, weaker groups down and take what little those groups have.  This is a negative-sum game.  (Some cultures are much more prone to see the world as a zero-sum or negative-sum game than are others; Róźycka-Tran et al. 2015; Stavrova and Ehlebracht 2016.  The United States was formerly rather moderate in this regard, but negative-sum thinking has increased.)

Reform in US history has been strongly cyclic.  The course is highly consistent.  A few idealists will see a problem and a solution.  If they are right and if the problem gets worse, more and more people will be attracted to the cause, until a majority is on board and can prevail.  This happened with the Enlightenment values that drove the Revolution and the US Constitution.  The next major crisis was slavery: anti-slavery was early dismissed as crackpot, but with the progressive damage to the whole US economy by plantation agriculture with enslaved workers, anti-slavery prevailed (through war).  Next came the mounting criticism of deforestation and wildlife loss in the late 19th century, climaxing in Theodore Roosevelt’s environmental reforms.  The next crisis was the Depression, which led to massive economic reforms.  Then came environmental and food production crises in the 1960s, dealt with (inadequately) by laws in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Visionaries are always proposing new reforms, but these are picked up by the majority only if they are immediately practical ways of addressing real and worsening problems.  On the other hand, the opportunity allows the visionaries to pass many measures that the majority would probably not support otherwise.  The Bill of Rights, for instance, was added to the Constitution by Enlightenment visionaries; the Bill probably went beyond what the majority wanted at the time.

All the crises after independence were caused by the reactionary behavior of the plantation and big-resource-firm sector.  Slavery at its worst led to the Civil War; suicidal levels of environmental destruction led to massive reform campaigns in 1890-1910 and 1955-1975; cutthroat speculative and rentier capitalism led to the Depression.

The steady rise of giant firms has been noted, and protested, since the 1870s, but it continues.  It has had a steadily more distorting effect on the economy and on politics.

The broad contours of politics in the early 20th century made sense: the Republicans were the party of business, ranging from family farms to local businesses and up to large firms; the Democrats were the party of labor.  This led to reasonable dialogue (though also plenty of bullying and cruelty by bosses).  The change beginning in the 1920s, but not serious till the 1970s, was toward a Republican party uniting racism and giant reactionary firms, and eventually a Democratic party also becoming absorbed with identity politics rather than economic issues.  This has led to nothing but hatred, largely Republican racism and religious bigotry.  Serious discussion of economic issues is increasingly contaminated or lost in a welter of mutual accusations.

One of the first effects of the shift from a farm-and-small-business America to an urban one dominated by giant firms was the disappearance of folk society.  The old-time world of folk, elite, and town forced people to work hard, cooperate, and toughen up.  Now, life is easy but frustrating, especially for those who aren’t succeeding.  People get soft, weak, and hence cowardly.  So, fascism.

In traditional agrarian society, life was short and usually ended violently.  People tended to escape into religion.  They also had songs and folk literature to teach them that individuals mattered—that life and death need not be in vain.  Now, few are in that position, so political action is commoner.  In small-scale societies, religion was about spirit power, since controlling the uncontrollable was desirable and any control of anything helped.  Now, fear and overoptimism are the problems.  So, pragmatic proactive help become the main alternative to giving up


Unfortunately, the decline of that world also led to the decline of folk and traditional culture after 1950, and then to the dominance of popular culture and passive consumption.  Arts deteriorated.  Great literature made people confront tragedy, intense emotion, and social and personal complexity; it became less and less appreciated.  The burgeoning interest in nonwestern cultures that taught people tolerance and mutual appreciation in the 1960s and 1970s waned, leading to isolationist identity politics in the 2010s.  The humanistic psychology and self-improvement movement of the 1960s-1970s collapsed and left little trace, outside of improvement in counseling practices.

Cultural life (in the narrow sense of  “culture”) succumbed to dominance by giant “entertainment” corporations.  It became dominated by faddism, conformity with the widest number, enjoyment as simply doing what was on the TV screen.  The Depression and WWII led to a lullabye culture, the soothing and mindless pop culture of the early 1950s.  That gave way to a range of developments, from rich and complex to trivial, but ultimately mass culture settled on “action” movies, video games, and other superficiality.  Much of ordinary life settled on the least emotionally and cognitively involving forms: mindless music, wallpaper art, fast food.

Political organization peaked in the 1930s and again in the 1960s with the civil rights and antiwar movements; solidarity, voter drives, demonstrations, teach-ins, and other forms of resistance thinned out.  Utopian experiments such as communes had a silly side, but they at least expressed hope; they are few and far between now.

This preceded political decline.  Traditional culture had kept Enlightenment values, including the Founding Fathers’ values, alive.  As traditional cultures and educational forms disappeared, and Hollywood filled the gap, American politics shifted rapidly from democratic to fascist.

What happened in politics was similar to what happened to food.  Decline of food traditions and rise of agribusiness corporations led to the rise of sugar, salt, and soybeans, with resulting heart trouble and diabetes.  Political decline led to a rise of racism, religious bigotry, intolerance, and incivility—not just in the United States, but worldwide.  Face-to-face community has been largely replaced by virtual communities.  Among the casualties are newspapers, local helpfulness, and Robert Putnam’s bowling leagues—Putnam used their decline as a marker of the widespread decline of civic and civil culture in America (Putnam, Bowling Alone, 2000).

With this went an explosive increase in rent-seeking, quick money games, and financial shenanigans, leading to monumental inefficiency in the economy (Mazzucato 2018).  Corruption in government has greatly added to this.  The situation in which everyone is out for what they can get, now, at the expense of the system, is characteristic of the end phases of political cycles.

Another casualty has been traditional conservatism.  The old union of small-government advocates, hierarchic law-and-order defenders, patriots, and security advocates has disappeared.  Most of them at least had some sense of honor and honesty.  The current “conservatives” favor big government interfering continually in people’s private lives (in sex, drugs, religion, media, and more), are indifferent to hierarchies (though loving strong-men), and make covert deals with Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and other countries against America’s obvious interests.  Their main concerns are using racism and religious bigotry to whip up support for the giant primary-production firms.  As to honor and honesty, one may allow the record to speak.

The decline of cultures and their ideals came before the political decline, and before any economic effects.  Economic growth continues.  It seems that the last thing to be affected by a change in economic organization is the economy itself.

All the worst things that progressives and liberals feared over the last 50 years have come together in a perfect storm: attacks on democracy, freedom, equality before the law, the environment, science, minorities, the press, the poor, the workers.  One main driver has been the rise of inequality—especially the rise in power and wealth of the rich.  The rich are literally above the law; it is almost impossible to convict them of anything, given their ability to pay lawyers and bribe politicians.  Nazism and fascism have been revived, with even more focus on Big Lies than in Hitler’s Germany, and with even more fawning surrender of America to the most reactionary of the giant corporations.  The Big Lie and other fascist methods of rule and control are manifestations of weak fear and take advantage of it.  Since 2016 they have become the government. Nor is the United States unique; this is a worldwide movement (Luce 2017).

The worst of that process is that it allows truly evil people, who are often motivated by extreme greed and hate, to get ahead.  When they triumph, they often end by ruling the state.  Contrary to tropes of “the 1%,” most rich people are reasonable enough.  The problem is that the few evil, sometimes downright psychopathic, rich—the Kochs, Mercers, Princes, Trumps, and their ilk—are highly motivated to seek power.  When they get it, they use it vindictively.  They do not merely increase their wealth; they attack the rest of us.


Evil ideology in the United States perfectly tracks economic evils.  The slave-based plantation world began it.  Continued decline of the rural south has made it more toxic.  It has spread first into other declining rural areas, then into declining manufacturing ones.  The “Southern Strategy” of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove was perfectly timed to take advantage of this.  The situation appears to be comparable in other countries.  The ties to giant-corporate primary production are clear.  Extreme hierarchy of power and wealth, and economic and social stagnation, are endemic to such systems.

The political conversion of the border south, Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas came with the decline of labor unions and small farms and the rise of giant primary-production firms in those states.

Republican leaders today combine greed and hate.  One must go back to Hitler and Stalin to find anything comparable in terms of the sheer number of groups attacked.  It results in cruelty—deliberately going after not only the poor and weak, but everything that helps people: education, medical care, sustainable resource use, etc.  These new leaders support and are supported by the war and gun industry and the fossil fuels producers, the mega-polluters, and almost no one else.

Current problems in the United States include a full-scale frontal attack on democracy: on free press, voting rights, civil rights, civility, and equal protection under the law.  Brian Klaas, in his book The Despot’s Apprentice (2017), provides a thorough account of these attacks, with many important and thought-provoking comparisons to tyrannies and despotisms around the world.  This attack is supported by the Big Lie technique, by exploiting religious and racial bigotry, by attacks on the poor, and by anti-scientific lies and misrepresentations.  Huge subsidies and special favors for giant corporations are now the rule, in a climate of corruption.  Clearly, American democracy and freedom are doomed unless Americans unite to save their best traditions (see Klaas 2017).

The United States saw regime change in 2016-17, with the collapse of the 240-year-old Enlightenment traditions and the commencement of a fascist regime dedicated to eliminating those.  Corruption in the modern United States guarantees collapse.  Most of it is legal.  Firms donate as they wish to politicians who vote on the issues that are critical to those firms.  Legislators vote on subsidies for firms that fund their campaigns.  Thus, evil interests—the ones that depend heavily on subsidies and that also harm the general good through pollution or dangerous speculation—become the biggest donors.  These include fossil fuels, arms and weaponry, and the riskier forms of high finance.

In general, the more socially tightly bound and the more hierarchic a society is, the more people unite in hating and lowest-common-denominator social presentation.  Progress and individual tastes divide.  The far right has learned to unite followers not only by arousing bigotry, but also by providing lowest-common-denominator entertainment (video games, trash music, and the like) that debase individuals and make them conform at a bottom level.  George Orwell foresaw this in 1984 and commented extensively on it in his essays.             The few giant firms that support right-wing politics to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year now control the United States, through the Republican Party.  The leaders are the Koch brothers, who created the Tea Party and ALEC, whipping up dissention and proposing divisive legislation.  The 2017 tax cuts, opposed by 75% of voters and appealing only to the rich, show this dominance clearly.

Suicide, opiate abuse, and Trump voting are all strongly correlated; they are at high levels in the same places, including rural counties in Appalachia and the northern Midwest.  They indicate a level of despair in these downwardly-mobile areas.  Since these areas are overwhelmingly white, much of the despair translates to anger against minorities who are supposedly taking the livelihood or at least the social status of the white workers. Diana Mutz (2018) found that voting for Trump tracked perceived threats to group status, not economic woes.

At current rates of descent into fascism, the Republican administration will crack down around 2020, declare a state of emergency, suspend the Constitution, and begin full-scale genocide.  The Republicans, like Hitler (and apparently copying him), have engaged in widespread hatred.  Trump, in campaigning and in tweets, has attacked Muslims, Mexicans, Jews, African-Americans, Native Americans, liberals, poor people, feminists, and others beyond counting.  Followers have added their voices, sometimes advocating extermination of gays (as preacher Kevin Swanson and several other right-wing “Christians” have done).  As politics becomes more and more mixed up with racism, religious bigotry, and identity issues in general, it becomes more emotional, more passionate, and less civil, as shown by Lilliana Mason in her book Uncivil Agreement (2018).

An economic downturn or fear of losing the 2020 elections could precipitate dictatorship and its inevitable result.  The centrists, liberals, and moderate-conservatives of the United States have very little time to unite and stop this.  Without unity, it is unstoppable.

The longer back story is that we have a new mode of production, that unites China, North Korea, and Venezuela with the United States despite alleged differences between “communism” and “capitalism.”

The new mode is one in which giant primary-production corporations, especially oil, coal, and agribusiness, control the economy.  They are tied closely to government by subsidies and special favors and rules as well as by bribery and corruption.  In other countries, they are actually a part of government.  Big oil and big coal—the reactionary energy-suppliers that should now be displaced by solar and wind power—have an especially distorting effect, because they are in such desperate need of maintaining political reaction and fighting environmental protection.  Their role is like that of slavery and the slave trade in past times, not only the Atlantic trade of the 18th and 19th centuries but also the Byzantine and Genoese slave trade from the Black Sea region in the Middle Ages.  All these had enormous distorting effects on politics and culture, driving reactionary and anti-Enlightenment views and policies.  The thousand-year cultural stagnation of the Byzantine Empire seems due to this.  Relying on reactionary and harmful methods of getting basic energy is culturally fatal.

Capitalism in the narrow sense (control of society by capitalists) is dead.  If “neoliberalism” ever existed, it does so no more.  (The term has been used so loosely that it has no established meaning; it once meant the extreme free-market view.)  Giant firms working through tyrannical governments are the future, or at least the foreseeable future.  Since the rapid growth of these extractive industries cannot go on much longer, a hard limit will be set within 100 years (and probably within 50), leading probably to mass starvation, hopefully to some search for solutions.

Even the dinosaur firms are somewhat horrified at what is happening in the US, Turkey, Hungary, and elsewhere, but they cannot escape it now.  They depend on racists, religious fanatics, and other extremists.   The right wing has abandoned traditional conservatism in favor of an agenda that is anti-intellectual, anti-education, anti-science, anti-environment, anti-health-care, anti-poor, anti-young, anti-old, anti-minority, religiously bigoted in favor of extremist right-wing beliefs, anti-women, militarist, gun crazy, violent, pro-corporation and anti-taxpayer, corrupt, pro-unequal treatment and inequality, opposed to all human and civil rights, pro-dictatorship, anti-freedom of conscience, strongly hierarchic.  In their world, the powerful can do what they please and are above the law, the weak do what they are told.

Primary production by itself is not the predictor of evil.  Evil does come from the primary-production end of the economy, but only from the fraction of it that is controlled by powerful landlord or corporate interests.  The evil done in the world for the last 200 years has been largely at the bidding of plantations, fossil fuel companies, agribusiness, and related interests.  The driver is the slave-worked plantation and its modern descendants:  an economy based on a tiny, rich, powerful elite ruling a vast servile labor force of which most are expendable and can thus be killed in unlimited numbers to maintain discipline or simply for convenience.  Very different from the old monarchies, even tyrannies, which could not kill at will—they lacked both means and ability to spare so much labor.

In the future, worldwide, concentration of power and wealth will go on, while resources diminish and global warming runs on apace—unless the human race sees fit to stop fighting and hating and start working for the common good.  The economy remains one of throughput, as opposed to efficiency and recycling.

The Republicans, and equivalent parties in other countries from Russia to Turkey to Brazil, are now trapped.  They depend financially on a handful of giant corporations that are increasingly acting against the interests of the majority, and are increasingly dependent on bribing politicians for support—including exemption from laws, especially laws protecting people against physical damage.  China’s tobacco industry operates with the full support of the government, though tobacco kills 1.2 million Chinese a year, because the government depends on tobacco taxes and many individual politicians depend on bribes (Kohrman et al. 2018).  The oil interests occupy a similar position in the United States.

The future after 2030-2050 is clear enough: the world will move toward emulation of existing top-down primary-production systems.  These are recapitulating the society of the old agrarian empires.  Some 20% of the population will be starving, 65% barely surviving, 10% secure but not well off, 4% well off, 1% ruling and super rich.  There will be a steady downward sift as population falls, first from starvation, then from disease as health care gets cut back.

The world has made a collective decision to have one final orgy of consumption, rather than converting to sustainability and assuring a future for our children and grandchildren.  This appears in the rise of fanatically anti-environmental regimes in the United States, Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro, Russia, and elsewhere.

The difference from the old days is that with better means of surveillance and massacre, monitoring and genocidal elimination of dissidents will replace the wars and campaigns of old.  North Korea, China, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and several Middle Eastern countries already display this regime.  Turkey, Thailand, India, the United States, Venezuela, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Brazil, and several other countries are moving rapidly toward it.  The common thread seems to be that wealth is rapidly increasing but is being captured by the top 1%, while the masses stagnate economically.  The most frustrated and resentful are the less progressive fractions of the majority ethnic groups, and they are the drivers of the fascist trend, as they often were in the earlier fascist wave of the 1930s (a point made by Edsall 2018).  Really rough times have sometimes led to fascistic or psychopathic leaders taking over, but real hardship often tends to make people unite behind a capable leader rather than a merely evil one.  The breakdown of the United States in 1860 gave us Lincoln; growth appropriated by the rich while working-class whites lost out gave us Trump.

Democracy, in the end, may prove unstable—a brief interlude between the monarchies of the past and the fascist tyrannies rising in the present.  Resource crunches may simply make it impossible for the good to prevail.  However, this is not necessary at present.  We can stop the downward slide.

When the rich get richer and the rest are stagnant, people become more and more frustrated and resentful, which elites then take advantage of by divide-and-rule.  The direct cause of the present situation in many countries is that dinosaur industries—fossil fuel, industrial monocrop agriculture, and the like—have combined with shady or outright criminal interests to pressure governments for more and more subsidies and favors.  The fossil fuel companies and their allies need larger and larger government subsidies to keep them from being out-competed by newer, better technologies, such as solar power and diversified agriculture.  They also need government protection from being forced to internalize the costs of their production, especially from lawsuits for polluting the environment and killing people.  The shady elements, ranging from the wilder shores of finance to gambling to outright mafias and drug gangs, need protection from the law.  These interests group together to bribe politicians and elect compliant or downright criminal legislators and executives.  They get the voters on their side by whipping up hatreds, especially religious bigotry, but also racism, gender bias, hatred of science and education, hatred of liberals or of conservatives, and hate of different people in general.  This combination has proved successful enough to turn the government around in the United States, and also in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and many other countries.


Part III.  What to Do About It?


First Steps to Policy: Evaluating What Helps


In general, social change is effected by individuals working within existing structures, often modifying those structures in the process.  There is a front story of individual decisions, a mid story of human context, and a back story of demography, climate, existing rules and laws, and historical contingencies that create a “path dependent” situation.  Charismatic or brilliant leaders succeed, but only in hopeful times.  They cannot do much in reactionary times and regimes.  Democracy helps, but reactionary democracy does not.


Good behavior does not come easily.  One must not only be moral, but—more importantly—able to deal rationally and as coolly as possible with actual harms and stresses. The innate impulses toward developing morality stem from human needs for warm sociability.

Recall that it is easier to unite people against a common enemy, and to get them to follow orders if those orders involve destroying a hated or despised group, than to unite people in the cause of love and care.  People are sociable, and usually loving and caring to their close kin and friends, but fear and hate dominate public interaction unless rigidly combatted.

If people were really selfish, they would want happy, cooperative, mutually beneficial, warm societies and communities above all else—not self-aggrandizement at the expense of their friends and families and communities.  If people were not mean, they would hate disease and misery and unnecessary suffering—not each other or science or nature.  If they were interested in actual control rather than power to bully others, they would hate autocracy and unnecessary hierarchy.

Caring is the nexus, the alternative for which we strive.  We seek especially the broad sense: wanting good for others and wanting a good and harmonious society (even infants want that).  The Bible calls this agapé or caritas.  Significantly, we have no good word for it.

Humans being so prone to domination by the bad wolf, we must err on the side of caution, caring, helping, reching out, and empowering.

Viktor Frankl noticed that survivors of Hitler’s concentration camps were those that had something deeply important to live for and be responsible for.  Usually, this would be either families or work that was a real Calling rather than a mere job.  Sometimes it was religion.  He spent his life extending this observation, learning that almost all people need or want a deep meaning of this sort in their lives (Frankl 1959, 1978).  This is one basic counter to living for hate.

The other counters are the opposites of excessive anger: reasonableness and peacefulness.  The opposites of hatred are tolerance and valuing diversity.  The opposites of callousness are responsibility, but above all empathy and compassion, which may in the end be the most important qualities for all good-doing.  The daily kibble of the good wolf is support, empowerment, caring, compassion, mutual aid, mutual responsibility, mutual respect, and mutual concern.  The raw red meat that gives it strength to win is conscious work to create and build social solidarity.

In dealing with evil, we need to attack it directly: to oppose rational truth to hatred, political lies, oppression, cruelty, abuse of power, and the summation of all these in fascism and similar political ideologies.  We need to call out such things directly, constantly, and explicitly.

Above all, we need to drive rational, reasonable thinking and behavior against the irrationality (sometimes downright insanity) of murderous harm.

Nothing helps except dealing directly with it.  When the baby throws up all over you, all you can do is clean it up.  Prayer doesn’t help, good thoughts don’t help, meditation doesn’t help.  You keep loving the baby and do what is necessary.

            The only direct way to stop murder and mass violence is through appealing to reason and rational discourse while also enforcing strict laws within a rule of law.

This, by itself, is not enough.  We need to oppose evil with cultural and social teachings of help and unity, sustained by the innate moral or premoral sense of mutual aid and generosity that seem to inhere in humans.  Directly relevant, also, are natural interest—especially active warm interest—and curiosity, and the urge to learn more in order to improve.  Natural toughness and innocent enjoyment are reasonable and useful.

            The reason that advancing the good so often fails is not mere selfishness.  It is antagonism to cooperating and to working with others as equals, especially as seen in refusal to learn, change, and self-improve as part of the process.

            The cure is seeing all people as worthwhile and that we are all in this together.  The long first part of this essay demonstrated at length that the root problem is rejecting people for reasons of “essence”: the false belief that “race,” ethnicity, religion, and the like are somehow basic essences that condemn whole groups of people.  The only cure is seeing all as not only tolerable but worthy of help and of civil behavior.  Ideally, they are all equal before the law, and equal in opportunity—a hope not approximated in modern societies.

Seeing all as worthy requires checking excessive anger.  It also requires proactive compassion and empathy, to avoid callous bureaupathy and similar evils.  Studies on how to further such goals need to be done.  Our authors, notably Beck and Maslow, provide ideas and experiences.


The center and left in the United States has recently fallen back on being “the opposition”—opposing rather than proposing.  We need to borrow a leaf from parliamentary systems of government.  These usually have a government-in-opposition: a shadow cabinet made up of opposition figures who discuss policy and plan what to do if they cycle back into power.  The United States now needs a Democrat group who can develop policy and unite the party around it, via opposition figures serving as virtual cabinet ministers, heads of agencies, and the rest of the government machinery.  History teaches that people must go against something to unite successfully.  We can only do that in the name of a higher, nobler, more inclusive goal.  Even Hitler knew enough to do it.  We certainly should.

Class or at least economic disadvantage should be the unifier.  We have seen how certain “progressives” of the 2010s failed disastrously by opposing their antagonism toward men and whites to right-wing antagonism toward women and minorities.  One does not fight fire with fire in a gasoline storage depot.

I recognize the drawbacks of utilitarian calculation, but I cannot see any way to evaluate policies and politics except by net help to people and the environment versus net harm to same. Things like peace and freedom must be calculated within that shell.  There are times when peace is wrong, such as when one’s country is invaded.  There are necessary limits to freedom, such as denying people the right to bully others.  Proactive effective help is good, by definition, but can be worse than nothing when it is badly planned, or unneeded and intrusive.  The usual social-conformity measures are usually helpful, keeping society together, but they can be bad: being too conformist, going along to get along, and the like.

Helping requires self-efficacy, reasonableness, self-control, self-confidence, and courage (i.e. ability to go into unknown and risky, where self-confidence fails).  Obviously, parents and schools need to do everything possible to develop these.

The usual moral touchstone, the Golden Rule, does not work well for me.  My neighbors do not take well to being treated to Brussels sprouts, Scottish murder ballads, or displays of Chinese art.  Granted that such individual preferences are probably not what was intended by the Golden Rule, where do we draw the line?  I do not inflict my rather old-fashioned Christian morality on my kids, let alone the world at large.  Conversely, I would not accept the hierarchic social morality that works in and is highly popular in Singapore and China.  We simply cannot use ourselves as measures of all things and all people.

The only reasonable touchstone is helping people.  But what helps?  Is it help in their terms, or in mine?  One hopes for easy cases—things that are recognized by almost everyone as helping, such as feeding the hungry.  Not all cases are easy.  If I were in Singapore (where I lived and worked for a while many years ago), would I work to advance its quite popular but rigid moral code, which—then at least—banned chewing gum, rock music, and Playboy?  Or would I work to advance freedom and liberty of conscience, according to my own view of helping?  Such cases can only be decided by detailed rational consideration.

However, as Hume said, “Reason is, and must ever be, the slave of the passions” (Hume 1969 [1739-1740]:462).  Reason is a good slave.  It is the only way to get things right so that we can survive.  It is the only possible route to change and improvement.  But it matters more to get the passions right, such that reason is a slave to the good ones.  It is at least as competent and hard-working a slave to evil as to good.

The direct opposite to evil is just being reasonable.  A more extreme opposite would be the “universal positive regard” of the psychologists, but that is a process goal, not achievable in the real world.  From the widest point of view, it is not aggression, intolerance, and violence that are bad, it is when they are deployed and against whom.  Minimal tolerance and maximum violence is quite appropriate for someone trying to rape you or your daughter.  The problem of evil is a problem of targeting:  Innocent people are targeted, or disproportionate harm is done for minor offenses.

Checking evil often involves direct fighting against real enemies, so life cannot be free from harming others.  This multiplies the need for rational thought, since any irrationality can lead to harming the wrong people.

The cure for misdirected aggression and rejection is reasonableness, followed by actions that are as helping as possible.  Most religions have come up with this idea, but only certain forms of the religion feature it.  It has been termed the “Social Gospel” in Christianity.  It also characterizes reform Judaism, Ahmadiyya, the Three Teachings tradition in China, various forms of Buddhism, and other traditions.  There needs to be a Goddess of Common Sense.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed ten ways to fight hatred: Act, join forces, support the victims, speak up, educate yourself, create an alternative, pressure leaders, stay engaged, teach acceptance, dig deeper.


Background: A Wider Moral Shell


Reasonableness, however, is inadequate.  People cheat on their own morals; they fall short and provide excuses.  They fail to reason correctly, and err in predictably self-serving directions.

Even without that, people must sacrifice to make community work.  They need to make up for cheaters, and they must be heroic in emergencies.  We cannot expect everyone to love and care much beyond the family and friendship circle.

Thus, every society on earth has had to develop a morality of self-sacrifice and service to others, and enforce it by public opinion.  They must conform up, to higher standards of behavior, rather than down into toxic conformity to evil norms.  This requires personal strength.

We must maintain a consistent, oft-repeated ideology of unity, solidarity, mutual aid, mutual care, and tolerance.  Such things are taught by religion, but religion is routinely coopted by hierarchies that discourage such virtues.

From a general sense of “we’re all in this together,” the first personal virtues are openness, warmth, interest in the world, self-confidence, and ability to enjoy life.  These imply a set of learned personal orientations: compassion, respect, responsibility.  These in turn entail

civility, reasonableness, courage, patience, and hard work.  Social attitudes include empathy and egalitarianism—both equality before the law and the rough-and-ready sense that we are all here and thus have to take care of each other and take people as they are.

All these result in ability to be socially responsible, and to carry out mutual aid, a highly desirable end-state.  Basic to this are what I would consider the leading interpersonal moral needs:  caring, compassion, considerateness and civility, reasonableness, respect, and responsibility (4 C’s and 3 R’s).  It includes the values that create peace and unity in society: solidarity, tolerance, valuing diversity, mutual aid, and empowerment; thus, for society, peace, justice, fairness, equality, truth, and inquiry.

The main stem of this runs from caring through tolerance, valuing people, support, and compassion to actual help.  Ancillary to this stem are self-efficacy and learning.

Self-efficacy involves self-control, self-improvement, not trying to control others, courage, industry, and loyalty.

Learning, knowledge, and wisdom are obviously necessary, and critical, for this enterprise.  That involves keeping an open mind about new findings, but no open mind about hatred or cruelty.  It also requires self-control (including giving up the attempt to overcontrol others), patience, and courage, but above all the ability to work hard, in focused and thorough way, for the common good.  Hypocrisy and toxic conformity are banished.  Education must follow accordingly.

All humans start weak and fearful, and all grow up in imperfect cultural and social surroundings.  We usually learn to be decent, but real proactive education in civility is therefore an absolute necessity.  Mencius was right about human sociability, but Xunzi was right that without moral education people turn evil.

The good person will thus ignore slights and dislike, being fully civil in such cases.  Actual threats have to be taken seriously, but rationally, by trying to talk things out, then seeking recourse, and only if that fails does one fight or flee.

Seek positive solutions.  Act for the good.  Do your best at what you do best.

Remember also the airlines’ truth: “secure self first, then attend to others.”  Above all, look to long-term, wide-flung benefits, not to short-term and narrow ones.


Towards a New Moral Order


I believe we need a new moral order (Anderson 2010), based on keeping the good wolves fed and the bad ones starved.  Morality is about society, not individual behavior.  It exists because people are compulsively and necessarily social, and yet get offended and angry and then hateful and aggressive.  In this case, it should be the opposite of hatred, callousness, and irrationally violent response to perceived threat.

The first rule of morality is to take all people, and ultimately all beings, as important, or at least to accept them as valid beings—fellow travelers on this planet.  As Kant said: they must be subjects of concern, not objects to be used.

This is one of the messages of epics like the Iliad, of the classic Scots ballads, and of great literature the world over.  The extreme opposite of the typical Hollywood “action movie,” in which cardboard characters are killed by dozens without anyone’s concern.  The slide from traditional literature to Hollywood thrillers is clearly related to the rise in genocide and violence; the latter tracks the former (and other pop cultural forms).  The rise of inequality, especially the rise in power of giant multinational firms, is a much more obvious driver of indifference to people and of taking them as Kantian objects.

Great cultural productions can thus be used for self-improvement and for learning about the humanity and sensitivies of others.  If is is simply read for schoolwork, however, it does very little.  The depressing lack of empathy and humanity among well-educated leaders has often been noted.

People are fellow travelers on a lifeboat that has limited supplies and that is easily upset by fighting.  Rational self-interest teaches mutual dependence, and therefore mutual concern.  The most selfish person today, unless blinded by social hate, must accept this mutual dependence.  There is no escape.  Indeed, the rational person realizes there is a need for some degree of self-sacrifice, to make up for the inevitable slackers.

The ideal would be to ignore slights and ordinary dislike; be totally civil in such cases.  Take actual threats seriously, but civilly talk out the issues, then go for recourse as needed.  Physical threats may require physical solutions, but escape is necessary if chronic attacks are otherwise unmanageable.


These principles deal with individual morality and awareness of the need for it.  The social applications follow naturally.  These two principles call for a morality of helping, caring, and stopping gratuitous harm.  They call for accepting people as they are: no rejection for being what they are—only for actual evil behavior.  The main pillars of that are caring, charity, and peace.  These can take us on to active help: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and the other standard social goods.  The contrast set is hatred, selfish greed, and violent aggression.  As social values, rather than individual pathologies, those are the classic defining features of the medieval state—the constantly warring small states that had to grow or die, and could grow only at the expense of neighboring states playing the same game.  We are called to be nice to all, but for life work do your best at what you do best to help.  St. Paul’s “gifts differing” (Romans 12:6) is a watchword: people have different strengths, and this allows a complex society to exist and to be far more productive and efficient than one in which everyone had the same skills.

A part of this is realizing that there are no pure races and no pure cultures, and there never have been.  The racist and culturist appeals to purity are major sources of evil.  Recently, even “progressives” have been seduced by pure-culture theories, as in the more naïve theorizing about decolonialization and cultural appropriation.  Decolonialization means fixing social inequalities, not rejecting all cultural change.  Cultural appropriation is bad when it involves insulting stereotypes of others, or stealing their livelihood—not when it is simply normal borrowing.  Some progressives are being lured into genuine right-wing thinking—the old fascist lies about pure cultures and their need to remain pure.  In fact, a social morality for the future would involve, critically, learning the best from all the world’s traditions about how to manage the environment, reduce conflict, and keep societies moral.  Every culture and society on earth has experiences with these problems and has something to teach us.

Long-term, wide-flung interests should prevail above short-term, narrow ones.  In the real world, the short term must be considered, because failure to attend to immediate threats and concerns can kill before the long term is reached.  However, the world is now sacrificing more and more long-term interest to shorter and shorter benefits.  A classic case is overfishing.  At current rates of fishing, there will be no wild fish by 2050 (Worm 2016; Worm et al. 2006).  This occurs largely because of overcompetition among fishers.  Another problem is the opposite: overplanning and top-down control.

Within this moral shell, the most important thing to do is avoiding hatred and rejection of people or any other beings on the basis of prejudice: imagined “essence” that is somehow bad.  Tolerance and valuing diversity are essential.  The costs of prejudice are substantial.  Subtly foregrounding “maleness” made Black boys do better on tests, while foregrounding “blackness” made them do worse, because of internalized stereotypes (Cohen et al. 2006(.  Similar results have turned up over a wide range of stereotypes, e.g. foregrounding “Asian” vs. “women” makes Asian-American women do better or do worse, respectively, on math tests (Clark et al. 2015.)

Direct action should be to help, not harm unnecessarily; work for a living and some material comforts, but, beyond minimal personal comforts, only to share with others and help others in the world; constantly work to learn more, find more truths, and abandon more wrong views; defend, but only against real direct threats, not imagined or trivial social slights or indirect or potential enemies.  Morals thus cover social interaction, self-efficacy and self-control, learning, and public values.


The relevant teaching of the religions that care is to be as good as possible to sinners and lure them into a warm, supportive, nice community.  Religions all idealize warmth, helping, concern, and peace, but fail to encourage the interest, engagement, and love of beauty that are also necessary for the common good.  Religions in fact fear these, since they tend to make people think independently and want to change.

Practical concerns and economic adjustments are not going to help in the short run.  Economics has followed culture and ideology in the past, and will no doubt continue to follow.  Obviously, in the future, we will have to set up a society based on sustainable use of the earth, equality of opportunity, substantial public sector, and controls on inequality, but the immediate need is to unify behind a set of principles that will stop fascism and restart progress in those directions.

The first step, since the root problem is hatred (in the broad sense—including deliberate dismissal), is to shore up civil and personal rights to provide maximal protection from abuse of minorities, women, children, and other vulnerable groups, and maximal recourse for those groups in case of injury.  Hate crimes (to say nothing of genocide) must be condignly suppressed.  That includes deliberate incitement to hate crime.

Pursuant to observations on childrearing, all authorities seem to agree that raising children with at least minimal civility, decency, and understanding is the second step. The need for control is the only human need that is never satisfied.  Since understanding is the only form of control that is good in large quantities, the wise will seek understanding instead of other forms.

From there, we need to reach out and create a new social morality.  This should be embedded in real communities—physical neighborhoods held together by strands of mutual aid, cowork on projects, mutual responsibility, and general neighborliness.  Virtual and dispersed communities are also valuable and need all the encouragement they can get, but there is no substitute for face-to-face contact and mutual aid.  However, this should not be expected to work by itself; all traditional small communities had their experiences of intolerance and violence.

We need to make our current values far clearer, but we also need to combine them with emotional and personal appeals, as religions do.  This takes us back to education and the media.  It also requires some resolutions, at the political level, about what kind of society we want.  The rapid descent of the Republicans from a party of business to a party of hate has been terrifying to watch.  It is similar enough to the evolution of fascism in Europe, and communism in the USSR and China, to imply a harsh future.

The economic system needs to be opened to provide more opportunities for more people, but the old ideas of “economic determinism” do not work.  We have now seen genocide and other evils arising in every type of economic situation and every type of economic regime.  The classic modes of production are not helpful.  “Socialism” covers everything from Denmark and Norway to North Korea to Venezuela.  “Capitalism” covers everything from Germany to Equatorial Guinea.  This does not get us far.

We have, in fact, seen genocide arise in every type of system except true democracy with equality before the law and full equal rights for everyone.  And even true democracy has proved unable to get rid of war, violence, gangsterism, and everyday crime.  Obviously, we need all the laws we can have, to outlaw harming others gratuitously, but laws exist in a moral shell, and we need to work on that as well as on making the laws apply to all equally.




It is depressing to read how the British and Americans, good Christians and lovers of Shakespeare and Milton, ran most of the world slave trade that killed perhaps 100,000,000 people in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  It is similarly depressing to read the sorry history of communes, idealistic communities, grassroots utopias, and the hippie movement.  Good intentions not backed up by firm social rules led only to collapse.

People being imperfect, progress comes from outlawing the bad and forcing minimal civil decency.  Appeals to inner virtue are not enough.  Historically, help has come from science and education, relative economic freedom within moral limits (as Adam Smith argued), and the Enlightenment program.  That program of democracy, equality, rule of law, separation of church and state, and civil rights has done wonders.  So has the idea of promoting people according to their knowledge and ability rather than according to their birth.  Meritocracy has a bad name recently, but any acquaintance with history shows that the alternative was far worse.

Comparing societies and communities that minimize violence and cruelty with those torn by it shows that only strict and specific rules help.  All societies outlaw murder, and that ban has real effect, depending on how many ancillary rules are passed.  Above all, it depends on how much the societies in question frown on violence as a way of solving problems.  Some societies regard violence as the only “manly” or “honorable” way to deal with problems, and they have murder and warfare rates that are many times—sometimes orders of magnitude—greater than the rates in societies that privilege peaceful methods of coping (Baumeister 1997; Pinker 2011; Robarchek and Robarchek 1998).

The absolute necessity in all this is the right to recourse.  People who are injured must be able to sue, to protest, to speak out, to vote evil leaders out, and to defend themselves in any reasonable way.  The success of democracies at preventing genocide and famine is notable, but even more important is the realization that in such democracies, only actual citizens avoid being killed or starved (Anderson and Anderson 2017; Howard-Hassmann 2016).  Noncitizens, such as Irish in the British Isles in the 1840s and Native Americans in the United States before 1924, are starved and killed without compunction.

Communities must have written and unwritten (customary) laws that strictly and thoroughly regulate violence and callousness.  These laws must be based on a principle of equality before the law, which requires at least some degree of economic equality, because otherwise the rich will simply buy their way out of enforcement.  Laws must be based on the principle that violence is the last resort in dealing with any problem other than direct personal attack.  They must also strictly forbid activity that destroys many solely to benefit a few, such as big dams, engineered famines, and exposure of impoverished workers or families to pollution.  There must be legal requirements to rehabilitate both victims and lawbreakers.

Communities must extinguish specific bad behaviors by specific rules, but they go on to encourage general good behaviors and ideals by more broad appeals to morality.




The morality enshrined in the Constitution is based on the theory of equal rights.  If people recognize the need for equality before the law and equal opportunity under law, they must work from this principle above all.  Then, the clear moral order for the world is saving nature, promoting responsibility and mutual aid (with the more fortunate or strong helping those less so), promoting learning and truth, and nonviolence.

It is important to understand that both this and other moral views can go with economic growth, wealth accumulation, and the other things that developers currently consider “good.”  There is no reason to pick one over the other except for common human decency.  In the long run, the Trumpian view is unsustainable, because it leads to dinosauric interests pushing the system into collapse, but in the short run, we have seen the lack of any real break from Obama’s growth economy to Trump’s.  “Capitalism,” whatever it is, can be range from rather benign to utterly malignant.  The socialist alternative is equally ambiguous; Norway and Venezuela are both “socialist” in some ways, but Norway has a morality based on social decency, Venezuela has a moral order based on Trump-style dictatorial violence and bullying.


Immediate Needs


Several obvious things need doing in the United States to accomplish any of these goals.  Among these are: making campaign statements sworn testimony to prevent outright lying, ensuring voting rights, ending gerrymandering and voter suppression, getting big money out of politics and making all political money fully transparent, fighting corruption, saving the environment, and cracking down on hate crimes and incitement of them.

Freedom of speech must be defended, but does not include direct incitement to violence, or libel, or false advertising.  These provide enough of a platform to allow us to ban campaign lies, Fox News-style public lying for evil ends, and direct rabid hatred that cannot help but lead to violence.  A great deal of “hate speech”—ordinary racist rhetoric, for instance—must be protected, because if it is banned then those in power will ban anything that annoys them.  This is a “slippery slope” argument that is quite true.  We have hundreds of years of experience, in every realm from religion to education to politics to community “civility,” to prove it.

We must ban subsidies as much as possible, and certainly subsidies to maintain dinosaur industries that cost more than they produce. We must block the chain from lobbyist to “regulator”; those who lobby for a polluting industry can never be allowed to regulate it.  Above all, we must take actual social and environmental costs—the hard cash people lose—into account in all social and political accounting.  Oil is profitable only because its real costs are passed on as externalities.  Many calculations have shown that gasoline would cost hundreds of dollars per gallon if those costs were internalized.  (For more, see Anderson 2010.)

Within the ultimate objective of increasing help and decreasing harm, there are many goals.

Process goals are goals that can never be fully reached, but that make the world better the closer we approach to them.  The classic example is health.  Perfect health is impossible in this flawed world.  We could always be a little better off.  But striving for better and better health is obviously worth doing.  Similarly, we will never be able to feed everyone, but the FAO’s goal of secure, healthy, nourishing, accessible food for everyone in the world is a goal worth striving for; the closer we get to it, the better off we are.  Other such goals include learning, appreciation of diversity and beauty, and cooperation.  We might even list cleaning, fixing, and maintenance.

Freedom, tolerance, and wealth all stop at moderation.  Tolerance must stop before it reaches tolerance for rape, murder, and theft.  One should never be intolerant of persons as such, but certainly we must be intolerant of evil acts.  We must also frequently oppose actual enemies, even though they are persons and deserve respect and fair treatment as such.  Inequality and excessive wealth are notorious social evils.

This gives us morals in pairs:  Caring vs indifference; courage vs. cowardice; peace vs. hate and hostility; proactive help vs. laziness; responsibility vs. irresponsibility; reason vs. irrationality; carefulness vs. carelessness; respect vs. scorn.  Courage comes before hate, though hate is the Problem, because hate comes from fear and thus courage is a prior and more basic virtue.

Another need is for proactive positive action, and that requires a vision of the Good and an ability to enjoy.  Cowardly defensiveness destroys enjoyment; it causes anhedonia.  If one can openly enjoy something, one is already moving toward the good.  It is natural for the social animals we are to want others to enjoy and to share in our enjoyments.  Puritans and constant complainers are notoriously easy to delude into genocidal evil.  Puritanism about anything—not just sex or alcohol—feeds the bad wolf.

To feed the good wolf, we need to feed the irenic and full-person sides of human nature.  The best food for good wolf is reflecting that every being is important, and every human deserves consideration.  Feeding the bad wolf involves feeding the cowardice, hatred, and indifference that are so much a part of our species.  The bad wolf is fed by holding grudges and overreacting to slights, often imagined ones.  The prime food for bad wolf is allowing oneself to be corrupted by the insidious thought that some people don’t matter.  Hostility and aggression are the real problems in cases of hatred.  One can hate and be a relatively good human being, if one hides the hatred.  This, however, never seems to work for long.  All haters seem to come out with evil behavior if they go on long enough.


Very few ways of feeding the good wolf have worked in the past, but those few have worked very well.

By far the best way has been guaranteeing civil and human rights, equal for all, before the law, and enforced strictly by executive and court action.  This has eroded disastrously in the United States, but grown steadily in much of western Europe.

Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela exemplify the most important: appealing to solidarity and natural human social goodness in the face of oppression.  Next most important and effective has been empowerment.  Doing scientific research to find out what improves the human condition is a strong third.  Forthrightly opposing evil is a long fourth, but still needs to be done.

Group hatred has traditionally been addressed by getting the groups together in positive situations, giving them common goals or working with the common goals they already have, affirming irenic and tolerant values, stressing the advantages of diversity, looking for common ground, striving to make groups as equal as possible (at least in opportunity and before the law), stoutly defending civil rights and explaining why those are beneficial to all, and other well-known methods.

All this does work, but not perfectly.  The most notorious case of failure was the heroic attempt made in Yugoslavia to get the various nationalities in that “united Slav” country to get along.  Unfortunately, it was counterproductive; the well-meaning majority tried too hard, alienated a vicious and noisy minority, and faced breakup, war, and genocide when Yugoslavia threw over communism.  “Multiculturalism” in the United States has had some similar problems; when it emphases the classic American e pluribus unum, it works, but far too often it emphasizes differences and even antagonisms without emphasizing the common ground and common goals. It often fostered the deadly mistake of seeing subcultures and ethnic communities as closed, steel-walled spheres, completely cut off from each other.  That view directly causes and fosters ethnic hatred.

Worst of all is unifying a population by uniting it against a common enemy—the hatreds are all merged into hating the enemy.  This is especially deadly if it is an internal minority that is defined as the enemy, as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao did.  That way lies genocide and social breakdown.

In sharp contrast, some traditional societies have dealt with potential religious conflicts for centuries, and managed them by a number of social rules and strategies.  The people of Gondar, an Ethiopian city that is a traditional stronghold of Christianity but has a large Muslim population, have learned to get along, and have taken ISIS in stride (partly by casting it as non-Muslim or otherwise aberrant; Dulin 2017).  Similar accommodations have worked until recently in many countries, but the breakdown of very old and long-established ones in Iraq, Syria, and China bodes ill for the future.

The standard methods of increasing happiness—gratitude, good thoughts, reaffirming values, and other mindfulnesses (Lyubomirsky 2007)—are also of some use, but never transformed a society.  The world needs cures for evil more than it needs helps to happiness.

Only uniting economic incentives, charismatic leaders, and common morality ever works to improve conditions.  We need positive and inclusive dialogue that is factual yet hopeful.  We need healing and rejuvenation.

Wayne Te Brake (2017), studying the decline of religious war in Europe, found that nation-states had to facilitate the process of getting people to live in harmony.  The bottom line was that people who were neighbors had to get along.  Where the cuius regio, eius religio rule held, the country had only one religion, and intolerance kept right on, but in areas where pluralism was established, governments finally realized they had to guarantee rights to religious minorities—ushering in the Enlightenment, by slow degrees.  It appears that government peacemaking led to philosophers and politicians coming up with ideas of religious freedom, which eventually led to ideas of liberty of conscience.  Something similar happened with civil rights in the modern United States in the 1950s and 1960s, but the results have been less satisfactory so far.  State and local governments have dragged their feet.  Still, the model is there.

Specifics include better parenting and better advice and counseling on it.  Schools need to change profoundly, to teach civility and ordinary decency and to deal with values.  Today, schools have come increasingly to drill students mindlessly in basic skills, to be assessed by endless standardized tests that kill thought and destroy creativity.  Some young students report writing stories and poems surreptitiously because the schools discourage such behavior.  We need to go back to older ideals: the most important thing to teach is civil behavior, not STEM skills.  On the other hand, teaching students how to learn, how to do research or at least find out accurate information, is vital also.  Teaching truth is important, teaching how to tell truth from lies is even more so, but teaching students how to find out for themselves and improve their knowledge and accuracy of knowledge is most important of all.  Teaching students that hatred and unprovoked aggression are unacceptable—morally wrong and socially destructive—is obviously necessary.  Common decency and honesty would be enough to keep the good wolf fed and the bad one at bay.   Surely schools, media, and public life can teach that much.

Another specific is getting people to choose more reasonably what groups to join and what groups to prioritize.  Joining extremist political groups is the order of the day.  We need centrist groups, community organizations, aid associations, and other groups that will bring people together to help and to meet each other—groups that will be unifying rather than divisive.

In the wider society, the media have an obvious role to play in continuing this process of fighting hate and lies by promoting civility and truth.

All this requires continual learning and improving one’s knowledge, but not necessarily keeping an open mind.  The ills I am addressing in this essay—genocide and its small-scale correlates such as bullying, callousness, and domestic violence—do not deserve “open minded” assessment.  They must be stopped.

For having a decent world, and for having a future for the world, we must make moral choices, not simply economic ones.  We must make a moral choice to help people rather than hurt them.  That involves honesty with ourselves about the ways that weakness, resentment, overreaction to trivial or imagined slights, and overreaction to trivial harms combine to feed the bad wolf and thus feed displacing resentment onto weaker people and onto the natural world. 

            Then we must work to feed the good wolves, all of them, everywhere, out in the world.  The food of good wolves is caring and consideration for all, especially as shown through empowerment by decent, supportive, respectful behavior.





Appendix: Special Topics


Freedom of speech is most at risk.  The Trump administration is attacking the media in exactly the way Hitler did in the 1930s.  Unfortunately, some of the misguided “progressive” camp is going after the media too, in the name of suppressing “hate speech.”  There are classic problems with this, all identified by the Founding Fathers, and by Tom Paine and John Stuart Mill.

Since the people in power will naturally be the ones doing the censoring, all opposition to those in power will soon be censored, and everything that supports them will be permitted, no matter how vile it is.  This is, in practice, the greatest reason why censorship is generally bad.

Hate speech is in the eye of the beholder.  No definition can be tight enough to stop people from insisting that what they say is not hate speech, and what their opponents say is always hate speech no matter how nicely phrased.  (Politeness can be a way of subtly maintaining white privilege, for instance.)

Hate speech can be educative–if not the speech itself, then from the fact that people say it, believe it, and act on it.

Suppressing speech drives it underground, where it spreads like wildfire—as censored things always do—and is attractive simply because it was suppressed.  There is an Arab saying that “if you forbid people from rolling camel dung into little balls with their fingers, they would do it, because if it is forbidden there must be something good about it.”  Moreover, suppressing speech makes the suppressed people into instant martyrs, no matter how unsavory they seemed before.

Last, it is immoral to shut other people up because you happen to dislike what they say.  They have a right to their opinions and their mouths.

If what they say is downright libel, or a direct call to violence, or a lie that directly leads to physical harm to people (like incitement to murder), that is something else.  Yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre is too, and inciting to riot is dicey; some hate speech falls into that category.  Above all, lying under oath is properly forbidden.  It has been suggested that campaign speech should be sworn testimony, at least when facts are stated, and thus lies like Trump’s would be illegal.  We also have no freedom to disclose proprietary secrets, or to plagiarize.  Freedom is not a matter of absolute freedom; it is a matter of considering others’ rights.  However, the wise activist errs on the side of liberty.

All this we learned in the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in the 1960s, but it has all been said before, ever since Voltaire and Jefferson.

Similar conclusions apply to freedom of press, assembly, and religion.  However, religion has now been so thoroughly abused as a cover for political campaigning and even for money-laundering and profiteering that it must be restricted.  Taxing the churches seems an inescapable necessity if the US is to flourish.  Politics is probably protected speech, up to a point, but outright campaigning—with donations of laundered or illegally-gained money—is banned in the US by the Johnson Rule.  It is inappropriate for churches and temples.

Preachers who are clearly in it for the money rather than the souls are all too common, and tax laws must recognize this.  The problem is not just one of politics; the rapidly escalating religious hate that has swept the world, and notably the United States, in the last generation is to a very large degree a product of preaching for money.  Corrupt and evil men posing as preachers find that the easiest way to make it pay is to preach hate and right-wing politics.  This is the story of ISIS and the Taliban as well as of Trump’s preacher claque.

Thus, cleaning up the institution of religion would seem to be a part of assuring liberty of conscience.  Above all, though, liberty of conscience must be preserved.


Tolerance, the most desperately needed and vitally important civic virtue, is also under an astonishing amount of attack from the left as well as the right.

It really should need no defense.  Many of the same considerations as those above will apply.

If you do not tolerate others, they will not tolerate you.  They may not even if you do tolerate them, but, in general, hate breeds hate, acceptance breeds acceptance.

We are all in this together.  A functioning society has to grow, change, and build, and can do that only by unified effort, mutual aid, and solidarity.  The alternative is mutual destruction.  The dominant group may win for a while by doing others down, but it merely hurts itself—first by losing those other groups and whatever they can offer, but second by starting a spirit of hate and rivalry that inevitably tears up the dominant group itself, in due course of time.

As usual, there are limits.  Obviously, we do not want to tolerate rape, murder, or robbery.  The argument is for tolerating people as individuals—the essential personhood behind whatever unacceptable behavior they may sometimes present.  They deserve fairness and consideration, but if they are acting to harm others, they must be stopped.  Toleration of ideas is a good; we need to argue and negotiate and work them out.  Toleration of specific behaviors is allowable only in so far as those behaviors do not actively and unnecessarily harm people.  Not all harm to people is bad.  Plato and Aristotle were already pointing out 2400 years ago that surgeons “harm” people for their own good.  One wants to minimize hurt, but some pain is necessary.

In short, tolerance is a major goal, but must be qualified by common sense.  None of this affects tolerating people as human beings, or, for that matter, tolerating other life forms.  Essential acceptance of living beings, simply because they are fellow travelers on the planet, is the basic and essential need of a functioning society.

It is therefore unacceptable to hate or reject anyone because of skin color, ethnicity, language, history, or the like.  No morality can justify that.  Total personal rejection of anyone for any reason is unacceptable.  We may have to kill a person in self-defense, but we are not given license to hate that individual simply for being.  We are also not given license to kill off his entire ethnic group just because he attacked us.  We know that “races” are not biological entities, and that all human groups are pretty much identical in potential, but even if we did find a group that was—say—less intelligent by some measure than the average, we would morally have to pay them the same respect and treatment as everyone else.

This is the real underpinning of the classic Enlightenment virtues: liberty, equality, fairness, justice as fairness, and civil behavior in civil society.  Never mind that the Enlightenment was financed by slavery and colonialism.  The point is that much of its content was explicitly directed against slavery and class discrimination.  No one in the history of the world had opposed slavery in general until 18th-century religious thinkers, largely Quakers, did so.   Fairness means serious attention to disadvantaged groups, not just even-handed treatment of all.  Equality before the law has been in sorry shape under Trump, with flagrant favoring of whites and rich people ove the rest.  With the Attorney General an open racist, nothing but trouble can be expected.  That way lies genocide and nothing else.


This brings us to solidarity:  Mutual aid, mutual support, mutual empowerment and strengthening.             It worked for the labor movement and for the old-time Democrats; disunion, carefully nurtured by the right wing and now by the far left, has led to the decline of both those institutions.  The war between Clinton and Sanders supporters took down Clinton in 2016, and will guarantee a Republican gain in the congressional elections of 2018 if it is not resolved.

A major part of this is civility.  We are getting farther and farther from civil discourse.  The right wing is usually the leader and always the most successful in extreme, exaggerated, intemperate, and insulting remarks, and we should leave that to them.  We always lose if we try that tactic.

We can move on to the four C’s—civility, caring, compassion, and considerateness—and the three R’s: Respect, reasonableness, responsibility.  Those last three alone would fix the US’ problems if applied consistently.  We need to move beyond mere tolerance.  Compassion and caring for others is are learned skills that should be taught.  They too do not just happen, nor does modern life encourage them.  They should be taught in schools, workplaces, and elsewhere.


Another value in extreme danger under the Trump administration is education.  His Secretary of Education opposes the whole idea of education, in the usual sense, and totally opposes public education.  She is systematically planning to minimize schooling and turn it into indoctrination in right-wing views.  We need the exact opposite: education to produce genuinely better people—people who are not hateful bullies, but who want to help others.

Americans are not getting the type of education they need.  This would be one that 1) teaches civics, including the Constitution and a non-whitewashed US history; 2) teaches actual science and how one can tell falsehoods and investigate truth; 3) teach the young about the depth and complexity of human emotions.  Humanistic education these days runs too heavily to comic books and other media that may be well enough in themselves, but do not have the sustained engagement with human feelings and thoughts that one gets from Shakespeare, Cao Xueqin, Dostoievsky, Thomas Mann, or Toni Morrison.  Serious music seems to have disappeared from most people’s lives; again, whatever is true or not about “quality,” music of Victoria or Beethoven engages much more deep and complex emotions than the popular stuff.  Whatever one likes or feels is appropriate, people need more insights into humanity than they get from American popular culture.  A reasonable order of teaching children would be starting them with civil behavior (considerate, respectful, sharing; responsible reasonable), then going on to teach compassion and helpfulness because we are all in this together and must follow something like the Golden Rule.  This should be done along with reading, writing, history, and math, if we are to survive.


This brings up science and environment.  The Trump administration, including the Republicans in Congress, have launched a full-scale war against both.  They do not stop with dismissing science that is embarrassing to their corporate donors, such as research on climate change and pollution.  They have attacked everything from conservation science to Darwinian evolution.  This is perhaps the area where the Republican base—giant primary-production firms, racists, and right-wing religious extremists—shows itself most clearly.  “Scientific” racism and creationism are now supported; the genuine science that disproves these is attacked.  Budget cuts to basic science and to science education are planned; they are serious enough to virtually destroy both.  Republicans realize that promoting such a wide anti-scientific agenda—climate change denial, claims that pesticides are harmless to humans, anti-vaccination propaganda, anti-evolutionism, racism, and so on—can only succeed if the entire enterprise of science is attacked.  The whole concept of truth is a casualty, with the calls for “alternative facts.”  Ideas of proof, evidence, data, and expertise are regarded as basically hostile to Republicanism.

Clearly, it will be national suicide ot allow this to go on.  Not only is further scientific research necessary to progress; a government that makes policy in defiance of the facts of the case will not survive.  We have already been afflicted with Zika, MRSA, and a host of other germs because of indifferent attention to public health.  Rising sea levels are eating away at coastlines.  Bees and other critically important insects are disappearing.  Foreign policy made in a fact-free environment has devastated the Middle East.  The future will be incalculably worse.  Attention to science education, moral education, and humanistic education remains small.

Part of this is environmental concern, and there we need to draw on traditional moralities.  Most cultures, worldwide, have solved the problems of sustainability—usually by teaching respect for all beings.  Children absorb this at a very young age.  They go on to remember that trees, fish, grass, and future humans all need to be regarded as worthy of consideration—to be used only as necessary and to be protected for future uses or simply to keep them alive.  The western world has long been an outlier, worldwide, by treating resources as things to destroy without a second thought.

With a proper spirit of respect, we will be able to preserve species and environments and to avoid destroying the environment with pollutants and excessive construction.  In the short run, we will have to fall back on laws.  The framework existing as of 2016 was inadequate but was a good start; it is now lost, and we will have to start from scratch, hopefully with better laws to be designed in future.  There are countless books on solving the environmental crisis, and to go further into it here would be tedious.  What matters is recognizing that we must think of sustainability and respect.



I support the Second Amendment, but it is subject to qualifications, just as the other amendments are.  Free speech does not include libel or inciting violence.  Freedom of religion does not extend to human sacrifice.  Similarly, freedom to bear arms does not extend to allowing everyone to bear any arms under any circumstances.

It stands to reason that children and mentally ill persons should not have access to firearms (except older children under adult supervision in training contexts).

Evidence shows that domestic abusers and people who commit intimate partner or friend violence are high risks (see e.g. the Sutherland Springs shooter).  Anyone convicted of these offenses should not be allowed to own or have access to a firearm.

Automatic weapons, bump stocks, AR-15s, and other weapons whose only purpose is killing people (especially in large numbers) should be banned from ordinary civilian ownership.

There should be a great deal more emphasis on gun safety and proper use.  There should be a great deal less talk about “good guys with guns” as solutions to problems.  Too many hostile, aggressive people (mostly white males, as it happens) think they are good guys, and solve their problems by mass shooting.  It has become obvious that these are copycat crimes, or at least crimes that follow a clear pattern of solving personal problems by mass murder.

We also need to study the whole issue scientifically.  The government ban on studying firearm-related issues must end.


Democratic cooperation:

The Democrats must unite, first of all, before doing anything else.  The current disunion (routinely described in the media as a “circular firing squad”) is suicidal.  Democrats will never win any close elections until they at least vote for each other.

Then, obviously, appealing to the former base—the great working class—is the next most important thing to do.  Democrats are perceived, with much reason, to have forsaken the workers to pursue other issues, many of which are of interest mainly to well-to-do, educated urbanites.  Populist issues like health care and tax fairness should be foregrounded.

Third is getting out the vote.  This should be obvious, but Democrats have failed to do it for the last several elections.  Money is spent on lavish media campaigns—not terribly effective—instead of the proven doorbell-ringing and precinct phoning and activism.

Fourth is a concentrated fight against voter suppression and gerrymandering.  Again, this should be obvious, but Democratic officials have been surprisingly quiet about it.

Fifth, I think, is more aggressive calling out the Trump administration on their constant lies and misrepresentations, and above all naming names of their funders and backers who are really calling the dishonest shots—the Koch brothers on global warming, for instance.

There are many other issues I could name, but those five, in order, seem to me the key ones.  Without attention to these five, the Democratic party is finished, and the US will be a one-party nation.


Global warming:

There is now no question that the world is warming rapidly, and that human-released greenhouse gases are the main reason.

There is still considerable question how much of the warming is natural; the world has been warming for purely natural reasons since about 1800.  There is also some question as to just how fast the process is going.  Among qualified, responsible scientists, Michael Mann is a good example of the more radical end of the spectrum (the world is warming fast, and it’s almost entirely our fault).  Judith Curry anchors the skeptical end.  They are both competent, qualified scientists.  My reading (I am quite literate in this field and can judge with some professional competence) is that both are a bit too committed to their own positions, and look hard for confirming evidence.  So I assume the truth is in the middle somewhere.

The outright denialist positions are now apparently monopolized by public-relations people working for fossil fuel corporations.  (There is a long list of books and articles documenting this.)  Since not only all scientists, but all persons who have spent much time outdoors over more than a couple of decades, must admit that global warming is occurring, the denialists have fallen back on saying that it’s happened before.  Indeed it has; we know the causes, which were either the earth changing its tilt in regard to the sun (so the sun more effectively warmed the earth) or natural releases of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane.  The most dramatic well-known episode of that was a massive outpouring of CO2 from volcanoes, about 50 million years ago.  The Eocene world warmed rapidly and dramatically, and stayed warm for about 200,000 years.  Then it cooled so fast that trees growing in the high Arctic froze in place.  Explorers unthinkingly used some of them for firewood, only later discovering that their firewood was 50 million years old!  We are now releasing quantities of greenhouse gases comparable to those released by the volcanoes.

The immediate consequences include slow but sure sea level rise, and increase in global temperatures to the point where major changes in biota and in human lives will occur.  In a bit of karma, the world’s main oil producing region, the lowland Middle East, will become uninhabitable in a few decades, as air temperatures soar into the 180s.  Sea level rise has so far been slower than many predicted (Judith Curry has not failed to point this out), but it is happening, and will swamp the world’s coasts eventually.

No one knows where this will end.  There is no reason to expect that the earth will not suffer the fate of Venus, with surface temperatures in the hundreds of degrees.

The fastest and most effective way to deal with this is by leaving or restoring natural vegetation, especially forests.  That alone could blot up 20% of atmospheric carbon, given quite possible scenarios.  Other agricultural changes in the direction of less fuel-intensive, more biointensive farming would greatly help also.  There is a long literature on this, some reviewed in: Griscom, Bronson; Justin Adams; Peter Ellis; Richard Houghton; Guy Lomax; et al.  2017.  “Natural Climate Solutions.”  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114:11645-11650.

Ultimately, the solution must extend to clean power; power generation for electric grids, transportation, and industry accounts for the other 80% of greenhouse gas release.

The denial industry has been financed by the large fossil-fuel corporations, who have hired public-relations firms and in-house scientists.  The Koch brothers are the most conspicuous organizers and funders of the effort, but ExxonMobil, Shell, and other firms have been involved.



Racism and religious bigotry are more open now than they have been since the 1960s or perhaps even the 1920s.  However, the real underlying problem seems to be a more general increase in hostility and antisocial aggression.  We have mass shootings in which the victims are country music fans (Las Vegas), Baptist churchgoers (Texas), Walmart customers, and other ordinary Americans—more on the conservative white Republican side than otherwise.  By far the greatest number of mass-murder and terrorist killings in recent years have been of this sort; very few are either Islamic-extremist or otherwise religiously or racially motivated.  Ordinary murders are also increasing again after years of decline.

It thus seems that there is a major need for calming speeches and for ideas on how to reduce violence and antagonism in general.  Certainly, we still need to combat racism, and to defend freedom of religion, especially freedom from bullying in the name of religion.  We need even more to combat overall hostility.



All other developed countries, and many less developed ones, now have government health care systems: socialist, single-payer, or government-insured.  All these systems work better than the US system, but every normal measure: life expectancy, days lost to work, maternal mortality, infant mortality, and coping with illnesses in general.  One partial exception: Some other countries have incidence of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic disorders comparable to the US.  In any case, the data are in: the US mix of government, private insurance, and private or religious health care is a disaster.  American pay twice as much as Europeans for vastly inferior care.  The only reasonable solution is to expand Medicare and Medicaid to cover everyone, while also expanding the CDC and other government agencies that deal with health.

Health education is another problem, as is the level of nutrition in virtually all environments in the US (and, in this case, most of the rest of the world also).

Research should add more work on prevention and education to the ongoing research on actual pathology and treatment.  We are not doing enough to prevent conditions like substance abuse.   We are not doing enough to stop pollution and clean up polluted environments.


Endangered Species

The Endangered Species Act has been under permanent attack by Republicans since it was proposed.  The ostensible reason is that the act saves worthless weeds and bugs at the expense of human interests.  The real reason is that it protects habitat that corporate interests want to use.

Balancing environmental protection against immediate use is always difficult, and requires much more attention than it usually receives, but in this case there should be no question.  “Extinction is forever.”  Once a species is extinct, it can never be brought back (despite recent claims for reconstruction through DNA—still merely a vision).  Most of the species proposed for protection are economically and ecologically valuable.  A few “weeds and bugs” do get protection, but they are probably more important than they look.  We still have no idea what is important in nature.  Sometimes, loss of an apparently minor species has caused meltdown of a whole ecological system.  Beyond mere utility, there is an issue of respect for life and living things.  Individuals can be replaced; species cannot.

We also need a mechanism for moving quickly to protect species that collapse suddenly.  A new pesticide, an epidemic, a rampantly multiplying introduced pest, or an ill-considered human action can rapidly change a species from common to endangered.



The need for environmental protection and conservation is now obvious to everyone except certain giant corporate interests, who persist in seeing everything natural as a problem to be eliminated.  Even far-right activists admit a need for some action.  Sustainability of resource use is obviously necessary when at all possible, given the rapid expansion of US population and economic activity.  Some things will inevitably be lost; we need to restore a great deal to make up for that.

Anti-pollution rules, wise use rules, and conservation in general are under full and total attack by the few corporate interests, however.  This has led to some extreme rhetoric on all sides.   Always, the worst problem is the fossil fuel industry, which not only causes most of the pollution and global warming, but is fighting for its life against cheaper, more efficient, ecologically preferable energy sources.  It now survives thanks to enormous taxpayer subsidies, so it plows vast sums into lobbying and into spreading disinformation.  The amount this industry spends on those activities could very possibly finance a full-scale conversion to clean energy.

One huge problem that is widely ignored is loss of farmland.  Soil conservation has been quite effective in the US in recent years, leading to complacency.  The real problems now are urbanization and pollution.  Vast areas of productive soil and waters are lost to these.  California has urbanized almost a third of its farmland, including almost all the very best land, in the last two centuries.  Within my memory, “Silicon Valley” (the San Jose Valley) was probably the most productive orchard land in the world.  It now has no orchards at all.  Nothing is being done to halt the steady conversion of the best land to suburbs and parking lots.  Other states suffer less, but the problem is nationwide (and worldwide).

Conversely, there are some reasons to pull back on Obama’s new national monuments, and rather more reasons to look for more due process in future.  Obama declared vast areas of mixed-use land as national monument, without local consultation or input, and with some disregard for established interests.  In general, one can only sympathize with land protection, but more local input is highly desirable for both pragmatic and democratic reasons.

Forestry has also suffered from a see-saw battle between lock-down preservation and totally destructive and wasteful clearcutting.  Wiser solutions (reforestation, controlled burning, thinning, etc.) have been well known for over 100 years.  They are too rarely invoked today.  A scan of satellite photographs of Oregon is instructive:  tiny pockets of overcrowded locked-down preserves, surrounded by vast moonscapes of badly recovering clearcuts.  Oregon has lost most of its songbirds, as well as its forestry futures.  There is a desperate need to maintain more wilderness, for reasons that have filled many whole books, but that would need to include some burning to preserve actual wild conditions.

Specific conservation areas of major concern:

Biodiversity and endangered species preservation

Forest management: sustainable logging, controlled burning, disease control, etc.

Grasslands, wetlands and streams, brushlands, deserts:  sustainable management

Agriculture: getting away from deadly chemicals, continuing to fight soil erosion, saving farmland from urbanization, reducing meat and increasing vegetables, etc.


Urban sprawl and urban crowding; urban blight; lack of parks, markets, etc.


Park and recreation areas that are actually accessible to everyone

Environmental education

Regulating imports: banning endangered species and hunting trophies, controlling dangerous pest importation, banning palm oil, banning or discouraging other ecocidal crops, etc.


The Republican tax cuts would cause a massive and steadily increasing flow of wealth from the poor and middle class to the super-rich.  Cutting tax deductions that the middle class uses, while maintaining those for the rich, accompanies huge cuts to the highest brackets of taxing and trivial and temporary cuts to the rest of us.  The resulting rise in national debt will be managed by cutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other programs that transfer wealth to the less fortunate.  The worst problem with that, from an economic point of view, is that money in those programs is immediately spent—it goes directly into circulation, to buy goods and services.   The rich, in contrast, hoard their money, waiting for ideal investment possibilities.

This is bad enough in the current good times, but Republican policies will certainly cause a depression in the near future.  At that point the less affluent will lose their jobs and savings, and the rich will have every incentive to move their wealth offshore—investing in other countries or stashing their money in tax shelters like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.  Other countries will be developing while the US is depressed; hence the rich will invest in the other countries.

By that time, also, education will have been devastated by Republican policies and funding cuts (see Kansas, currently leading in that area).  There will be no pool of young, educated people to re-grow the economy.  The depression will feed on itself, bringing the United States down, and letting other nations pick up the lead.


My Constitution if I Ran the World

First, the standard freedoms, including all human and civil rights, guarantee of impartial justice (especially impartial to dollars) and rights to organize.  Explicitly, money is not speech.

Next, full rights to a decent environment—minimal pollution and waste, no subsidies for primary production, preservation of as much of nature as possible given the need to maintain a decent standard of living.

Next, no offensive war; war only to defend the country from direct attack, but that can cover going after terrorists abroad.

Then, firm graduated tax rate, written into the constitution.  No tax exemptions except for legitimate business and work expenses, and actual, effective charities. No exceptions for churches, for “charities” that do not spend over 80% of their incomes on actual charity work (as opposed to “overhead” and administration), or political outfits masquerading as “non-profits.”  Offshore tax havens and the like would be absolutely illegal, with extreme penalties.

No subsidies, no favoring specific businesses, minimal restriction of business and trade, but firm regulations such that harm and cheating do not happen.

Free universal health care (free up to a point—small deductibles possible, and no free discretionary treatment such as plastic surgery for looks).

Free universal education with arts as well as sciences in the schools.

Savage penalties for corruption, which would be defined to include donating campaign funds beyond a set low limit.

Universal national service: a year in the military, a year doing environmental work, then a year of social work.  Lifetime emergency call-up, as in Switzerland.

Discouragement of hate and hate speech.  Citizens see their duty as opposing it and damping it down.  No penalties, but extreme, savage penalties for violating civil rights and for hate crimes.

Campaign fund regulations, especially in sensitive things like judicial elections.

Aesthetics encouraged; national conservation in museums, sites, etc.







Thanks to Barbara Anderson, Christopher Chase-Dunn, Peter Grimes, Hollie Nyseth Brehm, Jennifer Skornik, and Andrea Wilson for ever-valuable comments.




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Genocide and Political Mass Killing in the World since 1900: Summary of Major Events

May 23rd, 2017

Genocide and Political Mass Killing in the World since 1900: Summary of Major Events


Genocide here refers to mass killing of citizens or subjects of a country, simply on the basis of their “race,” ethnicity, language, religion, or similar “essentialized” group identity.  It grades into politicide: mass killing based on political ideology or other broad and general identification with opposing factions (as opposed to actual participation in such factions).

Sources:  Otherwise unattributed figures are from Stanton 2010.  Further notes from Anderson and Anderson 2014; figures in that book were based largely on Rummel 1998 but with much updating from later sources.  Rummel is cited below where he is the last or best authority.  Some updating from general media since 2014.  Stanton’s figures are consistently higher than Rummel’s, reflecting better historical scholarship on these topics, and also more killing in many countries, since Rummel’s count, which ended in 1987.

N=100 countries, ca. 115 cases ranging from low-level ongoing politicide to full genocide.  These include 13 major genocides.  Many cases are ongoing murder with occasional  over long periods, notably settler wars in 19th-century US and 19th and 20th century Brazil.

Not all that is below is genocide.  Some cases, notably in the Middle East, are currently unclear.  We have no idea how much killing is cold-blooded murder by government of its own peaceable subjects (i.e. genocide) and how much is wartime massacre.  This makes comparison of the extent of genocide impossible in many, even most, cases.  Clear genocide blends into war.  To start with our first case, Afghanistan saw clear genocide of the Hazaras under the Taliban; mass killing of civilians for various reasons by them and by warlords; and a great deal of indiscriminate murder of anyone in the way of battle during the endemic wars.  Indonesia in 1965-66 saw genocide, rebellion, civil war, and mob violence, all going on in different places at the same time, or in the same place at different times, but with actual genocide clearly the major killer.  Sorting out numbers in such cases is impossible.  The same applies to other failed-state cases, including Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and many more.

Many had multiple cases of murderous autocracies, especially when fascist (or, in the USSR case, repressive tsarist) countries transitioned to communism, with murderous regimes both times (n=11; China, Cuba, USSR, east Europe).

Interesting is that the few Communist regimes remaining have proved the most durable and the most genocidal of the classes of dictatorship.  A close second is the theocracies.  These are currently all Muslim but have not always been so.  Christians carried out genocide in Lebanon in its civil war, and Christian genocide of Muslims was nipped in the bud in the Central African Republic in 2014.  Fascism is much less durable; there are currently no really genocidal fascist regimes, in spite of several elected fascist governments (including that of the US as well as Turkey, India, Hungary, and perhaps a few other cases).  These regimes may turn genocidal in time, however.  Military dictatorships are especially prone to fade away.  Myanmar’s is tenacious, but civic action led to the end of military rule in South Korea, Taiwan, and many other countries, and a rather chaotic alternation of militarism and civic government in Thailand.

“Democratically” elected regimes are starred.  Usually the democracy was far from perfect.  N=19.  Some of these, most famously Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini (and also Philippines under Marcos), declared dictatorship before starting the actual genocide.  Most, however, did not; they killed in spite of constitutional prohibitions.  They are sometimes called “imperfect” or otherwise suspect, but Hollie Nyseth Brehm (2015, 2017) points out that they may be especially high-risk simply because they are democracies—the government being insecure and subject to defeat in elections.  If they are consumed by exclusionary passions, they may move to killing.

Several brief episodes of terror in small nations are omitted here.

Major conclusion:  In all cases, regimes took power through conflict, or rarely through democratic election, but often directly and solely through whipping up hate.  Economic factors such as poverty, downward mobility, and local inequalities sometimes appear to be causative, but not reliably enough to predict anything.  Extremist political ideology is predictive.  So is chaotic conflict.


Afghanistan: 1978-present: “tens of thousands” when kingdom fell to communist government and it consolidated in and after 1978 (Totten and Bartrop 4); 228,000 by 1987 (Rummel); countless since.  Impossible to sort out genocide from ordinary war or to get accurate counts, but well over a million people have died violently, most of them noncombatants.  Massive persecution of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Monguors, and other specific groups at least sometimes count as genocidal, especially Taliban killings.  (The Taliban are largely Pashtun/Afghan.)  These include killing of 50,000 in 1996-2001 with apparent intent to exterminate the Hazaras or at least destroy their culture.

Albania: 1941-1945, ca. 50,000, during the fascist-dominated period, Jews and religious leaders, during wartime; later another 50,000 or more, under communism (especially during consolidation, but then ongoing under Enver Hoxha), when any and all dissidents were targeted.

Algeria: 1953-1963, French genocidal repression of independence movement, 160,000 (civil war as excuse, but mass terror quite typical);  subsequent genocide of secular elements by militant Islam 1991-2005 (largely in two separate episodes), 200,000 (some real combat here, and war deaths are included in this total, so actual genocide is substantially less though still serious).

Angola: 1961-1962: suppression of independence movements; 40,000, especially Kongo ethnics.  1975-2002, civil war for independence followed by random killing; about 500,000 Umbundu-Ovumbundu in genocidal suppression campaigns.  Civil wars with attendant genocides.

Argentina:  During the rule by the “Colonels,” 1976-1983: at least 20,000, probably 30,000; Jews, Communists, leftists, dissidents.  Ongoing and increasing repression characterized the period until the “Colonels” lost power.

Armenia: thousands of killings in war with Azerbaijan, 1988-1994; marginally genocide (largely ordinary warfare).  For the great Armenian genocide, see Turkey.

*Australia:  Aboriginals; small and uncertain numbers, but, as proportion of total, an enormous genocide.  Deliberate destruction of culture (banning of language, destroying hunting and foraging grounds, etc.) much more prevalent than killing, but plenty of killing in early decades.  This largely ended by 1930, but Aboriginals were not legally citizens till the 1970s.  Cultural destruction continues, but worse now is ecocide (Short 2016:127-158), though using Aboriginal lands as outright sacrifice zones is far less easy than once.

Austria: fascism in WWII; Jews and others; wartime; generally counted under the “six million” of the Nazi genocide, since Austria was part of Germany at the time.

Azerbaijan: 1988-1994:  some tens of thousands of Armenians; Armenian army reciprocated with some thousands of killings.  War situation, so the number of innocents killed solely for their identity is unknown.

Bangladesh: 1971-1975; non-Bengali Muslims, Hindus.  At least 25,000 (a very low estimate) in what was otherwise a war of independence for Bangladesh.  Many non-Bengali Muslims were driven out of the new nation in “ethnic cleansing” operations; many of these died of disease and malnutrition in refugee camps.  1980s (and to some extent ongoing), near-genocidal killings by the government of local hill peoples, largely to open their areas to wider exploitation (Levene 2010), making these a modern-day case of settler genocide.

Belgium:  Largely before our time frame but overlapping with it, King Leopold II oversaw the killing of perhaps as many as 8,000,000 in his empire from 1886 to 1908.

*Bosnia:  1992-1998: Ca. 100,000 killed, largely by Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian government, also massacres by Croatians and Bosnians.  Muslims were singled out for “ethnic cleansing,” the euphemism (for genocide or expulsion) that was used in this case.  However, Catholics and other religious minorities (as opposed to the Eastern Orthodox dominant in Serbia) were also subjected to mass killing.  Related were thousands of deaths in Croatia, Serbia, and Macedonia as part of general conflict and Milosevic government action.  Situation of regime consolidation, but then simply genocide without any real trigger—a rather rare case.

*Brazil: throughout history, and ongoing, anti-Native American bias leads to regular genocide or genocidal treatment of Native American groups.  Sometimes expanded to local mixed-“race” people, as in the genocidal repression of the “backlands” rebellion of the late 19th century. Many separate episodes; about 300,000 killed in 1945-1964 under repressive military regimes.  Totals otherwise unknown and obscure, but many Indigenous tribes have simply vanished over the years.  Ecocide—massive deforestation, dam-building, and the like—has led to mass displacements and frequent deaths.

Bulgaria: 222,000 (Rummel).  Most deaths due to fascism in WWII.  There were, later, reactive massacres of Germans and others 1945-1948; Communism after that, largely during consolidation period.  Total probably too small.

Burundi: Tutsi purges of Hutu; 1959-62, 50,000; 1972, 150,000; 1988, 25,000; 1993-1995, 100,000, but this time the Hutus were strong enough to kill 50,000 Tutsi; 1996-present, continued unrest, 100,000 or more further deaths (both groups).  Regime consolidation and then simply continuing genocide.

Cambodia:  especially Khmer Rouge, from 1968, especially 1975-1979; a massive, almost indiscriminate genocide targeting all educated people, Vietnamese, Cham, opponents or suspected or conceivable opponents of the regime, and Buddhist clergy (90-95% killed by Khmer Rouge admission; Totten and Bartrop 2008:53); total of at least 1.75-2 million killed.  Before 1975, a few thousand Communists and Vietnamese had been eliminated.  After 1979, anti-Communists, Pol Pot loyalists, conceived opponents, few thousand (plus several tens of thousands in civil war 1979-80 and some following action).  Total deaths in Cambodia during the whole period probably 3,000,000, but some of that is war death, not genocide.  See details in Kiernan (2007) and sources cited there.  Consolidation moving into wartime situation.

Central African Republic: Under the Bokassa military dictatorship (“Central African Empire”): real and imagined opponents including whole local groups were targeted.  This was ongoing for some years.  “Not even approximate figures exist” (Anderson and Anderson 2015:162).  Much more recently (2010-2013), escalating conflict between Christians and Muslims was beginning to lead toward genocide, but was stopped by prompt action of other African states and international observers, in a very rare case of preventing genocide (Brown 2013).

Chad: 1965-1996, ca. 10,000 deaths in civil wars.  More serious genocide 2005-2010 from Sudanese army incursions and their Chadian collaborators, targeting Darfuri and related groups; several thousand; totals uncertain.

Chile:  Dictatorship of Pinochet, 1973-1989: 3000-10,000+ leftists, dissidents, protestors.  Consolidation, then ongoing repression.  Though small compared to most genocides, this one was cruel, bloody, and without even the pretense of excuse in rebellion or civil unrest, so it has become notorious.  Also, CIA involvement (Feierstein 2010), and support by conservative economists (such as Milton Freeman and Friedrich Hayek) for Augusto Pinochet, make it particularly embarrassing to the US on an international scale. Pinochet was forced out as dictator in 1989 but remained in control of the army until 1998.  Attempts to bring him to justice were beginning to look hopeful, but he died in 2006.

China:  Uncounted political murders in the troubled times of 1911-1937.  Then Japanese occupation and widespread genocide.  (In parts of China under full Japanese control, this was not war in a foreign country but simple genocide).  Possibly 4 to 6 million dead; 300,000 in the rape of Nanking (1937) alone (Totten and Bartrop 2008:69).  1948-present:  non-Communists, dissidents, protestors; religious persons, Uighur, Tibetans (at least 1,200,000 Tibetans, probably more); to some extent other non-Han.  Also religious repression; under Mao, all religions; more recently, only Falun Gong and locally Christians, but totals many thousand.  Several separate episodes.  Consolidation of the regime at first involved 3 million deaths (Totten and Bartrop 2008:269).  Famine in the Great Leap Forward killed another 45,000,000 (Dikotter 2010).  The Great Cultural Revolution, and further savage racist repression under Xi Jinping, killed perhaps as many again; numbers are dubious.  The full total from 1948 to 1976, under Mao, is unclear, but well over 50 million.  Since then deaths are uncounted and hard to classify, but at least many thousand.  See details in Anderson and Anderson 2014:163-164.

*Colombia:  Civil war, especially 1948-1958, but continuous since, flaring up after 1975, with peace finally achieved in 2016; totals at least 200,000, but impossible to sort out genocide, civil war, and sheer crime, since drug gangs did much of the killing and were often fused with government or anti-government militias.  Rummel (1998) est. 152,000 genocidal.  See Arturo Escobar’s great work Territories of Difference (2008) for an unexcelled account of the back story.

Congo (D. R.): Belgian cruelty and mass murder, especially under King Leopold in the early 20th century, led to complete chaos and almost continual mass killing since independence, but most is by local militias, not the government.  It is basically about ethnic hatreds potentiated by conflict for mineral resources such as col-tan (columbium and tantalum ore).  Around 5,000,000 dead in last 30 years; impossible to sort out genocide from civil war and simple massacre.  Relatively few deaths from classic genocide (government killing of peaceful people); most deaths from militia and foreign-army massacres of civilians, especially in the east.  (See McDoom 2010.)

Congo (Republic):  Violence around the continuing power of Denis Sassou-Nguesso has killed uncertain but small numbers of people since 1997.

Cote d’Ivoire:  few thousand over decades, political repression by strongman government, possibly not qualifying as genocide.  Most recently, political killings of a few dozen in 2013-2014 (World Almanac 2017:767).

*Croatia:  1991-1995: Milosevich era: some mass murder of Serbian Orthodox communities in reaction to Milosevich’s killings; genocide of Muslim communities in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; killing of dissidents.  See under Serbia below.

Cuba: both the Bautista dictatorship and Castro’s Communist regime engaged in massive politicide.  Totals hard to find; estimates range from 73,000 to 141,000 for Castro (Anderson and Anderson 2014:164).  Full genocide only in early Castro regime (consolidation) against anti-Communists and supposed allies thereof.  Political hatreds of right and left the only real hate ideology here, but sufficient to produce much bloodshed, even in diaspora communities.

Czechoslovakia: Usual genocides in WWII under Hitler. Fascist to Communist transition period led to consolidation killings.  Totals perhaps 197,000, ranging from Jews killed by fascists, to Germans killed in the postwar era by Czechs, to dissidents of all sorts killed by Communists.

Dominican Republic: brutal dictatorship in mid-20th century; few thousand in political repression campaigns.  Haitian refugees/immigrants singled out for genocidal killing in the 1930s.

Egypt: regular purging of dissidents and political opponents through all modern history, but no actual genocide (several episodes, none by itself really huge, came close to turning genocidal).  The current military government is accused of many killings, but estimates diverge widely.

*El Salvador:  under Roberto d’Aubuisson, 1980-1992, some 75,000 leftists, centrists, any and all dissidents and protestors, and suspected personal enemies were eliminated.  This is a huge number for such a small country.  It involved regime consolidation and later repression.  Many more disappeared.  Merged into this were further massive killings—thousands—by drug gangs, which often were allied politically with one side or another.  Today El Salvador is run to a gtreat extent by these gangs, with murder routine in consequence.

Eritrea:  In war for independence, 1961-1991, some 750,000 Eritreans were killed by Ethiopia, largely in genocidal attacks.  Since independence, about 125,000 dead in constant wars with Ethiopia, but this seems to be ordinary war, not genocide, though there are the usual wartime massacres.

Equatorial Guinea:  1958-1979, ca. 50,000, by various governments suppressing dissidents; politicide, dubiously true genocide.

Ethiopia:  Under Emperor Haile Selassie, about 150,000 Oromo, Eritreans, and others killed in pacification campaigns that came close to, or were, genocide.  Under the Dergue, purge of anyone suspected of dissidence, including Oromo groups and Tigre; 750,000 in full-scale genocide.  Hundreds of thousands of additional deaths in government-caused famine then (and to a lesser extent since).  Since 2001, about 50,000 killed in pacification campaigns; again Oromo singled out, but Anuak and other groups hit hard.  Ethiopia has a violent history, and killings based on ethnicity go on almost continually (see review in de Waal 2010).  Famine is once again widespread as of 2017, with doubts about political management of aid and food relief.

Fiji: torture and killings after nativist coup in 2006; democracy returned in 2014 but killings still reported by human rights organizations.

France:  70,000 Jews and anti-fascists under the Vichy government, 1940-1944.  Later (1950s-1960s), murders of Algerian nationalists in Algeria’s war of independence reached genocidal levels.  France has a long history as one of the major developers and perpetrators of early genocide, from the Catharist crusade to Philip the Fair’s butchery of Catholic groups he claimed were “opposing” him.  Witchcraft and heretic trials, mass murder of Protestants (and some back-killing by Protestants in rare moments of power), and the Terror during the Revolution followed.  In 1793-1794 the Revolutionary government dealt with opposition from the Vendée region by genocidal murder and rapine there, leading to thousands of casualties.

*Germany, also involving Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania, Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Finland, etc.: 1933-1945, Nazi killings.  The Dachau concentration camp was already in business in 1933 (Totten and Bartrop 2008:83).  Mass murder of Jews and others was well under way by 1938; a detailed history of the genocides is provided by Timothy Snyder in Black Earth (2015).   Hate propaganda was largely against Jews, but genocide involved Roma (including Sinti; at least a quarter million; Totten and Bartrop 2008:338), Slavs, handicapped persons of all sorts, homosexuals, dissidents, religious objectors to Nazism, and other groups, even to modern artists (“degenerate” art).  The main genocides were from 1941 to 1945, especially after Hitler began to realize the war was turning against him, in 1943. 1945-1949, subsequent revenge killings often turned into genocide of Germans and others in eastern Europe, especially Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary (many episodes).  The classic “six million” figure for outright genocide stands, for the 1933-1945 period.  There was more genocidal political killing in East Germany with Communist consolidation.  Rummel lists an oddly “accurate” figure of 20,946,000 for the whole period, but does not break it down very clearly.

Religious dissidents often saved Jews.  “In the Netherlands, where catholics were predominant in some disctricts and Protestants were in others, the Catholics tended to rescue Jews where Catholics were the minority, and Protestants tended to rescue Jews where Protestants were the minority” (Snyder 2015:290).

Germany had a long history of exterminating Jews and other religious dissidents, including burning witches, especially in the 15th and 16th centuries.  Germany was, of course, the origin point and main battleground in the Reformation religious wars that ultimately led an exhausted Europe to the formula cuius regio, eius religio (whoever rules, his religion) and then to religious freedom as concept and, soon, practice.  Many Germans were never comfortable with this.  Many others in the world, of course, are still uncomfortable with it.

Also, the Germans had perfected their genocide techniques in the Herero genocide of 1904-1907, a classic settler genocide.  The Herero rebelled against German rule; the Germans decided to exterminate them, by driving them into the desert and poisoning wells, or, significantly, by confining them to camps where they died of ill-treatment.  Some 60,000 or more noncombatant Herero and Nama died—80% of the Herero and 50% of the Nama (Totten and Bartrop 2008:266-267).

Germans suffered considerable revenge massacre in Poland, Hungary, and neighboring countries after WWII.  At least some of this should count as genocide.

Greece: 1922: Turkish communities, refugees; conflict with Turkey and consolidation of Greek authoritarian regime.  1941-45, Jews and other Nazi-targeted groups, under wartime fascist domination; killings forced by Hitler with little Greek support.   (Two separate episodes.)

*Guatemala: Rios Montt and followers, especially 1980s: Maya groups (especially Ixil), leftists, dissidents, randomly selected communities, teachers and professors, aid workers, political liberals, religious minorities, etc.  At least 200,000 in outright genocide, in consolidation and civil strife.  Otherwise, since 1950, countless killings in civil strife and local massacres.

Guinea:  Since 1958, many thousand deaths, totals unavailable, from various civil wars and guerrilla actions.  The only real genocide was spillover from Liberia-Sierra Leone conflicts in 2000-2003; several thousand deaths.

Haiti: dictatorships, often genocidal, most of 20th century, especially under “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

Honduras: political murders fairly numerous in 1980s; then few, but now reaching almost to genocide level since 2009

Hungary: fascism; Communism; *hypernationalist government currently in power has not carried out killing so far, but genocide is to be expected.  About 67,000 known deaths 1945-1987 (Rummel), but this does not count German occupation, and probably undercounts Communist killings.

*India: 1947-9: Muslims, some others; considerable random killing since; in recent with tacit government approval.  Hundreds of thousands; exact numbers hard to find; civil unrest more than actual genocide.

Indonesia:  1965-66, about 1,000,000 (some estimates run higher) following repression under Suharto until ca 2000: Chinese, Communists, leftists, traditionalists (locally), militant Islamists, breakaway groups in general, religious dissidents, foreigners in general (at times), ecological-environmental activists (many episodes).  Since 2000, several local massacres by Muslim extremists or by government pursuing them; few thousand.  (See Anderson and Anderson 2014:166-167 for details.)  Also uncounted thousands in West Irian, taken by Indonesia in a straightforward colonialist move, with the native inhabitants subjected to mass murder and expropriation (Deutsch 2008).  The failed attempt to take East Timor (Timor Leste) led to genocidal murder of perhaps 183,000 people (Deutsch 2008), some 20-25% of the total population.

Iran: 1953-1979:  26,000; Communists, leftists, dissidents.  Post-1979, 60,000, with truly genocidal targeting of Baha’i and Zoroastrians; mass killing of royalists and other dissidents; much targeting of Sunnis, lax Shi’a Muslims, and “moral” deviants.

Iraq: Saddam, 1963-2003, ca. 190,000, any dissident groups, but especially Kurds (“between fifty thousand and one hundred eight thousand” according to Totten and Bartrop 2008:198—an all too typical bit of uncertainty about genocidal killing) and the Ma’dan marsh Arabs (numbers unclear; Totten and Bartrop 2008:270).  Since then, chaos with mass killings routine (two regimes, several episodes), about 100,000 outside of actual war, but impossible to sort out war, genocide, and general violence, and figures vary greatly as to total deaths.

ISIS (Daesh):  Genocide of Yazidis, Christians, and to a lesser extent Shi’a Muslims in territories under their control, especially in and around Mosul; unknown total but certainly many tens of thousands.  The Anne Frank Center reports 5000 Yazidis killed as of 2017 (Facebook post, May 2017).  Fazil Moradi and Kjell Anderson (2017) have analyzed this case.  It was made worse by international indifference.  The world simply neglected the Yazidis.  Hannibal Travis (2017) has analyzed this horrible neglect in great detail, providing a model account of how the world allows genocide to happen simply because the group in question is obscure and receives little media attention.  It is oddly foreshadowed by the equally horrific and equally ignored fate of the Syriac Christians (see below, Turkey).

*Israel: slowly escalating attacks on Palestinians; outright genocidal threats and some actions under the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.  Threats of total extermination have been made by some of Netanyahu’s cabinet members.  Killings usually small and in retaliation for Palestinian or other action, but Israeli government massacres and specific targeting of civilians bring this close to genocide.  Back story: militant ethnicist Israeli politics was the creation of a small group of Polish Jews who emigrated to Israel in the 1930s, including Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin.  They had grown up in the nationalist environment of the day.  Netanyahu is the first of this group whose native language is not Polish (Snyder 2015:336).

*Italy: 1922-1945: political opponents, later Jews.  About 100,000 killed in Libya by the colonial regime in the 1920s when Libya was an Italian colony (Totten and Bartrop 2008:259).

Japan:  Imperial militarism, 1920s-1940; in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, China; leftists, dissidents, Koreans, Chinese, outsiders in general.  Rummel estimates 5,964,000-10,595,000.  Real figures may be far higher.  The Rape of Nanking (1937-1938) alone killed over 300,000 (Totten and Bartrop 2008:299).

Korea, North:  1,663,000 (Rummel est), 1948-1987.  Some since.  Political dissidents. 1949-1953 war led to about two million deaths, many of them government killings of own peaceful but dissident subjects; subsequent killings more obviously genocidal; one million died in government-caused famine in 1995-1997; uncounted thousands of other deaths.

Korea, South:  1946-53, 150,000, Communists and regime opponents; much war killing; genocidal killing hard to sort out.

Kyrgyzstan: post-USSR autocracy: regime opponents.  Few thousand deaths estimated.

Laos: 1945-60, French repression and civil war, few thousand; Pathet Lao, 1960-1975, 100,000, opponents and dissidents; since 1975, few thousand further dissidents.

*Lebanon: civil war:  1974-1991, 55,000, Christian-Muslim-Druze conflict, Christians guilty of most outright genocidal massacres.  Considerable subsequent killing, not clearly genocide.

Liberia: 1990-2003, 200,000 in massacres, genocides, and some actual war; especially under Sergeant Doe, then under Charles Taylor.

Libya: Murder of opponents, suspects, unfriendly tribals under Gaddafi; total chaos after Gaddafi.  Precise totals seem impossible to find.

Madagascar: 1947-1948, repression of independence movement by French, around 50,000; 2009-present, coup and subsequent murders of opponents, few thousand, but apparently not true genocide.

*Malaysia:  1950s-1960s, mass killing of Chinese and Communists—actually most of the Communists were ethnically Chinese in civil war.  1970-1972, thousands of deaths in tacitly-government-backed rioting.  1972-1980, some killing of ethnic Chinese and Communists—but, uniquely in this set, no genocide.

Mali:  1990-1993:  Tuareg, few thousand.  Some killing and civil strife since.

Mexico:  Occasional genocides of Native American groups had gone on since the Conquest.  Under the Porfirio Diaz government (the Porfiriato), 1890-1910, there was genocidal killing of Native American groups, protestors, dissidents;  some groups like the Seri and Yaqui were targeted for total extermination in the late 19th century, but, amazingly, outfought the Mexican army and survived.  1910-1921, civil war and general out-of-control killing—chaotic war rather than real genocide.  1,417,00 (Rummel), mostly war deaths.  Some killing of Native Americans has gone on throughout Mexico’s history, though now minor.

Mongolia: communism; political and religious repression.  Numbers unclear but small.

Mozambique: 194-1975, repression; independence faction fights, 1975-1994; over 1,000,000 killed in independence war, largely in outright massacres (genocide) by Portuguese forces and South Africans (of the old apartheid regime) sympathetic to white dominance, but also by leftist resistance (Finnegan 1992; Nordstrom 1997, 2004).

Myanmar: 1962-present:  Any and all minority groups, especially Chinese, Muslims; also hill tribes such as Shan; also political dissidents; well over 100,000 (Rummel counted 53,000 by 1987).  The military regime has been continually genocidal, targeting almost any minority.  Recently, the Rohingya Muslim community has been targeted.  Killings are numerous but uncounted; some 50,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh (Bengali 2017).

Nepal, 1990s, few thousand, government repression of Communists and suspected Communist/Maoists

Nicaragua: 1970-79, about 30,000, killing of leftists (Sandinistas) and opponents under Somoza; *civil war and political killings after that (several episodes, though none very large), esp. 1980-1989, again ca. 30,000, largely Somoza loyalists.

Nigeria: genocide in Biafra War, 1966-1970, about 1,000,000 dead, largely Igbo (Ibo); 2010-on, genocidal killings by Boku Haram in northern Nigeria, where they have enough power since 2010 to count as the de facto government for purposes of classifying the killings as genocide; several thousands by direct murder, probably tens (possibly hundreds) of thousands by disruption of life leading to starvation and death from easily preventable disease; they have profoundly disrupted aid and medical care (Roberts 2017).  Estimates of total deaths run up to a million; reliable counts are hard to find.

Pakistan: 1948-9, non-Muslims; subsequently, non-Muslims and “deviant” Muslims; ca. 61,000.  Killing of breakaway Bengalis in the future Bengladesh by the Pakistani army, 1971, 1,500,000.  1973-present, local suppression of non-Muslims and non-Sunni, few thousand, not systematic; since 2003, repression of extremist Muslim groups, few thousands or tens of thousands; politicide rather than true genocide.

Paraguay:  1954-1989: Stroessner dictatorship: leftists, real and imagined opponents even to suspected possible opponents, Native Americans; uncounted thousands (at least 4000; Feierman 2010:493).  Some killings since.

*Peru: 1980-1992, especially under Fujimori:  Shining Path radicals, Quechua and other Indigenous activists; leftists; protestors; 69,000

*Philippines:  After Ferdinand Marcos was elected in 1965, he declared authoritarian rule in 1971 and began a genocidal campaign to eliminate Communists, protestors. Local massacres and killings at all times.  He fell from power in 1986.  Currently, again after free elections in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte began an extermination campaign of drug dealers and users (only small fry; big ones escape) which had killed 6000 as of the end of 2016.

Poland:  fascism, communism, recent hypernationalist right-wing dominance (from recent government, no killing reported), 1,585,000 1941-1944; 22,000 1948-1987 (Rummel).

Portugal: Under Antonio Salazar, fascist dictator from 1932 to 1968: leftists and similar elements.  Compared to other fascists he was a mild ruler.

Rumania: fascism; later, communism, 435,000 in the 1948-1987 period (Rummel); Communism from 1949 brought consolidation genocide; the dictatorship N. Ceaucescu (ruler 1967-1989) involved particularly bloody suppression.  All these regimes targeted Hungarian and German minorities, political dissidents, religious figures.

*Russia:  Under the Vladimir Putin regime since 1994: Muslims, especially Caucasus groups; 75,000 Chechen, several thousand Ingush.  Some, but very little, of this was in actual war.

Rwanda: 1959-1963, 1993, general killing of Tutsi (Straus 2006).  Then full genocide under the Interahamwe, 1994: over 800,000 Tutsi and suspected sympathizers, ultimately uncontrolled mass killing, with elimination of imagined opponents, general settling of scores, etc.  Since then, continual violence, often displaced into neighboring Congo; few thousand killed by militias.

Saudi Arabia: repression of dissidents and non-Wahhabi Muslims since 18th century.  Enough religious murders to count as what might be called a slow-motion genocide.

*Serbia:  Under Slobodan Milośevič (r. 1989-2000): Catholics/Croatians, Muslims.  200,000-225,000, combined figure for Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Sierra Leone: 1991-2003, 200,000: chaotic civil war, mostly spillover from Liberia, with massacres and government or de facto government involvement enough to meet the criteria for genocide

Somalia: total chaos since 1990s.  Since 1988, clan militias have killed around 100,000 people.  About 40,000 have died in chaotic fighting between extremist Islamist militias and government forces as well as Ethiopian armed units.  (See details in de Waal 2010.)

*South Africa:  mass murder of opponents to apartheid regime until its overthrow, esp . 1987-1996; several thousand at least; Rummel est. 6000 1934-1987.

South Sudan: Formerly part of Sudan; genocide, rebellion, and civil war killed some 2,000,000 (est.); independence in 2011 merely made things worse.  Killings are ongoing; totals unknown at present.

Spain: Francisco Franco regime, 1939-1975:  275,000 (Rummel). Communists, leftists, dissidents, minority activists.  Michael Mann counts only “over 100,000 people in cold blood” (Mann 2004:44; see also 343-344), the rest of the 275,000 being war deaths.

Sri Lanka: 1983-2009: civil war between government and Tamil Tigers led to outright genocide of Tamils by the government, at least 60,000 noncombatant Tamil being killed.  The civil war of which this was part killed somewhere between 100,000 and 318,000 (Short 2016:93), the spread indicating how poorly known was this bloody war.  Most deaths appear to be government massacre of noncombatants rather than actual conflict deaths.  Of interest is the point that this is one of the rare Buddhist genocides.  Buddhist prohibition against taking life has had some effect.  The Cambodian genociders were militantly atheistic; the Myanmar military dictators are not notably serious Buddhists; Sri Lanka is unique in that Buddhism was the essentialized ideology of the killers.  After peace was declared, Sinhalese have continued to appropriate Tamil land and resources (Short 2016:114-126).

Sudan: 1956-1972, “around 500,000” (Pinker 2011:340).  1980s-2000s: genocide in Darfur, ongoing (Anderson and Anderson 2012); genocidal war in South Sudan led to its breakaway (several episodes).  Total over 2,000,000 in South Sudan before and after its independence; 250,000+, possibly 400,000 (Totten and Bartrop 2008:97) in Darfur.  Some killing continues there.  The Nuba peoples of the Nuba Mountains were also subjected to genocide by Sudan, from the 1980s to 2005, numbers killed seem obscure (de Waal 2010; Totten and Bartrop 2008:310).  Sudan’s bloody history makes genocides only relatively worse than business as usual for the rival ethnic groups; the war between Dinka and Nuer in what is now South Sudan is a traditional enmity.

Syria:  Killing of dissidents and minorities since 1981 (and many episodes long before that, outside our time frame).  Total chaos since 2010. Basic conflict is Shi’a vs Sunni, complicated by ‘Alwaite, Christian, Druze, and other factions, and the extreme violence of the Salafi Sunnis.  Actual genocide—government mass killing of noncombatants—has certainly reached many thousands.  Totals unknown, let alone what percentage of total deaths fall into the genocide category.  The country has produced five million refugees, probably unparalleled in recent history as a percentage of the population.

Tajikstan: Post-USSR autocracy, 1991-1997: regime opponents; virtual civil war. Ca. 50,000.

Thailand: several cycles of authoritarian military governments since explicitly pro-Axis government in the 1930s began a militaristic tradition.  These alternate with democracy on a loosely cyclic basis.  The current government as of 2016-17 is military and autocratic.  When in power, the fascistic governments carry out considerable killing of dissidents (several episodes)

Timor Leste: 1965-2000, 200,000 locals killed, theoretically part of war—Indonesia tried to conquer and take Timor Leste—but largely in genocidal massacres by Indonesian army.  Some subsequent elimination of dissidents, especially 2007-2009.

Turkmenistan: post-USSR communism/autocracy: regime opponents.

Turkey: Under dying Empire (1894-1914, especially 1894-96) and especially under the Young Turks (1908-1916) and aftermath (1916-1918, with violence continuing to 1923), two to three million or more (see discussion in Anderson and Anderson 2014:172-173).  Most were Armenians, Greeks (some 350,000 in northern and western Turkey, possibly 950,000 in total over the whole period), Syriac Christians (a.k.a. Chaldeans, Assyrians; 250,000-275,000 killed; Atto 2017; Totten and Bartrop 2008:26; higher and lower figures have been quoted), other Christians; locally other groups; any and all dissidents.  The non-Armenian victims are little remembered, the Syriac Christians being a “forgotten genocide” (Atto 2017).  There were several episodes, but overwhelming majority of killings were under the Young Turks in 1915-16.  Current *Erdogan regime hate-based and looking genocidal, with many killings of Kurds.  Since 1984 some tens of thousands of Kurds have been killed by government action, with the Kurdish nationalist PKK party doing its share of revenge, but as often the government kills so many more, typically noncombatants, that the term genocide can be applied.

Uganda: Idi Amin, 1972-1979: almost randomly selected groups—any and all suspected opponents—but Acholi, Lango, Karimoja singled out; at least 300,000 dead, possibly 500,000 (Totten and Bartrop 2008:12).  Following regime killed about 250,000 Baganda, Banyarwanda, and others, 1980-1986.  Milton Obote, 1966-1971 and again 1980-1985:  Many more killed; confused period, numbers hard to find.  Joseph Komy’s lunatic-fringe “Lord’s Resistance Army” has operated since 1986, killing tens of thousands, displacing millions, and using child soldiers and slaves.  It has been shattered in Uganda but survives in Congo (DR).  (See McDoom 2010.)

*United Kingdom:  Northern Ireland, several thousand deaths in “Time of Troubles,” mostly 1964-2001; mutual massacres by Protestants and Catholics do not count as genocide, but British troops shot down many Catholics in what comes close to, if not actually being, genocide.

*USA:  Genocides of Native groups in 19th century, reaching into 20th.  Genocidal killing stopped when Native Americans became citizens in 1924, but cultural repression and occasional killing continued, and continues today, though much less than formerly.  US-backed, US-trained military men carried out the genocides in Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, and other places noted above.

USSR:  1917-ca. 1954: non-Communists, kulaks, Jews, Cossacks, Siberian minorities, religious practitioners, white Russian loyalists, German ethnics, Tatars, Kalmyks, dissidents in general, repatriated Russians after 1945, countless other groups (multiple episodes over decades). Among notable events were the extermination of 300,000-500,000 Cossacks and rich peasants in 1919-1920 (Totten and Bartrop 2008:89; ironically, the Cossacks had been among the worst murderers of Jews and Tatars), the anti-kulak and collectivization campaigns of the 1927-1931 period that killed perhaps six million (Totten and Bartrop 2008:105),  and the deliberately created famine in Ukraine 1932-1933 that killed 3.3 million (Snyder 2015:53).   The Great Terror under Stalin in the 1930s killed another half million (Totten and Bartrop 2008:174).  Also, in suppression of Polish identity in later-Polish parts of the USSR, “[m]ore than a hundred thousand [ethnically Polish] Soviet citizens were shot as ostensible Polish spies.  This was the largest peacetime ethnic shooting campaign in history” up to that point (Snyder 2015:57).   Throughout, the Soviets killed anyone dissident or “other” that the Germans missed, and vice versa.  It was in the stateless realms after Poland and the Baltics were destroyed and much of the USSR was taken by the Germans that genocide was worst (Snyder 2015).  1945-1989, estimated toll around 23,000,000.  Rummel’s spread of totals for the entire period 1917-1987 was 61,911,000-126,891,000, indicating a great deal remains unknown.

Part of the back story is the longstanding habit of massacring unpopular minorities, especially but not only Jews, as in the Chmielnicki Cossack rising of the 1600s and the Ukraine pogroms of the 19th and 20th century, including mass killings, apparently by all sides, in the civil war leading to Bolshevik takeover.  Russia and USSR had the expected high levels of settler genocides as the state moved to take and then consolidate hold over Siberia, though no sizable groups were actually exterminated.  Cultural repression (“cultural genocide,” “culturocide”) was extreme at times under the USSR; at other times the USSR supported local cultures.

Uzbekistan:  Since 1991, post-USSR autocracy: regime opponents; few thousand.

*Venezuela: various regimes, killing of political opponents in general, and genocide of Native American groups, throughout 20th century though much less after 1970; in first half of century, government explicitly wanted to exterminate Native American groups, or winked at or colluded with settler massacres.  Yanomami, Bari, and others targeted.

Vietnam, repression under French, several thousand; later, South Vietnam, 1954-1975, ca. 90,000 regime opponents; North Vietnam, 1954-1975, Communist:  non-Communists, to some extent Cambodians, tribal groups, dissidents, etc.; one million.  Unified Vietnam since 1975: several thousand regime opponents.

Yemen: frequent chaotic episodes, with genocidal killing in North/South Yemen wars, and since Houthi Rebellion (many episodes). 1962-1970, 150,000 in miscellaneous actions; 2014-present, Houthi and Saudi Arabian masssacres reaching locally genocidal levels, totals uncertain at this point.

Yugoslavia:  1941-1945, 750,000 in fascist genocides, ultimately part of Hitler’s program but carried out by local, largely Croatian, fascists.  1945-1987, est. 1,000,000 purged by Tito and Communists.

*Zimbabwe:  Robert Mugabe: 1982-1984, 20,000 Matabele and others; 1998-ca. 2014, few thousand general opponents of various groups—opponent families, groups, communities



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Atto, Naures.  2016.  “What Could Not Be Written: A Study of the Oral Transmission of Sayfo Genocide Memory among Assyrians.”  Genocide Studies International 10:183-209.


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McDoom, Omar.  2010.  “War and Genocide in Africa’s Great Lakes Since Independence.”  In The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies, David Bloxham and A. Dirk Moses, eds.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.  Pp. 550-575.


Moradi, Fazil, and Kjell Anderson.  2016.  “The Islamic State’s Ezidi Genocide in Iraq: The Sinjār Operations.”  Genocide Studies International 10:121-138.


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— 2004. Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Nyseth Brehm, Hollie.  2015.  “State Context and Exclusionary Ideologies.”  American Behavioral Scientist 2015:1-19.


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Pinker, Stephen.   2011.  The Better Angels of Our Nature:  Why Violence Has Declined.  New York:  Viking.


Roberts, Leslie.  2017.  “Nigeria’s Invisible Crisis.”  Science 356:18-23.


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Genocide in the United States: Probability and Prevention

May 23rd, 2017


Genocide in the United States: Probability and Prevention



  1. Trump and Fascism
  2. Fascism and the Republican Agenda
  3. Genocide Defined
  4. Historical Insights into Genocide
  5. Warnings: Leading Edges of Genocide
  6. Exclusionary Culture
  7. Psychology and Genocide
  8. Trump and…
  9. Stopping Genocide
  10. Reaffirming American Values




This is the first draft of a book that my wife Barbara Anderson and I are writing.  We need to get this draft out in hopes of saving the country.  The final draft should take several months.


The United States is facing the possibility of genocide.

Thanks to advances in social science in the last 10 years, it is possible to predict quite accurately when and how genocide occurs.  It occurs when a highly exclusionary, negative ideology finds a charismatic leader who can win popular support, take over, and slowly erode democracy (or whatever traditional form he faced).  With autocracy—dictatorship or corrupted and compromised democracy—the leader will begin by consolidating his power through political killings.  Then, especially but not only if he is challenged by economic chaos or civil unrest or international war, he will resort to full-scale genocide.  This is the pattern seen in the rise of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Suharto in Indonesia, and dozens of other genocidal heads of state.  It is confirmed by independent analyses by several scholars working with different data.

The United States has now elected a classic charismatic “populist” on a platform consisting almost entirely of ethnic, class, and religious attacks.  Trump ran against Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, poor people, students, refugees, China, NATO, liberals, feminists, and many other groups.  He had no positive planks in his platform at all, except the reasonable but hard-to-achieve goal of keeping jobs in America.  His cabinet and his performance as president fit perfectly with this platform.  This is a level of exclusionary ideology rarely seen even in genocidal leaders.

He is currently moving in ways that resemble the early behavior of Hitler, Mussolini, and others who took total power.  If he takes power, his economic policies will certainly bring major economic dislocation, and his foreign policies are not reassuring.  With consolidation of power in his hands, genocide becomes more and more probable.

At present, the likelihood appears to be about 25%.  If Trump (or someone following him) seizes autocratic power, the likelihood rises to 100%.  This is a prediction as confident as predicting the sun will rise in the morning.  There is no case in our database of well over 100 cases of a situation like this failing to lead to mass murder.

Thus, we need to unite to make sure that Trump or his followers do not take full power, and that the exclusionary ideology identified with his rise is repudiated by Americans.





The Trump Election


We have to spend the next four years (or more) working as hard as we can on unity, solidarity, and reconciliation.

Donald Trump was elected president by a considerable minority of voters, but a majority of the Electoral College.  With him came Republican dominance of the House of Representatives, majority in the Senate, and governorship and control of the legislatures in most states.

Several studies confirm the obvious point that racism and sexism account for much more of the Trump vote than any economic factors do (Lopez 2017).  In general, traditional Republicans and many former Democrats voted for Trump.

There are more, and sadder, factors.  The counties that switched from voting Democratic to voting for Trump are, in most cases, also counties that have rapidly rising rates of suicide, drug addiction, and alcoholism among less educated whites (see Case and Deaton 2015).  There are now over 33,000 deaths a year from opioid overdoses, an estimated 467,000 heroin addicts, and rapid increases in opioid abuse and death (Weir 2017).  Methamphetamines and related hard drugs are also a huge problem.  All these are heavily concentrated in poor rural areas.  Decline