January 11th, 2015


  1. N. Anderson, 2014



Anthropology has developed some excellent methods over time, and so have other social sciences.  Not using these is comparable to an astronomer using a spyglass instead of computer-integrated information from modern telescopes, or an anatomist using a paleolithic handaxe instead of a scalpel and microscope.  There is simply no excuse for doing poor work, especially on a genuinely valuable project, because of failure to learn a few simple methods.


  1. General Background


Technically, a methodology is a suite of methods entailed by a particular theory.  One uses these methods because they are the proper or best way to test hypotheses generated by the theory.

A theory, in turn, is a general assumption (or set of interconnected assumptions) about how things work.  (The best account of such matters is Kitcher 1993).  The theory may be just guesses, like string theory, or may be very obvious statements that need formalization and extension, like the theory of gravity. Newton did not discover that things fall down instead of up; his genius was to explain why they did, as well as could be done at the time, and to state it mathematically.

A theory should lead to hypotheses (predictions or similar bets) that can be tested; otherwise it’s too vague to count.  Many theories get along without making clear testatble statements, though, in spite of positivism.  Still, if the theory doesn’t make you formulate some sort of testable hypotheses, it’s a waste of time.  Marxism and capitalist economics are both famously untestable bodies of theory, but do lead to testable statements.  The failures of the USSR and Mao’s China show that, whatever Marxism-in-general has to offer, some orthodox Marxisms don’t work.  The Great Depression and the world recession of 2008 show that capitalism doesn’t always work, either.  Many do not count Marxism as a body of theory, however.

Some theories are disproved and are essentially dead.  The most famous of these is Galen’s theory of humoral medicine, which guided medical science throughout the Old World for centuries.  Usually, however, a theory does not totally die; it generates a few useful formulations that go on and on.  And even a bad theory can generate useful hypotheses and conclusions.  Galen’s ideas about moderation in diet and exercise are still with us, since he was perfectly right about them, though for the wrong theoretical reasons.

A theory differs from several theory-like formulations, all of which can be useful but are not really theories.  Orienting statements are one type.  An orienting statement gives you a general way of looking at things, but is too general and abstract to test or to suggest testable statements.  Recent “theories” about globalization, for instance, direct us to look at global-scale phenomena, but usually do not make testable claims about those.  Often an orienting statement is a moral claim, and therefore untestable because it is about what we should do, rather than what we do.

Another shaky type of “theory” is the banal, trivial sort of statement for which certain branches of sociology are infamous (Mills 1959).  Saying that humans are social, that society requires organization, and that organization requires leadership is too bland to be worthy of the name “theory.”  Theory begins when we make claims about how organizations form, how leaders come on board, and what form leadership structures take under given social circumstances.

Another, and much worthier, alternative to true theory is interpretation (Geertz 1973).  Interpretation is, by definition, unprovable.  It can range from my idiosyncratic take on something to a generally accepted understanding, but it is not provable in the scientific sense.  We find it most frequently in literary studies.  Science cannot prove that one or another understanding of the Bible or Hamlet is the “right” one, or that Beethoven’s Ninth is noble and imposing, or that Dutch still-life paintings were comments on the transience of life.  We do not have the creators of these works around to ask.  Yet, it is well worth while to talk of such matters and speculate about them, and anthropology would be immeasurably poorer without such discourse.

One goal of theory and interpretation is to “tell the story behind the story”—i.e., to figure out what is actually causing the events we see.  In social science, theories often divide into broad categories according to what is assumed to be the main cause of action.  Economists tend to assume people want money or material goods.  Sociologists often assume social solidarity or social position are especially important.  Political theorists, including “critical” thinkers like Foucault, often assume power is the most basic thing (though they often have a hard time defining it).  There are other possibilities.  The wise social scientist will keep an open mind, and see how all factors play in a given situation.

Finally, we have philosophy, classically defined by Plato as the study of “the true, the good and the beautiful.”  Neither science nor interpretation will ever tell us what those are, but the human race cannot stop speculating and arguing about them.  We are better and nobler for doing so, in spite of the ultimate hopelessness of the task.

Hopefully, all this will save readers from the all-too-common tendency in anthropology to write a fun story about one’s field work, and then—after the fact—hang some sort of “theory” on it because an editor demanded same.  A decent anthropologist goes to the field with a body of theories, or interpretive ideas, or philosophic concepts, and expects to test them, or at least learn something important about them.


Methodology comes in as a way of testing the hypotheses and examining the theory.  It can also greatly sharpen, expand, and improve the quality of interpretation and philosophy.

Usually, we in anthropology do not follow the rigorous positivist rule that a given theory must call forth a specific methodology and a given method-set must be theory-driven.  (Some anthropologists, especially in archaeology, do follow the positivist rules on this.)  We use the term “methodology” to refer to methods in general.  Moreover, all the methods I describe below can be used with almost any theory, though a particular mix of them may be appropriate to only one body of theory.  However, it is well to remember the connection with theory.  Most current cultural anthropology is weakly theorized; at worst, it is mere travel writing.  So-called “theory” is often no more than a positive attitude toward the people studied and a negative attitude toward outsiders that have an effect on their lives.  This is bias, not theory.

Physical anthropology uses Darwinian theory, archaeology often uses ecological or processual or post-processual theories, but cultural anthropology currently uses actual theory rather sporadically.  Theories of the past (Boasian, Durkheimian, Marxian, etc.) are now used only in a rather loose or general way.  Some ecological, linguistic, and economic theories are still used, but are often dated by now.  The theories of mid-20th-century writers like Michel Foucault remain valuable, but often used vaguely or loosely.  This has produced a situation in which much of anthropology reads like poor-quality journalism—a situation in serious need of correction.


It is extremely valuable to go into the field with a full tool kit of theories and methods.  No theory is adequate by itself.  Even the most comprehensive social-science theories need major supplementation.  The more you reject theories, the more limited and hard to use your results will be.  Both the “postmodern” anthropology that rejected science or even systematic data collecting and the hyper-“scientific” work of the early optimal-foraging-theory days have turned out to be too limited to use for any purpose except stimulating others to go beyond them.  A simple theory is always a good starting point, but anthropology by 100 years ago had reached a stage where truly simplistic theories were known to be inadequate (see e.g. Lowie 1937).

Many anthropologists over the years have found great consolation in T. C. Chamberlin’s classic essay “The Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses,” originally published in Science in 1890 (republished 1965) and now available online on many websites—just search the title.  Chamberlin, a geologist, learned to go into the field with multiple theories and hypotheses available for every observed event.  His explanation of how and why to do this has never been surpassed.  I have actually found this method the most valuable I have ever used.  It means you have to be familiar with the widest possible range of high-level and mid-range theories, from functionalism and structuralism to Foucaultian ideas and Darwinian biology.

Thus, you might think of using some or all of the methods below, so as to get at least some real control on data.


Anthropology is based on a methodology consisting of three fundamental approaches:

–Extended field work, usually lasting at least a year, with a particular community.  The preferred method is “participant observation,” in which one lives as much as possible in the way the local people do.  Of course, really living as the locals do is possible only if one is a local; many anthropologists study their homelands, but most go to some less familiar group, which involves adjustment and makes participant observation a rather qualified matter.

–A holistic approach, which involves taking into account ecological, economic, technological, social, psychological, and political factors.

–Cross-cultural comparison, which involves comparing as many different cultures as possible, to establish or disprove generalizations about people.

This methodology was devised by Lewis Henry Morgan, the father of American anthropology, in the 1850s and 1860s.  I think of it as the three stones that hold up the cooking pot— a metaphor used for social categories (rather than anthropological methods!) by indigenous peoples from the Toba Batak of Sumatera to the Maya of Quintana Roo.


The leading methods book for anthropology is Russell Bernard’s classic Research Methods in Anthropology (now in its 4th edition, 2006).  This is a genuinely great work, a real Bible, and must be kept at hand in field work and analysis.

The only other work I consider indispensable for all ethnographers is Charles Frake’s Language and Cultural Description (1980), which contains several essays on methods that are vitally important.  These essays include especially the classic descriptions of frame elicitation (see below)

There are specialized journals devoted to field work and methods.


  1. The Question of Interpretation and Reality


The key thing anthropologists can do is find out about the local culture.  This does not mean “getting inside the heads” of the locals or “finding out what they think”; it means finding out about what they share.  As an outsider, you will not have the level of access to that shared knowledge and behavior that an insider has, but by using specialized anthropological techniques you can get very close.  You can learn just as well as any immigrant and almost as well as any child.  Frake gives excellent discussions of what the ethnographer can and cannot do.  You can’t read the local minds, but neither can the locals; they have to infer rules, structures, and understandings, just as you do.

The goal of the field worker should be what Frake (1980) calls “appropriate anticipation”—be able to predict, more or less as well as the locals do, what will happen in a given situation.  The goals of the ethnographer, again following Frake, should include telling the reader enough that the reader could act appropriately if s/he were there.  Think of a language textbook:  it should, at the very least, tell you what to say in given situations.  Similarly, an ethnography of local religion should at least tell you how to act and what to expect if you go there and are asked to a ceremony.  (Of course, a work on general theory, or on comparative mythology, or on demographic history, will probably not have such instructions.  We are discussing ethnography, specifically, in this case.)

On the one hand, this means you can learn the culture, and claims that the locals have some mystic telepathic sharing denied to you are just silly.  On the other hand, it means you should be exceedingly modest about “interpretation”—even if you are a local!  Geertzian “interpretive anthropology” (Geertz 1973) and its ancestors (“national character” studies, etc.) have a dubious record.  Unless you are a cultural insider, you will not normally share individual or collective experiences of war, genocide, bias, or for that matter the joys of good harvests or religious ceremonies.  It is wise to simply quote the locals, extensively, on such matters.  Let them do the sophisticated interpreting.

In short, you should do everything possible to find out shared knowledge and shared behavior, but you should be appropriately modest about your ability to understand personal experiences of particularly intense, evocative states and situations.

There was a major debate within anthropology in the 1960s over whether we can get at “what people think.”  Marvin Harris (1968) took an extreme view on the “no” side.  He maintained that we can record only behavior, and cannot trust what people say, let alone our interpretations.  People lie, misrepresent, misunderstand their own motives, etc.  At the other end of the scale, interpretivists like Geertz and cultural psychologists like Rick Shweder (1991), without making a huge point of it (as Harris did), took relatively strong “yes” positions.  Geertz and Shweder implied that understanding what is in people’s heads is relatively unproblematic, at least if one uses modern methods of finding out.   Geertz is modest about his interpretations, leaving the possibility of other interpretations quite open.  Shweder, and  others, have been more assertive.

The field basically solved the problem by voting with their feet for the latter position.  I do not know of anyone maintaining Harris’ position today.  All anthropologists now infer, to varying degrees, “what people think.”  All anthropologists admit that people do sometimes say what they think, and that by careful cross-verification and other techniques (see below) one can get at, or at least approximate, truth.  Even archaeologists are increasingly confident in their ability to infer at least some simple, straightforward ideas from material remains and ethnographic parallels, though this is a tricky game.

There is, however, a huge range.  Some extremely careful anthropologists use a whole armamentarium of techniques to establish meticulously a few rather simple understandings; this would include many cognitivists, who work hard to find the meanings of “simple” plant and animal names, food lore, kinterms, landscape terms, and other straightforward terms that can be grounded in visible reality.  (I am in this category.)  Others make really quite wild assumptions about their ability to understand in depth the most arcane and abstruse religious and philosophical ideas.  This is obviously a dangerous game, since even the locals may not share abstruse ideas very widely.

One necessary part of this is getting a thorough sense of what words mean.  You don’t have to be totally fluent in the local language, though it helps.  Systematic questioning, coupled with lots of listening and observation of how words are used in actual conversations, is necessary.  (See Frake, again.)  Using the words yourself is obviously desirable—you’re sure to misuse them in interesting ways, thus producing innnocent amusement for your subjects as well as a learning experience for yourself.  (Every ethnographer has a favorite story.  Mine is:  when first in Hong Kong I had to buy water from a local standpipe.  People would give me the standard greeting, “Where are you going?”  I would answer “I’m going to buy water.”  After a couple of shocked looks, I realized something was wrong, and found out that the phrase “buy water” is used only when you are getting water to wash the corpse of a family member!  Just one of those idioms….)


Finally, it is abundantly clear that anthropologists have been far too dismissive of local interpretations, theories, and wisdom generally.  The interpretive or functionalist anthropologist, the optimal-foraging or economic theorist, often assumes his or her interpretations and theories are better, truer, more privileged, and more insightful.  Comment should be unnecessary; you come for ONE year and you know more about these people than they know about themselves from thousands of years of interaction?  Right.  But traditional and local people are not used to verbalizing their philosophies and social theories.  You have to be sensitive and keep asking.  Also, as an outsider (if you are one), you CAN see things that the locals don’t notice because they are so used to them.  Proper humility is needed, but is not self-abnegation!

There is the notorious risk, though, that if you do that you will get into a dialogue with a local thinker and wind up with something marvelous and original but outside normal local thinking.  The type case is Marcel Griaule’s Conversations with Ogotemmeli (1965), a wonderful and classic book by a larger-than-life French adventurer-ethnographer and the brilliant (if illiterate) Dogon sage Ogotemmeli, in Mali, Africa.  This book is a philosophical classic that you should read, but it is the philosophical speculation of Ogotemmeli as prompted and encouraged by Griaule, not the traditional Dogon view.  Of course, in the world I usually work in (China), traditional philosophy is more well known, and the fact that individuals have different philosophies is also well known, but very few non-Chinese ethnographers have used Chinese social theories to explain anything.  Fortunately, Chinese ethnographers do, so we have that benefit.

Now that there are many Native American and other ethnographers, we have many books explaining traditional philosophy from within, such as Richard Atleo’s Tsawalk (2004) and Traditions of Tsawalk (2011; Richard is Nuu-chah-nulth, from Vancouver Island, Canada, and like several other Nuu-chah-nulth he has an anthropology Ph.D.).


  1. Techniques


Field work by cultural anthropologists usually involves participant observation (DeWalt and DeWalt 2001; Spradley 1980), lasting at least six months and usually a year or more.  Serious comprehensive ethnographic research requires this.  However, for many reasons, we also do quick visits, long-distance studies (using other people’s findings), straight interviews, visual studies, library and documentary research, and cross-cultural comparative studies, among other things.  Limited projects (e.g. to find out about one narrow subject—say, fish names or vegetable marketing) can be completed in a few weeks, especially if one is familiar with the area and people.

One valuable technique is rapid rural assessment (RRA), which is a specialized interview-and-observation technique that allows very rapid discovery of a lot of data (Gladwin 1989 covers it; there are more up-to-date, complete sources).  Related is participatory rural assessment, which involves organizing local people to do their own fact-finding and synthesis.  In participatory rural assessment, local people set their own goals, map their communities, figure out what they need by way of development or problem-solving, figure out what resources they have, and so on; the anthropologist guides the approach and sets the tasks.


Getting started:  Every community has somebody who knows everybody.  Frequently, this individual is a minor government functionary in a “helping” role (as opposed to a person keeping the place in line).  The local postmaster filled the role in American small towns.   So did the waitresses at the local coffee shop.  Sometimes the village storekeeper is a contact person, but sometimes he is seen as the village skinflint.  Check around!

Then, wander around the community being very nice to everyone, greeting them, learning their names, introducing and explaining yourself.  Become a local fixture to the point where you are semi-invisible—just the local foreigner.

A census is a good way to start serious work and get to know everyone.  Ask very nonthreatening questions on an initial census!  See below on finding out about local question etiquette.

There is a whole literature on field notes (Canfield 2011 provides perspectives from all field sciences, not just anthropology).  Suffice it to say that recording everything is impossible, but getting as near as you can is a good idea at first, till you figure out what is really important.


Interviewing is the basic technique in ethnography.  This can mean anything from applying a set questionnaire (closed-ended interviewing) to free-ranging questions and discussion (open-ended interviewing).  I get best results with a semi-structured questionnaire, one that you memorize thoroughly before the interview and then apply in a rather improvisational manner—not letting the interviewee escape without getting all the questions answered, but letting some free play happen, so the interviewee can get clear about meanings, discuss points, clear up ambiguities, etc.  See any good book on social interviewing, as well as Bernard.

Keep working on the language—we could all use better fluency.  I am a terrible linguist, but I try.

The whole issue of how to interview and ask questions is the first thing to address when you get to the field.  Cultures differ dramatically as to what types of question are acceptable.  Many Americans are astonishingly open about sex but hate to disclose their income.  Chinese (at least the ones I worked with) are the reverse.  Americans also hate to admit they are racist.  A colleague of mine was amazed at how little racism his students found in our city of residence.  I asked him if it had occurred to him that having bright young university students doing the interviewing might possibly bias the responses.  “Why, no….”  Another colleague was similarly surprised by how carefully people were shopping in the supermarket—I was less surprised, since he and his co-worker had followed shoppers around with a videocamera.  Having (again) bright young university students watch every move would make anyone more careful!  Such examples are so obvious as to be funny, but the danger is in far more subtle matters, especially when one is translating a perfectly innocent question in English into what may be a subtly leading question in Spanish or Chinese.

See also The Long Interview (McCracken 1988) and James Spradley’s The Ethnographic Interview (1979)Others recommend (but I have not seen) a book by Charles Briggs called Learning How to Ask (1986), one by Meyer and Booker (1991) on interpreting interview data, and a book on “active interviewing” by Holstein and Gubrium (1995).  It is also very worthwhile to spend a while with reporters finding out about journalistic methods of interviewing and getting data.

One absolutely critical interviewing technique that nobody covers well is depth interviewing.  This is a 2- to 4-hour interview in which the ethnographer probes deeper and deeper into the interviewee’s emotions, feelings, and personal stories.  A good interviewer tries to keep questions down to a minimum, and usually just makes encouraging noises (“and then…?”  “mm-hm?”).  The interviewer must appear relaxed but thoroughly engaged—completely present, interested, and supportive.  A good interviewer will appear not to “pry” or “apply pressure” but will be sympathetic and concerned and genuinely interested.  This involves being comfortable with silences—Native American informants in particular often remain silent for a minute or even several minutes during such conversations.  On the other hand, very gentle questioning of the type “How did you feel about that?” and “are you comfortable talking with me about that?” is necessary.  In such cases, DO take “no” for an answer; be comfortable with letting the interviewee set limits.

Almost anyone loves to talk about almost any subject, if they are given this level of genuine concern.  (Be prepared for tears and other emotional releases.)  Such interviewing is an art form, though it is basically developed from what close and empathetic friends and family members do for each other all the time.  It is also so intensely personal that unless you are genuinely concerned and caring about the interviewee, YOU SHOULD NOT ATTEMPT IT.

Depth interviewing is necessary in many, many ethnographic cases, especially in interviewing about tragedy and major stress.  It is astonishingly rarely taught or used.  Psychotherapists are supposed to learn it but often do not.  The literature that alleges lack of mother love and lack of regret for dead infants in certain societies is evidently based on lack of familiarity with this interviewing technique.  I know this not only from the literature but more directly from my own field work in at least one society where such lack was widely alleged by superficial ethnographers, but instantly disappeared under depth interviewing, when grief could come out openly.


Finally, never underestimate the value of “deep hanging out”—an excellent phrase used by Clifford Geertz to describe everyday ethnography.  Just hanging around keeping your eyes and ears open remains the best of all field techniques.  I have found I talk less and look more every time I do field work.


Etics and emics:  Kenneth Pike liberated the linguistic endings from “phonetic” and “phonemic.”  He meant something really creative:  Etics involve studying a system by applying a universal metric or analytic system—in the case of phonetics, the international methods of studying sounds, via the sonagram and other mechanical/impersonal techniques.  Emics involves studying a system by finding its internal structure and the units that make that up—in the case of phonemics, the sounds recognized by speakers of the language as making meaningful contrasts.

Etics does not mean “outsider’s view” and emics does not mean “insider’s view,” contra the sloppy usage in many anthro books (including Conrad Kottak’s widely-used textbooks).  Using the terms this way loses all their value.  Both emics and etics can be done by either outsiders or insiders, but only when trained in structural analysis. In language, for example, any trained insider can use a sonagram as well as any outsider; conversely, most people cannot provide a phonemic analysis of their own language—only trained linguists do that.

A good ethnographer, whether outsider or insider, will study both etics and emics, just as any decent linguist will record both the phonetics and the phonemics of a language.  Consider food:  a good ethnographer will do a nutritional analysis and some kind of optimal foraging model or Bayesian-optimizing model (all these are etic), but will also find out what the locals call their foods, how they classify them, how they structure them in terms of nutrition and social use, and other emic matters.  Neither of these has anything to do with outsider vs insider per se.  (The typical outsider’s view of local foodways is “yuck!”  The typical insider’s view is “yum!”  This does not get us far analytically.)


Stories and texts:   These were the bread-and-butter of old-time ethnographers, and often is to this day.  Nothing beats collecting stories—personal stories, stories about the community, about the origin of the world, about the economy, anything.  People love telling stories.  In most cultures, stories are teaching devices; people teach their children and each other through this medium.  Any and all texts and accounts are valuable.  Record them and transcribe them.  A particularly good authority on working with stories is Julie Cruikshank (1998, 2005).

A specialized, extremely important story to collect is the life story. Since the brilliant and innovative work of Paul Radin in the early 20th century, collecting detailed life stories from interviewees is a key part of many anthropologists’ work.  Most, however, do not do it; it tends to be rather a specialized thing to do.  I have collected brief life stories in Hong Kong and a long, detailed one in Mexico (Anderson and Medina Tzuc 2005).

There is now, in psychology rather than anthropology, a valuable and widely-used interview prompt for this work:  The McAdams Life Story Interview (1995; Google it; it is available to download).

One standard thing to do with life stories is textual analysis.  This often begins with, but does not end with, analysis of words.  Psychologists have developed a terrific software for scanning a document for important words (Pennebaker et al. 2007).  From words, one often progresses to themes, and here McAdams has developed some key themes to look for in the life stories he collects (McAdams et al. 1996, 2001).


Decision-making is also a very important, basic approach, best introduced in Christina Gladwin’s little booklet Ethnographic Decision Tree Modeling (1989, Sage) is basic.  A classic study, with methodological reflections (especially in the 2nd edn., 1994) is James Young and Linda Garro: Medical Choice in a Mexican Village.  Shankar Aswani has done some good work on decision-making in fisheries, and thoughtfully related that to more purely economic and biological methods (e.g. Aswani and Weiant 2004).  Basically, the idea is to ask people in detail about the steps that they went through to make a particular decision—what crop to plant (Gladwin), what to do when someone in the family is sick (Young and Garro), what to do about fishing and fish conservation (Aswani), and so on.  This technique assumes that decisions can be broken down into ordered sequences of yes/no answers:  Can I get the seed for this crop?  Can I get fertilizer for it? Can I get enough water for it?  And so on.  People usually do decide that way, at least in clear-cut matters like crop choice, and even if they don’t you can break down decisions into yes/no or more-versus-less choices.  But sometimes people decide on impulse, or subconsciously integrate several factors at once.  Careful questioning allows you to deal with such cases, and continue to use decision tree analysis.  It is a particularly powerful technique, especially for decisions that are important but that involve well-known, rather routine choices, like agricultural decisions.  A farmer or gardener normally knows exactly what crops she can plant and how to grow them, and how to get information if she does not know enough about something.  Decisions about what to do in an unforeseen new emergency are less clear-cut and consequently harder to analyze, but in principle can be covered the same way.

Decision-making studies have led to looking at cultural models, but so far little methodology has been developed for this; for a major exception that gets us fairly far in doing comparable analyses of this difficult realm, see Victor de Munck (2011) on romantic love.


Another absolutely essential technique is the focus group, in which the interviewer recruits 4-6 people or so and gets them to talk about the specific subject under investigation.  This has turned out to be a major winner as a research method for political researchers and marketers as well as for anthropologists.  See David Morgan (1996).


Another universally used technique is the Likert scale, that little scale where you get to rank things from “agree strongly” to “disagree strongly” or “most liked” to “most disliked,” as on student evaluations, political surveys, etc.   It works well only if you use 5 or 7 cells.  5 is generally better.


A large range of personality tests and other psychological tests is available.  In general, I advise against using these, because they rarely work in local conditions—the local worldview and language are probably too different from the testmakers’.  But they may be useful where this does not apply and where you can get a psychologist to help administer them.


Other formal techniques include frame elicitation.  This is best explained by Frake (see above), but basically it consists of looking around and asking everyone “what’s that?”  When you have names, you sit down with a consultant and ask “what kinds of X are there?” till there are no more divisions.  Then you can work up:  “Is X a kind of…?”  Beware, though; this can force a spurious level of systematization on your consultants.  Better to do all this informally in the field, one question at a time, and to use focus groups to get people talking about how they conceptualize things.  Carefully used—with much asking, pointing, and walking around, rather than mechanical frame interviewing in a house—this is the most valuable of all the analytic or specialized techniques.

Related are card-sorts and pile-sorts, in which names of things are written on cards and sorted into piles according to whatever criteria you want to study.

On all these formal methods, and on basic statistics, see, in addition to Bernard’s book, the superb article by W. Penn Handwerker in A Companion to Cognitive Anthropology (2011).  Handwerker manages to get into a few pages more solid advice and reference material on methodology than many authors get into whole books.  On statistics, however, be sure to read Darrell Huff’s classic How to Lie with Statistics (1954).  “Figures don’t lie but liars figure,” as the proverb says, and Huff warns you of a lot of ways they do it.


Walking around in the fields and woods, asking about everything, remains the best of all techniques for finding out about names, categories, and ethnobiological knowledge.  A formalization is a “nature trail,” in which the investigator lays out a short set course with known plants along it.  Then the investigator can walk this trail with different subjects, seeing how many plants they can name.  This is particularly useful with children—one can see how much they know at what age.  (Brian Stross, Gene Hunn, Rebecca Zarger, and J. R. Stepp, studying children in the south Mexican highlands, have worked particularly with this technique.)

Child-following is used to advantage in such situations, and in nutrition research.  You just follow a child around, seeing what she does.  It’s the only way to find out what children actually eat, as memorably shown by the late Christine Wilson in her field work.

For that matter, following adults is necessary too, but has to be done with more circumspection.


There are also censusing, surveying, survey design, optimal foraging study and modeling, GIS and GPS, statistics, economic data management, and other formal techniques; Bernard covers all of them adequately, though if seriously interested in optimal foraging or in economics you will need supplementary reading on these (they have a large, specialized literature).

Surveys often involve poorly designed questions that lead to misleading results.  Most people agree with both “Individuals are more to blame than social conditions for crime” and “Social conditions are more to blame than individuals for crime”—depending on which one you ask (Radwin 2009:B9).  In other words, people love to agree with any old statement.  It’s all in the way you phrase it.  Question order, bias words, and so forth all influence the result.  Some questions are so poorly worded that a large percentage of the respondents cannot figure out what is being asked.  This is particularly common when a questionnaire is translated from one language to another, as very often happens in anthropological research, so watch out; pre-test questionnaires for comprehensibility.

Remember to avoid leading questions (now often called “push questions”):  questions that imply you want a certain answer.  Indeed, avoid everything that might be taken as implying you want to hear a particular kind of answer.  Find out what counts as leading questions in the culture you are studying.  Many questions that are perfectly innocent and non-leading in English turn out to be strongly leading when translated into Chinese.  I found out the hard way—but at least I learned it fast—that “how are you?” was interpreted as “you look sick, what’s wrong?”  Similar pitfalls occur in other languages.

Response bias can enter quite dramatically.  Surveys of food consumption in the United States correlate very well with sales figures at stores, but sales figures of liquor consumption can be up to five times what the surveys show!  People may understate consumption, but more important here is the fact that an extremely high percentage of liquor is drunk by relatively few people, and those few are rarely in any condition to answer a survey.

Finally, people lie, almost always to give the socially “correct” response.  Many more people say they voted in the last election than could actually have done so (Radwin 2009:B9).  And almost no racists exist in the United States—if you believe the survey results!

Anthropologists also do a great deal of visual anthropology: photography, recording, film and videotape work, and other methods of making a permanent and more-or-less-objective record of what we find.  There is also ethnomusicological recording to worry about.  There are specialized works on this.   My experience is that it is difficult to do quality visual work and quality interviewing or other talking-ethnography at the same time.  One can work as a team, or do the interviewing first and visuals later.  Some geniuses can do both at the same time, but I am far from this level.

I’m not an expert, and will not push this one, but a useful tip from Douglas Medin (presentation at Society for Anthropological Sciences, 2010) is that there are four general ways to do a picture:  directly on (the usual approach—“voyeur”), embodied (shows hands working, from the viewpoint of the worker—as if you and the camera are doing the work with your hands), over the shoulder (of your main subject—so you are standing behind her and seeing what she sees), and “fourth wall” or “breaking the wall,” in which case the people in the photo are all looking at you (as in a standard group shot).  Doug showed that Native American children’s book illustrations (drawings, not photos) have much more of the last three types of pictures than Anglo ones, a culturally very interesting observation.

This brings home the point that interpreting others’ photos and pictures is a major part of visual anthro.  Both interpreting cultural representations (pictures, etc.) and getting your subjects to take photos for you are standard techniques and very effective if well done.


Another under-taught topic is historical research–documentary, archival, and text work.  Historians learn as a kind of second nature how to evaluate a document—how much to trust it, how to cross-check, how to allow for biases, etc.  The best way to find out about this is to ask a historian.  They have their own books, but an hour with a seasoned historian will give you a good enough start.

At the very least, read the major anthropological and historical works on your area!  I am appalled at the illiteracy of some graduate students.  What were their professors thinking?  Egregious mistakes even get into the published literature.  This is inexcusable.  Much more common is the field worker who misses a great deal for lack of knowing the questions to ask, the deeper matters to look for, and the contexts to use in interpretation.


How to take and keep field notes is the subject of Roger Sanjek’s Fieldnotes and a lot of journal articles.  Some other useful lore is in Tony Robben’s Ethnographic Fieldwork:  An Anthropological Reader; Joseph Casagrande’s marvelous and far too neglected anthology, In the Company of Man; and Michael Agar’s classic The Professional Stranger.  See also LeCompte and Schensul, Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research (2nd edn. 2010).


Multi-sited ethnography:  this has been advocated by George Marcus and many others.  Obviously it’s appropriate if you’re studying mobile, transnational, or migrant populations.  It isn’t if you’re studying people who stay put, unless you want to do systematic or controlled comparisons (very valuable, but a different issue).  Use common sense and don’t feel compelled to do it just because it was a buzz word for a while.  If you have only a year, as most of us do, it’s better to stay put.  Finding out much about even a very small community in a year is already challenging enough.  The great transnational studies, like Michael Kearney’s (see Kearney 1996—a “must read” if you’re working with this), were 30-year or 40-year projects.


Teamwork:  The day of the lone field worker who found out “everything” about the Trobriands or the Nuer is most emphatically gone.  Do what you do best, and collaborate with other people who do what they do best.

Work with biologists, political scientists, photographers, anyone that has expertise you need.  Many ethnographers go in as part of a team.  I find it more useful to work with people on the ground.  Local scholars generally need and appreciate the opportunities.  (On the other hand, many see outside scholars as a threat to their monopoly and their status.  Be careful about this.)

One type of “teamwork” is working as a family.  Fortunate is the anthropologist who has a spouse who can work with him or her.  Alas, field work is not always the easiest posting, and some spouses do not adjust well.  Most valuable of all is working as a family with children.  Children disarm suspicion, attract friendly and solicitous attention, evoke stories, and allow study of child-training practices.  Also, when they are old enough, they are born ethnographers.  They are curious about everything and are amazingly quick with social cues and social learning. (They are wired for it.  The human animal evolved as a social creature, and social learning is a child’s main occupation.)  However, working with children is reasonable only if you are near a good hospital.  Children have died in remote field situations.


“Studying up”:  Laura Nader and others have advocated studying the rich and powerful.  Unfortunately, I could never get a million-dollar grant for subsistence.  More seriously, most anthropologists don’t have the tools and training to do this effectively.  If you want to study up, work with and learn from political scientists and sociologists!  They have the methods and tools!  When faced with the need to find out what the powerful were up to, I have worked with political scientists, and have also picked the brains of anthropologists who had done that type of work and had learned the techniques and methods.

There are lots of political scientists, sociologists, historians, and others studying elites, but only anthropologists study the people low on the political hierarchy.  We thus best use our talents and training in the latter cause.  We are generally the only people that can bring their words and concerns to a wide audience.  Now and then we get the chance to help them bring their own voices or causes to the wide arena—a blessed and wonderful chance if carefully done.  I thus strongly recommend studying ordinary people and especially neglected and oppressed ones.


  1. General Philosophical Concerns


Completeness and comparability are major concerns, and major problems with many field projects.  Be sure to get all the data possible on the subjects under study.  Be sure that interviews, forms, and data recording makes findings strictly comparable between subjects and situations.  The same information has to be collected in the same way.


One word of philosophical guidance about culture in general:  Only real people (or animals) do things.  This should be obvious, but anthropologists all too often fall into the social science trap of saying that Capitalism, or The State, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster did such-and-such a thing.  No.  They didn’t.  People did.  Capitalism and the Flying Spaghetti Monster don’t exist (the former is an analytical abstraction that bears only some resemblance to any current real-world referent).  The State exists, but if you think it acts or is real by itself, look at Somalia, DR Congo, or Afghanistan.  The State functions because the people in it have decided that preserving it and working for it will best accomplish their human goals.  It becomes a true emergent, like a kinship system or a myth, and thus has a genuine reality (unlike capitalism).  However—again like a kinship system—it exists only as long as a lot of people buy into it and don’t question it too strongly.  Always study emergents and recognize their reality, but remember they don’t really act by themselves.  The ability of people to believe in such things, and to believe they act on their own, is fascinating, and related to the belief in supernatural beings.


As Andrew “Pete” Vayda has been insisting for years (Vayda 2008), some background in the philosophy and history of science (specifically, epistemology) is absolutely essential.  This would include, at least, Thomas Kuhn’s classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) and Philip Kitcher’s The Advancement of Science (1993).  See also Ian Hacking (1999), Bruno Latour’s work (esp. 2004, 2005), Alison Wylie’s work (2002, 2004), and Pete Vayda’s and others’ relevant writings.  Some background in the history of anthropology is essential (see many books by Adam Kuper and by George Stocking).  Theory and history are not covered adequately in many anthro graduate programs, so read these on your own.

Perhaps the most valuable thing one learns from these works is how to avoid mindless use of current buzzwords.  Buzzwords usually start out as useful concepts, but lose it all when they become too widely used.  Go back to the original source and read the full, properly qualified story.  Those of us who have checked are always astonished at how wrong even the best secondary sources get the classic writers, to say nothing of slapdash textbooks.  Reading Durkheim, for example, is a real revelation if you knew him only from even the best histories of anthropology.


Ethics:  Here again, one can start with Bernard, but an excellent practical guide to working ethics has now appeared (Whiteford and Trotter 2004)  Many ethical questions have been treated in detail in Anthropology News over many decades.  The American Anthropological Association’s Code of Ethics is easily available online from the Association, and is basic.

Always be meticulous about touching bases in the field area.  Contact local scholars, and promise to help and work with them if possible.  Go through all the bureaucratic hoops uncomplainingly.  Find people you can work with, institutes you can collaborate with, and universities you can hang out at.  Be humble; First World investigators are threatening to many Third World bureaucrats and scholars.  Many—if not all—Third World and indigenous scholars have encountered arrogant, overbearing, and inconsiderate First Worlders.  These were not usually anthropologists, but you will pay the price even if it was a diplomat or an agricultural advisor that dissed the local scholars.  Bear it and be genuinely polite.  Save your hate for the diplomat or advisor, not the locals.

In your community, similarly, get the official cooperation of the local authorities—complete with signed permission to workShare your results, in so far as possible, when you do any writing up.

Questions that permanently concern anthropologists include:  Are we really somehow ripping off the “natives” by finding out things?  How does one collaborate?  Coauthor?  How does one “represent the other” without being a mental colonialist?  How to get honest responses and publish them?  How much can one publish the local dirt—corruption, conflict, sordid tales?  (My recommendation is simple:  don’t unless you have to.)   How to be tactful?  How much to get involved in local matters?  How to avoid factions?  How to avoid local entanglements? One would, for instance, think it unnecessary to warn people NOT EVER to get sexually involved with people one is doing field work with!  But I hear that some people do this—a good way to get killed.

Err on the side of caution.  Remember the first clause in the AAA’s Code is that your most immediate duty is to the people you are working with.  It is not acceptable to put them at serious risk.  It is not acceptable to exploit them for money, e.g. by selling photos or writing a bestseller without cutting them in on the profits.  It is not acceptable to use their words and information without giving full credit, including coauthorship if their input is really significant.  It is not acceptable to refrain from helping them with medicines, etc., if you have the knowledge or connections; if it messes up your medical anthro research a bit, too bad; their lives are more important than any dreams of intellectual purity.  Do not let yourself be exploited or “used,” but be as helpful as possible when help is needed.

Avoid involvement with local factions, no matter how right your favorite one seems to be.  Involvement ruins your field work, endangers your safety, and inevitably makes local politics worse.  Let them sort it out.

The wider question of advocacy is more serious.  Anthropologists almost always find that their groups are getting a raw deal, because we usually study small, less-than-affluent communities who are low on the political hierarchy.  Serious advocacy is often desirable, but should take the form of “speaking truth to power” as the phrase goes.  It is not usually appropriate to get off into strong statements or political action in the field site  On the other hand, it sometimes is appropriate, e.g. in cases of outright genocide.  Generally, the very best thing is to carry local voices to the wide world—if you can do it without endangering your subjects.  For example, giving quotes that can be traced to an individual is not a good idea in a state that is persecuting that community.  Confidential reports to trusted government people who can really help your community are sometimes desirable.  The best thing is usually to do the best job you can at getting the facts right and producing a scholarly book.  Do what is morally right, but in the most cautious and least overstated way.

Think seriously about who can hear your message and use it.  I did one substantial piece of field work in a really dangerous situation.  I never published or disclosed the worst and most hidden material.  I got the rest of the really touchy material to people in the government whom I knew I could trust and whom I knew would use the information wisely.  I kept everything else on ice for years, until the situation changed and I could safely publish the less touchy chunks of it.

Anthropologists are driven almost mad by the steadily increasing obsessiveness of institutional review boards (IRB’s, a.k.a. Human Subjects Review Committees).  They exist to prevent lawsuits over problems arising in sensitive, invasive, or dangerous medical and psychological research.  Thus they are often inappropriately restrictive for anthropological field work.  We cannot always get signed, detailed protocols proving that our subjects know every possible risk they are incurring.  And we may have to take photographs and films of large ritual or market situations where we cannot possibly get signed permissions from every man, woman and child.

And we rarely do anything that puts subjects at any real risk.  The main exception, and it is an important one, is research in or on military, criminal, or other genuinely dangerous matters.  For these, the investigator does need to worry about the full IRB panoply of concerns.  For the full story, see the fall 2007 issue of American Ethnologist, which has a whole excellent section on IRB’s.


Applied anthropology is a whole separate area that I do not want to cover here; suffice it to say that the same general moral rules apply.  Do what will actually help and what will actually not be undercut by someone else.

Collaboration with local communities in getting particular projects done is another enormously complex and involved topic, beyond my range here.  See the journal Human Organization—just search back through it.


The question of objectivity always surfaces.  No, you aren’t totally objective; you’re involved with your subjects.  But, as one anthropologist wrote, “just because you can’t maintain pure asepsis doesn’t mean you can do surgical operations in a sewer” (Geertz 1973).  Be solidly grounded in facts and establish everything as solidly as possible.  I once worked with an anthropologist, a superb field worker, who collected over 50 detailed stories of the same event—and stayed perfectly neutral and calm through it all, properly writing down everything, though the stories wildly disagreed about basic details!  Then we sat down to analyze why the stories were so different.

The idea is to be as factual, or objective, as possible, but be open about your biases, too.  Self-awareness is important.


  1. Final Tips


Field work is lots of fun, but one thing we face is culture shock, a useful term coined by the Finnish-Canadian anthropologist Kalervo Oberg.  This condition is not confined to anthropologists.  What typically happens, when Person A goes to live in Society B, is that the first 3 to 6 months are a sort of honeymoon period.  After that, Reality hits, and it can hit pretty hard.  A period of painful adjustment follows—the 6th month is usually the hardest!  It’s good to plan a brief vacation from your field work at that time.  After the 6th month, things get easier.  Students are familiar with a mild form of this from adjusting to college (dorms, roommates, classes…).  Adjusting to marriage or any other life-and-residence change is comparable.  There is a honeymoon period, a let-down period, and then adjustment, hopefully peaceful and contented.

Once you have adjusted to a new community, adjusting back to your own home typically involves some “reverse culture shock.”  Do not be surprised at this; it’s normal.


Field work is normally one of the least dangerous activities on earth.  I have always been healthier in the field than at home.  Forget the poisonous snakes and scorpions of the travel books—you won’t see any, or if you do they will be the least of your worries.  (I have had to kill more than one cobra in my field dwellings.  They don’t usually strike.)

However, don’t take insane chances.  Take a first-aid kit and standard first-aid medications, notably general antibiotics that will quickly knock out skin infections, traveler’s diarrhea and food poisoning (Salmonella, Shigella, etc.), and the like.  Be sure to take the proper anti-malarial medicine in malarial areas; the medicine of choice varies from region to region.

Use tough, sturdy shoes or boots if in a literal “field” situation.  Today, the “field” is often an urban neighborhood, but some of us still work in actual fields.  You are far more likely to come to grief from wearing inadequate shoes than from all those poisonous critters put together.  Take sunblock and suchlike things as appropriate.  DO ask people who have been in the area you are going, and DO read the Lonely Planet guides, or similar guides for active and enterprising travelers.

Don’t worry about the local food, including “street food.”  It’s safe enough if cooked at high heat.  Any fruit or veg with a tough peel (bananas, mangoes…) is safe if the peel isn’t broken.  In most of the tropics, the water is still dubious, however, and so is raw seafood.  The only time I got really sick in 2 years of field work in Mexico was from eating undercooked oysters in a fancy restaurant.


The fad for “reflexive” ethnography a few years ago gives you lots of accounts to learn from.  Many are far from exemplary.  One particularly candid account of a particularly intelligent, sensitive researcher’s first taste of the field is found in Eric Mueggler’s The Age of Wild Ghosts (2001).  I could name many others.  A nice balance of self-revelation with consultant’s own stories is Zapotec Women by Lynn Stephen (1991).  She has her opinions and experiences; she also gives the facts; and she gives the women’s own testimonies, which often disagree with her interpretation.  Stephen makes their lot sound very bleak, but the women she quotes sound decidedly more happy.  I visited her field site and did some field work myself to understand this.  It turned out that Stephen emphasizes the hardship which is indeed the lot of most Zapotec women, but the women she quoted in the book were a relatively more successful group who were generally more upbeat on their situation.  Also, Mexican women are taught to aguantar—bear uncomplainingly.  They don’t expect as much from life as an elite American academic does.


This shows the advantages of field-checking anything one reads, if one possibly can.  More:  it shows how much perspective and outlook matter, and how they can color analysis by even the best anthropologists.  Always double-check.  Always look for alternative views.  Always try to find someone else from a different perspective and training who can study your area and hopefully validate your work.



Thanks to many people, notably Russ Bernard, Nick Colby, Victor De Munck, Norie Huddle, Eugene Hunn, Dell Hymes, Michael Kearney, Tara McCoy, Evelyn Pinkerton, and above all David Kronenfeld for discussions that taught me what I know about these matters.





Agar, Michael.  1985.  Speaking of Ethnography.   Newbury Park, CA:  Sage.


—   1996.  The Professional Stranger:  An Informal Introduction to Ethnography.  2nd edn.  New York:  Academic Press.


Anderson, E. N., and Felix Medina Tzuc.  2005.  Animals and the Maya in Southeast Mexico. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.


Atleo, E. Richard.  2004.  Tsawalk:  A Nuu-Chah-Nulth Worldview.  Vancouver:  University of British Columbia Press.


—  2011.  Principles of Tsawalk: An Indigenous Approach to Global Crisis.  Vancouver:  University of British Columbia Press.


Aswani, Shankar, and Pam Weiant.  2004.  “Scientific Evaluation in Women’s Participatory Management:  Monitoring Marine Invertebrate Refugia in the Solomon Islands.”  Human Organization 63:301-319.


Bernard, H. Russell.  2006.  Research Methods in Anthropology.  Lanham, MD:  AltaMira (Rowman and Littlefield).


Bernard, H. Russell (ed.).  2000.  Handbook of Methods in Cultural Anthropology.  Walnut Creek, CA:  AltaMira.


Briggs, Charles.  1986.  Learning How to Ask.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.


Canfield, Michael (ed.).  2011.  Field Notes on Science and Nature.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.


Casagrande, Joseph (ed.).  1960.  In the Company of Man:  Twenty Portraits by Anthropologists.  New York:  Harper.


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Cruikshank, Julie.  1998.  The Social Life of Stories:  Narrative and Knowledge in the Yukon Territory. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.


Cruikshank, Julie.  2005.  Do Glaciers Listen?  Local Knowledge, Colonial Encouinters, and Social Imagination. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.


De Munck, Victor C.  2011.  “Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Romantic Love:  Semantic, Cross-Cultural, and as a Process.”  In  A Companion to Cognitive Anthropology, David Kronenfeld, Giovanni Bennardo, Victor de Munck, and Michael D. Fischer, eds.  Chichester, West Sussex:  Wiley-Blackwell.  Pp. 513-530.


De Munck, Victor C., and Elisa J. Sobo (eds.).  1998.  Using Methods in the Field:  A Practical Introduction and Casebook. AltaMira.


Denzin, Norman, and Yvonna Lincoln (eds.).  2005.  The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research.  Sage.


DeWalt, Kathleen, and Billie DeWalt.  2001.  Participant Observation:  A Guide for Fieldworkers.  Walnut Creek, CA:  AltaMira.


Frake, Charles.  1980.  Language and Cultural Description.  Ed. Anwar S. Dil.  Stanford:  Stanford University Press.


Geertz, Clifford.  1973.  The Interpretation of Cultures.  New York: Basic Books.


Gladwin, Christina.  1989.  Ethnographic Decision Tree Modeling. Newbury Park, CA:  Sage.


Griaule, Marcel.  1965.  Conversations with Ogotemmeli.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Hacking, Ian.  1999.  The Social Construction of What?  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.

Handwerker, W. Penn.  2011.  “How to Collect data that Warrant Analysis.” In  A Companion to Cognitive Anthropology, David Kronenfeld, Giovanni Bennardo, Victor de Munck, and Michael D. Fischer, eds.  Chichester, West Sussex:  Wiley-Blackwell.  Pp. 117-130. Holstein, J., and J. Gubrium.  1995.   The Active Interview.  Newbury Park, CA:  Sage.


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Kuhn, Thomas.  1962.  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press.


Latour, Bruno.  2004.  Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy.  Tr. Catherine Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Latour, Bruno.  2005.  Reassembling the Social:  An Introduction to Adctor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


LeCompte, Margaret, and Jean J. Schensul.  2010.  Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research.  Lanham, MD:  AltaMira.


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McAdams, Dan P.; Barry J. Hoffman; Elizabeth D. Mansfield; Rodney Day.  1996.  “Themes of Agency and Communion in Significant Autobiographical Scenes.”  (Can’t find ref; sent by a student.)


McAdams, Dan P.; Jeffrey Reynolds; Martha Lewis; Alison Patten; Phillip Bowman. 2001.  “When Bad Things Turn Good and Good Things Turn Bad: Sequences of Redemption and Contamination in Life Narrative and Their Relation to Psychosocial Adaptation in Midlife Adults and Students.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 27:474-485.


McCracken, Grant.  1988.  The Long Interview.  Newbury Park, CA:  Sage.

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Mills, C. Wright.  1959.  The Sociological Imagination. New York:  Grove Press.


Morgan, David.  1996.  Focus Groups as Qualitative Research.  Newbury Park, CA:  Sage.


Mueggler, Erik.  2001.  The Age of Wild Ghosts:  Memory, Violence, and Place in Southwest China. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Pennebaker, James W.; Cindy Chung; Molly Ireland; Amy Gonzalez; Roger Booth.  2007.  The Development and Psychometric Properties of LIWC2007.  LIWC2007, available online from first author.


Radwin, David.  2009.  “High Response Rates Don’t Ensure Survey Accuracy.”  Chronicle of Higher Education Review, Oct. 9, pp. B8-B9.


Robben, Antonius C.  2006.  Ethnographic Fieldwork:  An Anthropological Reader.  New York:  Wiley-Blackwell.


Rubin, Herbert, and Irene Rubin.  2005.  Qualitative Interviewing:  The Art of Hearing Data.  2nd edn.  Sage.


Sanjek, Roger.  1990.  Fieldnotes:  The Making of Anthropology.  Ithaca:  Cornell University Press.


Shweder, Richard.  1991.  Thinking Through Cultures:  Explorations in Cultural Psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Spradley, James.  1979.  The Ethnographic Interview. New York:  Holt, Rinehart and Winston.


—  1980.  Participant Observation.  New York:  Holt, Rinehart and Winston.


Stephen, Lynn.  1991.  Zapotec Women.  Austin:  University of Texas Press.


Vayda, Andrew P.  2008.  “Causal Explanations as a Research Goal:  A Pragmatic View.”  In Against the Grain:  The Vayda Tradition in Ecological Anthropology, Bradley Walker, Bonnie McCay, Paige West, and Susan Lees, eds.  Lanham, MD:  AltaMira (division of Rowman and Littlefield).  Pp. 317-367.


Whiteford, Linda M., and Robert T. Trotter II.  2008.  Ethics for Anthropological Research and Practice. Long Grove, IL:  Waveland Press.


Wylie, Alison.  2002.  Thinking from Things:  Essays in the Philosophy of Archaeology.  UC.  Essays; 514 pp.


Wylie, Alison.  2004.  “Why Standpoint Matters.”  In The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader:  Intellectual and Political Controversies, ed Sandra Harding. London:  Routledge.  Pp. 339-352.


Young, James Clay, and Linda Garro. l994.  Medical Choice in a Mexican Village.  2nd edn. Boulder, CO:  Westview.


Bibliography of E. N. Anderson

December 13th, 2014




Just about an even 7200 pages as of 2014 (after bk 25, article 46, chap 50).




Books and Monographs


  1. 1970.  The Floating World of Castle Peak Bay. Washington, DC:  American Anthropological Association, Anthropological Studies Series, Vol. 3, 274 pages.


  1. 1972.  Essays on South China’s Boat People. Taipei: Orient Cultural Service.  146 pages.


  1. 1973.  Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  Mountains and Water. Taipei:  Orient Cultural Service.  179 pages.


  1. 1978.  Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  Fishing in Troubled Waters: Research on the Chinese Fishing Industry in West Malaysia.  346 pages. Taipei: Orient Cultural Service.


  1. 1978.  A Revised, Annotated Bibliography of the Chumash and Their Predecessors. Socorro, New Mexico:  Ballena Press.  82 pp.


  1. 1983. Coyote Space.  Shelter Cove, CA: Holmgangers Press.  26 pp.  (Poetry.)


  1. 1988. The Food of China. New Haven: Yale University Press.  263 pp.


7a.  1997.  One chapter, “Traditional Medical Values of Food,” reprinted (from above) in a book of readings in nutritional anthropology: Counihan, Carole, and Penny Van Esterik (eds.): Food and Culture: A Reader. New York and London: Routledge.  Pp. 80-91.


  1. 1996. Ecologies of the Heart. New York: Oxford University Press.  xiii + 256 pp.


8a.  1999.  One chapter, “Chinese Nutritional Therapy” (pp. 29-54), reprinted in a book of readings in nutritional anthropology: Alan Goodman, Darna Dufour and Getel Pelto (eds.), Nutritional Anthropology:  Biocultural Perspectives on Food and Nutrition. Mountain View, CA:  Mayfield.  Pp. 198-211.


  1. 1996. Ed./introduction to:  Duff, Wilson: Bird of Paradox, the Unpublished Writings of Wilson Duff. Surrey, B.C.: Hancock House.  (Introductory material, pp. 1-117, and editorial matter, pp. 281-313, plus overall editing, of posthumous work by a leading Canadian anthropologist.)


  1. 1997. Coyote Way. Pleasant Hills, CA:  Small Poetry Press.  100 pp.  (Poetry.)


  1. 2000. A Soup for the Qan.  By Paul D. Buell and E. N. Anderson. London:  Kegan Paul International.  715 pp.  (Chinese text [ca. 160 pp.], translation, and book-length editorial matter, scholarly commentary, and annotations.)

Second edition, 2010.  Xviii, 662 pp.  Leiden:  Brill.


  1. 2003. Those Who Bring the Flowers:  Maya Ethnobotany in Quintana Roo, Mexico.  By E. N. Anderson with José Cauich Canul, Aurora Dzib, Salvador Flores Guido, Gerald Islebe, Felix Medina Tzuc, Odilón Sánchez Sánchez, and Pastor Valdez Chale.  Chetumal, Quintana Roo:  ECOSUR.  323 pp.

Spanish edition:  Las Plantas de los Mayas:  Etnobotánica en Quintana Roo, México.  Tr. Gerald Islebe and Odilón Sánchez Sánchez.  Chetumal:  Colegio de la Frontera Sur (successor to ECOSUR).


  1. 2004. Introduction to Cultural Ecology, by Mark Q. Sutton and E. N. Anderson. Walnut Creek:  AltaMira (division of Rowman and Littlefield).  Xiii + 385 pp.

Second edition, 2009.

Third edition, 2013.


  1. 2004. Rights, Resources, Culture, and Conservation in the Land of the Maya.  Ed. by Betty B. Faust, E. N. Anderson, and John G. Frazier. Westport, CT: Greenwood.


  1. 2005. Everyone Eats. New York: New York University Press.  Viii + 294 pp.

2nd edn., 2014.


  1. Chase-Dunn, Christopher, and E. N. Anderson, eds. 2005. The Historical Evolution of World-Systems.  New York:  Palgrave MacMillan.


  1. 2005. Animals and the Maya in Southeast Mexico, by E. N. Anderson and Felix Medina Tzuc. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.  Xviii + 251 pp.


  1. 2005. Political Ecology in a Yucatec Maya Community. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.  Xx + 275 pp.


  1. 2007. Floating World Lost:  A Hong Kong Fishing Community. New Orleans:  University Press of the South. Ix + 206 pp.


  1. 2008. Mayaland Cuisine: The Food of Maya Mexico.  St. Louis: Mira Publishing Co.

2nd edn., 2013, 213 pp.


  1. 2010. The Pursuit of Ecotopia:  Lessons from Indigeonous and Traditional Societies for the Human Ecology of Our Modern World.  Santa Barbara, CA:  Praeger (imprint of ABC-Clio).  Xiii + 251 pp.


  1. 2011 Ethnobiology, ed. by E. N. Anderson, Deborah M. Pearsall, Eugene S. Hunn, and Nancy J. Turner.  Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.  Viii + 399 pp.


  1. 2013 Warning Signs of Genocide, by Eugene N. Anderson and Barbara A. Anderson.  Lanham, MD: Lexington Books (division of Rowman and Littlefield).  Xiii + 213 pp.


  1. 2014. Caring for Place.  Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.  305 pp.  (Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Book for 2014; about 1/10 of books they review, and thus about 2.5% of all academic books, make this cut)


  1. 2014. Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China.  Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press. 338 pp.



Refereed/Scholarly Journal Articles


  1. 1963    “Tahitian Bonito Fishing,” Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers 28:87-113.


  1. 1964    “A Bibliography of the Chumash and Their Predecessors,” University of California Archaeological Survey Reports 61:25-74.


  1. 1967    “Prejudice and Ethnic Stereotypes in Rural Hong Kong,” Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers 37:90-107.


  1. 1967    “The Folksongs of the Hong Kong Boat People,” Journal of American Folklore 80:285-296.  Reprinted in Essays on South China’s Boat People, 1972.


  1. 1968    “Changing Patterns of Land Use in Rural Hong Kong,” Pacific Viewpoint 9:1:33-50.  Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973.


  1. 1969    Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Folk Medicine in Rural Hong Kong.”  Ethnoiatria II:I.  Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973.


  1. 1969    Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Cantonese Ethnohoptology.”  Ethnos, pp. 107-117.  Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973.


  1. 1969    “Sacred Fish,” Man 4:3:443-449.  Reprinted in Essays on South China’s Boat People, 1972.


  1. 1970    “The Boat People of South China,”  Anthropos 65:248-256. Reprinted in Essays on South China’s Boat People, 1972.


  1. 1970 “Traditional Aquaculture in Hong Kong,” Journal of Tropical Geography 30:11-16.


  1. 1970 “Reflexions sue la cuisine.”  L’Homme 10:2:122-124.


  1. 1970 Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “The Social Context of a Local Lingo.”  Western Folklore XXXIX:153-165.


  1. 1971 “Beginnings of a Radical Ecology Movement.”  Biological Conservation 3:4:1-2.


  1. 1972 “Radical Ecology:  Notes on a Conservation Movement.”  Biological Conservation 4:4:285-291.


  1. 1972 Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Penang Hokkien Ethnohoptology.”  Ethnos 1-4:134-147.


  1. 1972 “Some Chinese Methods of Dealing with Crowding.”  Urban Anthropology 1:2:141-150.  Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973.


  1. 1972 “On the Folk Art of Landscaping”  Western Folklore  XXXI:3:179-188.


  1. 1973 “A Case Study in Conservation Politics: California’s Coastline Initiative.”   Biological Conservation 5:3:160-162.


  1. 1974 “On the Need for Studies of Food Consumption Ideas.”  Journal of the New Alchemists 2:128-132.


  1. 1975 “Songs of the Hong Kong Boat People.”  Chinoperl News 5:8-ll4.


  1. 1977 “The Changing Tastes of the Gods.” Asian Folklore 36:1:19-30.


  1. 1980 “’Heating’ and ‘Cooling’ Foods in Hong Kong and Taiwan.” Social Science Information 19:2:237-268.


  1. 1984 “`Heating’ and `Cooling’ Foods Re-examined.”  Social Science Information 23:4/5:755-773.


  1. 1985 “The Complex Causation of South Chinese Foodways.”  Annals of the Chinese Historical Society of the Pacific Northwest, pp. 147-158.


  1. 1985 “Two Chinese Birds Among the Golden Mountains.”  Annals of the Chinese Historical Society of the Pacific Northwest for 1984, pp. 257-259.


  1. 1987 “Why is Humoral Medicine So Popular?”  Social Science and Medicine, 25:4:331-337.


  1. 1987 Eugene N. Anderson and Chun-Hua Wang. “Changing Foodways of Chinese Immigrants in Southern California.”  In Annals of the Chinese Historical Society of the Pacific Northwest, 1985-86, pp. 63-69.


  1. 1990 “Up Against Famine:  Chinese Diet in the Early Twentieth Century.”  Crossroads 1:1:11-24.


  1. 1991 “Chinese Folk Classification of Food Plants.”  Crossroads 1:2:51-67.


  1. 1992 “Chinese Fisher Families: Variations on Chinese Themes.”  Comparative Family Studies 23:2:231-247.


  1. 1992 “A Healing Place: Ethnographic Notes on a Treatment Center.”  Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 9:3/4:1-21.


  1. 1993 “Gardens in Tropical America and Tropical Asia.” Biotica n.e. 1:81-102.


  1. 1993 “Southeast Asian Gardens: Nutrition, Cash and Ethnicity.”  Biotica n.e. 1:1-12.


  1. 1998 Teresa Wang and E. N. Anderson.  “Ni Tsan and His ‘Cloud Forest Hall collection of Rules for Drinking and Eating.’”  Petits Propos Culinaires 60:24-41.


34a.  Reprinted with additions and corrections by Victor Mair and ENA:  Eugene N. Anderson, Teresa Wang, and Victor Mair.  2005.  “Ni Zan, Cloud Forest Hall Collection of Rules for Drinking and Eating.”  In Victor Mair, Nancy Steinhardt and Paul R. Goldin (eds.), Hawai’i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.  Pp. 444-455.


  1. 1999 “Child-raising among Hong Kong Fisherfolk: Variations on Chinese Themes.”  Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, 86:121-155.


  1. 2000 E. N. Anderson, Teik Aun Wong and Lynn Thomas.  “Good and Bad Persons: The Construction of Ethical Discourse in a Chinese Fishing Community.” Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, 87:129-167.


  1. 2000 “Maya Knowledge and ‘Science Wars.’”  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:129-158.


  1. 2002 “Some Preliminary Observations on the California Black Walnut (Juglans californica).  Fremontia 30:12-19.  (Nonrefereed  scholarly journal of the California Native Plant Society).


  1. 2004 Barbara A. Anderson, E. N. Anderson, Tracy Franklin, and Aurora Dzib-Xihum de Cen.  “Pathways of Decision Making among Yucatan Mayan Traditional Birth Attendants.”  Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health 49:4:312-319.


  1. 2007 “Malaysian Foodways:  Confluence and Separation.”  Ecology of Food and Nutrition 46:205-220 (Special Issue:  Tribute to Christine S. Wilson (1919-2005), ed. by Barrett P. Brenton, Miriam Chaiken, and Leslie Sue Lieberman.)


  1. 2011 “Yucatec Maya Botany and the ‘Nature’ of Science.”  Journal of Ecological Anthropology 14:67-73.


  1. 2012 E. N. Anderson and Barbara Anderson: “Development and the Yucatec Maya in Quintana Roo: Some Successes and Failures.”  Journal of Political Ecology 18:51-65.


  1. 2012 “Anthropology of Religion and Environment: A Skeletal History to 1970.”  Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 6:9-36.


  1. 2012 Hiroko Inoue, Alexis Alvarez, Kirk Lawrence, Anthony Roberts, E. N. Anderson and Christopher Chase-Dunn.  “Polity Scale Shifts in World-Systems Since the Bronze Age: A Comparative Inventory of Upsweeps and Collapses.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 53:210-229.  (I contributed only about 1% of this.)


  1. 2012 “Religion in Conservation and Management:  A Durkheimian View.”  Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 6:398-420.


  1. 2013 “Conquest, Migration and Food in Mongol China: Yuan Food in Chinese Context.”  Journal of Chinese Dietary Culture 9:1-51.



Invited Book Chapters and Working Papers


  1. 1972 “The Life and Culture of Ecotopia,”  in Reinventing Anthropology, edited by Dell Hymes. New York: Pantheon Press, pp. 264-283.  Reprinted in paperback, Vintage, 1973.


  1. 1975 “Chinese Fishermen in Hong Kong and Malaysia,” in Maritime Adaptations in the Pacific, edited by Richard Casteel and George I. Quimby, pp. 231-246.  Hague:          Mouton.  (In “World Anthropology” series.)


  1. 1975 Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Folk Dietetics in Two Chinese Communities and its implications for the Study of Chinese Medicine.”  In Medicine in Chinese Cultures, edited by Arthur Kleinman, Peter Kunstadter, E. Russell   Alexander, and James E. Gale.  USHEW, pp. 143-176.


  1. 1977 Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Modern China: South.”  In Food in Chinese Culture, edited by K.C. Chang, Yale University Press, 1977, pp. 319-382.


  1. 1978 Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson and John H.C. Ho.  “Environmental Background of Young Chinese Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Patients.”  In Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma: Etiology and Control, edited by G. Dethe and Y. Ito. Lyon, France:  WHO, International Agency for Research on Cancer.  Pp. 231-240.


  1. 1979 “Social History of Hong Kong Boat Folk Songs” in Legend, Lore and Religion in China: Essays in Honor of Wolfram Eberhard on His Seventieth Birthday,” edited by Sarah Allen and Alvin Cohen, CMC Asian Library Series No. 13. San Francisco: Chinese Materials Center, pp. 155-175.


  1. 1981 “The Changing Social Context of Hong Kong Fishermen’s Songs.”  Proceedings of the 30th International Congress of Human Sciences in Asia and North Africa: China, Vol. I. Mexico City: El Colegio de Mexico.  15 pp.


  1. 1982 “Cuisine,” invited article for The Cambridge Encyclopedia of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 382-390.

Reprinted with some revisions in the second edition of the encyclopedia, 1991, pp. 368-377.


  1. 1983 “A View from the Bottom: The Rise and Decline of a Malaysian Chinese Town.”  In The Chinese in Southeast Asia, Vol. 2, Peter Gosling and Linda Lim, eds., pp. 147-169. Singapore: Maruzen Asia.


  1. 1984 “Ecologies of the Heart.”  In Proceedings, International Chinese Conference, Michael W. Gandy, Mason Shen and Effram Korngold, eds., pp. 205-230. Oakland: Michael Gandy.


  1. 1985 “A Mosaic of Two Food Systems on Penang Island, Malaysia.”  In Food Energy in Tropical Systems, Dorothy Cattle and Karl Schwerin, eds.  Food and Nutrition in History and Anthropology Series, Vol. l4, pp. 83-104. New York: Gordon and Breach.


  1. 1987 “A Malaysian Tragedy of the Commons.”  In The Question of the Commons, McCay, Bonnie, and James Acheson, eds. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.  Pp. 327-343.


  1. 1987 Eugene N. Anderson and Harry Lawton.  “Chinese Religion, Temples and Festivals in the San Bernardino Valley.  In Wong Ho Leun: An American Chinatown.  The Great Basin Foundation, editors. San Diego: The Great Basin Foundation.  Vol. 2, pp. 25-44.


  1. 1989 “The First Green Revolution:  Chinese Agriculture in the Han Dynasty.”  Food and Farm, Christina Gladwin and Kathleen Truman, eds. New York:  University Press of America and Society for Economic Anthropology, pp. 135-151.


  1. 1994 “Food and Health at the Mongol Court.”  In: Kaplan, Edward H., and Donald W. Whisenhunt (eds.): Opuscula Altaica: Essays Presented in Honor of Henry Schwarz. Bellingham: Western Washington University, pp. 17-43.


  1. 1994 “Fish as Gods and Kin.”  In: Dyer, Christopher, and James R. McGoodwin (eds.): Folk Management in the World’s Fisheries. Niwot, CO: University Press of Colorado,  pp. 139-160.


  1. 1994 “Food.”  In: Wu Dingbo and Patrick Murphy (eds.): Handbook of Chinese Popular Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, pp. 35-54.


  1. 1995 “Prinz Wen Huis Koch–Einfuhrung in die chinesische Nahrungs-Therapie.”  In: Keller, Frank Beat (ed.):  Krank Warum? Ostfildern, Germany: Cantz (for Swiss Ethnological Museum), pp. 3-22.


  1. 1995 “Natural Resource Use in a Maya Village.”  In: Fedick, Scott, and Karl Taube (eds.): The View from Yalahau. Riverside: Latin American Studies Program Field Report Series #2.  Pp. 139-148.


  1. 1996 “Gardens of Chunhuhub.”  In: Hostetler, Ueli (ed.): Los Mayas de Quintana Roo: Investigaciones antropologicas recientes.  Universitat Bern, Institut fur Ethnologie, Arbeitsblatter, #14.  Pp. 64-76.

20a.  1998.  Republished in slightly different form in Tercer Congreso Internacional de Mayistas, Memoria. Mexico City: Universidad Autónoma de México and Universidad de Quintana Roo.  Pp. 291-310.


  1. 2001 “Flowering Apricot:  Environmental Practice, Folk Religion, and Daoism.”  In: N. J. Girardot, James Miller, and Liu Xiaogan (eds.):  Daoism and Ecology: Ways within a Cosmic Landscape. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School.  Pp. 157-184.

Translated into Chinese for Chinese edition of this book, Beijing, 2008.


  1. 2001 “Comments.”  In: Richard Ford (ed.), Ethnobiology at the Millennium. Ann Arbor, MI: Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan.  Anthropological papers No. 91.  Pp. 175-186.  (Comments on a series of papers from the Society of Ethnobiology annual conference, 2000, published here in book form.)


  1. 2002 “Biodiversity Conservation: A New View from Mexico.”   In:  John R. Stepp, Felice S. Wyndham, and Rebecca K. Zarger (eds.):  Ethnobiology and Biocultural Diversity. Athens, GA:   University of Georgia Press.   Pp. 113-122.


  1. 2003 “Traditional Knowledge of Plant Resources.”  In:  A. Gomez-Pompa, M. F. Allen, Scott Fedick, and Juan J. Jimenez-Osornio (eds.): The Lowland Maya Area: Three Millennia at the Human-Wildland Interface. New York: Haworth Press.  Pp. 533-550.


  1. 2003 “Caffeine and Culture.”  In:  William Jankowiak and Daniel Bradburd (eds.):  Drugs, Labor, and Colonial Expansion. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.  Pp. 159-176.


  1. 2003 “China,” subentries “Ancient and Dynastic China,” “Beijing (Peking) Cuisine,” “Guangzhou (Canton) Cuisine,” “Sichuan (Szechuan) Cuisine,” “Zhejiang (Chekiang) Cuisine,” Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, ed. by Solomon Katz and William Woys Weaver. New York:  Charles Scribners’ Sons.  Pp. 379–396.


  1. 2003 “Ess- und Trinkkultur.”  Das Grosse China-Lexikon, ed. by Brunhild Staiger, Stefan Friedrich und Hans-Wilm Schütte. Darmstadt, Germany:  Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.  Pp. 194-197.  (Encyclopedia entry.)


  1. 2004  E. N. Anderson, Betty B. Faust, John G. Frazier.  “Introduction:  An Environmental and Cultural History of Maya Communities in the Yucatan Peninsula.”  In:  Betty B. Faust, E. N. Anderson, and John G. Frazier (eds.):  Rights Resources, Culture, and Conservation in the Land of the Maya.   Westport, CT:  Praeger.  Pp. 1-30.


  1. 2004  “Valuing the Maya Forests.”  In:  Betty B. Faust, E. N. Anderson, and John G. Frazier (eds.):  Rights Resources, Culture, and Conservation in the Land of the Maya.   Westport, CT:  Praeger.  Pp.  117-130.


  1. 2004  “Heating and Cooling Qi and Modern American Dietary Guidelines:  Personal Thoughts on Cultural Convergence.”  In Jacqueline Newman and Roberta Halperin (eds.):  Chinese Cuisine, American Palate. New York:  Center for Thanatology Research and Education, Inc.  Pp. 26-33.


  1. 2004 Barbara Anderson, E. N. Anderson, and Roseanne Rushing:  “Violence:  Assault on Personhood.”  In Barbara A. Anderson:  Reproductive Health:  Women and Men’s Shared Responsibility. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.  Pp. 163-204.


  1. 2005 E. N. Anderson and Christopher Chase-Dunn: “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers.”  In Christopher Chase-Dunn and E. N. Anderson (eds.):  The Historical Evolution of World-Systems. New York:  Palgrave MacMillan.  Pp. 1-19.


  1. 2005 “Lamb, Rice, and Hegemonic Decline:  The Mongol Empire in the Fourteenth Century.”  In Christopher Chase-Dunn and E. N. Anderson (eds.):  The Historical Evolution of World-Systems. New York:  Palgrave MacMillan.  Pp. 113-121.


  1. 2007 E. N. Anderson and Lisa Raphals: “Taoism and Animals.”  In Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (eds.):  A Communion of Subjects:  Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics. New York: Columbia University Press.  Pp. 275-290.


  1. 2009 “Northwest Chinese Cuisine and the Central Asian Connection.”  In David Holm (ed.), Regionalism and Globalism in Chinese Culinary Culture.  Taipei:  Foundation of Chinese Dietary Culture.  Pp. 49-78.


  1. 2009 “Cuisines” and “Health, Nutrition, and Food,” Berkshire Encyclopedia of China (online), pp. 529-535 and 1010-1012.


  1. 2009 “Indigenous Traditions:  Asia.”  Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability, vol. 1, The Spirit of Sustainability.  Pp. 216-221.


  1. 2010 “Food and Feasting in the Zona Maya of Quintana Roo.”  In John Staller and Michael Carrasco (eds.), Pre-Columbian Foodways:  Interdisciplinary Approaches to Food, Culture, and Markets in Ancient Mesoamerica.  New York:  Springer.  Pp. 441-465.


  1. 2010  “Managing Maya Landscapes:  Quintana Roo, Mexico.”  In Leslie Main Johnson and Eugene S. Hunn (eds.), Landscape Ethnoecology:  Concepts of Biotic and Physical Space.  New York:  Berghahn.  Pp. 255-276.


  1. 2010 “Food Cultures:  Linking People to Landscapes.”  In Sarah Pilgrim and Jules Pretty (eds.),  Nature and Culture: Rebuilding Lost Connections.  London:  Earthscan.  Pp. 185-196.


  1. 2011 “Emotions, Motivation, and Behavior in Cognitive Anthropology.”  In David Kronenfeld, Giovanni Bennardo, Victor C. de Munck, and Michael D. Fischer (eds.), A Companion to Cognitive Anthropology.  New York: Wiley-Blackwell.  Pp. 331-354.


  1. 2011 “Introduction.”  In E. N. Anderson, Deborah Pearsall, Eugene Hunn and Nancy Turner (eds.),  Ethnobiology.  Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley-Blackwell.  Pp. 1-14.


  1. 2011 “Ethnobiology and Agroecology.” In E. N. Anderson, Deborah Pearsall, Eugene Hunn and Nancy Turner (eds.),  Ethnobiology.  Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley-Blackwell.  Pp. 305-318.


  1. 2011 “Drawing from Traditional and ‘Indigenous’ Socioecological Theories.”  In Helen Kopnina and Eleanor Shoreman-Ouimet, Environmental Anthropology Today.  London:  Routledge.  Pp. 56-74.


  1. 2011 “War, Migration, and Food in Mongol China:  Yuan Dynasty Food and Medicine.”  In Proceedings of the 12th Symposium on Chinese Dietary Culture.  Taiwan:  Foundation for Chinese Dietary Culture.  Pp. 1-32.


  1. 2011 “China.”  In Food Cultures of the World:  Encyclopedia.  Vol.:  Asia, Ken Albala, ed.  Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC-Clio.  Pp. 61-72.

Access electronically: User B5342E, password abccomp.


  1. 2013 “Culture and the Wild.”  In The Rediscovery of the Wild, Peter H. Kahn, Jr., and Patricia H. Hasbach, eds.  Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press.  Pp. 157-180.


  1. 2013  “What Shapes Cognition?  Traditional Sciences and Modern International Science.”  In Explorations in Ethnobiology: The Legacy of Amadeo Rea, Marsha Wquinland and Dana Lepofsky, eds.  Denton, TX:  Society of Ethnobiology.  Pp. 47-77.


  1. 2013  “Learning Is Like Chicken Feet: Assembling the Chinese Food System.”  In International Conference onn Foodways and Heritage, Conference Proceedings, Sidney C. H. Cheung and Chau Hing-wah, eds.  Hong Kong: Government of Hong Kong, Leisure and Cultural Services Dept.  Pp. 3-20.


  1. 2013 Stand Straight and Never Bend:  How China Fed Millions of People for Thousands of Years.  Working Paper #1, Dept. of Anthropology, Sun Yat-sen University [Zhongshan University], Guangdong, China.  24 pp.


  1. 2014 “China.”  In Food in Time and Place:The American HistoricalAssociation Companion to Food History.  Berkeley: University of California Press.  Pp. 41-67.


Electronic publications


  1. 1998  “Managing Maya Commons: Chunhuhub, Quintana Roo.”  Proceedings of the International Association for the Study of Common Property, annual conference, Vancouver, Canada.  One of several papers selected by the organizers of the conference for electronic publication.   (Book chapter 35 above is a greatly expanded and rewritten version.)


  1. 2008 Mayaland Cuisine.  Cookbook of south Mexican folk foods, made available online and for publication on demand.  195 pp.





  1. 1966 “Coyote Song,” Coyote’s Journal, #4.  (Refereed, poem)


  1. 1966 “Bird Selling in San Hui,” Hong Kong Bird Report, 1965 pp. 49-51.


  1. 1968 “The Chumash Indians of Southern California,” Malki Museum Brochure #4. Malki Museum Press.  (Popular writing) Reprinted 1975.


  1. 1969 “The Kingfishers” and “The Duck Farm,” In Transit: The Gary Snyder Issue, pp. 24-25.  (Two poems)


  1. 1969 “The Social Factors Have Been Ignored,” Harvard Educational Review, 39:3:581-585.  (Commentary, unrefereed, in major journal.)


  1. 1969 “Caucasian Genes in American Negroes,” in Science, 166:3911:1353.  Reprinted in Human Population, Genetic Variation and Evolution, by Laura Newell Morris.  1971, pp. 446-447.  (Letter, reprinted in reader on human genetics.)


  1. 1970 “Lineage Atrophy in Chinese Society,” American Anthropologist 72:363-365.   Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973.  (Unrefereed research note in major journal)


  1. 1970 Invited Comment on: “Mannerism and Cultural Change: An Ethnomusicological Example,” by Ruth Katz, Current Anthropology, XI:469.  (Note)


  1. 1970 “Hoklo Boat People,” Urgent Anthropology, Current Anthropology, XI:I:82-83.  (Brief comment in major journal.)


  1. 1970 “Toward a Planner’s Guide to Ecology,” Ecology: The Journal of Cultural Transformation, 1:6-11.  (Popular writing)


  1. 1970 “Notes for the Biosphere,” Ecology: The Journal of Cultural Transformation, 1:2-5.  (Popular writing)


  1. 1971 “A Food Tract,” Ecology: The Journal of Cultural Transformation, 1:3:5-18 and 1:4:6-13.  (Popular writing)


  1. 1971 “A Design for the Tropical Center,” The New Alchemy Institute Spring Bulletin, pp. 16-20.  (Scholarly but unrefereed journal.)


  1. 1971 “A Design for the Tropical Center” (in Spanish).  Leaflet distributed by The New Alchemy Institute.  6 pages.  (Largely a translation of the previous item.)


  1. 1972 Western Riverside County: A Natural History Guide, E. N. Anderson, Riverside.  33 pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)


  1. 1972 Man on the Santa Ana.  Tri-County Conservation League Riverside.  10 pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)


  1. 1972 The Living Santa Ana River.  Edited and majority written by E.N. Anderson.  Tri-County Conservation League, Riverside.  3l pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)


  1. 1972 Herbs.  Jurupa Cultural Center, Riverside.  32 pages. (Popular writing, booklet)


  1. 1973 The Edible Forest.  Jurupa Cultural Center, Riverside. 26 pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)


  1. 1973 Vegetables.  Jurupa Cultural Center, Riverside.  26   pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)


  1. 1977 Comment on Marvin Harris’ “Cultural Ecology of India’s Sacred Cattle.”  Current Anthropology 18:3:552.


  1. 1977 Comment on R. Winzeler.  Current Anthropology 18:3:552.


  1. 1977 Will Staple, Gene Anderson, Lowell Levant.  Coyote Run: Poems by Will Staple, Gene Anderson, Lowell Levant. Anderson Publications, Riverside.  (Book; my poems, pp. 27-56)


  1. 1978 “Sea Birds Off Tahiti” Western Tanager.  Journal of Los Angeles Audubon Soceity, p. 6.  (Popular.)


  1. 1978 Invited Comment on Paul Diener and Eugene Robkin, “Ecology, Evolution, and the Search for Cultural Origins: The Question of Islamic Pig Prohibition.” Current Anthropology 19:3:509.


  1. 1979 “Chinese Food: First Million Years.”  Wok Talk III:5:1, 8.  (Popular.)


  1. 1979 “Beijing and Delhi.”  Western Tanager 45:10:6.  (Popular.  Reprinted in Bird Watcher’s Digest.)


  1. 1980 Invited comment on Paul Diener, “Quantum Adjustment, Macroevolution, and the Social Field: Some Comments on Evolution and Culture.”  Cultural Anthropology 21:4:431-432.


  1. 1980 Comment on Daniel E. Moerman, “On the Anthropology of Symbolic Healing.”  Current Anthropology 22:1:107.


  1. 1980 “Food and Philosophy in Ancient China.”  Wok Talk IV:3:1-7.  (Popular.)


  1. 1980 “A Closer Look at Hakka Cooking.”  Wok Talk IV:5:1-7. (Popular.)


  1. 1980 “Teochiu Cuisine.”  Wok Talk IV:4:1 and 8.  (Popular.)


  1. 1980 Eugene N. Anderson and Dexter Kelley.  “Birding in Nearer Baja.”  Western Tanager 47:4:1-3.  (Popular.)


  1. 1981 “On Preserving Seafood.”  Wok Talk V:3:2-7.  (Popular.)


  1. 1981 “The Foods of China’s Golden Age.”  Wok Talk VI:1:9-10.  (Popular.)


  1. 1982 “Wisdom Literature as Prayers to Coyote.”  Coyote’s Journal, P. 64.  (Poem; major journal of poetry and literature)


  1. 1983 The Inland Empire: A Natural History Guide.  Jurupa Cultural Center, Riverside.  (Booklet, 62 quarto pp.)


  1. 1983 Nunez, Christina; Michael Hogan; E. N. Anderson.  Food Banks and the Anthropology of Voluntary Organizations. California Anthropology 13:2:23-39.  (Minor unrefereed journal.  I was responsible for about 1/3 of this article.  The other two authors were students here.  Item missing from previous files, because the senior author published it without telling me.)


  1. 1984 “Plant Communities and Bird Habitats in Southern California, Part II: The Chaparral.”  Western Tanager 52:3:1-4.  (Popular.)


  1. 1985 Three poems in Reflections, Iain Prattis, ed. Washington: American Anthropological Association.  (Collection of poetry by anthropologists about anthropological themes) pp. 211-217.


  1. 1985 Invited comment on Cecil Brown, “Mode of Subsistence and Folk Biological Taxonomy.”  Current Anthropology 26:1:53-54.


  1. 1986 Invited comment on Cecil Brown, “The Growth of Ethnobiological Nomenclature.”  Current Anthropology 27:1:11-12.


  1. 1986 Comment on “The Social Context of Early Food Production”  Current Anthropology 27:3:262-263.


  1. 1988 Jean Gilbert, Claudia Fishman, Neil Tashima and Barbara Pillsbury, Fred Hess, Elvin Hatch, Barbara Frankel and Gene Anderson.  “National Association of Practicing Anthropologists’ Ethical Guidelines for Practitioners.”  American Anthropological Association Newsletter 29:8:8-9.


  1. 1992 Invited comment “On Training and Certification,” CommuNiCator (Newsletter of the Council on Nutritional Anthropology), 16:1:1-2.


  1. 1992 “Can Ancient Maya Wisdom Save Our Favorite Birds from the Cows?”  Western Tanager March 1992, pp. 1-4.  (Popular.)


  1. 1992 “Four Fields in Ecological Anthropology,” long contribution to ongoing debate on the “Four Fields in Anthropology,” Anthropology Newsletter (official newsletter of the American Anthropological Assn.), Nov. 1992, p. 3.


  1. 1993 “Teaching Philosophy,” statement to accompany Honorable Mention for Distinguished Teaching award from National Association of Student Anthropologists, Anthropology Newsletter, Feb. 1993, p. 18.


  1. 1993 “A ‘Blue-Headed’ Solitary Vireo from Baja California,” The Euphonia 2:1:22.  (Brief note)


  1. 1993 “How Much Should We Privilege ‘Native’ Accounts?”  American Anthropologist 95:706-707.  (Commentary, unrefereed, in major journal.)


  1. 1994 “Caught in the Flood of Urbanization.”  Western Tanager 61:4:1-3.  (Popular.)


  1. 1995 “After the Fire: Bird Use of a New Burn.”  Western Tanager 61:7:1-3.  (Popular.)


  1. 1995 “On Objectivity vs. Militancy.”  Current Anthropology 36:820-821.  (Commentary.)


  1. 1997 “Vegetables, Roots, and Wisdom in Old China.”  Journal of Ethnobiology 17:1:147-148 (Short Communication).


  1. 2000 “On an Antiessential Political Ecology.”  Current Anthropology 41:105-106.


  1. 2000 “On ‘Are East African Pastoralists Truly Conservationists?’”  Current Anthropology 41:626-627.


  1. 2000 “Brief Notes on Observations in Spain.”  Anthropology Newsletter 41:9:41-42.


  1. 2001 Folk song text (collected and translated by myself), five photographs I took, and summary of my research writings on Hong Kong, published in Elizabeth Johnson:  Recording a Rich Heritage: Research on Hong Kong’s ‘New Territories.’ Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Hong Kong.  Pp. 82-88.


  1. 2001 “Psychology and a Sustainable Future.”  American Psychologist 56:5:457-458.  (Comment on a series of articles on psychology and the environment.)


  1. 2001 “Tropical Forest Game Conservation.”  Conservation Biology 15:791-792.  (Edited comment; major journal.)


  1. 2002 Comment on “Maya Medicine in the Biomedical Gaze” by Ronald Nigh.  Current Anthropology 43:789-790.


  1. 2003 “Tropical Multiple Use.”  Journal of Conservation Ecology 7:14.  (Comment on earlier article:  Victor Toledo, B. Ortiz-Espejel, L. Cortes, P. Moguel, M. D. J. Ordonez, 2003, “The Multiple Use of Torpical Forests by Indigenous Peoples in Mexico:  A Case of Adaptive Management,” Journal of Conservation Ecology 7:article 9 online.)


  1. 2008 Comment on “Reason and Reenchantment in Cultural Change:  Sustainability in Higher Education” by Peggy Barlett (Current Anthropology 49:1077-1098).  Current Anthropology 49:1090.


  1. 2009 Comment on “Cultural Relativity 2.0” by Michael Brown (Current Anthropology 49:363-383).  Current Anthropology 50:251.


  1. 2010 Comment on “Attachment and Cooperation in Religious Groups” by Carol Popp Weingarten and James S. Chisholm.  Current Anthropology 51:421-422.


  1. 2010 “Ancient and Modern Foods from the Tarim Basin.”  Expedition 52:3:5-6.


  1. 2011 “AAA Long-Range Plan.”  (Letter.)  Anthropology News, Feb., p. 3.


  1. 2011 “Salt Water Songs of Hong Kong.”   In The Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature, Victor H. Mair and Mark Bender (eds.).  New York:  Columbia University Press.  Pp. 145-147.


  1. 2012 “Cooking with Kublai Khan.”  Flavor and Fortune 19:4:13-14.


  1. 2013 “Folk Nutritional Therapy in Modern China.”  In Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History, TJ Hinrichs and Linda Barnes, eds.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.  Pp. 259-260.


  1. 2013 “Are Minds Modular?”  (Letter, with answer by Michael Shermer and comment by Steven Pinker.)  Scientific American, May, 8-9.


  1. 2-13 “Happiness Now or Later.”  (Letter, with answer by editors.)  Scientific American Mind, July/August, p. 4.


  1. 2013 “Foreword.”  In Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia:  Bioregionalism, Permaculture, and Ecovillages, Joshua Lockyer and James R. Veteto, eds.  New York:  Berghahn.  Pp. xi-xviii.


  1. 2013. Preface and two poems, “Desert in Fall” and “Nocturne.”  In A Poet Drives a Truck: Poems by and for Lowell Levant, Ronald Levant, Carol Slatter and Caren Levant, eds.  Copley, OH:  Truck Stop Press.




  1. 1967    “The Ethnoichthyology of the Hong Kong Boat People,” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley. Printed in Essays on South China’s Boat People, 1972. 105 pp.


  1. 1987 Eugene N. Anderson and Evelyn Pinkerton.  “The Kakawis Experience.”  Kakawis Family Development Centre, 68 pp. + appendices.  (Contracted technical study and report to Kakawis Family Development Centre.)


  1. 2007 Sun Simiao.  Recipes Worth a Thousand Gold:  The Food Sections.  Tr. Sumei Yi, ed. E. N. Anderson.  Ms circulated electronically.  56 pp.


  1. 2007 The Tropical Food Security Garden.  On website,




Review Articles


  1. 1977 The Chinese by C. Osgood.  Reviews in Anthropology 4:1:17-24.


  1. 1981 Review article of Arthur Kleinman: Patients and Healers in the Context of Culture: An Exploration of the Borderland between Anthropology, Medicine and Psychiatry, and Margaret Lock, East Asian Medicine in Urban Japan.  Reviews in Anthropology 8:1:45-58.


  1. 1984 Cooking, Cuisine and Class by Jack Goody.  Reviews in Anthropology 10:2:89-95.


  1. 1994 Islands, Plants and Polynesians ed. by Paul Alan Cox and Sandra Anne Banack, and Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples: Nutrition, Botany and Use by Harriet Kuhnlein and Nancy J. Turner. Reviews in Anthropology 23:97-104.


  1. 1995 Human Ecology as Human Behavior by John Bennett, and Radical Ecology by Carolyn Merchant.  Reviews in Anthropology 24:113-122.


  1. 1999 “Native American Cultural Representations of Flora and Fauna.”   Ethnohistory 46:373-382


  1. 2000 The Ecological Indian by Shepard Krech.  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:37-42.


  1. 2002 “ New Textbooks Show Ecological Anthropology Is Flourishing.”  Reviews in Anthropology 33:231-242.


  1. 2007 Behavioral Ecology and the Transition to Agriculture, ed. by Douglas Kennett and Bruce Winterhalder.  Journal of Ethnobiology 27:277-280.


  1. 2009 Trying Leviathan:  The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case that Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature, by D. Graham Burnett.  Journal of Ethnobiology 29:362-365.


  1. 2014 E. N. Anderson and Seth Abrutyn:  “Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution.”  Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 8:111-127.



Short Reviews

(Probably not a complete list, since I think I have missed some announcements from Choice that my short reviews for them were published)


  1. 1966    “La peche au grand filet a Tahiti,” by Paul Ottino. Journal of Polynesian Society 75:1:130-131.


  1. 1967    The Sea Nomads, by David E. Sopher. Oceania 37:4:313-314.


  1. 1974    Tai Yu Shan: Traditional Ecological Adaptation in a South Chinese Island, by Armando de Silva and The Men and Women of Chung Ho Ch’ang, by Mary B. Treudley.  American Anthropologist 76:3:610-611.


  1. 1975    December’s Child, by Thomas Blackburn.  Journal of California Anthropology 2:2:241-244.


  1. 1975    Chinese Symbols and Superstitions by H. T. Morgan, Journal of American Folklore.  Spring 1975.


  1. 1976    California: Five Centuries of Cultural Contrasts by J. Nava and B. Barger.  Journal of California Anthropology 3:3:100-102.


  1. 1977    The Eye of the Flute by T. Hudson et al. Journal of California Anthropology 4:1:1-141-142.


  1. 1977    Migrants of the Mountains by W.R. Geddes  Ethnopharmacology Society Newsletter 1:1:5-6.


  1. 1977    Fig Tree John: An Indian in Fact and Fiction by P. Beidler, Journal of California Anthropology 4:2:322.


  1. 1978 Food in Chinese Culture by Charles W. Hayford, Journal of Asian Studies XXXVII:4:738-40.


  1. 1978 Edible and Useful Plants of California by Charlotte Clarke, Journal of California Anthropology 5:1:139-140.


  1. 1981 Chinese Village Politics in the Malaysian State by Judith Strauch, Newsletter of the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology 5:3:17-19.


  1. 1981 Manna: An Historical Geography by R.A. Donkin, Journal of Historical Geography 7:3:329-330.


  1. 1983 “Cities in China” film series (three films: “Xian,” “Suzhou,” Biejing”).  American Anthropologist 85:2:491-492.


  1. 1984 Shenfan by William Hinton, American Anthropologist 1986:1002.


  1. 1984 Nourishment of Life by Linda Koo, Social Science and Medicine 20:3:350-354.


  1. 1985 Living the Fishing by Paul Thompson, et al, Urban Life 14:3:350-354.


  1. 1987 Wives and Midwives by Carol Laderman, Medical Anthropology Newsletter.


  1. 1987 Man and Land in Chinese History by Kang Chao, American Asian Review V:3:105-107.


  1. 1987 Medicine in China History, Vol. 1: A History of Ideas.  Vol. 2: A History of Pharmaceutics.  Vol. 3: Nan-Ching: The Classic of Difficult Issues by Paul Unschuld, American Asian Review V:3:115-118.


  1. 1988 The Cambridge History of China, vol. I: The Ch’in and Han Empires, ed. by Denis Twitchett and Michael Loewe, American Asian Review VI:1:78-82.


  1. 1990 Disputers of the Tao by A. C. Graham.  American Asian Review 8:4:135-139.


  1. 1991 Cannibalism in China by Key Ray Chong.  American Asian Review 9:2:109-112.


  1. 1991 Native North American Interaction Patterns by Regna Darnell and Michael K. Foster, eds.  Culture: Journal of the Canadian Anthropological Society, pp. 92-94.


  1. 1991 Nch’i Wana: The Big River by Eugene Hunn.  American Anthropologist 93:4:1002-1003.


  1. 1991 With Bitter Herbs They Shall Eat It by Timothy Johns.  Journal of Ethnobiology 11:2:184-186.


  1. 1992 Origins of Agriculture and Settled Life by Richard S. MacNeish.  Journal of Ethnobiology 12:198-26.


  1. 1993 Coyote Stories and A Salishan Autobiography by Mourning Dove.  Anthropology and Humanism Quarterly 18:2:84-85.


  1. 1993 Tangweera by C. Napier Bell.  Anthropology and Humanism Quarterly 18:2:85-86.


  1. 1994 The Flowering of Man by Dennis Breedlove and Robert Laughlin.  Economic Botany 48:1:101-102.


  1. 1995 The Cuba Commission Report: A Hidden History of the Chinese in Cuba ed. by Dennis Helly.  Journal of Caribbean Studies 10:99-101.


  1. 1995 Chumash Healing by Phillip L. Walker and Travis Hudson.  Journal of Ethnobiology 14:184.


  1. 1995 Environmental Values in American Culture by Willett Kempton, James S. Boster, and Jennifer A. Hartley.  Choice 33.2.


  1. 1995 Prophets of Agroforestry:  Guaraní Communities and Commercial Gathering by Richard K. Reed.  Choice 33:3.


  1. 1995 Memoirs of an Indo Woman: Twentieth-Century Life in the East Indies and Abroad by Marguerite Schenkhuizen, ed. and trans. by Lizelot Stout van Balgooy.  Anthropology and Humanism 20:172-173.


  1. 1996 Earth’s Insights by J. Baird Callicott.  Journal of Ethnobiology 16:130-131.


  1. 1996 Eat Not This Flesh (2nd edn.) by Frederick Simoons.  Journal of Ethnobiology 16:128-130.


  1. 1996 Guest People: Hakka Identity in China and Abroad ed. by Nicole Constable.  Choice 34:4.


  1. 1997 Green Guerrillas ed. by Helen Collinson.  Choice 34:6.


  1. 1997 Humanity’s Descent by Rick Potts.  Choice 35:1.


  1. 1997 Hunting the Wren by Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence.  Journal of Ethnobiology 17:67-68.


  1. 1997 The Animal World of the Pharaohs by Patrick F. Houlihan.  Journal of Ethnobiology 17:135-136.


  1. 1997 Wild Men in the Looking Glass and The Artificial Savage by Roger Bartra.  Journal of Ethnobiology 17:136-138.


  1. 1997 Eco Homo by Noel T. Boaz.  Choice 35:4.


  1. 1997 Greenlanders, Whales, and Whaling by Richard Caulfield.  Choice 35:4.


  1. 1998 Shamanic Songs and Myths of Tuva by Mihaly Hoppal.  Choice 35:5.


  1. 1998 Bhutan: Mountain Fortress of the Gods ed. by Christian Schicklgruber and Francoise Pommaret. Choice 35:7.


  1. 1998 Uncommon Ground by Victoria Strang.  Choice 35:7.


  1. 1998 Knowledges: Culture, Counterculture, Subculture by Peter Worsley.  Choice 35:10.


  1. 1998 Contested Arctic ed. by Eric Alden Smith and Joan McCarter.  Choice 35:10.


  1. 1998 Natural Premises:  Ecology and Peasant Life in the Western Himalaya, 1800-1950 by Chetan Singh.  Choice 36:5.


  1. 1998 Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent, by Meredith Small.  Choice 36:2.


  1. 1999 Golden Arches East:  McDonald’s in East Asia, edited by James L. Watson.  Anth rpos 94:307-310.


  1. 1999 Wisdom from a Rainforest, by Stuart Schlegel.  Choice 36:8.


  1. 1999 Siren Feasts, by Andrew Dalby.  Journal of Ethnobiology 18:2:188.


  1. 1999 Building a New Biocultural Synthesis, ed. by Alan Goodman and Thomas Leatherman.  Choice 36:10.


  1. 1999 Rebuilding the Local Landscape:  Environmental Management in Burkina Faso,

by Chris Howorth.  Choice 37:3.


  1. 2000 That Complex Whole:  Culture and the Evolution of Human Behavior, by Lee Cronk.  Choice 37:5.


  1. 2000 Anthropology of Food: The Social Dynamics of Food Scarcity by Johan Pottier.  Anthropos 95:1:296-298.


  1. 2000 Plants for Food and Medicine  ed. by H. D. V. Prendergast, N. L. Etkin, D. R. Harris, and P. J. Houghton.  American Anthropologist 102:50-51.


  1. 2000 Ruins of Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands by Mark J. Hudson.  Choice 37:7.


  1. 2000 Sustaining the Forest, the People, and the Spirit by Thomas Davis.  Choice 37:10.


  1. 2000 Las Plantas de la Milpa entre los Maya by Silvia Teran and Christian Rasmussen.  Journal of Ethnobiology 19:219-220.


  1. 2000 The Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet, by Georgius Everhardus Rumphius.   Journal of Ethnobiology 19:258-259.


  1. 2000 The Great Maya Droughts, by Richardson Gill.  Choice 38:3.


  1. 2001 In One’s Own Shadow: An Ethnographic Account of the Condition of Post-Reform Rural China, by Xin Liu.  Choice 38:3.


  1. 2001 Indigenous Environmental Knowledge and Its Trasnformations: Critical Anthropological Perspectives, ed. by Roy Ellen, Peter Parkes, and Alan Bicker.  Choice 38:10.


  1. 2001 Portraits of “Primitives”:  Ordering Human Kinds in the Chinese Nation, by Susan Blum. Choice 38:10.


  1. 2001 Between Mecca and Beijing:  Modernization and Consumption among Urban Chinese Muslims, by Maris Boyd Gillette.  Choice 38:10.


  1. 2001 Feeding the World, by Vaclav Smil.  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:217-221.


  1. 2001 El Bosque Mediterráneo en el Norte de África, by Jesús Charco.  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:237-238.


  1. 2001 The Age of Wild Ghosts:  Memory, Violence, and Place in Southwest China, by Erik Mueggler. Choice 39:02.


  1. 2001 Environmental Anthropology:  From Pigs to Politics, by Patricia Townsend.  Choice 39:1.


  1. 2001 New Directions in Anthropology and Environment: Intersections, ed. by Carole Crumley.  Choice 39:4.


  1. 2001 Imperfect Balance: Landscape Transformations in the Precolumbian Americas, ed. by David Lentz.  Journal of Ethnobiology 21:53-55.


  1. 2001 The Ecological Indian:  Myth and Reality, by Shepard Krech III.  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:37-42.


76a.        2002  A Society without Fathers or Husbands, by Hua Cai.  Choice 39:5.


  1. 2002 The Hmong of China: Context, Agency, and the Imaginary, by Nicholas Tapp.  Choice 39:5.


  1. 2002 Cocina indigena y popular, by CONACULTA.  Petits Propos Culinaires 69:124-125.


  1. 2002 Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light, by Sachiko Murata.  Philosophy East and West 52:257-260.


  1. 2002 Hosts and Guests Revisited: Tourism Issues of the 21st Century, ed. by Valene Smith and Maryann Brent.   Choice 39:08.


  1. 2002 Black Rice, by Judith A. Carney.  Journal of Ethnobiology 21:53-54.


  1. 2002 Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, ed. by David Wu and Tan Chee-Beng.  Journal of Asian Studies 61:2:689-691.


  1. 2002 Mayo Ethnobotany, by David Yetman and Thomas VanDevender.  Choice 39:11.


  1. 2002 Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power, ed. by Michael Dietler and Brian Hayden.  Anthropos 97:573-574.


  1. 2002 The Cambridge World History of Food, ed. by Kenneth Kiple and Kriemhild Ornelas.  Journal of Ethnobiology 22:163-164.


  1. 2002 Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China by Stevan Harrell.  Choice 40:03.


  1. 2002 Culture, Environment, and Conservation in the Appalachian South, ed. by Benita J. Howell.  Choice 40:3.


  1. 2002 Appetites:  Food and Sex in Postsocialist China, by Judith Farquhar.  Choice 40:04.


  1. 2003 When Culture and Biology Collide, by E. O. Smith.  Choice 40:3479.


  1. 2003 The World and the Wild, ed. by David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus.  Pacific Affairs 75:4:588.


  1. 2003 China to Chinatown:  Chinese Food in the West, by J. A. G. Roberts.  Journal of Asian Studies 62:569-571.


  1. 2003 Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, ed. by David Wu and Tan Chee-beng.  Anthropos 98:620-622.


  1. 2003 Crafting Tradition, by Michael Chibnik.  Choice 41-1618.


  1. 2003 New Year Celebrations in Central China in Late Imperial Times, by Goran Aijmer.  Choice 41-2554.


  1. 2004 Moral Politics in a South Chinese Village:  Responsibility, Reciprocity and Resistance, by Hok-Bun Ku.  Choice 41-5442.


  1.      2004 Indus Ethnobiology, ed. by Steven A Weber and William R. Belcher.  Choice 41-5993.


  1. 2004  Food in the Ancient World from A to Z, by Andrew Dalby.  Journal of Ethnobiology 24:163-164.


  1.      2004  Political Ecology:  An Integrative Approach to Geography and Evnironment-Development Studies, ed. by Karl Zimmerer and Thomas J. Bassett.  Choice 41-6682.


  1.       2004  Social History and African Environments, ed. by William Beinart and JoAnn McGregor.  Choice 41-6689.


  1. 2004 The Nehalem Tillamook:  An Ethnography, by Elizabeth Derr Jacobs.  Choice 41-1026.


  1. 2004  The Retreat of the Elephants, by Mark Elvin.  Journal of Ethnobiology 24:352-354.


  1. 2004 Anthropology of the Performing Arts, by Anya Royce.  Choice 42:3518.


  1. 2004 Miniature Crafts and Their Makers:  Palm Weaving in a Mexican Town.  Choice 42:6669.


  1. 2005 Political Ecology, by Paul Robbins.  Choice 42-5341.


  1. 2005 Miniature Crafts and Their Makers:  Palm Weaving in a Mexican Town, by Katrin S. Flechsig.  Choice 2004:10393.


  1. 2005  Collapse:  How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond.  Journal of Ethnobiology 25:143-145.


  1. 2005 The Origin and Evolution of Cultures, by Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson.  Choice 43:1027.


  1. 2005 Facing the Wild:  Ecotourism, Conservation and Animal Encounters, by Chilla Bulbeck.  Choice 43:1641.


  1. 2005 Intelligence in Nature:  An Inquiry in Knowledge, by Jeremy Narby.  Choice 43:2765.


  1. 2006 Tending the Wild:  Native American Knowledge and the Management of Calfornia’s Natural Resources, by Kat Anderson.  Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 25:255-258.


  1. 2006 Survival Skills of Native California, by Paul D. Campbell.  Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 25:262-263.


  1. 2006 Food Plants of China, by Hu Shiu-Ying.  Journal of Ethnobiology 26:165-167.


  1. 2006. Where Rivers and Mountains Sing:  Sound, Music and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond, by Theodore Levin.  Choice 44:0226.


  1. 2006 Miraculous Response:  Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China, by Adam Yuet Chau.  Choice 44-0394.


  1. 2006  People and Nature: An Introduction to Human Ecological Relations, by Emilio Moran.  Choice 44:2770.


  1. 2006 As Days Go By:  Our History, Our Land, and Our People—The Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla, ed. by Jennifer Karson.  Choice 45-1077


  1. 2007 Be of Good Mind:  Essays on the Coast Salish, ed. by Bruce Granville Miller.  Choice 45:2204.


  1. 2007 The Earth Only Endures:  On Reconnecting with Nature and Our Place in It, by Jules Pretty.  Choice 45:4461.


  1. 2007 Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Natural Resource Management, ed. by Charles R. Menzies.  American Anthropologist 109:571-572.


  1. 2008 “An Anthropology of Chocolate.”  Review article on Chocolate in Mesoamerica:  A Cultural History of Cacao, ed. by Cameron McNeil.  American Anthropologist 110:71-73.


  1. 2008 Chumash Ethnobotany:  Plant Knowledge among the Chumash People of Southern California, by Jan Timbrook.  Choice 45-6271.


  1. 2008 Chumash Ethnobotany:  Plant Knowledge among the Chumash People of Southern California, by Jan Timbrook.  Journal of Ethnobiology 28:136-138.


  1. 2008 Animals the Ancestors Hunted:  An Account of the Wil Mammals of the Kalam Area, Papua-new Guinea, by Ian Saem Majnep and Ralph Bulmer.  Journal of Ethnobiology 28j:134-136.


  1. 2008 Wild Harvest in the Heartland:  Ethnobotany in Missouri’s Little Dixie, by Justin Nolan.   Journal of Ethnobiology 28:139-140.


  1. 2008  Life in a Kam Village in Southwest China, 1930-1949, by Ou Chaoquan, tr. by D. Norman Geary.  Brill, 2007.


  1. 2008 Kinship and Food in South East Asia, ed. by Monica Janowski and Fiona Kerlogue. Copenhagen:  NIAS press, 2007.  Anthropos 103:2:598-599.


  1. 2008 The Nature of an Ancient Maya City:  Resources, Interaction and Power at Blue Creek, Belize, by Thomas Guderjan.  Choice 46-1659.


  1. 2008 Environmental Anthropology: a historical reader, ed. by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter.  Choice 46-1566.


  1. 2008 Koekboya (and) Nomads in Anatolia, by Harald Bőhmer.  Journal of Ethnobiology 28:318-319.


  1. 2009  The Fishermen’s Frontier:  People and Salmon in Southeast Alaska, by David F. Arnold.  Choice 46-4615.


  1. 2009 State and Ethnicity in China’s Southwest, by Xiaolin Guo.  Choice 46-5188.


  1. 2009 Christmas Island:  An Anthropological Study, by Simone Dennis.  Choice 46-6282.


  1. 2009 Against the Grain, ed. by Bradley Walters, Bonnie J. McCay, Paige West and Susan Lees.  Journal of Ethnobiology 29:360-362.


  1. 2010 Spirits of the Air:  Birds and American Indians in the South, by Shepard Krech.  Choice 47-3251.


  1. 2010  California Indians and the Environment:  An Introduction (2nd edn.), by Kent Lightfoot and Otis Parrish.  Choice 47-3252.


  1. 2010 Biocultural diversity and indigenous ways of knowing: human ecology in the Arctic, by Karim-Aly Kassam.  University of Calgary Press,  2009.  Choice 47-5105.


  1. 2010 Terres de Vanoise:  Agriculture en Montagne Savoyarde, by Brien Meilleur.  Journal of Ethnobiology 30:173-174.


  1. 2010 Material Choices:  Refashioning Bast and Leaf Fibres in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, edited by Roy Hamilton and Lynne Milgram.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:3.


  1. 2010 Trying Leviathan, by D. Graham Burnett.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:4-6.


  1. 2010 Grass Roots:  African Origins of an American Art, edited by Dale Rosengarten, Theodore Rosengarten, and Enid Schildkrout.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:7-8.


  1. 2010. Spirits of the Air:  Birds and American Indians in the South, by Shepard Krech III.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:16-17.


  1. 2010. Naming Nature:  The Clash between Instinct and Science, by Carol Kaesuk Yoon.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:30-32.


  1. 2010 After the first full moon in April: a sourcebook of herbal medicine from a California Indian elder, by Josephine Grant Peters and Beverly R. Ortiz.  Choice 48-1558.


  1. 2010 Jungle laboratories: Mexican peasants, national projects, and the making of the pill, by Gabriela Soto Laveaga.  Choice 48-2255.


  1. 2011 Different truths: ethnomedicine in early postcards, by Peter A. G. M. de Smet.  Kit Publishers, 2010.  Choice 48-2759.


  1. 2011 Biocultural diversity conservation: a global sourcebook, by Luisa Maffi and Ellen Woodley.    Earthscan Publications Ltd., 2010.  Choice 48-2767.


  1. 2011 Indigenous Knowledge, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, by Raymond Pierotti.  Ethnobiology Letters 2:3-5.


  1. 2011 Feeding the People, Feeding the Spirit:  Revitalizing Northwest Coastal Indian Food, ed. by Elise Krohn and Valerie Segrest.  Ethnobiology Letters 2:45.


  1. 2011 Dark Green Religion, by Bron Taylor.  Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Cultue 5:2:244-245.


  1. 2012 The Banana Tree at the Gate, by Michael Dove.  Ethnobiology Letters 3:13.


  1. 2012 From the Hands of the Weaver, ed. by Jacilee Wray.  Choice 50-2152


  1. 2013 Spiritual Ecology, by Leslie Sponsel.  Current Anthropology 54:245-247.


  1. 2014 Environmental Winds, by Michael Hathaway.  Choice 51-2805.


  1. 2014. How Forests Think, by Eduardo Kohn.  Choice 51-2744.


  1. 2014 Uses of Plants by the Hidatsas of the Northern Plains, by Gilbert Wilson.  Choice 52-2068.

scientific name usage

December 6th, 2014

Scientific Name Usage


Non-biologists, including highly trained scientists in other fields, often get confused by scientific names and their usage.  This posting is intended to help.

Take a familiar plant, the tomato.  The name you usually see is Lycopersicon esculentum Miller.  This means that the genus—the general category of similar, very closely related plants, is Lycopersicon, which means “wolf peach,” probably in honor of the once-believed toxic qualities of the plant.  The species name, esculentum, means “good to eat.”  Miller was the guy who gave it that name.

You may also see it as Lycopersicon lycopersicum (L.) Karsten ex Farwell.  This is a synonym, abbreviated syn.  The L. stands for Linnaeus—everybody knows about him so nobody spells his name out.  But he put the plant in a different genus (Solanum, I think) and Karsten, with Farwell, gave it the new genus name.  Then at some point people found something wrong with this name—I don’t know what—and Miller renamed it.  But some people still use the old name, so the synonymy must be recorded.

Zoologists never cite the authorities (the name authors) unless they are doing formal taxonomic writing, but botanists usually cite them.  Trained more in zoology, I find it maddening to have to worry about the authorities, so I just leave them out.

Some species may have subspecies: very slightly different forms that can still all breed with each other and produce perfectly viable offspring.  One of these, the source subspecies of the first individual to be scientifically described, gets the species name doubled:  Passerella iliaca iliaca, eastern fox sparrow.  Others get different names: Passerella iliaca megarhyncha, large-billed (or Sierra Nevada) fox sparrow.  This can be abbreviated P. i. megarhyncha if you are talking about fox sparrows already, and have given the full name.

Varieties are abbreviated var., as in Beta vulgaris var. cicla L, Swiss chard, and Beta vulgaris var. rapa Dumont, sugar beet.  (Since these are plants, I have to cite the authorities.)  Hybrids are designated by x: Triticum x aestivum L., bread wheat, usually without the x but is a known hybrid of several species.  If you know the species you can have Calypte costae x Calypte anna for the hybrid Costa’s with Anna’s hummingbird that we sometimes see in California.

The actual scientific name is always italicized, but the authorities are not.  The authorities are not part of the actual name, and thus have to be in ordinary type font.  The genus name is always capitalized, even in the middle of a sentence.  The species name is never capitalized in zoology, but in botany the species name is capitalized if it’s derived from the name of a person or of a specific place.  Very general place names like americanum are not capitalized.

Scientific names have to be in Latin, or Latinized versions of words in other languages—Lycopersicon is actually Greek but Latin borrowed Greek words all the time, so no one cares.  Much more exotic names get into usage—many Native American, Australian aboriginal, and other  plant and animal names have been Latinized, as in Puma concolor (“puma” is Quechua) or Felis yaguaroundi for the jaguarundi (a Tupi-Guarani name).  And then there is the recent Confuciusornis for a genus of fossil birds from China….

Originally, scientific descriptions had to be in Latin too, and a plant, animal or fungus was not recognized by international science till a Latin description was published.  Some nostalgic scientists still publish in Latin, but English and other international languages are now accepted.

The modern scientific naming system was developed by Linnaeus in the 18th century, but he consciously followed a long line of forebears, from the great ancient Greek botanist Theophrastus (4th century BCE) down to John Ray and others in the 17th century.  Linnaeus sensibly conserved the old names whenever he could; many go right back to Theophrastus, who was an excellent botanist.  Linnaeus set up the formal binomial system described above, and the hierarchy of Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species—note the way it follows the “Old Regime” social system!  (There are also suborders, superfamilies, subgenera, etc., etc.)  Traditional naming systems—including the ancient Greek one Theophrastus used—tend to fall into a very similar pattern: a folk genus with folk species and sometimes folk subspecies and varieties, subsumed under broader categories like “bird” and “snake.”

Humans are Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Cordata (animals with spinal cords), Class Mammalia, Order Primates, Family Hominidae, Genus Homo, species sapiens.  Modern humans should probably be subspecies H. s. sapiens, with Neanderthals and other extinct forms as other subspecies, but many writers keep these various forms as separate species.  There is a huge controversy about just what a “species” is when you’re talking about fossil forms.  Some, “splitters,” would give new names to every vaguely-different-looking skull.  Others, “lumpers,” infer relationships from basic similarities, and use names much more widely.  Even in living species there is constant disagreement about exact species boundaries, usually when two populations hybridize a bit but not regularly.  Splitters then separate them, lumpers lump them into one species.  Splitting and lumping tend to run in cycles; the Baltimore oriole has been lumped with the Bullock’s oriole about half my life, and split the other half (when I was young and again when I got old).  This is a pretty common story.

Modern genetics, especially population genetics and genomics, has tremendously improved our understanding of species, genus, and higher-level boundaries!  This (with some old-fashioned anatomical study) explains the many changes in scientific names that you will have seen if you work with such materials. Plant lovers in particular have had to deal with this.  For one example, the old lily family has been broken up into many small families—the plants in the new families look sort of alike but are quite different genetically.  Onions and garlic, for instance, were formerly lilies, but now have a family of their own, distinguished by the chemicals that give them their scent.  Much remains to be done as more genomic information comes out.

Sometimes, habit is so strong that an invalid scientific name persists.  The dog is usually still Canis familiaris (as named by Linnaeus), but it is really just a domesticated wolf, and thus is really Canis lupus.  Maybe it should be “var. familiaris.


The plural of “genus” is “genera.”  The singular and plural of “species” are both “species.”  (“Specie” is an unrelated word; it means money.)  Both of these plurals are quite unusual forms for Latin, which causes yet more confusion.  It may be useful to know that the usual Latin masculine ending is –us, feminine –a, neuter –um; corresponding Greek endings are –os, -a, -on; plural of the neuter in both languages is –a (as in genera), which can be confusing.  Tree species names are usually in the feminine, because the Latins believed trees had female spirits living in them.  So, e.g., Pinus ponderosa, though Pinus has the masculine ending.


Scientific names follow a rule of priority: the name given when the species was first described must be used forever.  There are very few exceptions.  These occur mostly when the description was too poor to be regarded as adequate, and no type specimen was saved.  Even the sacred Linnaeus was prone to this—his name Achras sapota for the chicozapote was considered so bad that it was renamed (with a new, split genus) Manilkara achras (Mill) Fosberg.  However, most botanists are enough in awe of Linnaeus to keep calling it Manilkara sapota (L.) Van Royen.   Note, again, Linnaeus’ and others’ fondness for local names; sapota is from Nahuatl tzapotl, meaning any soft fruit.

If the original description was so bad that nobody can figure out what it applied to, the name can become a nomen nudum—a “naked name,” without a real application.  Usually, though, there is another name available for the species in question.  Sometimes a very obscure earlier name and description are discovered in some old tome.  This should mean that the long-established name should be killed, but the international nomenclature commissions can be charitable, and spare a long-established name.


For every scientific name, there has to be a “type specimen”: An actual example of the species (or genus or subspecies), preserved in a museum, herbarium, or similar archive.  This should, and almost always is, be the individual on which the original Latin description was based.  This applies to fossils as well as to living species.  This allows checking back.  If geneticists determine that a species has to be split into two or three, for instance, you want to know which of those two or three the original type was, so you go back and look at it.  I’m not sure what the type specimen for Homo sapiens is!  If there is no surviving type specimen (as there usually is not for those 18th-century names), a type specimen will have been picked out “by subsequent designation,” as we say in the trade.

Ideally, type specimens, and all other specimens for that matter, are filed away in their storage cases with labels that provide the exact location of collection, with information such as what kind of vegetation was around, what date the item was collected, and other useful data.  We ethnobiologists pray for some indication of how the plant or animal was used!  Some labels do have that!  Always remember to put as much data on a label as you can fit on it, and keep a backup record with even more data (labels do get lost).  If you are doing field work in zoology you probably aren’t collecting much, but if you’re studying ethnobotany, or ethnoentomology or ethnomycology, you have to collect specimens and get them properly identified and archived at local institutions.


Old-fashioned drug names were in Latin too, and can look confusingly like scientific names, e.g. oleum olivarum, olive oil.  The Chinese have most unfortunately revived this custom and given Chinese drugs modern Latin names, e.g. fructus Lycii for goji berries (the fruit of Lycium chinense or L. barbarum).  People, especially Chinese writers, now confuse these with scientific names, creating total chaos, e.g. by mixing up the usage of  fructus Lycii and Lycium chinense as if they were somehow the same thing.  I wish these Chinese drugs had kept their Chinese names.


Cool quotations

November 18th, 2014

Cool stuff


“Cool” is remarkably enduring as a word.  It comes from the West African concept, according to Robert Faris Thompson (Jessica Ogilvie, “You Know It,” LAT, Nov. 10, 2012, p.E7)


Traveling light….


The train done gone and the Greyhound bus don’t run

But walkin’ ain’t crowded and I won’t be here long.

Traditional blues verse


Got the key to the highway, I’m booked out and bound to go,

Gone to leave here runnin’ cause walkin’ is mo’ slow

Traditional blues verse




The absolute basics:


Nyach gava yuk vayuk yabek yak hak wak vak wak yuka!

(When you see people needing help, help them!)  Paul Talieje, Walapai elder


Look upon all living beings, thinking them as it were Buddhas; join palms and worship them, as if venerating the World-Honored One; also look upon all living beings, thinking them all as it were great bodhisattvas and good acquaintances.

Huisi, 6th C AD


Lord, grant me the patience to bear the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

St. Francis of Assisi (attrib.).  Still the best advice; the wisdom part is, alas, the rarest.


Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.

John Wesley



Almost as important:


The most important time in your life is NOW; the most important person in your life is WHOEVER YOU’RE WITH; the most important thing to do in your life is BE GOOD TO THEM

Tolstoi, from the ending of the short story “The Three Questions,” in Fables and Fairy Tales, pp. 82-88; the whole story is worth looking up


Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; life is about learning to dance in the rain.

Vivian Greene



In the coming world, they will not ask me:  “Why were you not Moses?”  They will ask me:  “Why were you not Zurya?”

Rabbi Zurya of Annopol (quoted by Martin Buber)


Take what you want, then pay for it, says God.

Mediterranean proverb

God gives the pretext for buying but does not say how much it costs.

Persian variant, cited by Evliya Çelebi, p 261


When dooomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hand, then he should plant it.

Muhammad (Foltz 2003:254)


You cannot prevent the bird of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent him from nesting in your hair.

Arab proverb


Live as though you would live forever, and as though you would die tomorrow.



Quotes from Edmund Burke:

No one made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.  [This one has been probably the most valuable piece of advice I ever got.]

Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair.  [Close second.  Maybe first.]

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions, than to be ruined by too confident security.  (Reflections, p. 9)

Society cannot exist unless a controlling power on will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.


Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (the pinnacle of defiant courage in faith)


“And when he [Jesus] was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:  neither shall they say, Lo here! Or lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Luke 17:20-21.


I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.

Jesus (John 12:47)


Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

John Lennon


A long-lost New Yorker cartoon that captures much, if not all, that I have learned about life.  It showed a baseball box score; each of the nine innings had the score Realists 1, Idealists 0.  The final score of the game was Realists 0, Idealists 1.


“There are people who do not live their present life; it is as if they were preparing themselves, with all their zeal, to live some other life, but not this one.  And while they do this, time goes by and is lost.  We cannot put life back into play, as if we were casting another roll of the dice.”

Antiphon the Sophist (quoted Pierre Hadot 2002:188)


Your talent is your gift from God; how you use it is your gift to Him.

Traditional American


We cannot be sure of life for one moment;

We can, by force and self-discipline, by many refusals and a few assertions, in the teeth of fortune assure ourselves

Freedom and integrity in life or integrity in death.  And we know that the enormous invulnerable beauty of things

Is the face of God, to live gladly in its presence, and die without grief or fear knowing it survives us.

Robinson Jeffers (poem, “Nova,” worth looking up)


The wise learn from the mistakes of others, but fools learn only from their own.

Proverb quoted by a student in a class paper; I wish I knew the source


“Let us now praise famous men….

There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported.

And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them.

But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten….

Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out.”

Ecclesiasticus 44:1, 8-13


The noble nature devotes itself to wisdom and love, of which the first is a mortal god, the second immortal.

Epicurus (Sent. Vat. LXXVIII, quoted McEvilley 2002:621).  Epicurus—who lived around 300 BC—got the idea of brotherly love from contemporary cynics.  His was a missionary philosophy, active till 4th C AD.  Relationships to Buddhism are many and close.  Fairly atheistic about the gods, he recognized a First Principle.


Variations on a theme:

No hay peor lucha que la que no se hace.  (“The only real failure is not trying.”  Literally, “there is no worse struggle than the one not done.”  “Struggle,” though, gives the wrong tone in English.)

There are no stupid questions; the only stupid thing is not asking.


“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”  -Shakespeare


If you want to travel fast, go alone; if you want to travel far, go together.

African proverb


Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.  Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we are saved by faith.  Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the point of view of our friend or foe as from our own; therefore we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.

Reinhold Niebuhr (2008 The Irony of American History.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press)


Courtesy costs so little and is worth so much that I’m surprised it is not more popular; but courtesy with encouragement is manna from heaven.  Courtesy not only uplifts the promising, but inhibits the truly dreadful—much more effectively than abuse.  The arrogant actually love abuse and feel obliged to return it with knobs on.  Editors need to know this.

Martin Carver (“Editorial,” Antiquity, 334:967-972, p. 967)


Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

Traditional; the most practical advice of all time.


Cyrus cylinder:  Propaganda by Cyrus the Great after conquering Mesopotamia, but states very clearly his religious and ethnic tolerance policies, shown by his treatment of the Jews and other religions.  See British Museum translation online.  The first known statement of religious tolerance in the world.


When you sit with good company, sit long, for God does not count against your lifespan the time spent eating in good company.

Ja’far ibn Muhammad.  (This is not only a wonderful quote, it is literally true.  There is an excellent correlation between longevity and time spent relaxing with friends.)


Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.

Henry David Thoreau


The most important question in the world is, ‘Why is the child crying?’

Alice Walker (q by Goff et al, psych file, p. 526)


We do not find meaning lying in things nor do we put it into things, but between us and things it can happen.

Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (NY: MacMillan, 1947, p. 36)


The great Jewish theologian Dov Baer once said:  “I went to my teacher not to hear him explain the Torah, but to see how he tied his shoes.”  When called on this rather cryptic remark, he explained:  “Anyone can talk about the Torah.  With him, his slightest act was the Torah.”  Retold from Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim  (I forget the name of the teacher…because somehow this says something about the teacher, but much more about Dov Baer.)


When the great Hasid, Baal Shem Tov, the Master of the Good Name, had a problem, it was his custom to go to a certain part of the forest.  There he would light a fire and say a certain prayer, and find wisdom.  A generation later, a son of one of his disciples was in the same position.  He went to that same place in the forest and lit the fire, but he could not remember the prayer.  But he asked for wisdom and it was sufficient.  He found what he needed.  A generation after that, his son had a problem like the others.  He also went to the forest, but he could not even light the fire.  “Lord of the Universe,” he prayed, “I could not remember the prayer and I cannot get the fire started.  But I am in the forest.  That will have to be sufficient.”  And it was.  Now, Rabbi Ben Levi sits in his study in Chicago with his head in his hand.  “Lord of the Universe,” he prays, “look at us now.  We have forgotten the prayer.  The fire is out.  We can’t find our way back to the place in the forest.  We can only remember that there was a fire, a prayer, a place in the forest.  So, Lord, now that must be sufficient.”   (Story told by Shmuel the Tailor, quoted Barbara Myerhoff, Number Our Days, 1978, p. 112; this is the most consoling story I know)


Some lines from the Baal Shem Tov himself:  “What does it mean, when people say that Truth goes all over the world?  It means that Truth is driven out of one place after another, and must wander on and on.”  And:  “Alas!  The world is full of enormous lights and mysteries, and man shuts them from himself with one small hand.”  (Quoted from Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer of Mezhizh, the “Baal Shem Tov,” by Martin Buber)


Remember that life…is often the choice among lousy alternatives.  The key to functioning, to wisdom and to life itself is often to choose the least lousy alternative that is practicably attainable.  (Edwin Shneidman 1981:153; the most trenchant statement of the world’s leading expert on suicide, on how to view life to keep you from suiciding)


And if, amid the cataclysms that clamour round us everywhere nowadays, you declare that all this babble about beauty and flowers is a vain impertinence, then I must tell you that you err, and that your perspectives are false.  Mortal dooms and dynasties are brief things, but beauty is indestructible and eternal, if its tabernacle be only in a petal that is shed tomorrow.

Reginald Farrer, plant explorer and botanist (from Rainbow Bridge, written not long before he died in the remote mountains of Tibet on a plant expedition)


Savoir pour prévoir, prévoir pour pouvoir.  (Know in order to predict, predict in order to be able to do something.)   —Auguste Comte (19th century) on the goals of sociology.


A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps, both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; And a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

James Madison, in letter, 1822 (quoted Ross, oil, p. 245).


Don’t mourn. Organize!  Organize!

Last words (according to legend) of the great labor union organizer Joe Hill


He drew a circle that shut me out,

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout;

But Love and I had the wit to win,

We drew a circle and took him in.

Edwin Markham


We have careful thoughts for the stranger,

And smiles for the sometime guest,

But how oft for our own the bitter tone,

Though we love our own the best.

Margaret E. Sangster (1838-1912; often quoted now as “We have kind words…” or “We have pleasant words…”)


One can always manage straw for the cow, a leaf for God, food for the hungry, and kind words for all.

Proverb, India


Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,

Or what’s a heaven for?

Robert Browning (from “Andrea del Sarto,” an otherwise forgettable poem, 1855)


One Ainu phrase for death is “to have space for thought” (Batchelor 1901:548)


If you don’t like the news, go out and make your own.

Graffito on a Berkeley newspaper rack, ca. 1968


Only dead fish go with the flow.

American saying


The Value of Money

With money, we can buy:

A bed but not a dream

Books but not intelligence

Food but not appetite

Adornments but not beauty

A house but not a home

Medicines but not health

Luxuries but not joy

Illusions but not happiness

A crucifix but not a Savior

A church but not belief.

Mexican folk wisdom (my translation, from a sign in a Mexican restaurant in Redding, CA).

There’s more (shared by Adolfo Tovar Verduzco online, my trans again):

A position but not respect

A watch but not time

Blood but not life

Sex but not love


I am traveling, I,

I go round the world.

I cause the mist.

When I climb the mountaintops

I cause clouds, I cause the rain.

Long live Coyote!  He will always be.

This song cures sadness and relieves bad times.  Life is a dream, and the world is a banquet.

Old Man Coyote, from the Chumash of Fernando Librado (T. Blackburn, December’s Child, pp. 226-227)


The Scythian nomad Anacharsis found himself in Greece, where he had a conversation with the super-rich Lydian king Croesus.  Croesus launched a discussion among the court sages as to who was the bravest of beings.  Anacharsis said:  “The wildest animals, for they alone would willingly die in order to maintain their freedom.”  The conversation turned to the most just, and Anacharsis said “The wildest animals, for they alone live in accordance with nature, not in accordance with laws.  Since nature is a work of God, while law is a ordinance of man, and it is more just to follow the institutions of God than those of men.”  Croesus rather sarcastically asked if the beasts were also the wisest, to which Anacharsis replied that they were, because “wisdom consists in showing a greater respect to the truth than to the ordinance of the law.”

Diodoros, via Knauer 1998:14


Jai yen yen:  “Cool heart,” a Thai ideal


We are all kernels on the same corncob

Tewa proverb (quoted Cajete 1994:165)

One thing you can’t recycle is wasted time.



Every fire is the same size when it begins.

Seneca proverb


It’s not where you’re bred but where you’re fed.  (Doğduğu yerde değil, doyduğu yerde.)

Turkish proverb


A table without vegetables is like an old man devoid of wisdom.

Medieval Arab proverb, quoted Ahsan 1979:13


The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.

Richard Feynman; widely quoted


Angels never fight at all; people quarrel but reconcile without delay; demons fight and remain unreconciled all day or more.

Ancient Greek (see Dawes and Baynes, Three Byzantine Saints, p. 225)


“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness.  When change is absolute there remains no being to improve, and no direction is set for possible improvement; and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.  Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George Santayana, from The Life of Reason (NY 1905), vol. 1, p. 284.

“He who does not forget the past is master of the future.  This is why the man of superior attainments (chun-tzu), when he handles the state, observes it in the light of antiquity.”

Jia Yi, ca 170 BCE, quoted Bodde, p. 87.

“Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it, but those who DO know history are condemned to stand  by helplessly while the others repeat it.”

New Yorker cartoon, 2013


Advice by the Iroquois to a missionary (in 1634) who became ill:  Look on nature, for “Thou wilt become cheerful, and if thou art cheerful thou wilt recover”

Missionary friar Le Jeune, 1634, as quoted by Eleanor Leacock, in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 6, p. 193.


Never doubt that a small, committed group of people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Attrib. Margaret Mead; not in her published works but so typical of her thought that it is accepted as something she said.  It also appears to be literally true, as least of beneficial changes.


Get it!  Get it better, or get it worse!  No middle ground or compromise.

Thomas Eakins (the great artist) to his student Henry Tanner, the first great academically-trained African-American artist, when Tanner was discouraged by the racism he encountered in the art world; Eakins had no patience with racism or with the possibility of Tanner giving up because of it.  Tanner eventually moved to France because of racism in the US, and, tragically, his work is still extremely undervalued, with racism as one pretty obvious reason.


Nor can it be but touch of arrogant ignorance, to hold this or that Nation Barbarous, these or those times grosse, considering how this manifolde creature man, wheresoever hee stand in the world, hath alwayes some disposition of woorth….

So that it is but the clouds gathered about our own judgement that makes us think all other ages wrapt up in mists, and the great distance betwixt us, that causes us to imagine men so farre off to be so little in respect of our selves.  Wee must not look upon the immense course of times past as men overlook spacious and wide countreys, from off high mountains and are never the neere to judge of the true nature of the soile, or the particular sight and face of those territories they see…. the best measure of man is to be taken by his owne foot.

Samuel Daniel, 1603 (A Defense of Ryme, from Daniel’s Poems and a Defence of Ryme, ed. Arthur Sprague.  New York: Russell and Russell, 1963.  Vol. 4, pp. 49, 51-52)


Man proposes, God disposes.

Age-old, with Biblical, Greek and Latin ancestry


There’s no failure in life until you try to be something you’re not.

Modern Native American saying, as related by Luke Madrigal


Advice by a famous ancient Greek sculptor, asked for the secret of his success: “Make the nose too big and the eyes too small.”

(Working with marble, you can make the nose smaller but not bigger, and the eyes bigger but not smaller.  In other words, make your mistakes in the direction you can fix.  A modern equivalent would be:  Know when to make Type I vs Type II errors.)

Another (originally) ancient Greek line about sculpture:  “The bear was in the stone already; I merely set him free.”   A version of the line is found in pseudo-Diogenes the Areopagite, p. 195.  Recently recycled, with claims it was said by Inuit and other Native American carvers.


…It was not in nature’s plan for us her chosen children to be creatures base and ignoble—no, she brought us into life, and into the whole universe, as into some great field of contest, that we should be at once spectators and ambitious rivals of her mighty deeds, and from the first implanted in our souls an invincible yearning for all that is great, all that is diviner than ourselves.  Therefore even the whole world is not wide enough for the soaring range of human thought, but man’s mind often overleaps the very bounds of space….  And this why nature prompts us to admire, not [only] the clearness and usefulness of a little stream, but the Nile, the Danube, the Rhine, and far beyond all the Ocean; not to turn our wandering eyes from the heavenly fires, though often darkened, to the little flame kindled by human hands, however pure and steady its light; not to think that tiny lamp more wondrous than the caverns of Etna…”

Longinus (Havell 1890:68)


If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract easoning concerning quantity or number?  No.  Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?  No.  Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

David Hume (Selections, ed. by Charles Hendel, Scribners’ 1927, p. 193)




Once, when I was not yet born, how could I know life’s delight?  Now I have not yet died; how can I know that death is not delightful?

Last words of an ancient Chinese philosopher (from Zhuangzi—I think)


A way of looking is also a way of not looking.

Chinese Taoist saying (ascribed—I can’t find the source; it seems to be a free translation; at any rate, it’s a thoroughly Taoist idea).


When people bring up your flaws, you resent them for it; but when a mirror reflects your ugliness, you consider it a good mirror.

Huai Nan Tzu (“The Tao of Politics,” p. 75)


Even the greatest fool is right once in a hundred times; even the wisest sage is wrong once in a hundred times.

Chinese proverb, going back to Confucius or his time.   (For the rest of us, that last part is more like one in five.)


One adept at learning is like the king of Qi who, when eating chicken, was satisfied only after he had eaten a thousand feet: if he were still unsatisfied, there would always be another chicken foot to eat.

Lü Buwei.  2000.  The Annals of Lü Buwei.  Tr. John Knoblock and Jeffrey Riegel.  Stanford:  Stanford University Press.  P. 129.


There are no thousand-year-old states, no hundred-year-old households, and no ten-year-old abilities.

Mu He, a tomb text from 168 BCE (Shaughnessy, I Ching, p. 247, retranslated).  Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but the message is clear: your talents, and you, are not long for this world; do what you can while you can.


We have not followed a path made by a single footprint, nor taken advice from only one viewpoint, or allowed ourselves to be trapped or bound by things; thus we have not advanced or shifted with the age.

Good advice from the authors of the Huainanzi, proudly summing up their accomplishment; tr. Major et al, slightly revised


Whenever people don’t live out their lives or their life is cut short, it is always caused by not loving or cherishing themselves, they exhaust their emotions, push their sense of purpose to the extreme, pursue fame and profit, collect poisons and damage their spirit, internally damaging the bone and marrow and externally spoiling the sinews and flesh.  Qi and blood perish, the channels and network vessels become congested….

Sun Simiao, tr. Sabine Wilms


One day Master Huai-jang asked Ma-tsu, “why are you practicing meditation?”  And Ma-tsu answered, “I’m trying to become a buddha.” Huai-jang picked up a brick next to Ma-tsu’s hut and started to grind it on a rock.  When Ma-tsu asked what he was doing, Huai-jang replied, “I’m trying to make a mirror.”  Ma-tsu said, “But how can you make a mirror by grinding a brick?”  Huai-jang answered, “And how can you become a buddha by practicing meditation?”

Red Pine (Han-Shan p. 102), from the Chuantenglu.  The expression “No matter you much you polish a brick, you can’t make a mirror” has become proverbial in Chinese, like “you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear” in English, specifically in regard to people—you can’t change a fool.


The superior person, in treating others, would rather emphasize the positive than insist on perfection.

Ouyang Xiu (Historical Records of the Five Dynasties, p. 273, tr. Richard Davis, slightly corrected)


“If he does not recite and chant (=study) as a child, does not analyze and discuss as a youth, and does not instruct and admonish as an elder, then it can also be said he has become a person without a legacy.”  Da Dai Liji


“When someone in antiquity who was gripped by an obsession for flowers heard speak of a rare blossom, even if it were in a deep valley or in steep mountains, he would not be afraid of stumbling and would go to it.  Even in the freezing cold and the blazing heat, even if his skin were cracked and peeling or caked with mud and sweat, he would be oblivious.  When a flower was about to bloom, he would move his pillow and mat and sleep alongside it to observe how the flower would go from budding to blooming to fading.  Only after it lay withered on the ground would he take his leave…. This is what is called a genuine love of flowers….”  Yuan Hongdao (1568-1610), tr. Judith Zeitlin, in “The Petrified Heart: Obsession in Chinese Literature,” Late Imperial China 12:1-26, 1991, p. 3.


A Chinese painter stopped at an inn for one night.  He planted bamboos.  Someone asked:  “You are staying here only one night.  Why are you planting bamboos?”  The painter turned to the bamboos and said:  “What is the use of talking to such a person?”

Chinese folktale


When I was in China in 1978, I noticed that almost every hotel had a large painting of a pine in the reception area, labeled “welcoming-guests pine.”  I realized there must be a story, so I asked about this.  I learned that, according to folklore, there was an artist who was so poor that he could not afford a servant, but so absorbed in his painting that he often missed a knock on the door.  He thus painted a pine (symbol of integrity, evergreen against the storm) and labeled it “welcoming-guests pine” to serve the function.  This started a tradition.


“If I am stabbed with a knife yet remain woodenlike, it must be because I am dead.  So it is if people are dying from deprivation yet I just stand by like a block of wood.  Doing good is like drinking when thirsty and eating when hungry….. There are two roads: to be humane, the road to life; and to be inhumane, the road to death.”

Gao Panlong, ca. 1593; tr. Joanna Handlin Smith (2009:60)


Two variants of a Chinese traditional formula for happiness (both from folklore):

If you would be happy for three hours, get drunk.

If you would be happy for three days, kill a pig and eat it.

If you would be happy for three months, get married.

If you would be happy for a lifetime, plant a garden.


If you would be happy for an hour, take a nap.

If you would be happy for a day, go fishing.

If you would be happy for a month, get married.

If you would be happy for a year, inherit a fortune.

If you would be happy for a lifetime, help others.


The longest journey begins with a single step.  –Chinese proverb


Highest loyalty and considerateness is like the earth: it creates all things and makes no boast of it.  Highest honor is like the seasons: they change all things without any obligation to do it.  The loyal person does not lie.  The honest person does not weasel out.  The good person is like this: not forgetting the living or turning his/her on the dead.

From a text found in a tomb at Guodian, dated ca 300 BC; my translation, after Scott Cook’s superb workup in The Bamboo Texts of Guodian, Cornell UP, 2012, vol. 1, p. 577.  The whole text is short but extremely powerful.


Chinese proverbs (Rohsenow 2002):

He doesn’t blame his household’s short rope, he blames the community for having a deep well (B128)

Don’t value a foot of  jade, but value an inch of time (B131; to understand this you have to realize the Chinese used sundials—the shadow advanced about an inch an hour).

Mend the roof in fine weather, and when not thirsty start digging a well (B150)

This one led to a medical saying:  “Waiting for an illness to appear before taking medicine is like waiting until you’re thirsty to dig a well.”  (Red Pine tr., Han-Shan p. 102, from the Suwen Ssuchi Tiaoshan Taolun.)

Don’t fear being slow, just fear stopping (B162; bu pa man, jiou pa zhan)

A man once cheated by a candy seller will not trust a sweet mouth again (C24; that would go great in Southern dialect, double meaning and all: I got took by the candy man and I ain’t trustin’ no sweet mouth no more.)

Lighting up a seven-storey pagoda is not as good as lighting an ordinary lamp in a dark place. (D151)

East gate, carrying-pole lost; west gate says there’s a revolution!.  (By the time the story travels that far, it’s grown that much.  Dongmen shi tiao biandan, ximen shuoshi zaofan.) (D179)

Freezing to death, stand straight and face the wind; starving to death, never bend.  (D183; Chinese history in 10 words.)

Do more, more mistakes; do less, fewer mistakes; do nothing, no mistakes! (D 222)  (Teddy Roosevelt said this even better:  “To avoid all criticism be like the oyster: do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”)

Feng sheng feng, long sheng long, laoshu sheng de hui da dong.  (The world’s greatest poem.  Lit. Phoenixes bear phoenixes, dragons bear dragons, rats bear ones that can dig holes.  F49)

A white-washed crow isn’t white for long.

In a melon patch don’t tie your shoes; under a plum tree don’t adjust your hat. (G167.  Don’t do things that will obviously arouse suspicion.)

Guan fang lou, guan ma shou, guang zhong tangwu ji shi chou.  The public hall leaks, the public horse is thin, and in the public hall the chicken shit stinks.  (G124; a typical bit of wry Chinese folk poetry.)

The face is easy to wash, the heart more difficult (L96)

Sharp knives cut, the wounds may heal; evil words hurt, the hatred never dies.  (L99)

When hunters enter the mountains they see only game; when herb gatherers enter the mountains, they see only medicinal herbs (L103)

Whole life without slander, no competence. (L123)  (The only people who go through their whole lives without slander are those who can’t do anything.)

Running water is never stale and door hinges are never worm-eaten. (L133; a classic Daoist line)

Dragons many, no water control; hens many, no laying eggs. (L140; dragons control water.  Too many cooks spoil the broth.)

Better one mouthful of heavenly peach than a whole basket of rotten apricots.  (N50)

Better a dog in time of peace than a human in time of war. (N77; this is the nearest real Chinese proverb to Jose Luis Borges’ wonderful “Chinese curse,” “May you live in interesting times.”)

A fur robe worth a thousand gold is not made from a fox’s armpit. (Q40)

When people hit bad luck, a mouthful of cool water will get stuck in their teeth. (R31)

People when many can eat a wolf, wolves when many can eat people. (R47)

When people have pure hearts, dogs won’t eat shit.  (R223; or, just as cynical, “When the millennium comes, dogs will still eat shit and wolves will still eat people.”)

A snake may enter a bamboo tube, but in its heart is wriggling.  (S178)

The river may rise, but it won’t rise over the little ducks. (S329; ordinary people survive all!)

Low people talk and don’t do, middling people talk and do, top quality people do and then talk. (X3; variant of ending, “…and say nothing.”)

If the country has no muddy legs, in the city starvation kills the oily mouths. (S35; an answer to those who look down on farmers for being dirty)

In the shallows you can catch shrimp and fish, but enter the deep water and you can catch flood dragons. (X99)

Students like cow hairs, successes like unicorn horns.  (X196; reference is to the relative numbers; certainly true in my experience as a teacher.)

One day no work, one day no food.  (Y254; a classic Zen line, to counter the idea that Buddhist monks should not work.  I posted it on the refrigerator when my kids were young.)

Lots more good ones—see the book.





If anything can go wrong, it will.

Traditional; Murphy’s Law


An orphan has to cut his own umbilical cord.  [If you’re alone without help, you have to get used to doing everything for yourself.]

Turkish proverb (Levi and Sela p. 256)


“Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”  David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature, p. 462.


“Were one to go round the world with the intention of giving a good supper to the righteous and a sound drubbing to the wicked, he would frequently be embarrassed in his choice, and would find that the merits of most men [and women] scarcely amount to the value of either.”

David Hume, “Of the Immortality of the Soul,” in Writings on Religion, Anthony Flew, ed., pp. 29-38; quote on p. 34,.  Chicago and La Salle, IL:  Open Court.)

“I have never been impressed by the argument that, as complete objectivity is impossible in these matters (as, of course, it is), one might as well let one’s sentiments run loose.  As Robert Solow has remarked, that is like saying that as a perfectly aseptic environment is impossible, one might as well conduct surgery in a sewer.”

Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), Chapter 1, page 30
Now, in his heart, Ahab had some glimpse of this, namely:  all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.

Moby Dick, chapter 41, p. 202 of Penguin 2001 edn.


Man’s greatest good…is to chase and defeat his enemy, seize his total possessions, leave his married women weeping and wailing, ride his gelding, use the bodies of his women as a nightshirt and support, gazaing upon and kissing their rosy breasts, sucking their lips which are as sweet as the berries of their breasts.

Attrib to Genghis Khan (by folklore; from “Collected Chronicles,” quoted by Paul Ratchnevsky, Genghis Khan, p. 153)


“Cleopatra’s nose:  Had it been shorter, the whole face of the earth would have been changed.”  (Modern readers may need this explained.  Short noses were considered ugly in Pascal’s time.  If Cleopatra had been ugly, she would not have seduced Caesar and Mark Antony; the Roman republic might have survived, and thus Rome never fallen; we might all be speaking Latin now….  This is Pascal being sarcastic about conjectural history.)

Pascal (tr. Roger Ariew; 2005:6)


We run carelessly over the precipice after covering our eyes to prevent our seeing it.

Pascal (ibid. 52 but reworded)


We are so presumptuous that we would like to be known throughout the world, even by people who will come when we are no more.  And we are so vain that the esteem of five or six people close to us pleases and satisfies us.

Pascal (ibid. 33)


The purest and most ritually careful imam in town had spent hours dressing and purifying himself for the Friday service.  Just as he came to the mosque, a filthy, unclean, impure street dog came rushing past and ran right into him.  He closed his eyes, turned his face toward heaven, and slowly said: “If Allah wills…it was a cat.”

Near Eastern folktale


Mi ddarllenais ddod yn rhywfodd

I’r byd hwn wyth ran ymadrodd,

Ac i’r gwrangedd, mawr lles iddynt,

Fynd a saith o’r wythran rhyngddynt.

(tr:)  They say there are eight parts of speech, and they say the women, God bless them, went off with seven of them.

Welsh folk rhyme (from A People’s Poetry, Hen Benillion, Glyn Jones, p. 108)


“The only thing anyone ever learned from the study of history is that no one ever learned anything from the study of history.”  G. W. Hegel (as quoted by Hayden White, 1987:82)


“The tree of humanity forgets the labour of the silent gardeners who sheltered it from the cold, watered it in time of drought, shielded it against wild animals; but it preserves faithfully the names mercilessly cut into its bark.”  Heinrich Heine, 1833 (as quoted in Gross 1983:323)


If you find that the Bullock can toss you, or the heavy-browned Sambhur can gore,

Ye need not stop work to inform us: we knew it ten seasons before.

                        Maxims of Baloo, from Kaa’s Hunting, in Rudyard Kipling, Jungle Book 1 (p 46)


“Humankind cannot bear very much reality”—T. S. Eliot (from “Four Quartets”)


“Had I only been a better writer, I could have saved the world!”

–Supposedly the last words of a famous French sage, but I have never found an actual reference, and this appears to be academic folklore.  However, “if it isn’t true, it’s a good story,” as the Italians say, and it certainly is exactly the way I feel on some mornings.


The shortest refutation of environmental determinism:  “Where the Greeks once lived, the Turks now live, and there’s an end on it.”  Georg Hegel (quoted Geertz 1963:6).


Some ancient Greek tried to lure Diogenes, the cynic who lived in a barrel, back into consumerism, so they lured him down to the Athens city market—extremely busy and active in those days.  They said:  “There, what do you think of that?”  His answer was:  “Behold, how many things there are in the world that Diogenes does not need.”

Exactly my sentiments in Macy’s or Target….


“Nequiquam, quoniam medio de fonte leporum

Surgit amari aliquit quod in ipsis floribus angat”

Lucretius, Book IV, lines 1133-1134, on the sorrows of love—even having sex with passionately loved ones ends, and leaves some guilt or grief.  (Incidentally, in the standard translation of this, the translator has some fun translating Lucretius’ sarcastically over-learned Greek words as French.)


“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority:  still more when you add the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority.”  Lord Acton, 1887, commenting on the then-new idea of Papal infallibility


“We may see the small value God has for riches by the people he gives them to.”  Alexander Pope (Gross, Oxford Book of Aphorisms, 1983:102).

In my childhood this had become proverbial in the Midwest:  “If you want to know what God thinks of money, look at whom he gives it to.”  I like this phrasing better than Pope’s.  Related was a sarcastic Midwestern line on tasteless McMansions:  “Shows what God could do if he had money.”


Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible and wrong.

  1. L. Mencken (from “The Divine Afflatus,” New York Evening Mail, Nov. 16, 1917, reprinted in Prejudices, second series, Alfred A. Knopf, 1920, pp. 155-179; on p. 158).  The article is on inspiration and simplistic explanations for it; Mencken’s sarcastic one was that it’s all from indigestion.


Puritanism:  The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

  1. L. Mencken, from A Book of Burlesques, 1916


The answer is What’s your question?

Sign in a Denver restaurant


“The problem with quotes on the Internet is you can never be certain they’re authentic—Abraham Lincoln.”

Quote (anonymous) on the Internet


“Here is the familiar paradox that all general theories of the relativity of truth must brand themselves as biased or erroneous.”

Max Black, “Linguistic Relativity: The Views of Benjamin Lee Whorf,” in Theory in Anthropology:  A Source Book, R. A. Manners and D. Kaplan, eds.  London:  Routledge, Kegan Paul.  Pp. 437


“Well, the best recipe for apple pie can’t be eaten but it would be odd to regard that as an inadequacy.”  Same, p. 444.


“I suppose the process of acceptance will pass through the usual four stages:

  1. This is worthless nonsense,
  2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view,
  3. This is true, but quite unimportant,
  4. I always said so.”
  5. B. S. Haldane, reviewing a book for Journal of Genetics, 58:464 (review title “The Truth About Death”)


“One might recall…an anecdote of Darius.  When he was king of Persia, he summoned the Greeks who happened to be present at his court, and asked them what they would take to eat the dead bodies of their fathers.  They replied that they would not do it for any money in the world.  Later, in the presence of the Greeks, and through an interpreter, so that they could understand what was said, he asked some Indians, of the tribe called Callatiae, who do in fact eat their parents’ dead bodies, what they would take to burn them [as the Greeks did].  They uttered a cry of horror and forbade him to mention such a dreadful thing.  One can see by this what custom can do, and Pindar, in my opinion, was right when he called it ‘king of all.’”  (Herodotus 1954, orig. ca. 400 BCE)


“What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument” (C. S. Lewis; quoted by Peter Coates 1998:46 from Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, Oxford University Press, 1944, p. 28).


Everyone describes the fair according to how well he did there.

Spanish proverb on what is now called the Rashomon effect


Failure is an orphan, success has a hundred fathers.

Anonymous folk wisdom


The millipede has many legs, but the snake is faster.

Chinese traditional (see Huainanzi p. 526)


If you make people think they think, they’ll love you; but if you make them think, they’ll hate you.

Anonymous folk wisdom


When you’re up to your ears in alligators, it’s hard to remember you set out to conserve the wetland.

Traditional (slightly updated)


Don’t try teaching a pig to sing; you merely waste effort and annoy the pig.

American proverb


Futile argument is like shearing a pig: you get too much squealing and too little wool.

Russian rough equivalent


Reality is what refuses to go away when I stop believing in it.

Anonymous folk wisdom


On trying to hurry things up by doing a lot at once:  “You can’t make a baby in one month by impregnating nine women.”

More anonymous folk wisdom


Never attribute to conspiracy what can be explained by stupidity.

More folk wisdom


What can’t be cured must be endured.

Anonymous proverb, to which Old Man Coyote adds:  what can’t be cured must be uninsured


People will always do what is rational, once they have exhausted all other possibilities.

Old Man Coyote


Life is too serious to take seriously.

Old Man Coyote


Our 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.

Old Man Coyote


Whether one thinks the glass is half full or half empty may depend on whether it is filling or emptying.

Old Man Coyote


Growing up in a family gives to human life the tension between fair-and-equal and hierarchic-and-respectful.  As adults, if we don’t go primarily with the former, we regress to childhood and ultimately babyhood.

Old Man Coyote


Happiness is failing at something worth failing at;

Unhappiness is succeeding at something not worth doing.

Old Man Coyote


Self storage.

Riverside sign–near a cemetery


“The young scholars soon fell into a way of traveling from one school to another, as the contemporary saying went, seeking the liberal arts at Paris, law at Orleans, medicine at Salerno, magic at Toledo, and manners and morals nowhere”

George Whicher, The Goliard Poets, p. 3.  The universities in question were the leading ones in those fields at that time.  This proves that nothing ever changes….


The most outrageous regional putdown AND the greatest be-careful-what-you-wish-for line in history—said by the great Turkic emperor Babur after conquering India (16th century) and taking a long look at what he had won:

“The people of Hindustan have no beauty; they have no convivial society, no social intercourse, no character or genius, no urbanity, no nobility or chivalry.  In the skilled arts and sciences there is no regularity, proportionality, straightness or rectangularity.  There are no good horses, no good dogs, no grapes, no muskmelons or first-rate fruits, no ice or good water, no good bread or cooked food in the bazaars, no hammams, no madrasas, no candles, no torches, or candlesticks.”  (Tr. Stephen Dale, in The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals, p. 73)


Los Angeles Times, health section (p 1, 7), Mar 17 2003, notes that married people are happier than single ones not because marriage makes you happier but because happier people get married and stay so—this from prospective studies.  And (later) widows/widowers often happier than when married.  So much for marriage.


Nothing worth doing is worth doing perfectly.

Kristin Hawkes (“The Optimizer’s Epigram,” in her article “Why Hunter-Gatherers Work,” Current Anthropology 34:31-362, p. 342)


Without taste, genius is but sublime folly.

Attributed to various people, most often Chateaubriand but no one is sure.

Lord, I thank Thee for denying me the gift of taste.

Old man coyote


Modern version of St. Francis’ Prayer (see above): God grant me the coffee to change the things I can, and the wine to bear the things I cannot change.

From the Internet; “wisdom” of course has dropped out, being not even a concept in the contemporary world.


On prohibition:  “If you were to forbid people to roll camel dung into little balls with their fingers, people would do it, because they would assume there must be pleasure in it.”

Arabic proverb (attributed, not very believably, to Muhammad)


The first novel by Alexandre Dumas, of Three Musketeers fame, did not sell.  So under a false name he wrote a review of it in a leading journal, saying it was a shocking book that would corrupt the morals of the young.  It promptly became a best-seller.

–folktale; maybe true!


Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.  (Aus so krummen Holtze, der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden.)

Immanuel Kant, tr, Isaiah Berlin and made famous from his book title The Crooked Timber of Humanity; from Kant’s Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose; deriving apparently from:

Consider the work of God; for who can make straight, what he hath made crooked?

Ecclesiastes 7:13.


I’m losing money on every skin, and if it weren’t for the turnover I’d go broke.

Alleged remark by anonymous 19th-century fur trader (a bit challenged on economic theory)


I said, “I will keep watch upon my ways,

So that I do not offend with my tongue.

I will put a muzzle on my mouth

While the wicked are in my presence.”

Psalm 39 (Episcopal version)


Alle Leute recht getan

Ist eine Kunst die niemand kann.

(Doing well by everybody is an art known to nobody.)

German proverb, as quoted by my anthropologist friend Gabriela Eichinger Ferro-Luzzi


I against my brother, my brother and I against our cousin, my cousin, brother and I against our village, and our village against the world.

Middle Eastern proverb; a slightly different Afghan version is quoted by Scott Atran, Talking to the Enemy, p. 256


I never borrowed his pot, and anyway I returned it to him in perfect condition, and anyway it was cracked when he loaned it to me!

Folk wisdom (or sarcasm) from India


Malay proverbs:

Where there’s a will there’s a thousand ways, where there’s no will there’s a thousand excuses.

Better a wise man for a foe than a fool for a friend.

Where there are no eagles, the grasshoppers say, We are eagles.

Even if ten ships come, the dogs have no loincloths but their tails.


Ulrich, Johannes; Joachim I. Krueger; Anna Brod; Fabian Groschupf.  2013.  “More Is Not Less: Greater Information Quantity Does not Diminish Liking.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 105:909-920.

  1. 917: “We believe [there is] a tendency among social psychologists of seeking to prove naïve folk psychologists wrong…. A related epistemological tendency in this field is to identify a psychological bias in the minds of ordinary people and to hold it responsible for a host of irrational, incompetent, or undesirable behaviors…leaving researchers in wonder ‘how people manage to get out of the door in the morning, let alone fly to the moon’ (North & Fiske, 2012, p. 88).” North, M. S., and S. T. Fiske.  2012.  “A History of Social Cognition.”  In Handbook of the History of Social Psychology, A. W. Kruglanski and W. Stroebe, eds.  New York: Psychology Press.  Pp. 81-99.

Old Man Coyote says:  Well, two people have walked on the moon, eight billion can’t get their lives together….


Belize proverbs:

Don’ call di halligator [crocodile] “long mout’” till you cross di riba.  (“Long mouth” is presumably insulting to crocodiles.)

Wat di jankro do befo di jekass die?  (Said of a person who flaunts and shows off his money, especially if his money was gotten by less than noble methods.  “Jankro” is phonetic spelling of “John Crow,” the Caribbean nickname for vultures.  The proverb means “What did the buzzard do before the jackass died?”  I think this gets it absolutely perfectly for most of our corporate rich.)


The world is like a huge guitar.  –William of Conches, tr. G. Dufy (Cathedrals, p.77)


Ethnobiology of the Mongol Empire

November 15th, 2014


Ethnobiology of the Mongol Empire:


Medicinal Items Mentioned and Used in the Huihui Yaofang, a Yuan Dynasty Medical Encyclopedia of Near Eastern Medicine for Chinese Users


  1. N. Anderson

Dept. of Anthropology

University of California, Riverside





The “Silk Road,” whatever one may think of its modern name (bestowed by F. Von Richtofen in the 19th century), was an information superhighway as well as a trade network.  As an information route, it flourished notably under the Mongols.  Among the most impressive flows was medical knowledge.  Chinese medical classics were translated into Persian and published in Iran; west Asian medical, nutritional, and health-related knowledge flooded into China.

Probably the most impressive single example was the Huihui Yaofang, a medical encyclopedia of Near Eastern medicine, compiled under the Yuan Dynasty for Chinese doctors to use.  It is in classical Chinese with Arabic and Persian drug names neatly and accurately added.  It reflects an astonishing degree of knowledge of west Asian and Galenic medicine.  It is evidently based on Central Asian encyclopedias, probably including lost ones but also showing enough resemblances to sources like Al-Samarqandī (see below) to prove its Central Asian background.

Only about 1/8 of the original survives.  It has been edited and published by Y. C. Kong (1996).  Dr. Paul Buell of the Max Planck Institute has prepared a draft translation, with some assistance from me on botanical identification. Dr. Buell’s draft translation is complete and accurate, but needs editing, for which there is currently no available time; interested scholars can email me or Dr. Buell for the draft.

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.

In what follows, I 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 actually used in the HHYF and thus include data for two or three similar ones.  I have tried to make one entry correspond to one taxon as listed the HHYF.  In many accounts I 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).   However, when different species within a genus have different names in the HHYF, as with cinnamon relatives, mints, and Prunus, I have given separate accounts to each named category.

I can do no more than follow the identifications in Kong’s edition (Kong 1996) of the HHYF, including the various papers republished there.  However, 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 possibly I follow Hu Shiu-ying’s great work on Chinese food plants (2005).  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.

I have tried to be conservative on this, not accepting unproven changes.  Where confusion would be certain and problematic, because the changes are particularly recent, I 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 (2003:xxxvii) 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.  However, there is a reason for changes in Latin nomenclature.  Some names are just plain wrong.  Others were (mis)applied by scientists who didn’t 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.  However, in folk practice, common names are regularly applied to anything of the same genus as the “correct” plant, and even 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 (Theophrastus 1926:II, 257).  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)” (Pavord 2005:146).  There is no evidence that he was any better known in Mongolia.

Athenaeus, in The Deipnosophists (1928-1941), 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.  Moreover, 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 (Gunther 1934:661-679) 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 (2003) 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 (1996) has even less of note here; 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, and was a key link to later medicine.


Levey:  Martin Levey’s translation of medical formulary of Al-Kindī (801-873) (Levey 1966).  Levey 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. 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 qant.ūriyūn, 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 (1973).  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 (see Maimonides 1979 below).  Without them and a very few others (notably Michael Dols and Martin Levey) we would know very, 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 (Avicenna 2012).  (At the same time, the first volume was translated and published [Avicenna 2013]; 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 me:  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 (2007) 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 (1980):  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 (1974) lists several uses, mostly of foods, closely following Galen and Dioscorides.  Maimonides’ incredible dictionary of drug names (Maimonides 1979), an early ethnobotany, is, alas, lacking in medical detail.


Levey and Al-Khaledy (1967):  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 (2008) 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; see Wallis 2010, passim.)  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 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 (Kamal 1975:117).

Conversely, slimming can be aided by centaury, birthwort, gentian, germander, parsley, sumac, and other herbs (118).

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

Compounds:  see p. 164-189.


Bellakhdar et al. (1991):  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.  (I have 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 (1994):  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 (2006):  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 (2011):  James Mandaville’s superb recent ethnobotany of the Bedouin of Arabia.  (See also his earlier work, Mandaville 1989.)


Another reference with many modern folkloric uses of these plants is Chishti (1985); 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 (1991).  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 (1976):  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 (Dash and Laliteshkashyap 1980) and Tibet (Dash 1994) has been consulted also.


Dash:  Vaidya Bhagwan Dash, Materia Medica of Tibetan Medicine (1994), 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 (p. xvi).  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.

We have also consulted Clifford (1984; overlaps with or based partially on Dash).  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 (2013), 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.  Material in red needs translation checking.


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 Foreign Languages Press edition (2003), which overtranslates illness names (using English equivalents that do not exactly correspond to the traditional categories) and is otherwise problematical.  However, awaiting a major study and improved translation, this version is satisfactory, and better than trying to deal with the Chinese given my lack of medical experience.  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.”  According to Chinese medicine, a plant that you du may be poisonous or it may simply bring out poisons in other medicines or in a patient’s body itself.  I 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” (Sun 2007), there is little translation or specific study of these materials (cf. Unschuld 1986 for their history).  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, my 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.  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.”  However, 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 (2004) has published a short list of Mongol medicinal plants collected by Ralph Chaney on the Roy Chapman Andrews expedition to Mongolia in 1925.  She 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 Yinshan Zhengyao, it did not incorporate specifically Mongol knowledge.


In addition to the above sources, Chipman (2010) 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 (1968) and Wikipedia always provide faithful backup, especially useful when no one else gives the authorities and families.  Tobyn et al (2011) 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.

Material in parentheses, beyond simple word queries and synonyms, are my 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.)


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

Manniche:  A. calamus rhizome powdered for ant repelling, perfume, tooth powder, shampoo, etc., 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 (Gunther 1934:527)!

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, constridtive, 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., Agaricaceae.  ALiFong, 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 (Gunther 1934:232).  Certainly useful, but we remain unsure what the term 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.  A FeiDi

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  or  YaLaYiFeiJiLa, 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.  ShuWuDa

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, 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). WenSuLi

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 raisis 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).  ḥirbah; 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 cuases bad dreams.  Used for ringing in ears, but bad for teeth and eyes.  Used for asth,ma, etc.  Seeds for coughing up blood, and with vinegar for spleen.  Piungent 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, al-far’, etc., for malaria, jaundice, intestines, liver, epilepsy, etc.  (Highly poisonous and might have some antibacterial action.)

Kamal:  A. cepa, “” 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.

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.  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).  WuSuHuErDiRong

Manniche:  Oddly not used in medicine (Nunn 1996 also notes this).  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.  Cuases 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, diuretic.

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 (2003:154-160).  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.  Very 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 (?chuang[匿蟲]瘡)[1]. 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 qi 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, 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. tuberosum Rottler, Alliaceae (Liliaceae). native. FaLaXiRong

Sun:  Leek (jiu韭; this entry may include Chinese chives, Allium tuberosum): spicy, sour, warm, astringent, nonpoisonous. The spiciness will eventually go to the heart. It is good for the liver. It can be eaten frequently. It pacifies the five internal organs and eliminates heat in the stomach. It is not good for the sick. If one whose heart and stomach has frozen coldness (guleng固冷) eats it, his illness will be worsened. Its seeds mainly treat the discharge of semen in dreams (mengxiejing 夢泄精) as well as white-colored urine. Its roots can be boiled and the soup is nutritious for hair. The Yellow Emperor said, “The frost leek is frozen and cannot be taken when it is raw. Otherwise it will arouse the water stagnant for a long time (sushui宿水), and if one drinks too much, he will vomit water. In the fifth month, do not eat leek, which damages one’s taste and makes him short of strength. In the second and third month, it is preferable to eat leek, which is very good for the heart.”

Li:  Not specifically mentioned, but evidently implied in the many long articles on Allium spp.; it would be another used for warming, softening, digestion, etc.


  1. victorialis L., Alliaceae (Liliaceae). native YiSiJiLi

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).   Introd.  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” (my 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 somewhatr 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:  S.abir.  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 heaemorrhoids, 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, shaky ID for “aloe vera”]:  laxative, rejuvenating, for eyes, corpulence, strength, virility.  Spleen, liver, fever, burns, eruptions, bleeding, skin diseases.

Li:  Luhui.  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).    Introd.  SaoWuLinZhang.  Xolungan, Rolenzan (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, ec.  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.  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.  Rlaxant, 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 bit 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.    Introd.  HaZanErCDheShan.  Egyp, Gaz is-sirk.

Li:  These, and/or A. villosum, included in suoshamiA. tsaoko is usually called caoko is Chinese, as in 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, 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. YiJiHeiEr Gen for root, KeMaKuiYuXi, ZhaAKui(Ta)

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 “YiJiHeiEr,” 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.


Androsace sp., Primulaceae.  Jaft-afirid (Persian).  ShuFuDiAFeiLiDi

There seems to be no mention of this plant as an herb anywhere in the standard sources (not even in Uphof).  Very possibly a misidentification.


Anemarrhena asphodeloides Bge., Asparagaceae (Liliaceae).  Native.  YaErSa.

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.    Introd.  KeLuoYa. Morocco:  Karwiya amja.  (Note that these are names 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 breat 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, 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.  Pungent, warm, nontoxic.  Known as a foreign drug; few uses; unclear image.  Diarrhea, gas, aches, etc.

(There is more than a little apparent 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.  FeiTuiLaSaHeiRong.

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.  Karafs, KeLaFuShiZi (pronounced something like “klafusis” in HHYF times—not too far from karafs).

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 neile 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.  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.  WuDiBaLaShan. (WuDi is from Arabic ‘ud-i-*Balashan “resin of Balashan,” wherever that was—though possibly merely a corruption of the Arabic name āghlā).  Hu:540

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.  HaZanErZeXiPanDi (Zi)  In the HHYF, “white bezoar” is very frequently mentioned, but always glossed as “this is burdock.”  There is no reason to doubt that burdock was indeed used in those remedies.

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

Li:  Eshi.  Many synonyms (partly—Li says—because eshi, “ugly fruit,” is not very medical-sounding!).  Fruit, root and stem used for a large number of Cold conditions, etc.


Areca catechu L., Arecaceae.  BingLong.  Hu: 1300 [but, Nan-f?]

Avicenna:  Coolling, 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, ZaLaWanDe

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

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.  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.  Qinghao.

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, pungent, bitter, cool, nontoxic, minor uses.  A. annua is normally qinghao. 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, 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 “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. 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, bitter, slightly sweet, warm, nontoxic Minor uses, plus in combination for malaria.
  6. keikeskiana, yanlu, bitter, cold or warm, nontoxic. Range of treatments for pain and digestion, etc.
  7. sieversiana, baihao, 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.  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 (2010b):  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 (see esp. pp. 109-110, 116).  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 (Hsu 2010a) 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.  A FuSaDing  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)[2]: bitter, spicy, balanced, and nonpoisonous. It nourishes the five internal organs. It is good for the Middle Jiao 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.  Native.  A JiErHaErHa

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 MaErChuBi

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 increasees 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, 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.  AnZaLuDe (LuTi), DuLuNuZhi, HeiHaLiJi.  (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.  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.


Athamantha tragacantha L., Apiaceae.  KeXiLa

Dioscorides:  III-77, petroselinon, Athamantha macedonica.  Diuretic and emmenagogue.  Good for gripes, bloating, other stomach pains; kidneys, bladder.

III-83, daukos; one kind may be A. cretensis.  See Daucus below.  This kind is specially noted for use of root with wine for “hurts by poisonous beasts” (Gunther 1934:316).


Avicennia officinals L., Avicenniaceae (Verbenaceae).  Shura

Possibly a misidentification, but the tree is common on tropical shores, and, as the scientific name suggests, used medicinally.

Nadkarni:  Bark astringent; used in smallpox.

(Very high tannin content makes it a powerful astringent.)


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, the shoots zhusun, the concretions in the stems—what is usually meant by tabasheer—zhuhuang.  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 spp. 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, froom 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.  Note that 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 irresistable.)


Beta vulgaris L  var. cicla L.  Chenopodiaceae.  JunDaErYe (Persian chundur).

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 leves 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 externallyi for ulcers, sores, dandruff, etc.

Li:  Tiancai.  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

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-thawr.

Al-Bīrūnī:  Lisān al-thawr; “būghlūs in Roman.”  (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 one!

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, it is the great Iranian cureall.  My Persian 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.  YuLiQiSaQi.  Hu: RuXiang; 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, 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.  BaiXiPanDan. 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, turnip, shaljam.  Softening effedcts; 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, turnip, shaljam, used for gout, chapping, etc. 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 gouit and 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 and erysipelas.  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 bestws auspiciousness on children.

Li:  Baijie.  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. 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. 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, 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.

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 (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歸鼻). 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, kirnab.

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.  Hazarjashan (Persian).  HaSanErHeiSang.

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. cretica.  Fāshirā, 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.

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

Li:  Chaihu.  Several other spp. included in this name.  Root a common, important medicine.  Bitter, balanced to cold, nontoxic.  Several pages of indications.  Leaf usedfor 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.  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.


Canarium album (Lour.) Raeusch.  Burseraceae.  NaErDingYou

Nadkarni:  C. commune kernels demulcent, stimulant, laxative, expectorant.  Gum stimulant and rubefacient, oil demulcent.

(The kernel of the nut is a common food in south China, with some warming uses, but seems little discussed in old herbals.  Thus scored as an “Indian” drug.)


Cannabis sativa L.  Cannabaceae (Urticaceae).  Native.  HuMaRen (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, and that 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” (2007:672).  Notes that Ibn al-Bā 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.  Kabr.  KeBo (B) ErGen, KeBoEr

Dioscorides:  II-204, kapparis; cynosbatos (dog bush); 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:  Las.afa, 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 (“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.  YiSiTiErHa.  Bad-āvard.

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” (Li 2003:1673), another for getting rid of worms, like horse’s tail hair, in the genitalia.


Carthamus tinctorius L., Asteraceae.  Shikh.  Hu:HongHua 973

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.  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). Nan Hua, FaErFeiRong, NangHua.  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):  “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, cleases 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 constimpation.  Also vermifuge for roundworms.

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

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, juemingC. sophora, jiangmang.  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” (Li 2003:1788).

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


Cassia fistula L., Fabaceae.  Khiyarchanbar.

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.  Diydar.

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).

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, qant.ūriyūn, 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)

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.  Khazaz.

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 to a wider or general category of lichens; the few references are hard to pin down (see Alectoria).


Cheiranthus cheiri L. (Erysimum cheiri), Brassicaceae.  Khiri

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.

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)[3]: spicy, balanced, nonpoisonous. 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.  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, 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.  For what it’s worth, my experience is that they do.)


Cichorium endivia L.  Asteraceae.  ASiMangGong. Lettuce is rather oddly absent from the HHYF, and may be lumped under this name.

Levey:  Baql, hundabā’. Nasal ointment; itching.  Other for bites, etc.  Some Cichorium or similar plant is t.alakhshaqūq, 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.  Recnt 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, h.ind.iba’, 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 stomachinflammation, 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 (perhaps) C. pumilum.)


Cinnamomum burmannii.  See C. cassia.


Cinnamomum camphora (L.) Presl., Lauraceae.  Kafur (Indian)

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 thooth 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 rehumatism.  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. Wood, zhangcai, and camphor, zhangnao, minor use in several compounds.


  1. cassia Presl. Lauraceae. Native.

Chinese cinnamon or cassia is not distinguished in the HHYF from other Cinnamomum spp.  Probably several were used, with this the most important.  See C. zeylanicum below.

Avicenna:  As usual, unclear which sp.  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. {pi;toces pm jpt swe;;omgs. Etc/  Doiretoc/

Lev and Amar:  Cassia was distinguished as salīkha in the Middle East, including in Avicenna and the Genizah documents, but apparently used as C. zeylanicum.  C. 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 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.

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 it 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 s.īnī.  For happiness.  Strengthens stomach and liver.  In tooth and breathing recipes.

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

Lev and Amar:  dār s.īnī 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.  (I suspect 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.)


Circaea sp., Onagraceae.  Qirqiya (from the Greek).  GuiYa

Nothing in the sources.  Probably an identification error.


Cistus ladaniferus, C. creticus.  Cistaceae.  Lādan, lādhan.

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 and perhaps other spp. can be included in the HHYF terms.)


Citrullus colocynthis Schrad., Cucurbitaceae.  Hanzal.  (ShaHaMu)HanDaLi

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.  Aalso, presumably the fruit here, for nerve pain, arthristis, etc.Powdered for bleeding, cleasnsing the tbrain, 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 hu8mors, 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, depressionk, kidneys, etc.  Leaves for hemorrhages, boils, leprosy, etc.  Roots for sting and bites, and increasing mother’s milk.  Various minor uses.

Watermelon, C. vulgaris, purgative, diuretic, for oedema and jaundice, kidneys, internal lesions, bites.

Graziani:  Ibn Jazlah used it for elephantiasis, nervous pain, gouit, 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, 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.  Nafash  (KeLi)NaFuZhi(Zi).  Native (?).  A “turunj” in Juan 12, p. 65, could be orange or citron.

(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.)

Avicenna:  C. aurantium (“C. sinensis” in Bakhtiar edn., but that plant surely 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 palpoitations, etc., and with vinegar for leedch 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 northern 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.  Fruit, immature or mature.  Bitter, slightly cold, nontoxic, sour.  Several pages of recipes.  Entry followed by one on trifoliate-orange, Poncirus trifoliata. Gouju; 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, and the cold winters and droughts of northern China killed the graft and let the understock grow up.  I have seen the same thing 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 is a descendent (probably from a hybrid with lime).

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, 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, disgestion, 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.

Li:  Ju.  Fruit, 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

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

Li:  Jinqiu, guqiao, cheng (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.

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).  OuSuLingZhang, SuLanZhang.

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, thick 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.  Corm and seed cathartic, cholagogue, diuretic, sudorific, emetic, irritant.  Poisonous in large doses.  Uses 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.  MoYao.  Hu: 973

Dioscorides:  I-77, smyrna, myrrh.  (Identified as Amyris hafal in Gunther 1934:42.)  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 eares and bared bones” (Gunther 1934:43), etc., 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.  Balsan.  BoLaSang.

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.  Mah.mūda

Dioscorides:  purgative.

Avicenna:  Saqmūniā.  Hot and dry.  Cledansing, 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, nervs, stomach, liver.  Dangerous; produces diarrhea and abortion.  In ointment for skin, wounds, scars, headaches.  Powerful purgative. Exfpels 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.

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 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.  Sibistan, sebesten.  XiBiXiTang.

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”(180:215).  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.


Coriandrum sativum L., Apiaceae.  Kashnij. Yuansuizi.

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 said, “If one has armpit odor (lit. “fox smell,” huchou 胡臭), bad breath (kouqichou 口氣臭), or (?chi[匿蟲]齒), taking coriander leaves will worsen it. 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, yuansui.  Root and leaf pungent, warm, slightly toxic.  Good food; digestive.  Beneficial to the body, protecting; many specific uses. Seed pungent, sour, balanced, nontoxic.

The HHYF notes a “Western Coriander,” unidentified.

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


Cornus macrophylla Wall, Cornaceae.  Native.

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[4] 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.  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, but that is normally, and surely in the HHYF, Meum athamanticum.  However, dogwood uses in the west are clearly relevant to the above entry, which probably was used as a substitute for C. mas in western 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” (376).  Ash of bark on wounds.

Lev and Amar:  C. mas, mū, 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, dispeels pains.  Oil for shivers, paralysis, coldness, weakness.


Corylus avellana L. Betulaceae.  Hazelnut.  Mentioned in Index.  Not in our recipes.

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 (p. 284).


Crataegus azarolus LRosaceae.  Common hawthorn. Soup of this plant, presumably the fruit, mentioned in Index.

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,m heart diseases and common colds” (83).  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.


Crocus sativus L., Iridaceae.  SaFaLang or ZanFaLan  Safran/zafaran  FangHungHua  Hu:596

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” (2007:678).  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.  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!  No wonder it became a cureall.

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.  introd.  SaHeiMuNiYa.  Egyp, 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, expectorant.

  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.

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.  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, ḥ, 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.  Cumin. This apiaceous plants’ small dry fruits (“cumin seeds”) are medicinal throughout the Near East and areas influenced by it.  Surprisingly, one rather thin mention in Juan 34 is all we have on it in the HHYF.  It was probably confused with other apiaceous fruits.

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” (p. 207).  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.   Introd

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 liked 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, 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. Zurunbat (Egyptian).  ZaErNaBaDi.

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:  Peng’eshu.  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.)  Aftimun, AFuTiMeng

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, 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; see p. 399).

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

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

(This species of dodder parasitizes thyme, hence the Greek name, lit. “on thyme,” 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. Shull.  ShuLu.  (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 swelligs.  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.  In the New World tropics, where quinces will not grow, guavas were early substituted, producing one of the world’s great confections.)

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, ongoing 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 fruit juice is boiled down to a solid cheese-like substance in the Mediterranean world, and thus in Mexico; various versions using other fruit are found elsewhere in the world.  This is still used medicinally for the throat.  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.  I can testify from experience that the throat-soothing functions are real.)


Cymbopogon schoenanthus (L.) Spreng., Poaceae.  Idkhkir

See Andropogon schoenanthus.


Cynanchum atratum Bge.  Apocynaceae (Asclepidaceae).  Native.  A Sa Long

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.

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” (804), on joints and nerves, chronic nose and throat disesaes.  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.  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.  XueJie.  Hu: 659

Li:  Qilinjie.  Resin.  Sweet, salty, balanced, nontoxic. For pain, bleeding, blood stasis, new flesh, other phyusical injury issues; external conditions generally.  Various other uses.


Daphne mezereum L., Thymeleaceae.  Mazaryun.  MaZaErRong (?)

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” (726; true enough).  Purges oiut 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.  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, sweet, salty, nontoxic, for laryngeal infection (only).

(Dangerously toxic plant.)


Daucus carota L.  Apiaceae.  Introduced, but long cultivated in China.  DuHu

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 Latin.  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 (“Iranian radish”; today hongluobo, “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 perfectly 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-jabal.

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 thbroat, burns, anticonvulsive, stomach, etc.  Kills flies and cockroaches.


Desmodium (Hedysarum) gangeticum DC., Fabaceae.  Matin  MaTing (?)

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.)

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 ver good.  Used for earaches also.  Treats chest and lung afflictions including asthma (as with other beans, presumably mixed with more obviously medicinal items).  Leves 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.  Darunaj (Gr).  DuLongZhi.

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” (p. 650).

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 depressio, melancholia, and scorpion stings.


Dracaena spp.  Dracaenaceae (Liliaceae), dragontree.  Imported.  One or another of these may be indicated in HHYF, but not certainly.

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.  Introd.  Bing-pian, Long-naoxiang  Hu: 659.

Nadkarni:  Gum.  Diaphoretic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, stimulant.

Li:  Longnaoxiang.  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.  Qatha-al-hamar.  JiSanErHeiMaEr.

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.


Echinophora tenuifolia L., Apiaceae.  Zufa  ZuFaLa

Dioscorides:  for epilepsy.

A minor medicinal plant of Italy, Greece and Turkey, medically especially the last.

A very large number of bioactive compounds have been isolated from it (Georgiou et al. 2010) but effective medical activity remains to be researched.


Echinopsilon divaricatum, ChenopodiaceaePossible identification for plant mentioned in Table of Contents.  Minor Chinese weed, with no discoverable medical uses.  Not scored.


Ehretia obtusifolia Hochst., Boraginaceae.  Misk (Yemenite).

Possible misidentification; little mention in sources or likelihood of use in Yuan times.

Plant of Africa and Near East with local medical uses.

Nadkarni:  Root for venereal diseases.  E. buxifolia similar.


Elettaria cardamomum L., Zingiberaceae.  HeiMaMa (Ar), JiErDiMaNa, JiErDiMaNu (both from the Greek)

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.  Aplied for itch, etc.

Avicenna:  Ḥamāmā, hīl.  Hil in Persian.  Hot and dry.  Sleansing nd 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” (Levey 1966:342).  (I can confirm it is still sold for these purposes over 40 years later in the Middle East.)

Lev and Amar:  Hāl, kākalī.  Colic, kidney stones, cough, paralysis, stomach complains, TB, 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 (wenzhong溫中)[5]. 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.

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, AsteraceaeTentative identification.  Ye xia hong.

Nadkarni:  Sudorific.

Minor Chinese medical uses.


Ephedra sinensis Stapf. & presumably other spp., Ephedraceae.  Native.

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.)


Epilobium vulgare Figari, Onagraceae.  Fuk.

Ghazanfar:  E. hirsutum, Sāq al-gurāb.  Leaves for epilepsy and madness.

Eisenman:  E. hirsuum, hemostatic, astringent, anti-inflammatory.  Experiments seem to indicate effectiveness.


Eriobotrya japonica (Thunb.) Lindl.  Rosaceae.  SaDaYiXinDi

Li:  Pipa.  Li notes the name comes from the similarity of the leaf shape to the profile of a lute (pipa 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 medical food 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.  Jirjir.  Rocket, arugula.

Dioscorides:  II-170, euzomon.  Eaten raw “doth provoke Venery” (Gunther 1934:181), 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.)


Eryngium glomeratum Lam., Apiaceae.  Shindan

Dioscorides:  III-24, eryngion, E. planum, etc.  Leveas in brine as food.  Warming, diuretic, emmenagogue, cures gripes and infections, etc.  With wine for liver, venomous beast attacks, poison.

Avicenna:  Shaukah al-yaḥūdiyah.  Hot.  Diluent, dissolving.  Mothwash, coughing up blood, roots for vomiting.  Relieves vaginal discharge.

Bellakhdar et al:  sp. for calefacient.

Nadkarni:  E. caeruleum, nerve tonic, aphrodisiac (root).

Eisenman:  E. biebersteinianum and other spp., infusion for blood cleansing, sedative.  Infusion for edema, scrofula, gonorrhea, headaches, heart pain, and various tumors” (108), pertussis, anti-convulsant, coiughs, diuresis.  Roots treat poisoning and bites.  Recommended for anemia.  Little studied.

(Various spp. still widely used.  Aphrodisiac use made famous by Shakespeare in Falstaff’s cry “Let it rain potatoes,… snow eryngoes!”  Merry Wives of Windsor, V, v. 18-22.  Potatoes were also considered aphrodisiac at the time.)


Eupatorium cannabinum L.  Asteraceae.  A Fe De.

Dioscorides:  IV-41, eupatorion.  Leaves beaten with lard for ulcers.  Seed and leaves drunk with wine for dysentery, snakebite.  (The Maya of Yucatan have similar uses for closely related spp.)

Kamal:  ghafath ibn-Sina, etc.   Dilatory.  Dissolves scrotal tumors.  Infusian used.

Nadkarni:  E. ayapana, tonic expectorant, diaphoretic, antiperiodic.  Aperient.  For stomach, cough, ague.  Applied to ulcers and bites.

Li:  E. fortunei, lancao.  Leaf used; pungent, balanced to cold, nontoxic.  Pages of diverse uses.

(I am not sure what values this genus has, but Eupatorium spp. seem to be important in medicine everywhere they grow.)


Euphorbia granulata Forsk., Euphorbiaceae.  ‘ilk-al-ghzal; Euphorbia sp., Euphorbiaceae.  Farfiyun, farbiyun (Persian)

Dioscorides:  III-96, euphorbion, Euphorbia spp.?  (Description vauge 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 conitions.  Also for teth; 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 ddry.  Constricts woomb 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 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.  AnGuChang (from Arabic Anjudān—angudān in vernacular), HeiLiTiTi (Arabic ḥiltit, the gum;Yem. Hiltit, Egyp Hantita).  Also: A-wei.  Hu: 659.

The many Ferula species used medicinally in Asia are possibly confused in the HHYF.

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 eand 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; see Koerper, Henry, and A. L. Kolls.  1999.  “The Silphium Motif Adorning Ancient Libyan Coinage:  Marketing a Medicinal Plant.”  Economic Botany 53:133-143.

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 (2009):  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.  Birjad (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

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.)


  1. schowitziana DC., Apiaceae. Sakbinaj.

Dioscorides:  III:81, this and/or F. persica, sagapenon, for pain of breast, ruptures, convulsions, coughs, epilepsy, spleen, paralysis.

Levey:  This sp. and/or F. persica Willd.  Sakabīnaj.  Kidneys, bladder, putrid flesh, pain in the back, sciatica, insanity.

Nadkarni:  Several other spp. noted.


Ficus carica L.  Moraceae.  Introd.  Wu-hua-guo, Hu:1407

Manniche:  Already used for constipation and related complaints!  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” (Gunther 1934:91), 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.  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 al:  shariha, 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” (Li 2003:2819; the pollinator wasps’ young do emerge thus, from eggs laid in the fig).  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 laxative.)


Foeniculum vulgare Mill., Apiaceae.  Raziyanaj (Persian)  Introd.  LaZeYaNa.  A Di(Ni)Song, JiLa (Iran Anisun, Egyp Xilla).  Xiao-hui-xiang.  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” (173).

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 (2012/1699:22):  “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, 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.


Fragaria grandiflora Ehrh., Rosaceae.  Firiz.  Strawberry.

Minor mention as food.  In spite of the ubiquity of this plant, and its value as food, if it has medicinal values they seem to have been entirely overlooked—unless one counts the Irish folksong that says “strawberry leaves make maidens fair” (in a face wash, that is)—except in Kyrgyzstan, which has enough uses to make up for the rest of the world’s neglect.

Eisenman:  F. vesca used in Kyrgyzstan; fruits and leaves, infused, for sore throat, jaundice, hemorrhoids, fatigues, diarrhea, uterine bleeding, etc.  Leaves on old skin ulcers.  Fruits for kidney stones, bile duct, gout, stomach conditions, constpoation, hyptertension and even vermifuge.  Crushed fruit on skin for eczema.  Dried fruit for diaphoretic; leaves for same, and diuretic.  Root decoction hemostatic.  Many of these uses appear sustained by modern experiment.


Fraxinus excelsior L.  Oleaceae.  Lisan-al-‘asafir.  LiSanNaASan(FeiEr)

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).  Shaytaraj, shitaraj (Persian).  SaiTiLaZhi

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, 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.


Gentiana lutea (and/or asclepidea) L., Gentianaceae.  Jantiyana.  ZhenTiYaNa

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, longdan; 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, PapaveraceaeHorned poppy.

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 does emetic and soporific, even to sasphyxiation.  Seeds laxative.  Biomedical experiments confirm, and show antiarrhymthmic action.


Glossostemon bruguieri (Desf.), Malvaceae.  Moghat (Arabic name). 

Uncertain identification.

Medicinal and food in Near East.  Not in our sources, however.


Glycyrrhiza glabra L., G. uralensis Fisch., & probably other spp, Fabaceae.  Native, but the Chinese sp. is obviously being used for the western one.

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.  Internalliy, 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 robs. Ibn Jazlah used it for leprosy, spleen ailments, scorpion stings.  Today in Middle East for acute indigestion.

Levey and Al-Khaledy:  G. glabra made into a rob (thick syrup) 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 spp.  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 compared it to “the imperial instructor—who is not the monarch, but the monarch follows his instructions” (Li 2003:1229).  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.)


Gomphocarpus fruticosus L., Apocynaceae (Asclepidaceae).  Kushan

Not in our sources, but this milkweed is used today in Africa as a sedative and painkiller and source of seed fluff (Uphof, etc.).  However, one suspects a misidentification here.


Gossypium sp., Malvaceae.  Cottonseed is tentatively identified as one item mentioned in the Index.

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 (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 and obscure in the sources.)


Heliotropium supinum L .  Boraginaceae.  ZuFa, FaLaFuRong

Dioscorides:  IV-193, eliotropion mega, H. europaeum.  Plant boiled, drunk for phlegm, choler.  Drunk and applied for scorpion stings (sympathetic magic evidently; the flowering head is scorpioid, as noted by Dioscorides).  Hung around neck to cause barrenness.  Seed drunk with wine for malarial fits, or smeared on for warts and other growths.  Leaves applied for gouts and other conditions, and as emmenagogue and abortifacient.

Al-Bīrūnī:  ṣāmaryūmā.  Heliotropium spp.  Scorpion bites, malaria, poultice for warts.  Decoction clears stomach of phlegm and bile through catharsis.

Ghazanfar:  Several local species, for poultices, for bites, stings, and various skin, eye, and other external conditions.

Lebling and Pepperdine: H. ramosissimum, mouthwash or paste for mouth sores.

Nadkarni:  H. eichwaldi, H. strigosum, and other minor spp., snakebite, stings, various external uses.


Helleborus albus L.  Ranunculaceae. HaErBaJi, Mo, MuAXi

Dioscorides:  IV-152, sesamoeides, Helleborus 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.  There is confusion in the literature with Veratrum album; the latter stimulates the heart in very small regulated doses, thus treating dropsy and serving as diuretic in that case; thus the diuretic use, above, may refer to Veratrum.)


Helleborus niger L.  HiLiJi; Helleborus officinalis Salisb., Ranunculaceae.  Khirbaq, khirbaq-abyad (probably a mistake; name usually means white hellebore), khirbaq-sapid (Persian).  (See also Veratrum viride, white hellebore.)

Dioscorides:  IV-151, ‘elleboros melas, Helleborus 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” (p. 535)!  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.)


Heracleum panaces Willd. ex Steven, Apiaceae.   Hogweed.  Possible but very tentative identification for Zūfāra, which is glossed as Panaces asclepion in one source, but that is a term from Pliny for an uncertain plant, possibly the above.  Not scored in table.


Hordeum vulgare.  Poaceae.  Oddly and significantly, barley is hardly mentioned in the HHYF, in spite of the enormous importance of barley water in Hippocratic-Galenic medicine.  A few references (e.g. p. 345) mention it as a food 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…” (Kamal 1975:86).  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” (p. 98), a rather amazing point given the importance of this item from Galen and Dioscorides right down to my 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 (naked barley, kuang 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 this writer [ENA] 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, AgavaceaeYuzan.  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, extremely beautiful and sweet-scented but of little traditional medical note.)


Hyoscyamus niger L.  Solanaceae.  Native.

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.  Lef 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.  Fariqun (Gr)

Dioscorides:  III-171, ‘yperikon, Hypericum crispum, H. barbatum.  Resin diuretic; as pessar, 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 (138).  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.  Listed in some sources as producing a gum used as or for mukul, but in the HHYF mukul is surely the gum of a Balsamodendron (Commiphora), q.v.  Thus this tree is probably not really in the HHYF.


Hyssopus officinalis L., Lamiaceae.   ZaFaSi.

Dioscorides:  III-30, ‘hyssopos.  Notes there are two sorts.  Gunther identifies it (or one type) as Thymbra spicata, with figure of an Origanum sp.  [I (ENA) believe at least one type is 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.  Poultoice 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 lcots 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 lack of total overlap with the English Dioscorides.)

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” (140).  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.)


Imperata cylindrica P. Beauv.  Poaceae.  XiLi

Ghazanfar:  Ḥalfa.  Rhizome boiled for drink for painful joints.

(It is somewhat heartening to know that this notorious pest of south China and southeast Asia could be good for something medical.  It is still widely used in folk medicine.  It is also used for thatch, paper-making, cosmetics, etc.)


Inula conyzioides DC., Asteraceae.  Shabanaj, shafanaj (Persian)

Manniche: I. conyza expelled fleas, and, after death, the crocodiles of the spirit land.  (Perhaps crocodiles in the other world are no worse than fleas.)

Li:  I. japonica, I. britannica, xuanfuhua.  Authorities differ strongly on humoral values.  Disperses phlegm and hardness; uses minor.


Inula helenium L., Asteraceae.  Rasan (Persian).  LaXin.

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 stimulan; 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.  Turbud (Sanskrit)

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.  SuoShanGen (“Susan root”).  HHYF term evidently includes other spp., probably I. ensata, I. florentina, I. germanica and other spp.

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, and I. tectorum, yuanwei, various minor uses.


Ixeris denticulata (Houtt.) Stebb (Youngia denticulata)., Asteraceae.  KeXiNi

A lettuce relative.  The species identification is highly uncertain.  Not mentioned in Li or other sources.  Not scored in table of origins.


Juglans regia L., Juglandaceae. Walnut.  Jawz.

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,m 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, kidnesy, stomach, worms, lice, etc.  Resin strengthens stomach.

Eisenman:  Decoction of nuts to treat high blood pressure, heart, moth; 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 effectoive.  Omega-3 fatty acids in nuts beneficial for arteriosclerosis.

Sun:  Walnut (hutao胡桃): 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, of course, 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.  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 spp. 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

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)[6]: 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.  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.  Qardmana, qardamānā.  JiErMaNa

Mediterranean herb and occasion cumin substitute (Uphof).  Not in our sources, except for translation of name in Lev and Amar.


Lamium purpureum L., Lamiaceae  Muntinat

Mediterranean; styptic, diuretic and purgative (Uphof) but not in our sources.  Possibly a misidentification, very likely for another Lamium species or a close relative, since the genus is common, widespread, medicinally used, and actually bioactive in many cases.


Launaea angustifolia, (Desf.) Kuntze (syn. Sonchus, angustifolia, Zollikofera angustifolia).  Asteraceae.  Saliyy.

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.  Sādhaj hindī (“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, al-ghār

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.  Withhoney 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.  Ustukhundus.  WuSiTuHuDuXi.

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.  (My 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. dentata.  Khuzama.  Gas, urinary problems.

Nadkarni:  Unani/ Near Eastern uses as resolvent, deobstruent, carminative; for colic an 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.)


Leonurus artemisia (Lour.) S. Y. Hu, Lamiaceae.  Yimu Cao, motherwort.  Native.

Dioscorides:  IV-176, pyknokomon, L. marribuastrum?  Seed causes grievous dreams.  With meal as plaster, dissolves swellings and draws out thorns.  Leaves, poultice for skin infections.  Root for constipation and choler.  At least some of this sounds wrong for Leonurus; identification needs checking.  (Accordingly, this plant is scored Chinese in our count.)

Eisenman: L. turkestanicus, uncommon; decoction for heart, stomach, nervous system.  Tea and infusion for hypertension, hysteria, epilepsy, tachycardia, stomach, female conditions; soprific, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, laxative.  Biomedical possibilities include sedative and relaxing uses.

Li:  L. heterophyllus, chongwei; L. pseudomacranthus, zancai.  Grouped together.  Former used for childbirth and some miscellaneous minor uses; latter a mere appendage. (L. artemisia is still used as a menstrual aid, etc.)


Lepidium latifolium L., Brassicaceae.  Shitarāj.  ShaYiTaLaZhi.

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.  Ḥurf,  L. sativum.  Skin, ulcers, etc.

Al-Bīrūnī:  Jarjīr; cites “arzūmūn” as the “Roman” name.  Two varieties, the main one clearly a Lepidium, the other not.  Cites Dioscorides for the first as calling it aphrodisiac, carminative, diuretic, detersive.  Note that some of these uses are indeed in the English version, others not.

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” (p. 487).  In short, a typical Avicennian 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 sepeed 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.  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 [Levey and Al-Khaledy 1967:191], 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., ḥurf.  See above.


Levisticum officinale Koch., Apiaceae.  Kāshim. 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.)


Libanotis sp., Apiaceae.  ZhaErNaBu

Dioscorides:  III-87, libanotis, two types.  Cachrys libanotis, Ferula nodiflora, Prenanthes purpurea suggested.  Poultice for hemorrhoids and the like.  Dry roots with honey for ulcers and gripes, and the inevitable use against venomous bites.  With wine, diuretic and emmenagogue; dispels swellings.  Applied, for sight. Helps epilepsy chest, rutures, convulsions, gout, etc.—more or less the usual things that every plant seems good for, to Dioscorides.


Linum usitatissimum L.  Linaceae.  KeTanBu(?).  Hu-ma-zi.  Hu:100

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.  Oil on leprous and other sores.

Flax has probably been known in China since the Han Dynasty (Liu et al. 2011), 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 (Hamamelidaceae).  Resin.  Imported.    Cai(Mi)A. Ma’yah or something similar in the Arabic. Morocco:  ‘l-Mia.  Su-he-xiang.  Hu:547.  Translated “rose maloes” in many cases.  This is said to be derived from a Malay word (Stuart 1911).

Nadkarni:  Storax; stimulant, expectorant, diuretic, antiseptic, disinfectant, astringent.  Unani:  tonic, resolvent, astringent.

Li:  Suhexiang.  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.)


Loranthus europaeus L., Loranthaceae.  Muwizaj (Persian).  MaiYuZaZhi

Dioscorides:  III-103, ixos.  This and/or Viscum sp.  With wax and resin on swellings and skin conditions.  With frankincense on old ulcers, suppurations, etc.  With quicklime, or agate, or “Asiatic” stone, for speen.  Unslaked lime and wine-lees increase its strength.

Li:  L. parasiticus, L. yadorik, relatives.  Sangshangjisheng.  Whole plant for various minor uses including bleeding and debility.

Avicenna: Viscum album, dibq, moist literally but hot and dry humorally.  Minor external uses; softening.  Used for swellings of spleen.


Lupinus termis Forsk., Fabaceae.  Turmus.  DaErMuSi.

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” (684).  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.  Hudud.  HaQiQi.  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” (Gunther 134:72) 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.  “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).  This of course 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[7] 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.  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

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.  Tuffāh..  (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:  sour, sweet, balanced, nontoxic.  M. asiatica, linqin:  For fever.  Sour, swet, warm, nontoxic.


Malva rotundifolia Desf., MalvaceaeKhubbaz.

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 I know 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)[8]. 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.  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.  Luffah.  LiFaHei

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” (p. 359).  Poultices used.  Internally for vomiting blood.  Enema for intestinal ulcers.  Antidote for scorpion stings.  “Said” 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; dangerouslyi 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.

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.  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.  Iklil-al-malik  YiQiLiLuMuLuJie

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.  Badranjubuyah (Persian)  BaDeLanZhiBoYa

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, 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; experience with myself and many others confirms the old writers on this.  The many volatile oils in this plant have well-demonstrated relaxing effect when smelled, and whether this is a “psychological” or a “biological” effect, it works.)


Mentha aquatica L., Lamiaceae.  Futanj-maiyy.  FuDaNaZhi (M. sp.)

Dioscorides:  III-42, ‘edyosmos agriosProperties 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 prevednts pregnancy” (743; 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 haplocalyx Briq., Lamiaceae.   Native.  SaDaBu.  Satar, Zatar (Yemen; the Arabic word zahtar, “thyme” by extension “mixed herbs”).

Li:  Bohe.  Pungent and nontoxic; disagreement about other qualities.  For fevers and digestive complaints.  Expels both yin and yang poisons, and toxins generally.  Many other uses, but the cooling and digestive functions are obviously well recognized.


Mentha pulegium L., Lamiaceae.  Futanj (Persian)

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.  YiTiLiFei (?)

Kamal:  Itraifel.  Emmenagogue, tonic, antipyretic, diuretic, anti-caries.  Leaves used.

Li:  Shuicai.  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.  Narmushk (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.  Muwwa

(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.  Not.  Ban.  Bang.

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. pterygospermaGaertn.  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 etc.

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” (p. 356).

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.

Mentioned as a food in one place.  In China it would be M. alba L., but the Near Eastern one is usually M. nigra LBoth, 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.  Batrk 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” (175), 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 meedical prescriptions, for root, bark, etc. as well as fruit.


Muscus spp.?  AzhiNa.

Dubious identification.

Li:  Various mosses used but unclear as to full range of taxa.


Myristica fragrans Houtt., Myristicaceae.  Rou-dou-kou.  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.  Murd (Persian from Greek), ās (Arabic/Persian).  MuErDi.

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.  Shuixian.  Uncertain identification.

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

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 (includes N. chinensis).  Sweet, warm to balanced, nontoxic.  Rhizome used. Various uses.


Nigella sativa L.  Ranunculaceae.  Seeds.  Shūnīz

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.  Biranj-mashk, falanj-mushk.d  Luo-le.  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, zaitūn; the oil is zait, and zaitūn 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.)

Many medical uses are found in Varisco and Johnstone (2011).


Onopordum (Onopordon) macracanthum Schousb., Asteraceae.  BaDiAWaErDi.

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…” and other uses (178).

(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.  Jawshir (Persian).  ZhaWuZhiEr, ShaHaMuHanDaLi, ShaHeiMiHanZanLi

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.


Orchis chusua.  Apparently a misidentification (not scored in counts below).

Avicenna: various orchid uses.

Levey and Al-Khaledy:  An orchid may be mentioned in one recipe.


Origanum majorana L., Lamiaceae.  Marzanjūsh (Arabic and Persian; the general dried-herb name sa‘tar is used for this as well as thyme, etc.).  MaErSangGuoZhi.

Origanum maru L., Lamiaceae.  Marmahuz. MaErMaHuEr

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 Theophrastus’ tale about the goats.  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—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.  ‘Aruzz.  Dao.  One mention of 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.

(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).  Fawaniya.  Native.  SaLiHa  Egyp. 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 ye womb” (Gunther 1934:383).

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.  A FeiRong, LaLaHua, for the resin; ShaoNiZi for seeds; Ying-su-ke.  Hu973

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:  Afyūn: 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 coghs 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.  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).  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.  Muli (Gr), MuLi

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” (187).  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.  Asaliyun

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.  Ushshaq.  Gum ammoniac. WuCaJi, WaShaJi

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.  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.


Pharbitis nil (L.) Choisy & spp., Convolvulaceae.  Native.

Li:  This and P. purpurea are qianniuzi.  Seed.  Various quality ascriptions.  Several pages of uses, especially digestive.


Phoenix dactylifera L., Arecaceae.  Date.  Tamr.

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 kernewl—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.  (Also, in Chinese colloquial, various such as fan zao “foreign jujube” and qian nian zao “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. AmiLa, 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.  Barely known.  One report of fruit and leaf for minor uses.


Picnomon acarna (L.) Cass., Asteraceae.  Badaward (Persian)

European/Near Eastern plant, not mentioned in our sources.


Pimpinella anisum LApiaceae.  Anīsūn.

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.

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

Li:  Haisong.  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” (2003:2804).

(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.)


Pinus spp.  P.  massoniana Lamb. & spp.  Resin.  JiFuTi

Dioscorides:  I-86, pitys, P. halepensis; peuke, P. maritima, P. cembra (and/or other evergreens?).  Bark ground and eaten; binding (constipating).  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.  Possibly he confused them with pine seeds.

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 can cause 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 spp. used.

Dash:  P. roxburghii for earache, etc.

Li:  Song, pine in general; this species 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.  I remember them from my childhood.  Seeds advocated throughout early Chinese history as the best food for longevity.  The pine lives long, and some sympathetic magic is clearly involved here, but the main reason for this tradition is obviously that pine seeds supply the protein, oil, and minerals that China’s traditional grain diet so conspicuously lacked.  Common experience with eating pine seeds lies behind the tradition.)


Piper cubeba L., Piperaceae.   Imported/introd.

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” (p. 332).

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:  Bichengqie.  Pungent, bitter, warm, nontoxic.  Digestive for many purposes.  In mixes for several other conditions.


  1. longum L., Piperaceae. Bi-ba. 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.  Pungent, very warm or hot, nontoxic.  Digestive uses including cholera and other diarrheas; various other uses.  P. betle, jujiang, 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. Hu-jiao. 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.  Butm.

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, eyue, pains, other external uses.  Internally for spleen and liver.  Diuretic and somewhat aphrodisiac.    P. lentiscus, maṣṭakī.  Hot and dry.  Dissolving; dissolves phlegm.  Usual external uses for a hot, dry drug.  Strengthens stomach and liver, respores 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, but.m, ‘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 (1979):  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. (1991):  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. BaZiLiHaTuNa, 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-fire 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 blod.  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, qat.ūnāa, 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.  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.’”  (Meserve 2004:73).  Also to stanch blood, etc.  She presents a great deal of comparative material.


Platycodon grandiflorum (Jacq.) A. DC., Campanulaceae.  Native.

Li:  Jiegeng..  Root cold, bitter, pungent.  General tonic with many uses; a major Chinese drug.


Plumbago sp.  Plumbaginaceae.  Shitarāj.  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.  BaHaMan.

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.  Bitter, astringent, slightly warm, nontoxic.  Wide range of uses.

Fully a dozen other species are mentioned in Li, and this certainliy 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 sp.


Polypodium vulgare L., Polypodiaceae.  Basbayah, baspayah, basbayaj, basfayaj  BoSiBaNaZhi(Persian), BaXSiFaYiZhi in tr, or Fu or HaMaMa.

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. A sthma.  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.  Ghariqun (Gr).  Probably the former here.

Kamal:  P. fomentarius, soffan.  Powder astringent for bleeding.

Nadkarni:  P. officinalis, astringent, emetic, purgative.

Li:  P. umbellatus, zhuling.  Sweet, plain, nontoxic.  Important for several serious conditions from fevers to leukorrhea.  (Still an important medicine in 21st century China; astringent and drying qualities.)


Populus diversifolia Schrenk, Salicaaceae.  Resin.  NaTiLong.  Hu-tong-lei.  Hu 890

Dioscorides:  I-109, leuke, P. alba, white poplar.  “It is reported” (a very skeptical phrase for D.) to be contraceptive if drunk with a mule’s kidney, and leaf tea drunk after menstruation for same!  (Gunther 1934:59.)  More seriously, bark drunk in tea for sciatica and strangury.  Leaf tea for earache.  Buds mashed with honey for dullness of eyes.

I-113, aigeiros, P. nigra, black poplar.  Leaves with vinegar applied for gouit.  Resin for various medicines.  Seed with vinegar for epilepsy. An amber-like resin drunk for diarrhea.

Levey:  Probably P. alba, ḥawwar.  Leprosy.

Avicenna:  P. alba, aṭā, gharab.  Pungent, drying.  Powdered for cuts and fresh wounds.  Rinse for gout.  Ear drops, ec.  Gum for eyes.  Used for coughing up blood.

Graziani:  “Hawarī — resin of the poplar [probably P. nigra] used by Ibn Jazlah to strengthen the eye, ease urination and as a contraceptive” (1980:203).

Kamal:  P. nigra, balsam for piles.

Bellakhdar et al:  P. alba and P. nigra,  wraq ssefsaf, stomach and bowel complaints; swallowing air.

Nadkarni:  P. nigra, minor use of resinous buds for hemorrhoids, bark for colds.

Li:  Resin, hutonglei, salty, bitter, very cold, nontoxic.  Reduces heat.  Good for toothache and throat pain.  P. davidiana, baiyang, bark and twigs have minor uses.  They too are cold and nontoxic.  The bark is used, among other things, to stanch bleeding and reduce sores, for which it works in biomedical terms.

(Leaves contain salicylic acid; gum very soothing, still used.)


Poria cocos (Schw.) Wolf (Wolfiporia cocos), Polyporaceae.  Native.

Li:  Fuling.  Sweet, balanced, nontoxic.  Many forms, preparations, and uses; a very important, versatile medicine.


Prunus amygdalus Batsch., Rosaceae.  Badam (Persian).  (Ku) BaDan

Var. amara, KuBaDan.  ShanBaDanRen.

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.”  (p. 26.)  Many uses of both, and oil, for poultices, etc. Levey and Al-Khaledy:  Lauz.  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 (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.

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)[9] 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.  SanE.  Probably includes P. institia.

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, nonpoisonous. 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.  Malab.  MaHaLaBi

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.)


Psoralea bituminosa L., Fabaceae.  Itrifal  (Recently reclassified as Bituminaria bituminosa C. H. Stirton, but familiar name used herein for convenience)

Dioscorides:  III-123, triphyllon, P. bituminosa.  Seed diuretic, emmenagogue; used also for pleurisy, epilepsy, dropsy, etc.  Helps with venomous bites.  Used for malaria.

Avicenna:  ṭarīfūlīūn, from Greek trifoliium.  Somewhat hot.  Used for urine and poisons.

Ghazanfar:  P. corylifolia L.  Seeds cooling.  Many topical and internal uses related to this; mostly topically, as paste on body for fevers, on chest for breathing, etc.

Nadkarni:  P. corylifolia, seeds diuretic, diaphoretic, antihelminthic; wide uses.

Li:  P. corylifolia, buguzhi.  Bitter, pungent, very warm, nontoxic.  Range of uses, with no obvious pattern.


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.  Introd.  Shi-liu.  Hu 540.

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 (Gunther 1934:81).

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.  MaZu. Iran Mazu.

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.  Lai-fu for introd type.  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 afyūs. 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:  Laibei, 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.  Ḥazaz

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 woiunds.  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

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.)


Rhus coriaria, R. chinensis Mill. & other spp., Anacardiaceae.  Includes galls from Melaphis chinensis (Bell) & spp.  GaZeZum A GaGeu Ta  [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, stomch, 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. 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.  Bi-ma-zi, 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” (207).  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.  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.  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 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 hemorrhoidsd, 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 bedsoresa nd 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.  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.)


Rosmarinus officinalis L., Lamiaceae.  Iklil.  Mi-die-xiang.  Hu 739.

Dioscorides:  III-89, libanotis, rosemary.  Minor external uses.

Lev and Amar:  ‘iklīl al-jabal.  Black and yellow bile, urine flow, menstrual flow (accelerates), clearing obstructions in liver and spleen, cleansing lungs, curing cough, etc.

Kamal:  hasalban, iklil, iklil al-gabal.  Flowers for convulsions.  Cooked in honey as enema for hysteria and colic.  Leaves burnt in houses to ward off epidemics.  Volatile oil carminative and hair tonic; used externally.

Bellakhdar et al:  azir.  For all diseases (like several other good-tasting herbs; Morocco preserves Mediterranean herbal traditions and the Arab idea of good-tasting things as medicinal).  Emmenagogue.  Against chills, gastro-intestinal disorders, liver disorders.

Nadkarni:  Carminative, stimulant.  Oil used.

Li:  Midiexiang.  Li says it reached China in the Wei Dynasty.  Pungent, warm, nontoxic.  Root, flowers, foliage for fumigating and insect repelling.

(Oil stimulant, carminative, strongly antiseptic.  There is enough in the leaves to make them, or teas from them, rather useful.)


Rubia cordifolia L.  Rubiaceae. Root. native. FuWuWa. Morocco, Fuwa

Dioscorides:  III-160, erythrodanon, Rubia tinctorum, madder.  Root diuretic, abortifacient, emmenagogue, helps expel afterbirth.  Helps wioth 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.  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.  HeZaNuSaoEr.  Root 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 (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.

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 “wateryt swellings throughout the body” (948)  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 (1975:433-436) 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 (2004:19) 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.

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 coruulence 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.  Bid.

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 spp.?).  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, 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.)


Salsola kali L., Chenopodiaceae.  Ushnan (Persian).  WuShiNan

Avicenna:  ṭarāghayūn,  S. tragus (which is so similar to kali that they are routinely confused even now).  Very minor uses for urinary tract conditions and menstruation.

Kamal:  Qaly, sollag, ashnan, salsola, al-ghasul, harad.  Burned for soda or potash.

Lev and Amar:  same use.  Many uses of potash.  Juice of plant also used medicinally.

Mandaville gives several names for various species of the genus, but no uses.

(Very young shoots are a nutritious, stomach-soothing food.)


Santalum album L., Santalaceae.  Tan-xiang.  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, the famous medieval Arab chronicler of India, noted in a vast, excellent, but unpublished herbal work that sandalwood was used in India for treating acute swellings, as well as for making useful objects (that would then be scented), etc. (Hamarneh 1973:87).  Apparently he incorporated a vast amount of other new, often Indian, material in this herbal, but it is still obscure and virtually unknown except among specialists.

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 [xiang gong, “incense port,” because sandalwood was once shipped from there; mistranslated “fragrant harbor” all too often] and the Hawaiian Islands (tanxiangshan, “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.  Shaturyat.

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.  Introd.  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.  Asqulufandiryun YiSiGuLuFanDiLiRong

Dioscorides:  III-121, phyllitis.  Leaves with wine for snakebite and the like, and dysentery and diarrhea.


Sedum sarmentosum.  Apparently 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.  Anaqardīyā.  Oriental cashew nut.

Presumably the AnJiaErDiYa (translit. of “anacardia”) in HHYF is this sp.

Mentioned several times in the Index, but not important in surviving parts of the HHYF.

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” (p. 707).  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., 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 (p. 1120).  Several pages of uses; very important in India, especially for skin and digestion.

Dash:  Hot; digestive.


Sempervivum sp. (?S.  arboreum L.), Crassulaceae.  Anbub-al-ra’ay

Avicenna:  suqūṭūn, Sempervivum tectorum.  Cold and dry.  Diluting, adhesive, dissolvent.  Used for nerves and muscles, dryness of throat, intestinal ulcers, abrasions, other minor uses.

Li:  No mention under this name, but possibly one of the Sedum or other species.  Modern Chinese use this or similar plant for general medicine, including against cancer, because the plant survives drying out and other stressors, thus proving tenacity of life, which can transfer to the user.


Sesamum indicum  DC., Pedaliaceae.  Oil.  Introd.  KeTangYou. Morocco, Zarrit katlan.  Hei-zhi-ma.  Hu (as S. orientale L) 100

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 or zhi ma (“oil hemp”; the last of these is the modern term).  Li reports it was introduced to China by Zhang Qian 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.  Sisaliyus.  XiSanLiYuXi (YuSi)

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 , Solanaceae.  Eggplant.  Bādinjān, bādhinjān, batanjen.  Jia.

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, 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 had for the fruit.  This has given us “boronia,” “alboronia” and the like in various European languages.  Conversos even carried it to Mexico.  Sometimes the dishes are made with green beans or other substitutes instead of eggplant.)


Solanum nigrum L., Solanaceae.  Fana

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 stomachand 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.  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.  Badashqan.  BaiDiSiGan.

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’s not in the Middle East sources under any name.)


Stellaria dichotoma L. var lanceolata Bge., Caryophyllaceae.  Root.  BaiTuLuBiDi.

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 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.  Trivial uses.


Strychnos sp. (S.  pierriana?), Loganiaceae.  Jawz al-qayi.

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.  MuHeiLi.  An-xi-xiang.  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.  YaXiNi (which looks like the Arabic word for “cinnamon,” and has no resemblance to the Arabic or Persian words for clove).  Ding-xiang (“nail aromatic,” cf. English “clove” from French clou “nail.”  Influence, or just obvious similarity of the bud leading to similar naming?)  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., FabaceaaeTamarind.  Tamar (al-) hindī (“date of India”; source of the English name).  Mentioned in Index, probably only as a food with some medicinal effects.

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 strongliy 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.  ZaErNaBu

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, 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.  Balilat, abalilaj; BaLiLa

Avicenna:  balīlaj.  Cold and dry.  Cleansing.  Oxidizing, assimilative.  Maturing for stpomach.  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.  KeBuLiHeZi, JiErDiMaNu, SaTuiLa, YiQiLiLi, HaBuLiAXi.  Ke-zi; 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.

Madanapala:  Harītakī.  “It cures all diseases” (4).  Notable for purgation, ulcers, eyes.  Digestive stimulant, laxative, aphrodisiac.

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.  Kamadharyus (Gr), KeMaDeErYuSi, SaJiBieNuZhi, BiErZanDi, FuKeHeiYiJiHeiEr.

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, ju’dat, ja’dah.

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.

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 al:  j’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. Suqurdiyun, shuqurdiyun. SuGuDiErRong

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.  Tafsiya (Persian).  TaFuXiYa.

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…” (Gunther 1934:551).  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.

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.)


Thymus capitatus (L.) Hoffm. et Link, Lamiaceae.  Hasha.

Thymus creticus Brot.  HaSha

Thymus glaber Miller.  Nammam

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?

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” (753; 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.  [Thyme oil is such a powerful, effective antibiotic that it is still used, e.g. in hospitals when nothing else will kill the multidrug-resistant hospital bacteria.]

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.

Nadkarni:  bare mention.


Tribulus terrestris L.  Zygophyllaceae.  Ḥasak (Arabic). Native.

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.

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 efficient” (Manniche 1989:152, 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:  H.elba, h.ilba.  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.  Khundurus (Greek orig)  HanDaLuXi (“T. romanum L.” )  (There is no such sp. as “T. romanum,” and T. spelta is not a valid species, 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),, burr, h.abba, 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)[10]. 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, 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?  A mention of “nettle seed” in the Index is hard to specify as anything identifiable.  Assuming it is Urtica:

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.)


Usnea? See Alectoria usneoides Ach.


Valeriana dioscorides Sibth. (=V. officinalis L.), V. celtica, Caprifoliaceae (Valerianaceae).  Asmanqin

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:  Fū.  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.  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, p. 621).  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, or at least would be seen to have a strong effect.)


Vicia ervilia Willd., Fabaceae.  Kashna (Persian)

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; V. sativa, wei.  Minor uses.


Vigna spp. incl. V.  radiata (L.) and Vigna mungo, Fabaceae.  Native.

There is also a reference in the index to “eye-browed bean,” 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 (V. mungo).  Cold.  Minor cooling and detoxifying uses.  (Green bean soup is a standard modern cooling medication.)  V. cylindrica, baidou, minor uses.  V. sinensis, jiangdou, sweet, salty, balanced, nontoxic.  General regulating and detoxifying value.


Viola sp., Violaceae.  Violet.  One obscure mention under its proper name, but I strongly suspect that the “purple flower” widely called for in the HHYF is V. yedoensis Makino, important in Chinese medicine as V. odorata L. is 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” (1275).  For “bilious affections” lungs, uterus, cough, liver, etc., 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.  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.

Reported anti-HIV action (Wang et al. 2008).


Vitex sp., possibly intended for Vitex agnus-castus L. or V. negundo L. Verbenaceae.

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.  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., VitaceaeGrape; wine.

Vitis?  GouPuTao (“thorny grape”).  YiNaShiSaLaBi.

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” (Gunther 1934:601).  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. B inding.  Tea for stomach; diuretic but stops diarrhea and blood-spoitting.  Usual vast range of ezxternal 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.  Naturally, the Muslim authors do not recommend wine.

Avicenna:  cold, dry peels, but flesh hot and moist.  Unripe grapse 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.  Leves 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 toda 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), nourish the Middle Jiao (tiaozhong調中)[11]. 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.  Mu-xiang.  Probably “mu-xiang” means Saussurea (q.v.) in the HHYF.


Zingiber officinale Rosc., Zingiberaceae.  Native.

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 most 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.

Avicenna:  ‘unnāb, other names—“different people call it by different names depending on their language” (p. 603).  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.”  (P. 2703.)  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 HHYF; too unspecific to identify.


Anser spp. and probably other geese.  Anatidae.  Rakham (wild?), ‘iwazz (domestic).  Mentioned in Index; presumably medicinal food.

Li:  E (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.  Goos efat 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.

Honey and “yellow wax,” obviously beeswax from the indications (and explicitly called so on p. 42 of juan 34), 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. (Lev 2002). 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 opiuma ddiction.  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.

Avicenna:  Milk cleansing and used on benign growths in eye; oil has quasi-magical uses that Avicenna denies categorically; brain for cataract.


Bedbug.  Fasāfis.  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 (108).


Bombyx mori.  Silkworm.  Dūd-i qirmiz.  Mentioned in contents as being in lost food section.

Also called for, powdered, in a recipe with 2 variants.

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.  Mentioned in HHYF Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.  Wild ox is also mentioned, and could be some other species.  See also Butter, Milk.

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, relatxes.  Fumes drying and constricting.  For swellings and wounds including in mouth.  For cold dry coughs, “especially when given with almonds and sugar” (170; 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 (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.  imported.  HeiZeMeiYang.

Li:  Wennashou.  Male genitalia for sexual health.

(Useless, of course, but the reasoning was that the male seal can service a vast harem.  This is clearly a Chinese intrusion into the HHYF; the Chinese belief in sympathetic magic, the penis of an animal noted for its ability to service many females being a tonic for humans in that regard, was not present in the Near East.)


Camelus sp., Camelidae.  Brain used in one magical recipe.

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.  See Harris 2010:81.)  Wild Bactrian camels survive in Northwest China and Mongolia, but fewer than 1000 are left.  They are somewhat different genetically from domestic ones (Walker 2009).

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.  Dhi’b.  Lang.  Used in HHYF magical recipes and some others; would have no effect.  Does not seem to be a traditional Near Eastern drug.  “Old wolf” is mentioned in the Index.

Canis sp., jackal, zi’b, 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.  Kelb.  Gou.  mentioned as medicinal food.

Naturally absent from the Middle Eastern sources, 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.  Mentioned in contents as being in lost food section.

Avicenna: usual uses.


Capra sppCapridae.  Goat.  Mention of tame and wild goats as food, probably with medicinal value.  Horn used.

Li:  Does not domesticate 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.

Avicenna: castoreum, “the testes of a water animal” (208), diluting; “more potent than all substances that are hot and dry” (ibid).  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.

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.  Ḥirbā’.  One dubious mention in list of foods in Index.  Identification 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.  Ḥamāma.  Mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.

Li:  Ge.  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 (…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” (p.  3791).  Interesting to note that carrier pigeons were barely known and not normally used.  The “risqué” (a delightful translation for yin “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.)

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. Mentioned in contents as being in lost food section.

Li:  a wide range of cranes, each with its name and uses.


Crocodile.  Crocodylus spp.  Tamsaḥ, timsaḥ (Arabic).  One dubious mention in list of foods in Index.

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.


Cygnus spp., Anatidae.  Swan.  Hu (mute swan, Cygnus cygnus; wild swans are “golden-necked wildgeese” in Chinese).  Unidentified species mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.

Li:  Sweet, plain, nontoxic.  Fat used on sores.


Cynips gallae-tinctoriae Oliv. (on Quercus infectoria Oliv.), Cynipidae.

Li:  Wushizi, galls.  As noted above under Quercus, a number of uses of galls turn on their high gallotannic content.


Cypraea moneta?  Cypraeidae

A rather indeterminate reference to cowrie or perhaps simply snail shells.

Madanapala, Dash:  A number of shell drugs for all manner of reasons.


Earthworm (Allobophora, Lumbricus or similar spp.)

Avicenna:  Lumbricus and/or relatives, dūd, kharāṭīn.  Cooling but drying.  Used for various magical and quasi-magicl uses.

Li:  various minor medical, magical and alchemical uses.  Long section.


Elephas sp. Ivory


Equus asinus.  Equidae.  Donkey.  Minor products mentioned.

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 similarlly 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:  Lü.  Mule is luo.  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.  Mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.

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 hoofprits 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, 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.  (I believe 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.  Mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.


Eriocheir sinensis.  Chinese mitten crab.  Mentioned in the Index.

Avicenna: minor uses for unidentified crabs.
Felis catus L., Felidae.  Cat.  Kit.t.a (female).

One mention in magical-type context.

Li:  Mao.  Many uses.  Meet 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.


Francolinus sp.  Phasianidae.  Francolin.  Durrāj.

One mention as a food, in the Index.


Frog.  Unidentified; food.

Avicenna:  Ash for bleeding organs; boiled down for leprosy, mothwash, etc.  Oral intake of blood causes swellings.  Very minor item.

Li:  Hamo (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.

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” (Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007:49).  The Genizah physicians also knew and loved it (Lev and Amar 2008:142).

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 spp. used, but Gallus best. Yolk hot, white cold. Both moist.  Constipating, especially fried yolk.  Adhesive.  White of egg for sunburn, etc.  Yolk, cooked, w 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” (119; 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 on p. 77 of Juan 12 is a small songbird, not a chicken; it is described as being smaller than the “painted eyebrow bird”(huamei), 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.  Sāmm ābras.  Several recipes in HHYF use wazaghah, sösmar or oirdhawn, identified as gecko or lizard.

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.

Avicenna:  semen for skin conditions including skin fungus.  Iurine 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.  Urmne with honey in a copper vessel for conreal opacity.  Hair with lead oxide for scabies.  Hman milk for TB 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, p. 83).  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.


Laccifer lacca Kerr. Purple keng.  Imported

Lev and Amar:  Weight loss, liver, etc.  Opens obstructions and fortifies organs.  Cough, asthma, swellings, etc.   Helps lose weight.


Lapwing.  Charadriidae.  Species uncertain.  Mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.

Li:  many shorebirds described.


Leech.  Mentioned in contents as being in lost food section.

Avicenna: usual use for bleeding.


Leptoptila sp. Ciconiidae.  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.  Ārnab barri (steppe hare).

Mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.

Avicenna:  Lepus trerrisi, brain for nervous complaints (sympathetic magic) and other rather magical uses.  Rabbit also used.

Li:  Not distinguished from rabbit.


Lizard.  Several terms mentioned in Index.  Not really identifiable and not discussed in surviving text.  Avicenna has notes on some lizards, including monitor, waral (Varanus sp.)  Some minor, slightly magical uses.


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 milk does turn up.  Greek, gala (milk).

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 een better.  Horse milk very dilute (not true).  “Human milk is best, especially when it is fresh and sucked direfctly form the breast” (p. 728). Whey is hot but yogurt is cold and dry.  Very long account of milk as food.  Medically, its 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.  Eaen 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).  Pain, apoplexy, fever, runny nose, etc.  Yogurt (rufu) 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 L., Cervidae.  Musk.  native.  NaErMoShiQi

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 (Lev 2002).

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.  Tu.  Rabbit brain is used in a couple of recipes.

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.

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.  Tail fat used.

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

Li:  Luci.  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.


Phalacrocorax spp., Phalacrocoracidae.  Cormorant gall bladder.


Physeter catodon, Physeteridae.  Ambergris.  AnBoErXiang, LaDan. Morocco, Anbarhorr.  Long-yang.  Hu 1228.

Avicenna:  Hot and dry.  Useful for elderly for mild warming. Scent cheeering.  Musk used in womb fo displaced uterus, swelling, menstruation, and general health.

Medieval Near East:  Sore throat, heart diseases, paralysis (Lev 2002).  Heating (Nasrallah 2007:644).

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.

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.  Sumāna, 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.

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 medicinallyi.  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” (p. 44106-4107, citing Liu Wansu; as neat a definition of sympathetic magic as exists in the literature).  Many other uses.


Scorpion.  Mentioned in contents as being in lost food section.

Avicenna:  Burnt for dissolving hard masses in urinary tract, also kidney stones.


Sepia esculenta

Medieval Near East:  cuttlebone used for skin, tooth, urinary tract (Lev 2002).

Levey:  Zubd al-baḥr.  Salve for skin spots, and for teeth and gums.

Lev and Amar:  dental uses.  Skin diseases, gums, teeth.  Hot and dry.

Li:  Wuzeiyu.  Flesh minor uses; cuttlebone very useful for huge range of conditions, prepared in various ways.

(It is basically a concentrated source of available calcium.)


Shellfish.  Unidentified “shellfish,” as well as oyster (species uncertain), mentioned.

Avicenna: shells for various reasons.


Snake.  Unidentified snakes mentioned for medicinal or magical uses.

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.  Unidentified species mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.

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.  Mentioned in contents as being in lost food section.


Struthio camelus, Struthidae.  Ostrich.  Mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.


Swallow.  Unidentified species mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.


Syrrhaptes paradoxus, Pteroclidae.  Pallas’ sandgrouse.  Mentioned in one HHYF recipe.

Li:  Tujueque.  Sweet, hot, nontoxic.  Invigorates and warms.


Trimeresurus sp., Crotalidae.  Viper.

Not in our sources.  (Common today at least as a warming food in winter.)


Turtle.  Unidentified species mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.

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.  Unidentified species mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.

Li:  Red fox, V. vulpes, Hu.  Sweet, warm, nontoxic.  Many uses for various parts.  The countless folklorice 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.  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.  Unidentified species mentioned in Index in the section on food; presumably its value as a medicinal food was discussed.

Li:  Siberian weasel, Mustela sibirica, youshu, 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 (Lev 2002).






Lev and Amar:  ‘aqīq.  Dispels fear, stops bleeding—mainly of women.  For teeth, gums.


Alkaline (what?) BiKa

Possibly borax, bauraq.

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.



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” (Gunther 1934:643).  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., and 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.  Sour and nontoxic; various forms have different values.  Huge range of uses.



Li:  Hupo.  Sweet, plain and nontoxic.  Correct origin known.  Various uses.


Aluminum oxide  Probably an error; has no medical activity or reputation


Armenian bole (“Armenian mud”)

Avicenna: “Armenian stone” 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” (921).  Good for respiratory tract incluidng 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.)



Li:  Shitan.  Fuel; few medical uses.


Copper & copper powder

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” (Gunther 1934:628).

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, skn. 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:  Tongkuangshi, ore; tongqing, verdigris.  Minor, mostly topical uses.

(Most users recognize the danger of these highly toxic metallic chemicals.)



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

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, iron; teixiu, tieyi, ferric oxide; many other iron preparations.  Vast range of uses.

Ferric oxide mostly external use, on sores etc.


Glauber’s salt, residue of



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 ore

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.



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

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

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” (p. 629).  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.  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)

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:  Mituosengi.  Like other lead salts, which it follows in the book, this was used for a range of purposes, including dysentery, hemorrhoids, other intestinal conditions.



Li:  Lüfan.  Sour, cool, nontoxic.  For inflammations, stagnation, dispelling phlegm, etc.  Several pages of preparations.


Mica  MuBuXin


Naft (naphta or crude oil)  Mentioned in Lev and Amar (p. 553) but not in their texts. Local use in Arabian medicine.  No significant use in Chinese medicine.



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.)



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, etrc.  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 (rock salt).  Used in many preparations for varied reasons. .


Silver and silver residue

Avicenna:  Silver, fiḍḍah.  Cooling and drying.   Minor external uses.

Lev and Amar:  fiḍḍa.  Ski, 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.)

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.



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:  Shiliuhuang.  Sour, warm/hot, toxic.  Many uses, mostly in formulations.

(Well-known skin medicine.)


Zinc oxide

Avicenna:  sifīd āb; external uses for wounds, swellings.

Lev and Amar:  tūtiyā.  Eyes.


One recipe mentions what seem to be burnt vitriol, “red potash alum” (a mix powder?), and a totally mysterious andarūn (possibly for andarini, a form of salt) among things to put on blood vessel wounds (p. 32, juan 34).

Lev and Amar have many uses for vitriol and related compounds.





See also Index list; only plants with transcriptions in Chinese are below.


Hong Jie Zi (red mustard) Hong XiPanDan


JieZi (mustard…?) XiPanDang.  Egyp. Xardal


MiJian HuiHui  MuMiNa


Qūqiya pill:  one recipe early in Juan 12 mentions this; the dictionary gives “narwhal” which is more than improbable.  Not identified.


XiYu Yunxiang (“Western coriander”)  MaSiTaQi

The transcription of Arabic makes this appear to be just another name for mastic.  That gum is sold in grains that vaguely resemble coriander fruits.


YuanJieZiGen (a mustard root) DaErShiShiAn


Zi Hua, “purple flower.”  Frequent mentions, but there is no plant by this name in Chinese medicine.  Probably the violet Viola yedoensis, Zihuadiding, q.v. above.  Just possibly it might be purple seaweed (Zicai), or some other plant.



Some mixes


Cinnamon, Nardostachys, Allium, rue/fenugreek  AyaLaZhiFaYiHaLa


Pill with Egyptian balsam  HaBuLiBaLaShan (i.e., Kabuli balsam)




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, 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.

Lev and Amar: az.fār t.īb.  Used for skin, wounds, purgative, emetic, menstrual regulation, uterus, epilepsy, paralysis, etc.


Natron (Arabic bauraq, nat.rūn):  widely used in the west; see Lev and Amar.



Appendices:  Tables and Comparisons


Foods in Table of Contents; starred ones not mentioned in the main text that survives.

From Dr. Buell’s Translation.





Domestic Ox

*Wild Ox

Domestic Donkey

*Wild Donkey



Mountain Goat



*Old Wolf [Unidentified]


[Ar.] Zi’b [Jackal]

*[Pr.] Nakhjīr [? unidentified]


*[Ar.] Ārnab barri [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.] Uf’a al-Òayya Snake [Viper ?]

*[Ar.] tamsāŸ  [Crocodile]

*[Ar.] irbā’ [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.] ÿalīm [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 (Levey 1966:32-34):

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 (Levey 1966:198-200):

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 (Levey 1966:220):

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, 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 (2000:275-276) provides the following numbers:

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 1992).  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 exceedingly 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 (Laufer 1919).

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.

However, in most cases, the genera are the same but 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 by about 14 centuries, 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 the vast majority of 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 (see Laufer 1919; Schafer 1963):  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.  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


*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


Atractylodes spp. (A. lancea, A. chinensis, A. japonica).  Zangshu


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


*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


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


*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


*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


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).

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 with Real or Pobable Medical Effect Besides Low-level Stimulant and Soothant VCalues


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 [Motley 1994])

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)

Ref from Frederick Dannaway:

Mechoulam, R. 2008. Incensole acetate, an incense component, elicits psychoactivity by activating TRPV3 channels in the brain. The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Aug, 22(8):3024-34

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)

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)

Solanum nigrum (deadly nightshade; toxic effects include some mental ones)



Also, lead and arsenic compounds are called for.





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The Historical Context of the Huihui Yaofang

November 15th, 2014

The Historical Context of the Huihui Yaofang, a Yuan Medical Encyclopedia



“A table without vegetables is like an old man devoid of wisdom.”

–Medieval Arab proverb, quoted Ahsan 1979:13


Some general reflections

Medical practice is part of culture, and thus influenced by all the factors that influence culture.  Everyone knows this now, but evaluating the relative influences is difficult.

The general view taken in the present work is that medicine is the result of a great number of people trying their best to fix perceived individual, personal, and demographic problems of living and functioning.

One question concerns “normal” versus pathological or “abnormal” (Canguilhem 1991).  A given culture, or its medical establishment, establishes ideas of what is normal, what is healthy, what is acceptable, and what curing is possible.  These may define, or may be defined by, the “pathological” and the “abnormal.”  Statistical norms may be quite different from health goals.  We generally accept the fact that the average life expectancy is below the potential life expectancy.  In preindustrial societies, the average life expectancy was around 30.  Human potential life expectancy is over 80 (possibly 90-100).  Which is normal?  What, therefore, is pathological?  Obviously a person dying at 80 in a preindustrial society would be far from “normal” for that society, but would be less “pathological” than the normal!

Statistical norms are not health.  All cultures realize that there are deeper issues here.  Let us briefly consider universal human experience.  All persons, at some time, rather suddenly begins to feel awful in one way or another, and to find they have trouble doing what they usually do with ease.  They then usually recover after a few days, weeks, or months; sometimes they never recover; often they decline and die.  Among the commonest problems, worldwide, are respiratory difficulties; digestive and eliminative problems; sudden pains; rashes; sores; disabled limbs; wounds and other traumas; and bites, stings, and poisonings.  The causes of many of these are obvious; an arrow in the leg, a dog bite, or a bruise from a fallen rock are easy to explain.  (The victim may add a belief that someone bewitched the rock to fall on her, but that is a different question.)  Genetic conditions were less easy to spot, but following family genealogies for any length of time demonstrated the existence thereof.  The causes of respiratory and digestive upsets and sudden internal pains are less obvious.  Psychologists have shown that humans feel a need to understand and explain what is happening to them (it gives some sense of control, or at least some hope), and thus it is no surprise that most cultures have theories of illness.  No one imagined anything like bacteria or protozoa before Leeuwenhoek, and even then it was not till centuries later that people imagined such organisms could cause disease, so cultural theories in the days before laboratory science had to do without such causal agents.  The obvioius suspects included, in the classic Hippocratic formulation, “airs, waters, places”; as well as witchcraft, invisible miasmas and contagions, obscure poisons and things that potentiated poisons, and similar abstract entities.  Humans have been astonishingly creative in explaining disease, because they were desperate to find cures, and one reasonable way to find a cure for something is to figure out what causes it and then block that cause.  Unfortunately, this led to treatments based on logical deduction from inevitably flawed premises.  The history of medieval coping with bubonic plague epidemics is instructive: usually the first recourse was to kill unpopular minorities (they must have been performing evil magic), followed by prayer and ritual.  Then came various herbal and spice cures, some of which actually had some effect.  Finally, truly effective methods—notably quarantine—were invented.  Plague was quite well controlled long before Pasteur and Yersin identified the true causative agent (the bacterium Yersinia pestis).

The main alternative—trying all kinds of plants, animals, minerals, and manipulations in hopes that something might do some good—is what actually worked, and so a wide range of highly effective biological and mineral drugs were known many millennia before science could explain why these worked.  Thus traditional medicine had its causal theories, usually far from biomedical findings, but also had a vast range of empirical remedies, usually founded on something related to biomedical realities.

In talking about illness and health, we are talking about set-points culturally defined, and not always agreed on even within one culture.  My idea of health may be less ambitious than my wife’s.  Some humanistic psychologists of the 1960s had serious goals for mental health beyond the wildest dreams of the psychiatrists of today.  We have greatly tempered our expectations as experience has taught us that we cannot fix everything.

This line of thought is most relevant to the HHYF when we consider what was meant, in those days, by “treating” or “curing” a condition.  With the medicines available then, few illnesses could be “cured” in the modern biomedical sense.  People had to be satisfied with symptomatic relief, or even with nothing beyond counterirritation to make them forget their initial problem.  (Acupuncture may do no more than that.)  Many herbal drugs of medieval times work well, but most are greatly inferior to modern drugs in actual healing power.  Persons of that time might then say they were “cured” when a biomedical doctor of today would say only that they had had symptomatic relief, or that their condition was improved enough to let nature do the rest.

The “normal” would have included a good deal more grief than we think is normal today.  On the other hand, the many folk and traditional remedies for things we now find very difficult to treat—from cancer to infertility—show that hope was very much alive.  People did not give in.  They refused to bow to the repeated failure of their remedies, and they refused to regard such conditions as too “normal” to be treated.

My experience with traditional Chinese and Maya medicine is that many or most common remedies work appreciably, in biomedical terms, but are usually less effective than biomedical drugs.  The Maya learned to use large quantities of many herbals, knowing that sooner or later something would probably help.  In the small area I study, some 350 species of plants and animals are used medicinally.  The common ones have almost all been shown to work, at least a tiny bit, in biomedical terms (Anderson 2003).  This medicine was far less effective than modern biomedicine, but was a great deal better than nothing.  To give some figures (see Anderson 2003, 2005), infant mortality in rural Quintana Roo in the 1930s ranged up to 50% in remote communities.  It is now around 5-10% and falling fast.  Without even Maya medicine, it would almost certainly have been well over 50%.  So traditional medicine brought it down to 50% or a bit less, and certainly did better than that, before the Spanish brought in new diseases (notably malaria) against which the Maya had no defense.  Modern medicine has almost eliminated the other 50%.  Traditional Maya medicine for adults was more effective than for infants.

The medieval Chinese and Near Eastern cases were probably comparable.  One remembers a cautionary note:  many observations in the Middle Ages suggested that prayer worked better than doctors’ medicines.  This is less a comment on the power of God than on the kind of medicine purveyed.

Christianity, Islam, and Daoism alike taught that one should endure suffering as nature’s or God’s way, but practically no one seems to have lived by that fatalistic rule if they could avoid it.  The Muslim medical books in particular are full of justifications for treating what some might consider to be Allah’s will.  Muhammad himself, according to reliable traditions, advised practicing medicine.  He or his followers pointed out that God may have made the illnesses but He made the remedies too, and they were presumably made to be used.

A fascinating insight into how people viewed traditional Galenic medicine and its rivals is found in Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1932, orig. 1651).  Burton compares Galenic cures of all sorts with philosophy, religion, and other disciplines, admitting that none cured his lifelong depression.  Some helped more than others.  He maintained an open but rather skeptical mind.  He discusses at length not only these treatment modalities but the ways they were viewed at the time.  One suspects that Near Eastern and Chinese patients had similar thoughts.


In this book and all my work in medical anthropology, I use the term “western medicine” correctly:  to cover the medicine of the western world, including the Hippocratic-Galenic tradition and its relatives, often blended with magic and faith-healing, that have dominated the west for almost all of history.

The use of the phrase “western medicine” to mean modern laboratory-based biomedicine is a serious mistake.  Western medicine is, by all standards of linguistic usage, the medicine of the west—i.e., the above.  Biomedicine was international from the beginning.  It resulted from the confrontation of European medicine—itself largely derived from the Near East—with the different but obviously valuable traditions of Native America, East Asia, South Asia, and Africa in the Age of Discovery and later.  It developed largely in France and Germany, but with international teams.  Both Pasteur and Koch had Asian students.  Europeans based in or widely experienced in overseas colonial locations were also important from the beginning, and they drew on local expertise wherever they were.  It was and is a truly international field.  There is nothing particularly “western” about it, except for the unthinking tendency within it to propagate western ideas of “man vs. nature” and “man the machine.”  These two attitudes are not really part of biomedicine in the way that laboratories and chemistry are; rather, they are pathologies that it has had to overcome (and it has a way to go).  The rather authoritarian doctor-patient relations characteristic of biomedical practice, and sometimes blamed on “the west,” are actually fairly characteristic of all medicine everywhere, including shamanic healing in ancient North America.

This being the case, calling biomedicine “western” is obviously an outrageous bit of racism and colonialism.


Going Back in Time:  Early history of the medical traditions in the HHYF

The history of Near Eastern medicine begins in Sumer and Egypt.  What little is known of early Mesopotamian medicine consists largely of religious formulas and texts, including magical spells, though contagion was recognized and many herbal and other remedies—some at least effective—were known (Bottéro 2001; Potts 1997).  Many of the foods later used in healing were already known (see Potts 1997:56-90), and at least some were used medicinally. Egypt is better known, through about a dozen detailed and important papyri ranging from over 1500 BC to around 200 AD.  Unfortunately, major problems with understanding the disease and drug names prevent full incorporation of these very ancient traditions in medical history.  Egyptian herbal drugs, however, can often be identified (Manniche 1989; Nunn 1996).

Ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian medicine has been accused of being largely magical.  This seems broadly true for the former.  Most of what we have from Mesopotamia is prayers and spells.  We have some herbal lore, and excellent editions of rather late culinary texts (Bottéro 1995).  All these are empirical enough.  Several Babylonian and even Sumerian drug names carry over into Arabic (Sumerian TAR.MUSH for lupine, Arabic turmus; Sum. A.BAR  for lead, Arabic abār; Akkadian, Arabic for “onion,” and so on; Levey and Al-Khaledy 1967:29).  Wormwood was already used in Akkadian medicine, plantain in ancient India and Egypt, and of course cannabis has been used for various reasons since time immemorial in India and Central Asia (Levey and Al-Khaledy 1967:43).

One of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time was Henry Layard’s 19th-century find of the library of the Assyrian kings at Nineveh (see Van De Mieroop 2007:261-265).  Thousands of cuneiform tablets were neatly ranked on shelves, arranged by topic, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to religious texts to economic documents.  This is the earliest true archive and the earliest true library that is well known (although certainly far from the first in history).  The importance of the invention of archiving cannot be exaggerated; archives and libraries made civilization possible (Posner 1972).  But the medicine reflected in the vast Nineveh library is of the magical kind.

The dominance of magic in Egypt has been exaggerated.  Many medical papryi exist, and reveal an extensive and generally pragmatic pharmacopoeia (Manniche 1989; Nunn 1996).  Minerals and herbs were important, and many of the identifiable ones are medically significant, usually being carried over into later practice.  Most are effective for the stated purposes.

These problems of interpretation also make it impossible to calculate the influence of Mespotamian and Egyptian medicine on the development of Greek medicine.  Estimates of influence range from overwhelming to near zero.  In regard to Egypt, it is probably best to trust Herodotus, who was there and knew what he was talking about.  He saw major influences on practice, especially pharmacopoiea and (proto-)epidemiology, but does not seem to have detected much influence on theory per se.  This may be an accident of preservation, however, for there is no surviving evidence for Egyptian medical theory; the medical papyri are practical manuals or magical spells.  Theophrastus also tells us a great deal about Egyptian plant use, and surely the Greeks—always quick learners—adopted whatever knowledge they found useful (cf. Craik 1998:6).

No Greek stepped forward to provide a similar account of dependence on Babylonia.  Major influence surely occurred, but we have little idea what it was, beyond knowledge of herbal drugs, magical spells, and general considerations of pathogenic entities.  Influences from these ancient realms did not clearly shape the Hippocratic-Galenic medicine that appears in the HHYF, and thus need not be addressed in detail here.

Ancient Greek medicine achieved highly sophisticated scientific status at a quite early time (Phillips 1973).  Most of our knowledge is, naturally, of the Hippocratic tradition (Craik 1998; Hippocrates et al. 1978) which eventually triumphed over all competitors, but we are aware of many other related traditions that vied for place.  (For some of these, in relation to Chinese medicine, with possibility of mutual influence not totally ruled out, see Unschuld 2009.)  Medicine seems to have been especially developed on the coasts and islands of the Aegean Sea.  Hippocrates came from Cos, an island otherwise noted largely for its superior variety of lettuce, which he no doubt enjoyed.  (Now called “Romaine,” it is said to be the oldest variety of vegetable in the western world, having been good enough to hold its own against all later comers.)

Hippocrates, and, in general, the doctors of his time, worked with “regimen”:  diet and lifestyle.  They advised on food, exercise, rest, exposure to airs and places, and the like.  They used drugs only when necessary.  Surgery was left to specialists; ordinary doctors did not do it.  The original Hippocratic oath included a clause that the doctor should not poach on the surgeon’s territory by attempting to operate.  We will meet this emphasis on regimen again.  It is very clearly shown even as far afield as the Mongol Empire (see Buell, Anderson and Perry 2000).

We do not know how much of the humoral tradition is owed to Hippocrates, but by very early times the Greek medical system became based on the wider idea—found in Aristotle and elsewhere—that there were four elements: earth, air, fire, and water, and four qualities:  hot, cold, wet and dry.   Earth is cold and dry, fire hot and dry, water cold and wet, air hot and wet.  This was to be applied to medicine, the final synthesis being effected by Galen (see below).

Among competitors to the Hippocratic-Galenic tradition, Soranus stands out.  He was a methodist, meaning that he preferred to stick to meticulous observation rather than to received wisdom or to the theoretical speculations that were becoming dominant in the Hippocratic school and would soon triumph in the work of Galen. Soranus used lower-level hypotheses and midrange theory, but sedulously avoided grand theorizing.

Soranus’ work on gynecology survives (Soranus 1956), and is an amazing document.  Most of the descriptions and recommendations would do credit to a modern text.  Received wisdom falls to observation in almost every section of the book.  Soranus disproves folklore about how to tell if an unborn child will be male or female, if a freckled woman is an unfit mother, and on and on.  Only a few wrong-headed ideas get grudging provisional acceptance.  One was the belief that a baby can be marked by what the woman sees or eats at conception, or during pregnancy.  It is still worldwide; Soranus reported it without enthusiasm but without denial.  One can only wonder what would have happened if methodism had triumphed.  We would have been spared a vast amount of nonsense.  On the other hand, it seems that the human mind needs theories and explanatory models as surely as the eye needs light.  In any case, Soranus’ meticulous attention to observation of detail and recording of fact clearly influenced the future course of medicine, not least in the Near East.

Another, less medical, tradition that died from Galen’s attacks was Asclepides of Bithynia’s corpuscular theory (Unschuld 2009; Vallance 1990).  This held that the particles of being were not indivisible, but could be subdivided, presumably indefinitely (like space or distance).  Atomic theories tended to prevail instead.

Greek medicine was imperfect enough to lead Cato the Censor to claim it was “a Greek conspiracy to murder foreigners,” and Pliny to quote a common epitaph “He died of a crowd of doctors” (Parsons 2007:178).  Medieval observations that praying over a sick person was more effective than doctors’ medicine were probably all too true.  One could survive the prayers, but the medical treatments were often enough to kill the healthiest and strongest.

The problem was not so much the Hippocratic-Galenic tradition itself, with its sensible directions about food and exercise.  The problem was the increasing elaboration of toxic drug mixes, bleeding, cupping, and other damaging therapies. Europe, with its tradition of driving devils from the sick, was worse served, and one wonders today how anyone survived premodern doctoring there.  However, the Near Eastern world was spared the worst of this by the Arab and Persian medical emphasis on comfort and enjoyment.  Thus the medicine transmitted to China in the HHYF was a fairly “heroic” sort, but not downright deadly.


Greece to Near East

We sometimes forget that much of Greek medical research and development took place in what we would now call the “Middle East,” specifically Asia Minor.  Both the two physicians who most influenced Near Eastern medicine came from there.  Rufus—by far the less important of the two, but still a presence seen in the HHYF—came from Ephesus.  Galen (130-200), the overwhelmingly dominant, hailed from Pergamon (modern Bergama), where for a time he served in a huge medical academy.  Much of it still stands.  The skyline of Bergama is dominated by the enormous marble columns of the Aesculapius temple, which became the core of what would even today be an impressively large medical school.  Photographs are found in Susan Mattern’s excellent biography of Galen (2013, following p. 168).   It lies downslope from the old Roman hilltop town, but above the modern town, which developed around the market.  One can imagine Galen walking down the hill to that huge, raucous market at the hill’s foot, and revelling in the incredible variety of foods and herbs there.  (Alas, he would not have found the unexcelled tomatoes, green beans, chiles, and squash that abound there now; they came long after his time, from a continent unimaginable to him.)

Galen was a contentious, intensely proud man, but also a caring and  responsible doctor, who apparently healed effectively (Mattern provides a wonderful picture of the man).  He upheld his view of Hippocratic medicine against rival schools, notably the Methodists and Empiricists, who were much less theory-conscious.  (He was also aware of Christianity, interestingly; he thought its ideas rather silly but its lifestyle commendable; Mattern 2013: 171-172).  He was a superb anatomist, used to dissecting animals (even live ones) and also defunct humans; he may have once vivisected a human criminal.  However, he is notorious for having assumed that humans had certain features we now know to be restricted to pigs; the Renaissance anatomist Vesalius caught him out in several mistakes of this sort (Mattern 2013).

Though Galen spent most of his life in Rome and other Italian venues, he remains a link to the East.  Later figures often came from or lived in what is now Turkey and Syria.  So to a large extent the transfer from “Greece” to “Islam” consisted of Islamic takeover of formerly Greek lands.  Teachings were still alive.  Moreover, ancient manuscripts (possibly forgotten by the Greeks) often turned up as buildings were redeveloped.  North Africa, specifically Alexandria, was also a great center of medicine. Egypt’s very extensive medical knowledge had already influenced Greek learning for centuries (as Herodotus noted in the 5th century BC). Euclid wrote his Elements in Alexandria, with the benefit of Egyptian surveying knowledge.

Under the later Roman Empire the traditions essentially fused.  The famous library contained at least 400,000 books at peak around 48 B.C., after which the wars of Caesar and then Octavian versus Mark Antony began to take a toll.  Roman wars destroyed the library, and the famous Arab destruction in the 600s A.D. merely finished off a small remnant (see e.g. Kamal 1975:37-38).  The role of Egypt in Greek knowledge, and of southward parts of Africa in Egyptian knowledge, is still extremely controversial.  Suffice it to say that the Greeks themselves admitted freely to learning much from Egypt, and that Egypt’s southward connections are thoroughly proved by archaeology.  The extreme Eurocentric theories of Greek knowledge are wrong.  Exaggerated claims for Egypt’s centrality (going back to Grafton Elliott Smith’s [in]famous “heliocentrism” and more recently exemplified by Martin Bernal’s Black Athena, 1987), however, do not stand up, nor do W. Perry’s claims for Mesopotamia as origin of everything (Lowie 1937).

Galen is most famous for his thorough systematization of the theory that the most basic need in the body is balance between heat, cold, wetness, and dryness.  He argues for this in terms similar to those I have heard today from folk practitioners of traditional humoral medicine.  Excessive sun or fire damage the body, so similar illnesses (fevers, rashes, sores) seem to be from excessive heat.  Moreover, putrefaction generates heat, as in piles of “seeds [presumably, decaying fruit is meant] or faeces” (Galen 2006:160), and of course in infected wounds.  And of course “passion [is] a seething of the heat around the heart” (Galen 2006:161).  Excessive cold damages the body—Galen describes hypothermia well (Galen 2006:165).  So illnesses that look like the effects of hypothermia seem to be from excessive cold; such things would be weakness, pallor, inaction, failure to move actively, and low body temperature.  Similarly for wet and dry.

His theory of humors has influenced medicine for almost 2000 years, and thus is worth quoting in his original formulation:  “…yellow bile is hot and dry in capacity, black bile is dry and cold, blood is moist and hot, and phlegm is cold and moist.  And sometimes each of these humours flows unmixed, but sometimes mixed with others, and the conditions of swollen, indurated and inflamed parts, in consequence, vary still more” (Galen 2006:169).  Cooking or burning could change one humor to another:  phlegm to blood, blood to yellow bile, yellow bile to black bile (a final endpoint, like black charcoal from wood; see Dols 1992:19).  Black bile was added late to the system—early texts have only three—but black bile was needed to fill the cells in the grid (Mattern 2013:53).

Yellow bile is ordinary bile or choler, and excess of it leads to the physical and behavioral signs we still call “choleric.”  Black bile is the foul mess of dead blood and other such effluvia that collects in the bile duct and nearby intestine in severe cases of malaria, hepatitis, and similar conditions.  Contrary to some claims in the literature, it is not imaginary.  It was all too common and visible in the malarial old days.  Excess of it made one melancholy, a term used more widely than today.  A melancholy person was thin, pale, weak, sad or even mentally disturbed, and despondent about activity.  This would certainly be true of anyone with such severe hepatitis or malaria that they accumulated black “bile,” and it could also cover the effects of chronic tuberculosis or viral infection just as well as simple mental illness.

Excess of blood made one “sanguine,” and in greater excess downright manic.  Phlegm—which was not only mucus but, at least in later times, any watery discharge—made one, of course, phlegmatic.  Carl Jung correctly pointed out that these conditions may be bad physiology, but they are pretty good psychology.  Galen and his followers knew personalities well.  Not for nothing do we still talk about sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholy personalities.

Galen’s medicine was by no means limited to hot, cold, wet and dry.  He saw any imbalance as important.  He was, of course, acutely aware of simple physical accidents—broken bones, bruises, cut-wounds, and so on.  He was an expert on digestion, and was fully aware of the relative digestibility of many foods and the obvious inadequacy of the hot-cold-wet-dry model to explain this fully (Galen 2000, 2003).  His experience, as well as older theories, taught him that excess or deficiency of flow or openness was as bad.  Overdilation and overconstriction could come from humoral imbalance, but could come from physical damage or other factors.  Overgrowth or undergrowth of tissues was also of obvious etiological significance.

Like Hippocrates, he recognized contagion, but gave it a minor place, apparently seeing it as occurring only when corrupted airs affected a susceptible body.  He saw, or at least Muslim Galenists thought he saw, the spirit as divided into a hot dry vital spirit; a cold and wet psychic spirit; and a hot and wet natural spirit, as well as animal, vegetable, and rational components to the intellect (Nasr 1976:161).  He also recognized “semitertian” and tertian fevers, i.e. malaria—identifiable by their climaxes every second or third day.  Tuberculosis and leprosy also are fairly clearly described in his writings (Mattern 2013:119-121).  He fled from—but described—the horrific plague of 168, which may have been smallpox (Mattern 2013:200).  He recognized that the womb did not wander around the body (as in classical ideas of “hysteria”) but did give it a certain mind of its own, as well as recognizing it could become inflamed and infected (Mattern 2013:233); later Arabic medicine, following Galenic tradition, used effective treatments for these conditions.

In general, his theory was one of balance along many dimensions.  This idea may have come from the ideas of the mysterious Alcmaeon of Croton (Johnston in Galen 2006:15), and, even farther back, from ancient Egyptian ideas of superfluity and corruption (Dols 1984).  Later ages simplified it, often cutting out all but the hot/cold dimension.

It is important to note that this was a theory based on the total body, and on a global imbalance of its normal components (Canguilhem 1991:40)—as opposed to, for example, a theory of medicine based on alien “germs” that invade the body and secrete poisons there.  Galen’s “normal” is a perfectly balanced set-point—the set-point differs for individuals according to their humoral consistency, the climate and land they inhabit, and their immediate environment.  It is a personal ecology.  Today’s“germ theory” normal is a body without alien invaders.  We now see normality as defined in a whole community ecosystem.

Galen’s enormously extensive writings cover common foods and their values, all common symptoms of bodily problems of any sort, anatomy, physiology, illness classification, and everything else a working doctor might need in the 2nd century.  He also spent a great deal of effort attacking other schools for their oversimplification, naivete, and failure to speculate about causes.  He himself was fascinated (almost obsessed) with cause, following Aristotle in differentiating various meanings of the word (Galen 2006, including Johnston’s introductory and concluding materials).  In particular, he concerned himself with ultimate causes and proximate ones.  Just as a sword cut was caused immediately by the sword but ultimately by the anger of the sword-wielder, so an illness could be the result of a whole chain of causation.  Galen’s thinking on this was incisive, wide-ranging, and fascinating (Galen 1997, 2006).

George Foster distinguished between “naturalistic” and “personalistic” theories of medicine.  The former ascribe illness to natural, impersonal forces.  The latter blame it on persons:  often human sorcerers, but more often on supernatural persons.  Biblical medicine, and thus much of the medical lore in the Judeo-Christian world, notoriously blamed illness on devils or unclean spirits, or saw it as God’s punishment for sin.  Devils and witchcraft rose in popularity in the European Medieval period; the peak of belief in these was in the 15th and 16th centuries, not in the middle ages.

To all these, Galen’s eminently naturalistic medicine was a wonderful counterfoil (see e.g. Dols 1984:23), saving the Near East (and, to a much lesser extent, Europe) from the full horrors of a medicine that led only to judgmental attitudes toward the sick, beating the “possessed,” and praying over the “punished.”  Galenic medicine was never eclipsed by personalistic theories, even at the folk level, though it was almost eclipsed by religious healing in Europe and had to compete with it in the East (Nutton 1985).  Significantly, some medieval European commentators actually compared prayer with doctors and found prayer more effective—a telling comment on the level of doctoring.  It is also significant that recovery from illness was often seen as a “miracle” in that age, and that many were sainted simply because patients sometimes failed to die under their care.

Paul Unschuld (2009) has stressed the scientific nature of ancient Greek medicine, notably the Hippocratic-Galenic tradition.  This medicine early rejected supernatural explanations, especially the idea that sickenss was due to the arbitrary will of a god or spirit.  Instead, the Hippocratics, climaxing with Galen, developed a medicine based on actual natural laws or principles, thought to be unchanging and all-prevailing.  This contrasted with both supernatural healing and the mere empiricism of many (if not most) of Galen’s rivals.  Unschuld (like many others) sees systematization and lawfulness as the true definition of science, including medical science.  One might argue that even assembling empirically tested remedies is a bsic activity, and usually implies some knowledge of medical science, but certainly the development of a systematic medicine based on fundamental principles is a major achievement.  It had influence in proportion.

Another advantage of Hippocratic-Galenic medicine was put in direct form by the Arab Galenist al-Rāzī (d. 925):  “If the physician is able to treat with foodstuffs, not medication, then he has succeeded.  If, however, he must use medication, then it should [as much as possible] be simple remedies and not compound ones” (cited Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007:115).  This was excellent advice then.  It is excellent advice now.  Indeed, advice to this effect is very common today, and is demonstrably continuous with Hippocrates’ advice as transmitted through Galen and the Near East.

Unfortunately for medicine over the succeeding centuries, Galen was systematically wrong.  Galen’s conclusions about ultimate causes are best typified by his speculations about balance of hot, cold, wet, and dry.  He did the best he could with the material at hand.  Faced with the formidable task of explaining physiology (and psychology) without microscopes, chemical analyses, or any other modern technologies, he made the best guesses possible.  Indeed, rashes, burns, sores, and irritated membranes do look like burns, and so for the rest.  Alas, all that was proved is that, in the words of H. L. Mencken, “there is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible and wrong” (Mencken 1920:158).

Galen’s other causal speculations are closer to truth, because closer to direct observation.  Inference, especially the most seductively plausible, is a necessary step but a dangerous guide.  Galen was also so dogmatic that he helped give the word its modern meaning; he called himself a Dogmatist, meaning a theorist as opposed to a mere empiric, but he was indeed dogmatic about his positions.

Yet, reading his works on causes (Galen 2006), one is extremely impressed by their scientific spirit.  He tried to build on existing theory and test it against his enormously rich and thorough clinical and experimental observations.  He tested and rejected most of the theories of his time.  He did not mindlessly accept even the work of his idealized forebear Hippocrates.  His work on lovesickness also seems rather modern (Wack 1990); it was carried forward and augmented, with the rest of his medical lore, through succeeding nations and centuries, and influences us still. (Lovesickness continued to be important in Arabic medicine, and thence to Europe; Vilanova 2011; Wack 1990.  But it never reached China, where similar ideas of excessive romantic passion existed but were conceptualized and treated quite differently.)

Galenic medicine is the greatest proof of Thomas Kuhn’s point (Kuhn 1962) that a theory never dies until superseded by a better theory.  Galenic medicine was seen to be shakier and shakier as centuries rolled on, but nothing better offered itself.  Galen had provided a comprehensive, rational, naturalistic, thorough, and beautifully organized system, extremely valuable for organizing, remembering, and systematizing medical knowledge of all kinds.  No one could do without it until Koch and Pasteur in the 19th century radically changed the medical world for all time.

One may wonder, today, what would have happened without Galen.  Western medicine would not have had comprehensive theories; it would have been left largely to religion, secondarily to the “methodics” and “empirics” who tied together systematically-recorded observations with a minimum of theorizing.  Asian medical traditions would have developed without the powerful Greek influence.  Only recently has the full impact of Galen’s medicine on Asia become clear.  I have noted the fact that  the court doctor to the king of Tibet in the 8th century was a doctor from “Rom” (i.e., the Byzantine empire) calling himself “Galenos” (Garrett 2007)!   Galenic medicine continued to flourish in the Indian subcontinent, and still does today, under the name “Unani” (from Arabic and Persian yūnānī, “Ionian,” i.e. Greek).  It is officially recognized in India and Pakistan, and has a large literature, including many of the medicinals added long after Galen’s time.

So Galen’s naturalism survived, and eventually had much to do with the triumph of a scientific medicine in and after the 17th century.  It saved Europe from falling into personalistic religious theories.  In fact, and somewhat ironically, modern biomedicine is actually more personalistic, since it puts so much emphasis on contagion—allowing people to blame friends for colds, lovers for STD’s, and enemies for biowarfare.  Biomedicine also finds place for “stress,” typically blamed on spouses or coworkers or “modern life,” although the actual scientific evidence for social stress as illness-causer is, to say the least, equivocal.  Later Galenic medicine also had a place for imbalance brought on by stressful interpersonal situations.

Galenic medicine spread throughout Asia and eventually throughout Europe, Latin America, and most of the world (Anderson 1987, 1996; Foster 1993).  Cold (sardi), hot (garmi), wet and dry continue in modern Iranian folk medicine (see e.g. Benham 1986), as they do in Mexico, China, and almost everywhere between.  It even influenced music.  In the European Renaissance, melancholy was identified with the bass voice, phlegm with tenor, sanguine humor with alto, and choleric with soprano.  Masses were written accordingly—the sad parts in bass, for example (Boccadoro 2005).

Many Galenic ideas persist today even in biomedicine-drenched Western society.  Most of us, worldwide (literally!), were told in childhood not to get our feet wet, because we would get a cold, or a headache if the cold in the feet drove heat upwards to the head.   Most of us learned not to go out with wet hair, so as not to “catch our death of cold.”  Also, Galenic medicine led to the belief that seafood and dairy products cannot be eaten together, both being very cold.  This belief existed by the time of Jahiz in the 9th century and was propagated by Avicenna (Avicenna 1999:404-405).  He notes that “Indian observers and others” taught us also to avoid milk with sour foods and sour milk-rice following barley meal.  The belief about dairy and sea foods was taken very seriously by my school friends in Nebraska in the 1950s, and in Italy in 1988 a waiter refused—with dramatic gestures—to bring cheese for my wife to put on her seafood pasta.  Others have had this experience too.

Even today, psychology continues the Galenic tradition.  The current personality theories (four-factor or five-factor) are straight out of Galen’s four temperaments.  The “pathological” is a set of extremes derived from ordinary brain functioning, just as Galen said, and we still use his words for some of them.  Depression, for instance, is now popularly seen as “melancholy” gone out of control due to oversecretion, not of black bile, but of serotonin, with undersecretion of dopamine.  And we still call them “neurohumors”!  Truly, Galen has a long reach.



The other great tradition in Greek medicine was herbal pharmacology.  The first herbal we know is that of Aristotle’s student Theophrastus (1926, orig. 4th century BC).  It is concerned mostly with food and wood, but has a long section on medicinal plants.  More serious was the work of Dioscorides (Dioscorides 1937; Pavord 2005; Riddle 1985).  Pedianos Dioskurides, said to come from Anazarba in Cilicia, was a soldier who saw service widely in the Roman Empire.  During his soldiering career in the 1st century AD, much of it apparently as a medic, he collected herbal lore.  Eventually he wrote it up, producing one of the most amazing botanical achievements in history.

Galen had also been a fine herbalist, good at identifying counterfeits as well as at identifying and using real medicines (Mattern 2013, esp p. 100).  He advises doctors to know rural and village remedies thoroughly, and to know what to do on a sea voyage, in case they were caught far from home without medicines and needed to treat someone (Mattern 2013:110).  He used theriac, which already included dozens of ingredients, ranging from vipers to opium.

Dioscorides classified the plants by form, within that by general use, and within that tended to put obviously similar plants (e.g. Ferula and relatives) together.  He also classified plants by function—by the particular healing qualities they exhibited—as pointed out some years ago by John Riddle (1985).  Thus plants that look and taste very different, and are far apart in Linnaean taxonomy, were placed together if they had similar action on the body.  It was an Aristotelian mode, echoing and drawing on Theophrastus—useful and folk-like rather than formal or theory-driven.  Dioscorides remained the standard herbal for centuries, and is the ultimate fons et origo for the herbalism of the HHYF, as Galen is for much for its medical theory.  Surely few, if any, men have influenced humanity more than these two.  Their systems reached beyond bounds of religion, ethnicity, time, and geography; virtually everyone on the planet today has been at least indirectly influenced by their collections of medical knowledge.

Unlike early Chinese herbals, his herbal is soloidly empirical, with clear, demonstrable, well-grounded effects specified for the plants.  In many—possibly most—cases, he was right, or at least plausible, in his recommendations.  In many, he was wrong, but his mistakes can often be explained by the resemblance of the plant to a more effective one, or by simple, plausible assumptions, such as the idea (nearly universal in the world) that yellow-flowering or yellow-leaved plants cure jaundice.  He uses Galenic humoral classification, but only occasionally does he fall back on deducing from it the presumable curative value of a plant.  By contrast, Chinese herbals routinely classified plants according to yang and yin, fivefold correspondences, and magical qualities, and tended to deduce curative value from these.

Many of Dioscorides’ remedies remained officinal well into the 20th century, and are still used in folk and household medicine—as in my household and millions of others.

A rather dramatic example of the closeness Greek and Chinese medicine is the argument between Dioscorides and Galen about coriander.  Dioscorides, active around 40-80 CE, argued that it is cooling, being a bit astringent.  Galen, however, later held that it is warming, because it feels warming in the mouth and is carminative and digestive—spicy, in fact.  Galen certainly has the best of this argument, but mouthfeel standards.  In any case, the Chinese had exactly the same argument over time—and I have heard it myself, when I asked Chinese consultants about the plant!  Both the fruits and the leaves are up for discussion.  Most Chinese herbals follow Galen and use the same arguments.  It is extremely hard to believe this is not direct influence; the medical uses surely spread with the plant.

Galen also wrote much about pharmacology, and did not indulge in Dioscorides’ flights of taxonomic speculation; Galen therefore proved more useful in immediately succeeding centuries, though Dioscorides triumphed hands down in the Arab centuries.  Galen classified plants by qualities, and indicated the strength.  Plants ranged from hot, cold, wet, or dry to the first degree—barely perceptible in effect—to the fourth, dangerous to all but the strongest constitutions.

Another early source, differing considerably in detail from Dioscorides and Galen but covering plants found in those books, is the Alphabet of Galen.  In spite of the name, it has nothing to do with Galen, and may actually be earlier or at least draw from earlier traditions.  It is highly empirical, including even less magic than Dioscorides.  The entries are very brief, and many of them say the plant or drug in question is “known to everyone,” so it is evidently a memory-prompt for practitioners, not a useful general field manual like Dioscorides’ book.  There are no detailed recipes.  This book has now been issued in a superb modern bilingual edition by Nicholas Everett (2012), and it is actually a cheap paperback.  An affordable first scholarly edition of a medieval text is an amazing innovation in medical literature!  Unfortunately it is of little use to us here, since the entries are too brief for much comparison with the HHYF.

Herbal wisdom shows lukewarm Byzantine and Syriac interest followed by very active Islamic interest.  Byzantine pharmacology, like its medicine, was fairly stagnant.  At least the great Greek sources, and their scientific attitude, were preserved and even somewhat supplemented (Scarborough 1985a).  Its best was exemplified by Oribasius (325-403; like Galen, from Pergamon, and naturally a total Galenist), Alexander of Tralles (525-605), and especially Paul of Aegina (625-690)

Dioscorides’ herbal (Greek, 1st century CE) contained a few hundred plants—over 1000 substances in the expanded edition of the early middle ages.  Oribasius took about 600 from Galen (largely On the Powers of Simple Drugs) and added a few more.  Arab versions eventually included thousands.  Near and Middle Eastern folk medicine, based largely on Greek in recent centuries, contains thousands more.

Around 854 AD, Dioscorides was translated into Arabic, supposedly by a Christian Syrian named Stephanos working under the great translator Hunayn ib Ishāq (Pavord 2005:94).  (There were already herbals in Arabic, recording more indigenous traditions; see Nasr 1976:187.)  In 948 A.D. the Byzantine emperor presented a beautiful Dioscorides edition to the caliph in Cordova, and later a Greek monk, Nicholas, came to help translate it into Arabic; this allowed translation of plant names not familiar to Stephanos.  Derivative works from this were made by Ibn Juljul of Cordova in 982 and ca. 987 A.D. and Ibn al-Nadim of Baghdad, also around 987 A.D. (Sadek 1983).  Both built on the Stephanos-Ishāq version.  Further translation efforts were made from time to time (see Sadek 1983).  Countless books were made based on these; virtually every medical writer in Islam seems to have felt it necessary to do yet another offtake.  Many of these added local herbs.

Such important medicines as camphor, musk, senna (cassia, the laxative), myrobalan (from India), and sal ammoniac entered the pharmacopoeia (Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007:120). Greek narcotics such as opium and henbane remained in use (Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007:128-129).

Antiseptics included wine and later—probably—distilled alcohol; rose oil (a surprisingly effective antiseptic); herbal preparations including many members of the laurel and mint families; and resins like frankincense and myrrh.  All these are quite effective, if not usually up to modern levels of effectiveness.  Some, such as thyme, are still with us; thyme oil has been used recently in some hospitals where staphylococcus and streptococcus strains resist everything else.  Note their common use in food, which clearly had at least as much to do with preventing spoilage as with adding good flavors.  (The ridiculous myth that spices were added to cover up the taste of spoiled food has it exactly wrong; spices were added to prevent the spoilage of food, and worked very well indeed.  They also improve nutrition; see Anderson 2005).

The herbal tradition climaxed in the enormous section on materia medica in Ibn Sīnā’s Canon, and in “the manual by Ibn al-Bayt.ār, which ws an alphabetical guide to over 1,400 medicaments in 2,324 separate entries, taken from his own observations as well as over 260 written sources which he quotes” (Savage-Smith et al. 2011:214).

Longer and more impressive than herbals were actual guides for compounding drugs; herbals listed simples.  The books on compounding, aimed at physicians and pharmacists, were known in Greek as graphidia, “little pieces of writing.”  The word graphidion became aqrābādhīn in Arabic.  The HHYF is basically a giant aqrābādhīn, but nothing could be farther from a “little” piece of writing.  The three chapters we have fill 500 pages (in the Chinese), and they are only 1/12 of the total.  Thus the original may well have run 6000 pages.

Kamal’s dictionary of traditional Islamic medicine (1975) cites a number of relevant items.  Kamal cites Avicenna on fattening foods, for instance:  Almonds, hazelnuts, nigella, camphor, pistachios, cannabis (presumably the seeds), and pine seeds.  Make into pills and take with wine.  These are not only fattening but aphrodisiac!  (Kamal 1975:117).  Conversely, slimming can be aided by centaury, birthwort, gentian, germander, parsley, sumac, and other herbs (p. 118).  He gives a whole section on compounds (pp. 164-189), as well as sections on diseases, cauterization, and other relevant matters.


The Near Eastern Connection

During the western “Dark Ages,” the Near East was anything but dark.  Of the medieval Near East, Strohmaier (1998:148) says:  “It is significant that the many-faceted scholars who took up medicine never seem to have done so in a superficial manner.”  Philosophers, statesmen, theologians like Moses Maimonides, and even slave girls (if we are to trust the Arabian Nights), knew medicine in detail.

Galenic medicine naturally centered from the beginning in Alexandria and the Greek east.  Alexandria was home to Paul of Aegina, the 7th-century doctor who was most important in preserving the Galenic legacy in Byzantine times.  But Alexandria declined after Christianity entered the area and eventually was eclipsed.  Byzantium and Syria continued to be pivotal.  The Byzantines were less than innovative, and preserved Galenic medicine virtually unchanged.  Never has such a powerful and mighty civilization contributed less to humanity, especially in the areas of medicine and similar sciences (on this and related points, Gibbon 1995 [1776-1788] is still the best).  The few studies of Byzantine medicine turn up little that is new.  The one good comprehensive volume in English is a collection of papers edited by John Scarborough (ed., 1985); some of the papers attempted a revisionist critique of the classic Gibbonian position, but the data in the book are all too clearly in accord with Gibbon.  Medicine continued to be practised, and in some areas (notably veterinary; Scarborough 1985b) it flourished and advanced.  But Galen and his forebears still reigned supreme.

Worse, Christianity influenced by Neo-Platonism taught stoical acceptance of disease and reliance on God rather than medicine (Nutton 1985), leading to a relative decline of medicine in much of the western world.  Islam, in spite of its counsel of “surrender” (islām) to God’s will, was to provide a contrast that could not have been more dramatic.  Muhammad and his followers made it clear that surrendering to God’s will meant making use of His provisions for us, including curative ones.  It did not mean giving up.  This led the caliph Al-Ma’mūn in the 8th? Century to stress the cultural superiority of the Arabs to the Byzantines, credit it to religion, and hold—not without reason—that “the Byzantines had turned their back to ancient science because of Christianity, while the Muslims had welcomed it because of Islam” (Gutas 2011:204).

Galenic medicine thus became the established medicine in Syria, a major center of Byzantine life and thought.  Galenic texts were translated into Syriac, and Syriac doctors became the elite practitioners all over the Semitic Near East.

Greek penetration in the Near East was very long and deep.  With the decline of the Roman Empire, Galenic medicine nested in Syria, Anatolia, and Arabia.  Greek was always the core language, since Galen himself was Greek and wrote largely in that medium, but by the 6th century Syriac was important.  Syriac is close to Arabic, and thus translations could easily be made when the rise of Islam made Arabic the chief language of the Near East.  Greek and Syriac civilizations slowly interpenetrated after Alexander the Great’s time.  Eventually they fused.  Greek science, philosophy, and theology was translated into Syriac.  From at least the mid-6th century onward, Greek medicine was transferred eastward to Arabia and Iran via Syrian practitioners (Nasr 1976:173 lists some of these).  Syriac was the initial language of transfer, but Greek, Iranian, and Arabic became common.

Hospitals evolved in the Byzantine world after 200 or 300 AD.  Called nosocomia, “sick-houses” (whence our term “nosocomial infections”), they were the first true hospitals in the world.  It was this which the Arabs discovered when they conquered northward from the desert.  (Syriac medicine is little known and less translated; see Budge 1976 [1913]—it is revealing that a source from 1913 is still standard.)  The Arabs adopted this tradition, including the hospital, and greatly added to it; “it is evident that the medieval Islamic hospital was a more elaborate institution with a wider range of functions” (Savage-Smith et al. 2011:212).

Rufus of Ephesus, Soranus, and even obscure Greek magic-and-charm doctors were well known.  The great Byzantine encyclopedist Paul of Aegina lived long enough to hear of the rise of Islam—assuming he was well posted on the news.  His work was to exert a major influence on Near Eastern medicine and thence on the world.

After Nestorianism was condemned as heresy in 431 AD, Nestorians moved from Constantinople and Syria to Iran, and were instrumental in founding the Jundishapur (Gundeshapor; “beautiful garden”) medical university near what is now the Iraq-Iran border (Elgood 1951:45-50; Foster 1993).  This medical university had Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian and other faculty, and of course Islamic ones after Islam rose to power in the 7th century.  Teaching was through lectures, readings, and clinical sessions, with apprenticeships similar to modern internships.

This has often been claimed as one of the greatest medical schools in the history of the world, but it seems actually to have been a minor station; it owes its subsequent fame to legends, reinforced by the Bukhtīshū’, a Nestorian family who came from there to Baghdad and became leading medical writers and practitioners.  It now appears that Gondeshapor was only one center among many, and that hospitals, medical schools, and translation activities were widespread in the Greek and Syriac east (Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007:20).  However, it was clearly important; Pormann and Savage-Smith (2007:80) quote a ninth-century book and other sources that speak of it as the most prestigious source of physicians.  Supposedly Muhammad’s own personal physician was trained there (Isaacs 1990:342).  Besides the Bukhtīshū’, the great doctor al-Masawayh had roots there.

From this time on, odd bits of Greek lore drifted into Near Eastern languages and sources, as what Ullman (1978:24) called “erratic blocks.”  (We use this concept to deal with the same phenomenon in medieval China; see Buell, Anderson and Perry 2000.)  Often these were incomprehensible, because the Greek terms were not understood, or useless, because the Near Easterners lacked Greek items or institutions; instructions for how to exercise in the gymnasium, for instance, were wasted.  This did not mean there was no exercise; the Iranian “house of strength,” a comparable institution, probably had its ancestral forms by this time, and the Arabs had their field exercises.  More useful were Greek works on wine and its value, which managed to get translated in spite of Islamic rules!

Repeating the many good histories of Near Eastern science and medicine is unnecessary here (see Campbell 1926; Elgood 1951, 1970; Freely 2009; Goodman 1990; Iqbal 2007; Isaacs 1990; Meyerhof 1984; Nasr 1976; Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007; Ullmann 1978).  We need only pick out themes, including the spectacular internationalization of Near Eastern medicine after 600 A.D., which obviously set the stage for the Mongol transfers of medical knowledge.

Arab medicine before the rise of the Islamic caliphates was a rather chancy affair, if one is to believe Manfred Ullman (1978).  Ullman records such remedies as camel urine, and says that “a woman who has only produced still-births” should trample “the naked corpse of a noble man killed either by treachery or the result of a blood feud” (Ullman 1978:2).  One sees why the Arabs were so quick to adopt state-of-the-art medicine, i.e. Greek medicine, when they met it in Syria during their imperial expansion.  Some of the depressing folk cures were later fathered on Muhammad, but, very fortunately for humanity, Muhammad was actually of a quite scientific and inquiring turn of mind, and established high standards of cleanliness, sanitation, empirical medical practice, and above all the direction to “seek knowledge even as far as China.”  (This hadīth is not the best attested, but fits the character of the man, and I see no reason to doubt it.)  The Arabs had a large body of excellent instructions on hygeine from the Quran and from the traditions (hadīth) of Muhammad (see e.g. Moinuddin 1985:54-55).

The Prophet was an astonishingly health-aware man for his time and place, and his words provided a solid framework for medical science.  His direction about China opened the door for Greek, Iranian, and, of course, Chinese medical knowledge.  (A sidelight on him, and on Islam, is his hadith “In the sight of Allah, the best food is food shared by many.  To eat…alone is to eat with Satan; to eat with one other person is to eat with a tyrant; to eat with two other persons is to eat with the prophets (peace be upon them all)” (Moinuddin 1985:54).  A related proverb, “when you sit in good company, sit long, for Allah does not count against your life the time spent in good company,” has recently been essentially confirmed by medical science; people live longer if they have enjoyed warm sociability, and the life extension actually is proportional to the time spent involved in pleasant socializing.  This accurate observation, along with the Arab realization that pleasing tastes and sensations aided healing, should be remembered in all that follows.

Pre-Islamic Persian medicine was apparently a good deal more organized and developed.  Zoroastrianism involved many purification rituals, some more pragmatically useful than others.  Filth and putrefaction were banned from human presence.  Hospitals and medical schools apparently existed (Elgood 1951:12).  On the other hand, washing with urine was typical (Elgood 1951:15).  Dogs were considered pure, and contact with them could cleanse defiled humans (Boyce 1979; Elgood 1951:9), but the danger of rabies was well recognized.

Fortunately, Muhammad had spoken favorably of medical practice, so the Near East was generally—but not always—spared from the Christian advice not to go against God’s will by treating illness (see Nutton 1985).  Nor did Muhammad look favorably on the wonderful wandering community of gyrovagues, holy fools, divine madmen, drifting magicians and charm-dealers, qalandars, and other roving and demented healers who seem to have populated the Greek and post-Greek East in uniquely large numbers (Caner 2002; Dols 1985, 1992; both give delightful anecdotes).  They continued in Islamic times, fusing with the Sufi movement, but were never viewed with enthusiasm.  Medicine was serious, scientific business.  After the Mongol period, magic and religious healing increased at the expense of scientific medicine in the Islamic world, but Muhammad’s relatively high standards still held in much of Islam.

On the other hand, in the Near East, as in the Roman Empire, Galenism had to compete with the fatalistic belief that God sent illness and was the only one who could properly cure it.

Serious appropriation of Greek science, including medicine, into the Islamic world began when the Ummayad caliphate consolidated control with a capital in Damascus.  Contrary to some accounts, a major interest in science developed by the early 700s in the Ummayad realms (Dallal 2010:14).  Individuals began to sponsor translations from Greek, usually via Syriac.  The Syriac-speaking population of greater Syria had absorbed Greek civilization from long centuries of Byzantine rule.  Doctors were highly literate and sophisticated—apparently fully integrated into the Greek cultural world.  They soon found that the job of translatiing from Syriac to Arabic was easy compared to going from Greek to Syriac, and set to work.  Multilingual scholars included at least some who also knew the Persian languages (Dallal 2010:15; Gutas 1998).

With the triumph of the Abbasids and their establishment of a capital in Baghdad, medical activity centered thither. Baghdad was a central location.  It was founded around 760 A.D. by Caliph Al-Mansur.  The famous Harun al-Rashid ruled there 786-809.  He founded a great hospital, with live music to soothe the inmates and even—wonder of wonders—carefully prepared and supposedly excellent food.  Good food was believed to be medically important, since soothing and delighting the senses was held to be curative—a point confirmed by modern medical research, if to a lesser extent than the Arabs believed.  Modern hospitals should certainly take note.  (On the sophisticated and excellent cuisine of the age, see Ahsan 1979; Rodinson et al. 2001.)

Music, too, was properly seen as therapeutic.  One medical work—supposedly a Greek one, but probably a Syriac or Arab creation—is known from an Arab version in 815 AD.  It recommends music for mental conditions (and evidently others), for reasons that go back to Pythagorean ideas:  “…music…convey[s] to the soul…the harmonious souinds…of the heavenly spheres in their natural motion….  [W]hen the harmony of earthly music is perfect or, in other words, approaches the nearest to the harmony of the spheres, the human soul is stirred up and becomes joyful and strong” (Dols 1992:168-169).  This reached to our Central Asian focal area of interest.  By the 10th century, music was seen as part of metaphysics and important at cosmic, physical, and spiritual scales.  “Here, the Greek notion of the harmony of the spheres meets the Iranian concept of the influence of the celestial bodies and the impact of sound on the individual” (Lawergren et al. 2000:598).  Musicians were among the craftspersons moved all over the empire by the Mongols, and popular musical styles and usages must have diffused widely.

Hospitals—which abounded by the 900s and 1000s and were excellently appointed—continued to have high-quality live music at least into the 17th century, where the Turkish writer Evliya Chelebi observed it along with flowers used for visual relief and aromatherapy (Dols 1992:173).  While not mentioned in the HHYF, this strong tradition of sensory therapy is vitally important to understanding Near Eastern medicine, and is echoed in at least the taste values of the HHYF.  While the medical theories go back to Pythagoras, the development of a full sensory-therapy medicine seems to be an Arab and Persian creation.

Also noteworthy is the singular lack of blaming the victim in Islamic tradition and medicine.  Illness is a test by God, often to challenge the strongest and most faithful to display their faith.  It is not usually a punishment for sin or a result of foolish personal choices—though the results of excessive eating and drinking were all too well known, and inevitably led to some victim-blaming.   (Both sensory therapy and “innocent until proven guilty” attitudes deserve more serious consideration today.  Western medicine is heavily influenced by the belief that medicine was punishment by devils for sin, and had to be as unpleasant as possible, to punish the sinner and/or drive devils out of the body.  This has carried over, far too often, into contemporary biomedicine and psychotherapy.)

Valuable in the rise of medical knowledge was Islam’s adoption of paper, said to have been learned from Chinese prisoners of war taken at the Battle of the Talas River in 751 (Hill 2000:273).  This famous Arab victory stopped China’s expansion in Central Asia and contributed to the decline of the Tang Dynasty.  By around 1000 A.D., water mills were being used for papermaking (as noted by Al-Bīrūnī, of whom more below; Hill 2000:273-274).  This was the first known use of watermills for any purpose other than grain-milling.

Much of the transfer of Greek knowledge into Near Eastern civilization took place under the Abbasid dynasty (Al-Khalili 2010; Freely 2009; Goodman 1990; Kennedy 2004:253-260).  The Abbasids were of Iranic origin, and thoroughly eclectic in their learning, wanting to counter the dominance of Arab culture as advocated by stern traditionalists (Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007).

Jabir ibn Hayyan (fl. 721-776) developed alchemy from Greek roots, and we trace modern terms like “alkali,” “antimony,” “alembic” and “aludel” (the last two being the upper and lower parts of a simple laborator still, respectively) to his usage.

A Christian Baghdadi, Yuhannā ibn Māsawayh, was instrumental in founding the Arab tradition.  He was famous in Europe in later times as Mesue (from the Spanish Arabic pronunciation of his patronym; alternatively Mesue Senior, to distinguish him from a somewhat less eminent descendent).  His father had been trained at Gundeshapor and emigrated to Baghdad.  Mesue wrote original books as well as translating from Greek.

One who studied with Mesue was Hunayn ibn Ishāq, another Christian (Nestorian) Arab.  He became a major translator of Greek texts in the early 9th century (Goodman 1990; ibn Ishāq 1980).  He translated through Syriac, because it had a long history of developing scientific terms based on Greek; one assumes that his influence led, in turn, to development of scientific Arabic.  Most of his translations were into Syriac alone, but he translated many into Arabic, with extreme care and detail (Isaacs 1990); his students, and eventually other medical writers eventually finished the latter task.  He also wrote introductory texts in a question-and-answer framework to introduce Greek ideas to the Arab world.  These have a certain amount of information about herbals and compounds, including the famous theriac, a mysterious and hotly debated Greek compound.

The philosopher Al-Kindī (9th century) had much to do with this, translating and writing treatises on much of the Greek learning, which led to his title “the Arab Philosopher.”  (To the Arabs of that time, the Philosopher, par excellence, was Aristotle, so the phrase means “the Arab Aristotle.”).  He supposedly produced 265 works.  The Hippocratic-Galenic view was harmonious enough with Islamic cosmology and worldview to be accepted enthusiastically (Nasr 1976:159).  Most of the translators were apparently Christian or Jewish (Lewis 1982).

Translation continued on a large scale, and the results were distributed widely.  Many works from the Hippocratic-Galenic tradition, as well as other Greek scientific traditions, survive only in Arabic.  (Many, but not all, exist in modern editions; several were published by Cambridge University in the 1970s).

Local medical works soon followed, such as the famous medical formulary of Al-Kindī (800-870; Levey 1966).

Baghdad was a truly international city, not least in its intellectual reach.  Thus, many other medical traditions fed into the stream.  Many scholars summarized classical Indian medicine (Al-Khalili 2010; Hamarneh 1973; Ullman 1978:20), as well as other Indian influences coming via Persia.  Native medicine of the northern and northwestern Near East, including that of the Nabataeans (Hamarneh 1973:104), was also incorporated into the growing tradition.  None of these displaced Greek thinking from primacy, but they progressively added to it and reshaped it.  The role of Indian thinking, in particular, needs reassessment. Africa played into the mix in ways as yet hardly touched by historians.

Outlying areas were not neglected.  An early “where there is no doctor” work was that of the Christian physician Qust.ā ibn Lūqā (820-912; Bos 1992), whose medical guide for pilgrims to Mecca indicates how well-integrated Christians and Muslims were in that time.  In proper Hippocratic-Galenic fashion, he provides diet and regimen instructions, including directions for sexual health.  Meal, barley, biscuits, sugar, and fruit are recommended, as well as easily-digested protein foods.  Oils such as rose oil are valuable for the body (indeed they are, in the desert).  The traveler is directed to be careful to avoid fatigue, which could compromise resistance to illness.  The book is famous for providing an early discussion of the guinea worm (Dracunculus medinensis), then identified with Madina, now with Africa, where it is being rapidly eliminated today.  Bos provides comparsions with Greek sources that show the author often simply carried the Greek straight over into Arabic.

Popular works made medicine widely available; such things generally disappear from the record and we never know they existed, but we have the keepers of the amazing Cairo Genizah to thank for saving a few scraps of Hebrew popular medicine along with the tens of thousands of other documents there (see below, and Isaacs 1990:348-351).  The Thousand and One Nights tales also include popular medical lore along with so much else from the popular urban world of medieval Islam.

After this, however, translation of medical or any other materials from the Greek (and, indeed, all foreign languages) almost stopped.  There are few major translations of scholarly lore into Arabic from 1000, and virtually none after 1200, until post-medieval centuries (Goodman 1990; Lewis 1982:76).  Al-Ghazälī gets too much of the credit for checking the progress of Arab rationalism through his conversion to mysticism and traditionism and his consequent argument against rational philosophy (see e.g. Diyäb 1990; Goodman 1990); he merely happened to be the greatest thinker of the last great period of medieval Islamic thought.

The flow reversed; a trickle through Moorish Spain and Sicily quickly became a flood, and Arab works—including Arab translations of Greek texts—swept into Europe, reshaping its culture dramatically.  The Muslim world, however, isolated itself for some time, with translations rare and translators mostly of Christian or Jewish background—often immigrants or captives (Lewis 1982).


The High Tradition in the Near East and Central Asia

All this led to a spectacular period of medical activity from 800 to 1300.  It was overwhelmingly Greek in background, but Syriac, Arab, Persian, Indian, and even more remote influences were incorporated. Baghdad gradually lost leadership; Egypt, Iran, and Central Asia became important.  A grand and unified tradition arose.  After 1200 it declined, with little new being added. Europe took over the mantle of leadership, as the region reeled under the blows of invasion, war, plague, and other factors.

Iran rapidly grew as a medical source area, though Iranian medical men often had to go west to flourish. Haly Abbas—Ali ibnul-Abbas al-Majusi “the Magus,” 10th century—was one such.  He wrote a huge treatise on medicine that remained standard until Avicenna’s Canon appeared; Haly Abbas’ work was still considered valuable enough to be translated into Latin, and it had much influence on Europe.

Central Asia for a while was actually the leading intellectual center of the entire world (Beckwith 2013; Starr 2012).  A center of Buddhist thought and science, its conversion to Islam led to an intellectual explosion, as Greco-Arab science from the west met Indian, Chinese and indigenous science in Central Asia.  From Buddhism came the organized, rigorous recursive arguments that later became standard scholastic method in the western world, and also the idea of the college—the Buddhist vīhāra became the Islamic madrasa (sometimes a building was simply converted from one to the other) and eventually reached Europe as the college, an institution first seen in the late 1100s after intense Islamic contacts (Beckwith 2013).  Indian science entered in several forms, including translations of major Indian astronomical and mathematical works (see Beckwith 2013:81-85).  Among worldwide benefits from this, perhaps the most important and well-known is the borrowing of the Indian numbering system, including zero, and the conversion of Indian written numbers into Arabic and then modern numerals.  More to our task in the present book is the translation of several Indian medical works, including the great and basic Caraka-samhitā and Suśruta samhitā, into Arabic in the eighth century (Beckwith 2013:82). The epochal mathematician Al-Khwārizmi had much to do with this; as his name suggest, he came from Khwārazm, roughly modern Uzbekistan.

Through these central Asian contacts, the Arabs drew on Indian civilization with enthusiasm, picking up everything from the concept of zero to medical treatises on, for example, the “404 diseases” recognized by Mahayana Buddhism (Martin 2006).  Indian and Chinese medicine somewhat influenced Near Eastern, but remained almost invisible compared to the Greek heritage.

Central Asia  is of obvious special concern to us in this work.  Its great doctors generally went to Baghdad, or at least to the Near East, in early times; thus ‘Ali b. Sahl Rabbān al-Tabarī (d. ca. 864), author of the Paradise of Wisdom (a notably early medical text), went west to seek his career.   After the glory days of the Abbasid peak, medicine flourished in Central Asia with such leaders as Abū Bakr al-Rāzī (865-925). Al-Rāzī (Rhazes, 850-923) stands out as a judicious critic, who wrote on everything medical or related thereto.  His work on measles and smallpox was still read in Europe in the 19th century, having been translated early (Turner 1995:135-136).  The great polymath Al-Kindī also wrote on medicine (Beckwith 2013:86). A large number of other medical writers flourished under the Samanid dynasty in the region (Richter-Bernburg and Said 2000).  Medical writings were appearing in the New Persian language by 980 (Richter-Bernburg and Said 2000:303).

Most famous of Central Asian medical writers was the polymath Avicenna (Abū ‘Ali Ibn Sīnā), the “Prince of Physicians” (980-1037; see Avicenna 1999, 2012, 2013).  He was probably the greatest of all medieval medical and philosophical synthesists.  He was also responsible for propagating the Buddhist recursive argument form in the Islamic world (Beckwith 2013).  He was so revered that one of his personal copies of Galen (in Arabic) has been preserved (see illustration, Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007:42).  His enormous literary corpus includes the Canon of Medicine (1999), which defined medicine not only in the Islamic world but, later, in Europe also, for centuries.  It was a straightforward reworking of Galen, Paul of Aegina, and their tradition.  He considerably extended the humoral medical tradition, mostly from logical extension; the book is notably lacking in case studies, and there is little evidence of his having been a working physician on any scale; he was a scholar and theorist (Álvarez Millán 2010; though for a less negative take see Starr 2012).  The book is in five parts, dealing with general principles and definitions; simple drugs; illnesses; other conditions (from fevers and tumors to wounds, fractures, and poisons); and compound drugs.  It will be noted that this organization is not dissimilar to that of the HHYF.  We have, for instance, the HHYF section on wounds and fractures.

Relevant to the HHYF are passages on the differences of constitution and temperament caused by different climes; people of damp countries are “obese and have a soft and smooth complexion” and are easily tired (Avicenna 1999:210), mountaineers are “brave, strong, and have a long life” (Avicenna 1999:211).  He contributed importantly to the theory of sulphur and mercury as basic chemicals, and he saw that transmutation of base metals into gold did not work (Abdurazakov and Haidav 2000:235).  More specifically, his directions for treating ulcers (Avicenna 1999:537-540) are related to those in the HHYF, but quite different in detail; the HHYF is not drawing directly on him.  He treated 590 medicinal plant substances involving 400 species, essentially the same as Dioscorides’ total (Abdurazakov and Haidav 2000:236) and with a very similar list of plants.  Some are Chinese or Indian in origin (Richter-Bernburg and Said 2000:318); he was quite willing to add to the Greek pharmacopoeia.

Avicenna shows concern especially over food.  A theoretical question concerns how food is digested and converted into human form (Avicenna 1999:220).  This question exercised many great minds in ancient times; it was not obvious how a growing young person changed bread, meat and wine into bone, muscles and nerves.  Avicenna did not pretend to know, but thought that the abstract qualities and character of the food were what mattered, allowing direct translation of the mere material substance.  He classified foods not only as hot, cold, wet, and dry, but—following Galen—as rich or poor, light or heavy, wholesome and unwholesome.  Interesting is his focus on wine; he discusses its values, qualities, and uses at enormous length in many parts of the book.  This, of course, is purely Greek; Muslims in those days drank a great deal of wine, but were not supposed to admit it, let alone to talk about the many virtues of the drink!  (It is true that Iranians like Avicenna had the Zoroastrian wine-loving tradition to draw on, and that is probably relevant here, but the specific instructions in the Canon are, as usual, Galenic.)  Avicenna knew a good deal about anaesthetics such as opium (Avicenna 2013:403-404), and other effective herbal remedies, and had good advice on regimen, including regimen for travelers under harsh circumstances.  He seems to have been more theorist than clinician, but well aware of clinical realities.

Al-Bīrūnī (Abū Rayhān Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Bīrūnī, 973-1048), another Central Asian polymath (from Khwarazm, his original language being the Iranic Khwarazmi), produced a medical formulary with 1116 drugs discussed; 880 were medicinal plants, 117 minerals, 101 animals, and 30 compound remedies (Abdurazakov and Haidav 2000:236).  It was in alphabetic order by drug name in Arabic, and provided synonyms in Syriac, Greek, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Persian, Soghdian and sometimes other tongues, as well as description, literary references, uses, and varieties (Saliba 1990:420).  He is much better known for his works on mathematics and geography (Al-Khalili 2010), but his work on medicine was influential and important (see also Beckwith 2013; Starr 2012).

Ibn al-Haytham (965-1039), another Central Asian, contributed to optics, understanding that vision depends on emanations from objects that define the form of the latter (rather than emanations from the eye, reflected from the object, as Aristotle and his followers thought).  This understanding led to considerable development of scientific optics, including understanding of the rainbow, and was eventually influential in medieval Europe, where Roger Bacon and others knew Ibn al-Haytham’s work at some remove (Al-Khalili 2010; Hill 2000:260).

The Bakhtishu’ family of physicians contributed much to herbals.  Ibn Bakhtishu’ (d. 1058) wrote a book “on the usefulness of animals,” following Aristotle’s zoology.  It survives in a beautifully illustrated 13th century edition of a Persian translation (see Komaroff and Carboni 2002:142, 244).  The illustrations, like other art of the time, were greatly influenced by Chinese art; this was the period of the Mongol information superhighway, and art styles flowed even more readily than medical knowledge.

Among the many later medical writers in the area, we may single out Zayn al-Dīn Ismā’īl b. al-Husayn al-Juzjānī (c. 1042-c. 1140).  He has been called “Ibn Sina’s most influential follower” (Freely 2009:90).  Writing in both Persian and Arabic, he made Khwarazm a center of medicine after 1100.  His work was highly influential on medicine in Europe and the west as well as central Asia.  He compiled an encyclopedia, the Treasury Dedicated to the King of Khwarazm, based on Ibn Sina’s Canon (Freely 2009:90).  This work may very well be particularly important as an ancestor to the HHYF.

Related to medicine in that it shows a major knowledge of biological technology is the early use of oils in painting in Central Asia; the earliest use of oil paints in that area is at Bamiyan.  European use of oil paint (not counting animal marrow in prehistoric cave art) came later (Holden 2008).

Unfortunately, Central Asia, world leader for half a millennium in almost all intellectual pursuits, declined in the 1100s and was utterly devastated by war and disease in the 1200s and 1300s.  The Turks and then the Mongols did a thorough job of ravaging a land that had never been very well governed.  The rulers of Central Asia were rarely equal to their philosophers and scientists, and in any case a realm consisting of far-scattered oases in a vast desert is not easy to hold together.

After the 1200s, the Little Ice Age hit the formerly flourishing economy very hard, and the Silk Road—already declining after the fall of Tang in 907—was eclipsed by the steady rise in sea trade, of which the Portuguese explosion in the 1400s was only the final culmination, not the origin.  Central Asia was never to rise again, and remains, of all places on earth, the one that has fallen farthest.  Afghanistan, once one of the most brilliant regions, now ranks at or near the top on lists of the world’s most troubled nations.

Frederick Starr (2012) and Christopher Beckwith (2013) agree that much of this was due to resurgent puritanical right-wing Islam, especially as advocated by the brilliant and troubled Central Asian theologial Al-Ghazālī (1058-1111).  I find it hard to believe that an ideology, and especially a single ideologist, can devastate a region for centuries—though we have the baneful effect of Marxism in Russia and China as modern exemplars.  I would respectfully point to the other factors, especially the decline in Silk Road trade as China and India went through waves of war and conquest (often—ironically—by Central Asians).  The brilliant ferment that came from Greco-Arab and Buddhist civilizations meeting was lost forever.  In Europe, however, it began at the same time Central Asia fell; Beckwith (2013) rightly compares the effect of Arabic and Islamic civilization on Europe with the effect that western culture had on Japan after the Meiji Restoration.  But that is largely outside our purview here.


Moving back from Central Asia to the Near East, among many important works by Muslim Arabs we may single out Ibn al-Jazzār’s Provisions for the Traveller and Nourishment for the Sedentary (10th c?), because it is now well-known in English thanks to the exemplary work of Gerrit Bos (e.g. 1997, 2000).

Abd al-Latīf al Baghdādī (1162-1231) traveled from Baghdad to Egypt, observing it in 1200-1202, during a time of plenty followed by a low Nile flood that led to massive famine.  Perhaps a third of the population died.  His great book The Eastern Key (1964) describes the enormous feasts of the good years, when a recipe for a light picnic lunch requires four whole sheep baked into three pies.  It then describes the horrific deaths of the year of Nile failure in what is still one of the best descriptions of famine in all literature.  The mass death allowed al-Latīf to observe that the jawbone is one bone, not made up on two bones as Galen held.  This was a rare triumph of observation over dogma in Arab medicine.

Ibn Rid.wān also wrote of Egypt, noting, among other things, that wheat and other grains grew quickly there but also quickly rotted in storage.  He correctly realized that this was due to the hot, damp climate, and assumed that humans would do the same, since they not only lived in the same climate but lived on the grain and thus absorbed its nature (Mikhail 2011:204).  The principle of “early ripe, early rot” was well established in medicine of the time.  He and other doctors were also aware, in spite of the Islamic dubiety about “contagion” (see below), that Nile water could carry disease if dead animals and sewage were thrown in it (Mikhail 2011:204-212). Ibn Rid.wān also anticipated modern good sense in advising peopple to “choose foods that were new, fresh, firm, and solid,” including “the most recently caught fish” and meat from “young animals that had been allowed to graze freely on fresh grass” (Mikhail 2011:213).

Other triumphs included clear descriptions of diseases.  Hippocrates and Galen were still struggling to figure out which symptoms were significant and which were not, leaving us puzzled today at their descriptions of epidemics.  The Arabic literature thus gives us the first identifiable descriptions of smallpox, measles, hemophilia, and other clinical entities (Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007:56).

Syriac Christian medicine continued to flourish and developed as part of the same stream.  Oddly, our only complete translation of an encyclopedic medieval Near Eastern medical work is Wallis Budge’s translation, now over 100 years old, of an anonymous and obscure Syriac manuscript he found in Mosul (Budge 1913).  He thought it was from the 12th century, but the medicine seems more similar to that of the 13th and 14th—at least the prescriptions are very similar to those of the HHYF and its Near Eastern contemporaries.  The manuscript consists mostly of an excellent, thorough summary of medieval Galenic medicine, to which was added a long astrological and meteorological treatise and a short section of folk cures.  The latter are strikingly different from the first section.  The first section is typical of the elite Galenic tradition of the time.  The last section runs heavily to outright magic and to brief cures based on dung, carcasses, urine, menstrual fluid, and other classic ingredients of magical folkloric healing.  Descriptions of conditions and cures are very brief.  We are evidently dealing with an uneducated, unlettered tradition transmitted largely by word of mouth, and rarely reflected in writings.

Islamic medicine had shunned the concept of contagion (Stearns 2011), because Muhammad said in a famous hadith that contagion, ghouls, evil omens, and similar magical things do not exist.  This makes it appear that Muhammad was speaking of something like sympathetic magic or magical pollution, especially since he also gave a great deal of good public-health advice, ranging from hand-washing and other personal sanitation issues to saying that one should not water sick camels with healthy ones.  The ambiguity allowed the more liberal and medically-experienced Muslim, such as ibn Rushd, to bring in contagion through the back door (so to speak; see Stearns 2011).  And of course pragmatic administrators acted as if contagion were real, not worrying too much about the official position (see e.g. Mikhail 2011:215-217).  In hospitals, for instance, “special sections were reserved for the treatment of contagious diseases” (Dallal 2010:22).  In general, however, even after the great plague of 1346-48, Islamic medicine did not allow much exploration of the idea; the plague was ascribed to jinns piercing people with darts.  Christians were much more receptive to the contagion idea, but tended to think of it more as a metaphor for sin and heresy than as a scientific way to deal with disease; however, their openness allowed them to invent and invoke quarantines and other ways of dealing with the plague, as well as leprosy and other matters (Stearns 2011).  Plague returned often—every nine years, on the average, in Egypt (Mikhail 2011:215)—and had much to do with keeping the Near East from developing along with the western Mediterranean (Dols 1977).

The plague itself spread west with the Mongol armies, and supposedly it was transmitted to Europe via Mongol-held Kaffa (near modern Odessa), where the Mongols used defunct plague victims as missiles to hurl into the city while besieging it (May 2012:200ff.).  Genoese ships then carried it to Europe. The Mongols had lived with it in central Asia, where it is endemic among rodents.  It spread to black rats, and with them it spread throughout the world; as is well known, fleas, especially the rat flea Xenopsylla cheopis, transmit it to humans.  In China, it never became epidemic in the way it did in the west, for several reasons: different strains of plague, different rat ecologies (Benedict `1996), long exposure and thus adaptation, and probably other factors (Buell 2012).


Spain and North Africa soon followed Baghdad into scholarship and the arts.  They soon took on central roles (see e.g. Álvarez Millán 2010).  Spanish Islam produced its first medical works in the mid-tenth century.  These were rather ordinary Galenic offerings.  also a Greek manuscript of Dioscorides became available then, and was translated (not fully; Castells 1998; Fierro and Samsó 1998:xliv).  In the latter half of the 10th century, medicine developed fast, climaxing in the work of Abulcasis—Abū l-Qasim al-Zahrāwī (936-1013)—who produced a huge encyclopedia of medicine that remained standard in the west for centuries and is still a basic source on Arab medicine (Fierro and Samsó 1998).  Medicine continued to flourish, with further herbal work, influences from astrology, and local influences from the Christian realms of Spain.  Again, this marginal region produced one of the truly great figures:  ibn Rushd (Averroes, 1126-1198), from Cordova.  An Aristotelian, he influenced medieval European thought profoundly (Leaman 1988). He discovered the fact that “the retina rather than the lens is the sensitive element in the eye” (Freely 2009:117).  Many of the Spanish doctors, unlike Avicenna, were active clinicians (Álvarez Millán 2010).

Sicily and south Italy also became major players (see e.g. Skinner 1997), especially as the tolerant Normans conquered the area and enthusiastically propagated Arab learning in the 11th through 13th centuries.  The most durable example of this has been the Taqwin, an Arab health manual written by the Christian physician ibn Butlān (d. 1066, just as the Normans were conquering England).  It was translated, as the Tacuinum Sanitatis, at the court of King Manfred of Sicily (r. 1257-1266).  A more complete version and a shorter but well-illustrated version eventually circulated (Sotres 1998); eventually there were six major Latin translations.  An excellent introduction to the work, by Loren Mendelsohn (2013), shows that several differences between the Arab and the Latin versions appeared.  Most of these involved leaving out rare and complex Arab foods and adding common European ones.

Versions of the Tacuinum are still in print.  It became enshrined as almost sacred writ when a great school of Arab-Italian medicine developed at Salerno, just south of Naples.  The School of Salerno remained the center of medicine for Europee through the medieval period.  Legend has it that the school was founded by an Italian, a Greek, an Arab, and a Jew.  It circulated the Tacuinum, which in turn evolved into the Salernitan rule, or Regimen sanitatis salernitanum, which appears actually too recent to have been written at Salerno.  The Salernitan rule was famously translated by Sir John Harington in Elizabethan times.  He set it in doggerel, and some of his lines are still famous, especially

“Use three Physicions still; first Doctor Quiet,

Next Doctor Merryman, and Doctor Dyet.”  (Harington 1966:22.)

Still the best medical advice.  The Tacuinum and its offshoots also advised moderation in all things and regular, vigorous, but not excessive exercise.  These counsels are still with us, delivered by almost every health care provider.  The Tacuinum remains influential.

Another thing that has not changed is the university student: “as the contemporary saying went, [students learned] liberal arts at Paris, law at Orleans, medicine at Salerno, magic at Toledo, and manners and morals nowhere” (Whicher 1949:3).  This proverb gives a good concise guide to the top universities in medieval Europe.


Jews contributed greatly to medieval medicine throughout the western world.  The Cairo Genizah, a vast collection of papers from a largely Palestinian Jewish congregation, has thousands of medical lists, books and scraps (Lev and Amar 2008).  It reveals an incredibly rich and full medieval world (far more sophisticated and complex than the history books had previously allowed with their stereotypes of simple faith, dirt, and backwardness).  This applies with full force to medicine.  There were countless Jewish doctors, and they were well aware of materia medica.  The Genizah held remnants of 35 medical books, to say nothing of countless letters, lists, deeds, and so on; the books break out about a third Greek (translated; Galen and Hippocrates feature heavily), a third Arabic, and a third medieval Jewish (Lev and Amar 2008:16).

Greatest of them all was Mūsā ibn Maymūn, Maimonides (1135-1204), was born in Cordova, but had to flee the Almohads, settling in Egypt as physician to the ruler.  Here he wrote some of the greatest medical works of the entire medieval period, as well as some of the greatest philosophical works of all time.  Joel Kraemer (2008) has provided an excellent summary of his life, drawing heavily on actual surviving letters, rulings, and other texts, often in Maimonides’ own hand, that survived in the Cairo Genizah.  Unlike the other writers discussed here, Maimonides has not been relegated to “history”; his medicine is largely out of date, but his works on Judaism and Jewish law are still used as authoritative sources, and his philosophical writings are still read with great profit.

Even his medicine is inspiring (Rosner 1998); its common sense, reasonable advice on regimen, and thoroughly enlightened attitude toward practice are still useful.  Most of it is available in English, thanks especially to the intrepid Jewish medical doctor and translator Fred Rosner, and Maimonides’ drug glossary has been especially useful in the present work (Maimonides 1979; see also Maimonides 1970-1971, Maimonides 1997).  His advice on wine is worth quoting.  Finding it the best of medicine but banned by Islam, he told Muslim rulers:  “The legislators have known, as have the physicians, that wine is beneficial to mankind….  [T]he law [shari‘a] commands what is beneficial and prohibits what is harmful in the next world, whereas the physician gives counsel about what benefits the body and warns against what harms it in this world” (as translated by Joel Kraemer, 2008:455).


Contrary to the general case of Islamic science’s decline after 1200, medicine continued to flourish, grow, and incorporate more traditions in Islamic lands, perhaps most especially in the Indian subcontinent, where Hippocratic-Galenic traditions interfaced with Ayurvedic ones.  The more Galenic (and thus more Islamic) side of the resultant fusion became known as Yunani, from “Ionian”; the Ayurvedic remained more Indian.

However, the Mongol invasions, the bubonic plague epidemics from 1346 on, and the expansion of Turkish and Persian imperial power all devastated the old Islamic core areas of Central Asia, Egypt, Syria, the Levant, and Mesopotamia—the areas where science had most flourished.  This, as well as the slow shift of economic and political dynamism to Europe, led to a relative stagnation of Islamic science after 1350.  However, one should emphasize the word relative here.  Islamic regions fell farther and farther behind Europe after 1600, but, as with China (at least through Ming; see below), this is a matter of relatively slower advance in research activity, not of actual Dark Ages.  Many medical works continued to appear.


Medical practice ran largely to regimen management, with foods blending into drugs via what we would now call nutraceuticals:  poppy seed, nuts, honey, rose petals, and other things that were foods but were often (or even largely) eaten for medical effects.  Bleeding and cupping were common, but the obsessive bleeding that characterized European medicine in the 18th century was not found.  Surgery was frequent, but avoided when possible; in those pre-antiseptic days, it was highly dangerous.  Some doctors, such as al-Rāzī, kept careful records and even experimented, resulting in important innovations in knowledge.  Others did not, and in general the Galenic tradition persisted.  Knowledge was added—slowly—but dramatic changes were few.

Infant rearing was quite enlightened by modern standards.  Islamic law directs breastfeeding for two years, and interestingly equates milk kinship with blood kinship, a point strongly developed by Muhammad (Gilani 1999).  Otherwise unrelated children nursed by a woman are siblings for life, and the woman remains a mother to them.  Drawing from Galen and Soranus, medieval doctors gave good instructions on nursing babies, choosing wet-nurses, weaning, and regimen in general (Gilani 1999).  As so often, Ibn al-Jazzār was notable for particularly sensible directions.  The instructions for choosing a wet-nurse remain quite similar over time and space.

Islam has a strong and significant environmental ethic; the Quran and hadith both emphasize taking care of animals, plants, and nature (Dien 2000; Foltz et al. 2003).  Relations with medicine are indirect but significant; the Muslims took care to preserve their environments, including medicinal herbs.  However, playing against this went the imperative and immediate needs of herders, who inevitably overgrazed their pastures and overcut firewood whenever populations expanded or were limited by threat or harsh conditions.  With modern times, traditional controls have weakened while popoulations have exploded, leading to rapidly worsening ecological situations in most of the Middle East.  This should not be taken as a failing of traditional cultural patterns.

The Galenist Ibn Ridwān wrote in Egypt in the Fatimid period (that rare period when Egypt ruled the west).  He believed in miasmas affecting variously susceptible bodies.  He followed the classical view in discussing six conditions to examine:  “ (1) air…;(2) food and drink; (3) movement and rest; (4) sleep and waking; (4) retention and evacuation; and (6) psychic events [mental states]” (Dols 1984:89).  He evaluated Egypt in all these ways, and found it rather wanting in many respects; food spoils incredibly fast, imported animals get sick, and Nile water is good but polluted with sweage (still true today).  Egyptians themselves are “feeble, quick to change, and lacking patience and endurance” and even prone to “timidity and cowardice, discouragement and doubt, impatience, lack of desire for knowledge and decisiveness, envy and calumny,” and so on (Dols 1984:93).  He admits that there are exceptions, but even claims that the land is so coward-making that “lions do not live in this country; if lions are brought to Egypt, they become meek” (ibid.).

He has startlingly modern-sounding strictures on water and air pollution.  He provided enormously detailed instructions for counteracting these by heavy use of herbs, scents, and other environmental amendments; many of the herbs rrecommended are strongly antiseptic, and would, in a word, work.  Each season and each type of personal temperament required a different amendment, but, for instance, most of the amendments to the dirty Nile water actually involved cleansing and antibiotic agents.  He also provides many complex remedies for illnesses.

For instance, irascible (choleric) people should use tabashir (a chalky substance), Armenian (red) clay, red earth, jujube, hawthorn, and vinegar.  Placid (presumably phlegmatic) people should use bitter almonds and apricot pits with thyme and dill (Dols 1984:135).  The former mix seems more heavy and sour, the latter more bitter and astringent.  Evidently this was necessary to accommodate the different humoral makeups in question.

He also sounds quite modern in his long section telling the doctor to examine the environment and the patient, taking into account every aspect of the latter and his or her condition.  It is worth giving the whole list (Dols 1984:120-121):  “(1) the temperament of the country; (2) the indigenous illnesses; (3) the current season; (4) the temperament of this season; (5) the epidemic illnesses; (6) the diseases existing in the body and in what limb; (7) the cause of the illness; (8) the degree of strength of the illness; (9) the symptoms of the illness; (10) the intensity of the symptoms; (11) the strength of the patient; (12) the temperament of the patient; (13) the age of the patient; (14) the temperament of the limb affected by the illness and the limb’s functioning, form, and position; (15) the external appearance of the patient; (16) the nature of the patient, whether male or female; (17) his habits in times of health; (18) the nature of the foods and medicines; (19) his usage of them in times of health and illness; (20) the foods and medicines that are desirable for the doctor to select at times of health and illness; (21) what the treatment should be ;(22) what is the proper time for treatment; (23) what is the porpoer limb for administering treatment; (24) the patient and whoever cares for him should follow the instructions of the doctor; and (25) the cirucmstances of the patient should be conducive to recovery.”  That should do it!  The patient of a doctor conscientious enough to do all that was in good shape, even given the awful realities of medieval Egypt.  Alas, some doctors were more concerned with looking distinguished—growing long gray beards and having fine steeds—than with medical care; again, the world can still well heed Ibn Ridwān’s advice about that.

Hospitals, public health, medical examinations and certification, care of the mentally ill, women doctors, and many other modern phenomena all had their start or reached high levels of development in the Muslim Near East (see Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007 for accounts).


Especially now, when Islam is accused of all manner of innate flaws and sins, it is well to remember that Islamic medicine was a world leader for centuries, while Europe stagnated, and that Islam spread a broadly scientific, naturalistic, and rational medicine throughout millions of square miles and thousands of diverse peoples.

Noteworthy was the relatively high level of secularism and religious tolerance of the age.  Christians, Jews, and others, as well as Muslims, practiced medicine, shared in scholarship, and taught each other.  People from all regions of the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa met and worked together harmoniously.  The famous “convivencia” of Moorish Spain was only the best-known example of a widespread tolerance.  That tolerance was never perfect, but it was comparable to the west today, and far different from so much of the modern Middle East.

Admittedly, the basis, including the basic scientific and rational spirit, was Greek, so one might speak of Greco-Islamicate medicine.  But the influence, development, and propagation of the tradition belong to the Islamic world, especially the Arab and Iranic authorities.  One recalls that not only did the Islamic world follow this path; it spread far beyond Islam in India, as the “Yunani” (=”Ionian”) tradition, and also swept almost all before it in Europe in the Renaissance.  Thence it was carried to the New World, where hundreds of millions of ordinary people still live in some measure by the teachings of Galen and Hippocrates as reflected through Avicenna and his peers and followers.  No religion, no political philosophy, no body of belief, no modern scientific teaching has influenced so many people so much.

Along with Greek medicine came vast amounts of local traditions (including herbal ones), magic, faith-healing, and other folk-medical forms (Dols 1992).  These remain poorly studied and documented, but are not particularly relevant to our purposes herein.

A good idea of the closeness with which the HHYF followed Near Eastern practice comes from its recommendations for treating wounds in which the intestines have partially come out of the body.  They are to be replaced and the wound sewn up, of course, but the HHYF goes further in recommending use of black grape liquor (juan 34, p. 18), as does Maimonides (Bos and Langermann 2012:247), though both the HHYF and Maimonides are confused enough to make it hard ot know exactly what is being done.  As nearly as I can understand, the liquor—possibly distilled—is being used to wipe and clean the wound.  Maimonides says it is “to alleviate pain,” but it is unclear whether it is drunk as an anaesthetic, used in a clyster (discussed just previously), or used on the wound, as the HHYF states.

Near Eastern medicine was incorporated in European medicine progressively after 1000, and especially after 1200.  By 1300, Europe had caught up, using both translations of Arabic sources and translations of the actual original Greek ones.  Use of cadavers in teaching came back into vogue about that time (Siraisi 1997:188).  However, Europe simply followed the greats of the past until around 1500, when the dramatic breakthroughs that gave us modern science began.  Andreas Vesalius questioned antiquity and developed modern anatomical research; Ambroise Paré found that treating wounds with boiling oil was a bad idea, and started using ordinary salves; and Paracelsus (1493-1541) threw out the whole Greco-Arabic system, from the Four Elements to traditional medicine, and invented a whole new system—itself far from perfect, but the start of a trend that was not to stop (Siraisi 1997:193).

Most interesting of all was the realization that diseases were actual entities with their own characteristics—they were not just various forms of humoral imbalance.  Paracelsus realized this, but the major credit for changing the paradigm is generally given to the English doctor Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689).  This is stunningly late for such a major breakthrough.  The bubonic plague of 1346-50 (on which see Buell 2012) had been a disease so new and unique that no one could fail to see it as an utterly alien and incomprehensible force that could not be easily accommodated in Galenic medicine.  An even bigger shock to the Galenic system was the explosion of epidemic syphilis after 1492.  Columbus’ men almost certainly introduced it from the New World.  In any case, it was not only a new disease, but was transmitted by an unusual route; in spite of gonorrhea (apparently not common), sexually transmitted diseases were not salient in European medical thought.  Girolamo Fracastoro described and named it in 1530, and thus made it clear that a new and distinctive disease could appear; everyone should have realized that the old paradigms were dead.  It is more than interesting that this did not happen.  The time was simply not ripe to question the ancients.

All this coincided in time with China’s stagnation (and later decline) in learning, innovation, exploration, and other early scientific activity.  China’s greatest herbal, Li Shizhen’s Bencao Gangmu, was to be its last truly innovative and brilliant one; ironically, it appeared at almost exactly the same time as the first great European herbals, by Rembert Dodoens, John Gerard, and others.  Similarly, Paracelsus’ new system, aggressively and self-consciously grounded in new materialist and experimental views of the world, coincided with Wang Yangming’s definitive retreat into mysticism and meditation—Confucianism’s final flight from the real world.  Late Ming was the last flowering of Chinese science; the Qing Dynasty ran on momentum for a while, then declined into the tradition-bound obscurantism that European observers of the Qing world wrongly thought typical of all Chinese history.

Finally, “an example of knowledge flow from the Near East to Europe may be of interest.  The idea of circulation of the blood seems to have started in Islamic lands.  Bernard Lewis (2001:79-80) records that “a thirteenth-century Syrian physician called Ibn al-Nafīs” (d. 1288) worked out the concept (see also Kamal 1975:154).  His knowledge spread to Europe, via “a Renaissance scholar called Andrea Alpago (died ca. 1520) who spent many years in Syria collecting and translating Arabic medical manuscripts” (Lewis 2001:80).  Michael Servetus picked up the idea, including Ibn al-Nafīs’ demonstration of the circulation from the heart to the lungs and back. William Harvey (1578-1657) learned of this, and worked out—with stunning innovative brilliance—the whole circulation pattern, publishing the discovery of circulation in 1628 (Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007:47).  Claims that al Nafīs’ observation was a mere lucky accident, and that Harvey’s discovery was quite independent of it, have been disproved (Dallal 2010:179).  Galen and the Arabs thought the blood was entirely consumed by the body, and renewed constantly in the liver.  They did not realize that the veins held a return flow; they thought the arteries carried pneuma, the veins carried nutrients. Harvey’s genius was to see that blood actually circulates continually, ferrying nutrients to and from the whole body in a closed circuit.” (quoted from my paper “Science and Ethnoscience,” posted on my website,


Herbal medicine

Simples, as noted above, followed Dioscorides.  The path of transmission went from Greece to Rome to Byzantium, where Princess Juliana Anicia was gifted with a spectacularly beautiful illustrated one, a real work of art, around 512.  It is now the oldest surviving illustrated herbal in the world (Collins 2000:39).

The thread then went to the Muslims, as the Byzantine Empire began to decline.  Compound formulations were recorded in aqrābādhīn works (the word is Greek, graphidion, “prescription,” as transliterated into Arabic).  The first was that of Sābūr ibn Sahl, written in the 850s under the Abbasids (Hamarneh 1973:56), but the most important early one was by “the Philosopher” al-Kindī (ca. 800-870); it has been translated by Martin Levey (1966).  Levey finds that in it “31 per cent of the materia medica comes from Persian-Indian soiurces, 33 per cent from Mesopotamia, 25 per cent from Greek origins, 5 per cent from Arabic, and 3 per cent from ancient Egyptian origins” (Levey and al-Khaledy 1967:28), so the Arabs did not slavishly follow the Greeks—though one must point out that many of the drugs from other regions reached the Arabs via Greek sources.  After that, formularies flourished throughout the Islamic world, and of course Rhazes, Avicenna, and other famous medical writers had a hand in compiling them.  They display a considerable sophistication in chemistry; for instance, experts knew the differentiation of milk into water, butter, and protein (known as the “cheese forming” fraction of the milk; Hamarneh 1973:78).

Perhaps the greatest was produced by al-Bīrūnī (973-1048), of Khwarizm, famous also for his great work on India (Alberuni 1973).  His pharmacology lists 850 drugs, with names in several languages.  Amazingly, this incredible work has been edited and translated (al-Bīrūnī 1973), with identifications of biota—a job rivaling the compilation of the original!  Thus it can be drawn on for our purposes here.  It is important to observe how many leading scientists and medical persons of this period were Central Asians: al-Bīrūnī, Jūzjānī, al-Samarqāndī, and many others, including of course the greatest of all, Avicenna. Central Asia had a real leadership position in the world at this time.  This point has not been made often enough in explaining the rise and success of the Mongols.  It is obviously critical to the HHYF and similar cultural exchanges.

Ibn Jazlah, whose work we draw on below, followed a century later.

That of ibn al-Tilmidh (of Baghdad; d. 1165) is representative of the best of the aqrābādhīn tradition (Hamarneh 1973:57-64).  It had 20 chapters, covering troches (tablets; 42 recipes), pills and cough medicines (27), powders (28), confections with spices and flavors (26), electuaries (20), lohocks (from the Arabic for “lick”; 21); syrups (from the Arabic root shrb, “drink”; 27); robs (rubb, thick syrups; 10); medicated food decoctions (20), ophthalmic medicine (10), anointing oils (10), ointments (12), dressings (13), enemas and suppositories (15), oral medications including dentifrices (15); fattening aids (11); sternatatories, gargles, fumigators (5); bleeding-stoppers (5); emetics (5); sudorifics and antisudorifics (3+).

A good example of a remedy is one from Ibn al-Jazzār (d. 980):

“A recipe for a pastille which I have composed that will increase sexual desire, refresh the soul, warm the body, expel gas from the stomach, put and end to coldness of the kidneys and bladder, and incrase memory:  Taken in the winter, it will warm the limbs.  Its uses are many, and it is one of the ‘royal electuaries,’ and I have named it ‘reliable against calamities’….  Take seven mithqāls each of chinese cinnamon, sweet cost, Indian spikenard, saffron, fennel seeds, ginger, dried mint leaves, wild mountain thyme, mountain mint, cinnamon bark; of Indian’malabathron,’ long pepper, white peopper, black pepper, asarabacca, plum seeds, cultivated caraway, cloves, galingale, and wild carrot, four mithqāls each; and of hulled sesame, shelled walnuts, shelled pistachios, shelled fresh almonds, pinenuts, and sugar candy, eleven mithqāls each.  Pulverise the ingredients, sieve vigorously, combine, and knead with honey of wild thyme, from which the froth has been skimmed, until the remedy is well mixed.  Store in a vessel that is smooth on the inside, fumigated with Indian aloes [a standard fumigant to sterilise the jar as much as possible].  An amount the size of a walnut is to be taken before and after meals.  And it will be efficacious, God willing” (quoted Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007:51).  This combines all the common warming and nourishing agents that were also pleasant-tasting.  Recall that the latter quality was considered very important in curing.  The recipe would produce a candy rather like those still used throughout the region for exactly the same purposes, such as Turkish delight, Moroccan argan-almond-honey paste, and the more elaborate halvah mixes.

To some extent, this is medicine for the rich.  Only a very rich man (this recipe is for the male) could afford to accumulate all these drugs, some exotic and expensive.  Only a rich man could comfort himself with the fountains, aromatics, and live music prescribed in other books.  On the other hand, almost anyone could get at least some of the medicinals listed.  One assumes that buyers were quite aware that even a few of these would make a perfectly acceptable product.

A golden age of botany climaxed in the 12th and early 13th centuries (Idrisi 2005), informing the Mongols but paradoxically being impacted negatively by their conquests.  Several books appeared, including one on the sex of plants, long before the European “discovery” thereof around 1700.

Again, Spain was a leader, and its pharmacology influenced the Near East (Meyerhof 1984).  The Byzantine emperor presented the Ummayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Rahmän III with an edition of Dioscorides around 950, and this was translated from the Greek, introducing it to the western Arab world (Goodman 1990:494; Lewis 2008:331).  The Spanish Arab Ibn al-Baytār (d. 1248; lived in Malaga) produced a Comprehensive Book on Simple Drugs and Foodstuffs with over 1400 medicaments in 2324 entries, reviewing almost everything in the literature (Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007:53).  Of course, Spanish pharmacognosy influenced Europe; transmission through Spain and Italy were the routes by which all this material reached Europe in the medieval and Renaissance periods.  The Reconquista led to a lapse, however, with plants like bananas, sugar cane and eggplants going into relative oblivion for a while (Idrisi 2005).

Following Galen, doctors designed drug and diet regimes for specific persons, according to individual temperament and environment.  Nasr wisely remarks:  “It is paradoxical that in the highly individualistic modern civilization there is a crass uniformity in medicine which assumes that the reaction of all bodies to a drug is the same or nearly so, whereas in traditional medicine belonging to a civilization in which the individual order is always subservient to the universal order each patient is treated invidiually and his temperament taken to be a unique blend of the humours never to be fouind in exactly the esame balance in another individual” (Nasr 1976:162).  This is as true of China as of the Near East.

Unlike the main Galenic works and the great medical encyclopedias, these pharmacological works did not travel.  They never made it to Europe, until very late, when they became part of the Dioscorides-related material that entered with the Renaissance.  Even today, very few Arab or Persian pharmacologies, folk-medical works (e.g. Moinuddin 1985), or other pharmacognostic materials are known in the western world.

The tradition climaxed soon after, in time to be available for the Mongols.  Contemporary, and close to their homeland in origin, were the Central Asian herbalists Badr al-Dīn Muhammad b. Bahrām al-Qalānisī, author of a huge aqrābādhīn (c. 1194; see Richter-Bernburg and Said 2000:310), and Najīb al-Dīn al-Samarqandī (d. 1222).  The latter was author of many medical works including an aqrābādhīn that has been translated and studied by Martin Levey and Noury al-Khaledy (1967).  It incorporates substantially more Indian remedies than earlier works, showing that the HHYF’s strong Indian influence was not unique.  More specifically, Al-Samarqandī and the HHYF make heavy use of myrobalans, turpeth, Persian and Indian minerals, and other Perso-Indian remedies.

Levey and al-Khaledy note a number of Indian loanwords in the medicinal vocabulary, contrasting with the almost purely Greek and Arabic language of early works.  (Levey and al-Khaledy exaggerate the Indian presence, however, by including many herbs known to Greek medicine and transmitted by Greek texts to the Arabs; sometimes, as perhaps with kinnamon and certainly with kardamon, the original reference was probably to a Greek plant and only later came to refer to an Asian one.)  It seems almost certain that this herbal directly influenced the HHYF.  None of the recipes seems exactly the same, but many are extremely similar.  Both share a constant recursion to the same few herbs:  dodder, turpeth, myrobalans, saffron, sarcocol, pomegranate rind, myrrh and frankincense, and others.  (They also share a fondness for mint, thyme, and rose, but so did most other herbals in the Old World, so this is not significant.)

From the 1200s, Europe overtook and quickly passed the Arabs, and the great herbal tradition of European art and medicine grew rapidly (Collins 2000).  By the early 1600s, it was far ahead of anything else in the world—but that is another story.

This makes the HHYF a truly key text, since it embodies so much sophisticated pharmacology.  It too seems to have owed more to encyclopedias than to any specific pharmacological work, however.


A Comparison Case:  Astronomy

Medicine spread along with other sciences, and it is instructive to look at another well-documented case, because it is suggestive in this context.  Scott Montgomery (2000) and John Steele (2008) have chronicled the transfer of astronomic knowledge from ancient Mesopotamia to Greece to Rome and the Near East.  It was a long and fascinating process.  Mesopotamia perfected an amazing range of astronomical observations and plans, and developed astrology, a high science until its slow fall from grace after the Renaissance in Europe.  Greece quickly learned from Babylon and Syria, and added both scientific astronomy and detailed, carefully calculated, extremely extensive astrology to its scientific repertoire (Steele 2008).

The transfer to Rome was fairly automatic; Rome took over first Magna Graeca and then Greece itself, enslaved many Greek scholars, and learned assiduously from the Greeks and their books.  It remains ever fascinating that the Romans, almost alone in world history, were not only willing but eager to learn from people they had conquered and enslaved.

Those other empire-builders the Arabs were the only other group to do this on a large scale.  Quickly realizing the value of such learning, they propagated it, especially under the Ummayad and Abbasid Caliphates.  The Arabs showed more interest than the Syriac or even Byzantine scholars had (Saliba 2007).  In fact, very little astronomical or other learned lore survives from those cultures (except, fortunately, in medicine; Scarborough 1984; note in particular that the Byzantines preserved the Dioscorides pharmacopoeia).  Much more survives from the Islamic world.  In the 9th century, the Abbasids caliphs supported astronomy based on Ptolemy but improving his observations; meanwhile, mathematics flourished, as translations of the foundational work of Diophantos stimulated the work of al-Kwārizmī and many others (Herrin 2008:126).

The Greek astronomers’ observations were supplemented more and more by Arab observations.  Instrumentation steadily improved (Montgomery 2000; Nasr 1976; Steele 2008).  Alhasan ibn al-Haitham (Alhazen), for instance, discovered that light rays reflect from objects and return to the eye, where they project an inverted image.  He devised the camera obscura to study this (Covington 2007:6).  Astrology, then still considered a science, spread with astronomy (Nasr 1976).  Only since the Renaissance in Europe did astrology fail so obviously that it lost its scientific standing.

It is, incidentally, important to note that Nasr’s writings and his publication venue would both be unthinkable today.  Islam has changed.  It is clear from history that the keepers of genuine Islamic tradition are Nasr and his colleagues, not today’s lunatic bigots and killers.

Knowledge spread onward to Persia, Central Asia, and India.  Contrary to some conventional wisdom, Islamic astronomy did not die in the Middle Ages.  Al-Ghazālī’s famous conversion to mysticism and consequent attacks on science and philosophy, in the early 12th century, did have some deadening effect, though it has been greatly exaggerated in many book.  More seriouis were later, similar attacks by less-known but important scholars.  Their Ash’arite creed fell to an increasingly sour and reactionary anti-rationalism, in contrast to the liberal, enlightened views previously characteristic of Central Asian Islam (see Bosworth and Asimov 2000, passim, notably Paket-Chy and Gilliot 2000:129-131).  However, Al-Ghazālī advocated science and rationalism to the last, and did not see it as incompatible with Islam (Dallal 2010:142-143).  Thus science continued to flourish after his time.  It should be noted that Islam never saw science as an enemy of religion; indeed, the whole idea of “science vs. religion” is a product of 19th-century Europe, and is very much a recent hothouse flower in the Islamic world, propagated largely via Christian missionary colleges (Dallal 2010:149-176).

Astronomy (and other sciences) continued to flourish and develop, albeit slowly and sporadically (Saliba 2007).  The great polymath Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tusī, for instance, served the Mongols, getting a reputation for shaky loyalty to his ancestral homeland and his Assassin patrons, but giving himself an unrivalled platform for research and writing; his work included not only astronomy but the brilliant “Nasirean Ethics” (Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tusī 1964).  He commuted regularly between Syria and Khorasan in northeast Iran, showing how peaceful and integrated his world was.  Producing some 100 books, he also established the great astronomical observatory at Marāghā, one of the leading observatories of the pre-telescope age, and there he and his colleagues made observations that later would be used by Copernicus and Galileo in establishing modern cosmology.  (On this and other matters, see the rather breathless introduction to Islamic science by Covington, 2007, which manages to cram an encyclopedic history into 16 pages; also Dallal 2010:23-26.)

Tusī thus influenced not only the Near East and China, but Europe too, quite profoundly.  (This connection is annoyingly neglected; Eurocentric historians hate to admit anything valuable came from Islam, and Islamicists have until recently asserted that nothing happened after Tusī, or even after al-Ghazaālī, thus writing off the later science that bridged from them to Copernicus.  Dallal 2010 has demolished these delusions.)  He is overdue for a biography.  His Ethics may still be read with great profit, however out-of-date his science may be.

Even after his time, with all its Mongol disturbances, Islamic science cranked along, continuing to develop locally (Saliba 2007), as Chinese science did.  (We have long abandoned the delusion that Chinese science stagnated; it simply grew more slowly than European science did after 1400.  See e.g. Elman 2003.)  The Mongol conquest, however, began a decline greatly exacerbated by the bubonic plague in the 14th century.  Then the Little Ice Age sorely affected the steppes and the Silk Road, and thus gave an advantage to sea trade and its European leaders.  Finally, the rise of the “gunpowder empires” in the Near East and of predatory European expansion worldwide put an end to a separate Islamic science.

However, even then, theoretical, practical, and instrumental progress in astronomy continued, although in isolation from Europe, and falling sadly farther behind Europe as time went on.  The final glory of premodern astronomy was the 18th-century Delhi observatory that may still be visited today.


The Indian connection

Much of Indian medicine is explicitly Greek in origin:  the yūnanī (“Ionian,” i.e. Greek) tradition. This is our familiar Near Eastern development from Galenic and Dioscoridean roots. India’s own tradition, ayurveda, is at least 2500 years old—though not similar to the medicine in the earlier vedas (Wujastyk 2003; for a vast survey of Indian medicine, see Meulenbeld 1999-2002).  It emphasizes balance and moderation, like the Greek traditions and also like Buddhism.  It is based on three dosas:  vāta “wind,” pitta “bile,” and kapha “phlegm.”  These are related to the abstract qualities sattva, rajas, and tamas—respectively, the intellectual and bright aspect of life; the militant and emotional side; and the sleepy or sluggish side.  These two triads correspond vaguely to the sanguine, choleric, and phlegmatic (plus melancholic) humors of Galenic medicine, and might have influenced those, but the influence—if any—is indirect and hard to trace.  Several authorities have pointed out that this means the simple, neat balance called for in folk Galenic medicine (in both the Near East and China) is emphatically not a part of Indian medicine (Wujastyk 2003:xviii ff; Mark Nichter, Kenneth Zysk, pers. comm.).  Rather, a dynamic equilibrium or accommodation must be maintained.

On the other hand, Vāghbhata’s standard ayurvedic compilation says:  “The under-use, wrong use, or overuse of time, the objects of sense,and action, are known to be the one and only cause of illness.  Their proper use is the one and only cause of health.” (Wujastyk 2003:207.  Wujastyk correctly points out that the older Hippocratic texts are also a good deal more subtle; conversely, ENA can testify from much experience that Chinese folk medicine does make a major issue of bing “balanced, level,” as well as of ho “harmonized,” with bingho or hobing being a frequently-stated goal of medication.  An apparently more dynamic and complex relationship between yin and yang in early medicine has been replaced by a somewhat complex, but basically fairly simple, notion of balance in much folk practice.  The issue of balance in the HHYF is complex and requires further attention.)

Ayurveda is conservative; it relies on very old documents and traditions.  Innovation, however, clearly occurred and was apparently very important.  Much of it was influence from the Near East, presumably via yunani medicine.  Opium and its use was first mentioned in the late Middle Ages, and the narcotic effects of marijuana did not make it into the medical books till around 1300 (Wujastyk 2003:256-257), though they were obviously known before.  The extent of innovation remains to be determined.  There seems to be no volume comparable to the collection of studies of innovation in Chinese medicine edited by Elisabeth Hsu (2001).

As in other ancient medical traditions, treatment is largely herbal.  Poisons are a significant concern, indicating an elite patronage; a world of courts with poison-wielding assassins is implied (see e.g. Wujastyk 2003:78ff.).  As in Hippocratic and Near Eastern medicine, there are explicit directions for regimen season by season, with diet, exercise, sex, and health care appropriate to the seasonal conditions.

Influence of ayurvedic medicine on the HHYF seems to have been mediated through the Persian world (including Iranic Central Asia) and possibly—to a lesser extent—through Tibet.  Very significant is the fact that a large number of major ayurvedic works were discovered in Chinese Central Asia (Kucha, Dunhuang) or are known only from Chinese translations.  Thus, the astonishing paean of praise for garlic written by the Buddhist monk Yaśomitra in the early 6th century AD (Wujastyk 2003:154-160) was discovered in Kucha.  A gynecological work attributed to Kaśyapa is known only from a Chinese translation by a Buddhist monk in the late 10th century.

Relationships of ayurvedic medicine to the HHYF include a number of herbal drugs that are surely from India, and in some cases are barely even mentioned in the medieval Near Eastern sources.  Also, there are early passages that seem to lie behind some HHYF material, such as passages from Suśruta (before 250 BC) concerning removal of splinters and arrows (Wujastyk 2003:107 ff.)  Suśruta also describes tetanus, stroke, and what appears to be beriberi (Wujastyk 2003:121-122) in terms that seem broadly similar to those in the HHYF, allowing for the difference in medical rhetoric.

Yunani medicine and Ayurvedic medicine influenced each other throughout their careers in India (see Alter 2008), and of course Chinese and Tibetan medicine influenced them over the centuries.


The Tibetan connection

Then and earlier, Tibetan medicine in the Middle Ages seems to have been incredibly eclectic and comprehensive—one of the great medical traditions of the world (Clifford 1984).  In the 8th century, when the Tibetan kingdom was first taking shape as a major regional power, physicians from all over the old world—nine regions are reported—gathered at the court.  Histories relate that there were three especially prominent royal physicians, one from China, one from India, and one from the Byzantine Empire (Hrom, i.e. Rome).  This last became head royal physician, under the name of Galen (Ga Le Nos)!  (See Garrett 2007.)  One suspects that this tradition is true, and that the wandering Roman had taken this prominent pseudonym in the same spirit that led Dr. E. Schoenfeld to byline his newspaper medical column “Dr. Hip Pocrates” in San Francisco in the 1960s.  Unfortunately, we know little of what “Galen” brought from the Eastern Rome, but we know that Tibetan medicine remained an eclectic mixture enriched by Byzantine, Arab, Persian, Indian, Chinese, and other traditions as well as by its own formidable base of pragmatic and herbal lore. Its three humors (hii “wind,” shar “fire/bile” and badkan “phlegm”; Abdurazakov and Haidav 2000:243-248) are the sattva, rajas and tamas of Ayurveda.  Its five elements (earth, water, fire, air and space) owe much to China, and indeed the Chinese five are sometimes used.  Medicines derive in large part from Ayurvedic practice, but the Tibetans added a great deal, both from Chinese and Central Asian practice and from their own enormous resources (Dash 1994; Glover 2005). Tibet partakes, at the margins, of the fantastic diversity of plants and animals found in west China and northern Southeast Asia—by far the most biodiverse of the warm temperate and subtropical parts of the world.

Naturally, Tibetan tantrism was incorporated in the medicine.  The medicine goddess known as the Nectar Mother has a wrathful form as the Diamond Sow, Vajravarahi.  This female deity is shown in a wild and terrifying sexual embrace (standing, usually on a corpse) with the Black Horse-headed Demon, one of the demonlike beings converted to good in Tibetan Buddhism.  Their sexual embrace symbolizes “the union of wisdom and skilful means,” which among other things is used to quell disease (Clifford 1984:51).  A huge amount of healing ritual exists.  This is totally absent from the HHYF, which is as rational as most Near Eastern medicine.

Tibetan medicine today is still eclectic, as shown in Denise Glover’s brilliant, comprehensive, and pathbreaking study (2005).  Tibetan doctors know something of their culturally mixed heritage.  In the PRC they are quite familiar with the Chinese five-phase system. Tibet’s Buddhist element appears in ascribing illness to desire or illusion. Tibet’s influence on China is still locally visible in the spread of medicinal herbs into Chinese practice (Glover 2005 and personal communication; Jan Salick, personal communication over several years).  Tibetan medicine had been established as early as the 700s (Garrett 2007) but was significantly written down in manuscripts from around 1200 (Dash 1994; Martin 2007).

Presumably, a great deal of the Ayurvedic medicine (on which see Dash and Laliteshkashyap 1980; Nadkarny 1976)  in the HHYF came via Tibet (cf. Dash 1976).  We have no other indications of direct links to India.

The great Ayurvedic Yogaśataka was translated early into Tibetan (supposedly by Bu-ston).  Vaidya Bhagwan Dash (1976) reproduced and studied the translation, assembling a number of mistaken or shaky word-equivalencies (this would help get a sense of whether Ayurveda was filtered through Tibet, but the differences are not great enough to allow a decision). He provides an English translation, with drug and disease names left in Sanskrit but explained in a glossary.   The Yogaśataka derived from a time before there was much Near Eastern influence on India, so the plants in it are basically Indian.  (Only cumin and saffron seem unequivocally Near Eastern; they spread very early to India as cultivated plants.)  The commonly used ones get into the HHYF, but the specialized ones do not.  Diseases follow the dosa theory.  Unfortunately, most of them are ones not treated in surviving parts of the HHYF.

On the other hand, the lack of Tibetan influence on HHYF materia medica is rather astonishing, when one compares Dash (1976, 1994) and Glover (2005) with the HHYF materia.  They share almost nothing except for the universal or very widespread ayurvedic remedies, especially those derived from the Near East.  Most of Tibet’s local medicinal flora derives from the south and east of the country and does not grow in Mongolia.


Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine, meanwhile, had not been standing still.  (On Chinese medical history, Unschuld 1985 and 1986 remain the best sources, and are followed broadly below; useful for further details and sources are the various chapters in Hinrichs and Barnes 2012.)

The first direct evidence we have for Chinese medicine comes from questions and answers on Shang oracle bones.  These largely refer to illnesses supposedly caused by royal ancestors; the questions inscribed on the bones and shells ask which ancestor has been neglected in recent sacrifices and is therefore visiting illness on the survivors.  I found exactly the same idea current in the New Territories of Hong Kong in the 1960s. It also survives among the Akha minority in south China and Thailand:  “a man who had a stroke made the connection that his stroke was caused by not offering the correctly colored chicken at his ancestral offerings” (Tooker 2012:38).

In the late Warring States period, evidence for herbal medicine and other more secular approaches begins to appear in tomb texts.  In early Han, many tomb texts exist, covering many of the later branches of medicine: pharmacopoeia, sexual medicine, surgery, needling (probably not true “acupuncture” but more pragmatic lancing of boils), etc. (see Harper 1998).  From the very beginning, we can recognize the cardinal principle of Chinese medicine:  strengthening the patient is more important than fighting the illness.  Above all, nutrition was vital.  Dealing with foods was always the first recourse.  The highest in prestige of court physicians was the court nutritionist (at least according to a Han reconstruction of the Rites of Zhou).  This was still true when Hu Sihui, Court Nutritionist to the Yuan, compiled the Mongol court nutrition manual in the 14th century (Buell et al. 2010).

Though contagion was always recognized (and even the dangers of “insects… crawling over food,” Needham 2004:38), Chinese medicine always focused on strengthening the person, not fighting the disease.  This was known as yang sheng “strengthening inborn nature,” bu shen “supplementing the body [and its natural strength],” and similar phrases.  Foods that built blood, for instance, were bu xue “supplementing the blood.”  Many of these were indeed iron-rich and thus cured the anemia so sadly pervasive in old China (as I know from much personal observation).  Orhers, like port wine (adopted in modern times), simply looked like blood, and were thought to work because of the the “doctrine of signatures” (a belief system very likely transmitted to China very early, if not independently invented).

Having lived for three years in traditional Chinese households and shared their problems and more than a few of their illnesses, I can understand how this developed.  China’s biggest medical problem, throughout history, has been lack of nutrients—absolute lack of food, or, when food was available, frequent reduction of the diet to bulk starch.  Desperate shortages of vitamins and minerals was the rule, not the exception.  Moreover, the worst contagious disease problem—in recent centuries at least—has been tuberculosis, which tends to be chronic and to respond to better food and sunlight.  The Chinese had no other way to treat it.  Many other conditions were also chronic and also relieved by better regimen.

By contrast, infectious disease other than TB was less a problem in China than in early Europe, partly because the Chinese were more careful about sanitation, cooking food, boiling water, and so on.  There was thus every reason to concentrate on strengthening the patient, especially through food, and little hope of doing much more about infectious disease until Koch and Pasteur began to train East Asian students (as they did from early on).  All medical systems are accommodations between the prevailing illnesses and the available treatment methods.  People deal as best they can with their worst problems.  Native Americans dealt best with psychological ailments, having good psychological concepts but little hope of developing medical science; early 20th-century Americans dealt superbly with infectious disease but failed totally with psychological problems.  The Chinese, like the ancient Greeks, dealt best with regimen, worst with epidemics.

Paul Unschuld (2009) traces scientific medicine to the early Han dynasty or just before.  At this time a number of treads came together (Lo and Li 2010).  Yin-yang theory was well established.  Early needling—not the same as modern acupuncture, but probably ancestral—was already present, as shown by the Mawangdui tomb finds.  Herbal medicine began to be codified.  Surgery was supposedly well-developed, but we have only legendary accounts.  Sexual hygeine and medicine were well established, as shown, again, by the Mawangdui finds.  An important and sophisticated ecological science, focused on landscape and agriculture, also developed in Han, and is clearly related via the yang-yin and correspondence theories.  We are handicapped in this and in all subsequent periods by the secrecy of the medical profession; they kept their trade secrets very close to their chests (Lo and Li 2010; I can attest to the persistence of this view into the late 20th century).  However, people apparently felt they would need medical knowledge in the other world, so texts were buried with them.  Tomb finds are thus important.

Most interesting was the rise of cosmological and “correspondence” theories.  These depended on the concept of ganying, literally “stimulus and response.”  This sounds like Pavlovian psychology, but referrred to cosmic resonances, sometimes exemplified by the sounding of a suspended lute when a lute tuned to it is played (see e.g. Salguero 2014:26).  Humanity resonated to the rhythms and music of the cosmos.  (This is why music has always been such an extremely important part of Chinese governance—seen most recently in Mao’s and Lee Kuan Yew’s insistence on proper, narrow ranges of music in their realms.)  Flow of qi created music, as seen in the sounds of the wind, of waves on rocks, and of the earth ringing or sounding in earthquakes.

The correspondence theory that dominated, and emerged as the sole survivor of what was once a diverse set (Nylan 2010), was the  fivefold correspondence system.  This system involved an elaborate and highly schematized analysis of virtually everything in the world into sets of fives, the wu xing, “five phases.”  Xing literally means “going” or “street,” and implies a dynamic, transformative view of the world.  Apparently the Han thinkers understood the world as made up of subtle transformative processes or forces that appear in the fivefold nature of things—rather as modern physics sees an elaborate system of quarks and other forms of energy as basic to existence.

The fivefold classification apparently began with the five planets and five directions (the center being a direction).  Then colors were assigned to the directions, then flavors and scents, and at some point the major bodily organs were added to the mix:  Heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, and brain.  Then five minor organs came into the picture (which involved regarding the metabolism as a virtual organ system).  There were also five staple grains, five major trees, and so on (and on and on).  This system was elaborated in Han, though it has earlier antecedents in the thinking of Cao Yin and others in the Warring States period.

This cosmology was very old at the time, going back to the Zhou Dynasty.  It was put in shape during the glory days of the Former Han dynasty, especially by Dong Zhongshu (179-104 BCE) and the scholars clustered around Liu An, King of Huainan (179-122 BCE; see Liu 2010).  It had been considerably extended and updated according to the best current science by Zhang Zai in the 11th century, and then built on in the moral philosophy of Zhu Xi (see Schäfer 2010).

Applied to medicine, this cosmology of correspondences led to a theory that has been so well stated by Pierce Salguedo (2014:27-28) that I can do better than quote him:

“Medicine, like governance, was about discovering the natural order of the univrse and adjusting one’s behavior to accord with it.  Illness meant nott hat the gods or spirits had been offended by one’s moral failing, but that the natural cycles had been interrupted, impeded, or disturbed by an external agent or by one’s own improper regimen.  Healing involved the restoration of systemic balance through the manipulation of the body’s qi….  Even more important than cure, however, was prevention.”  Salguedo points out that the beliefs in gods and spirits did not die out.  In practice, people combined those beliefs with rational correspondence medicine, to varying degrees (see below).  As official religions were merely the tip of a vast iceberg of popular and folk religion, so official medicine—whether Daoist charms or rationalist drugs and exercise—rose from a vast range of folk practices (Salguedo 2014:28-29).  This was still perfectly  true in rural Hong Kong when I lived there in the 1960s.

Its major early medical statement of it is the famous Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon.  This great medical classic defined Chinese medical theory, and does so to this day.  Marta Hanson summarizes it:  “Incisive scholars now concur that the three extant recensions of the Inner Canon were from the beginning a collection of interrelated short essays form different lineages at different times, compiled most likely from sourcew written no more than a century before the first century BCE when it was made into a two-part book” (Hanson 2011:12).  A theoretically final text was finished around 100 CE (Unschuld 2003), but has been variously revised since.  Elisabeth Hsu calls the Yellow Emperor physiology the “body ecologic” (see below).  How much this medicine influenced the Mongols is unclear, but the qi-based cosmology developed in Han and perfected in Song was most definitely in the head of Hu Sihui.

This fivefold path served the same systematizing function that Greek (especially Hippocratic-Galenic) medicine did in the west, and Unschuld is inclined to see these as the only two original scientific medicines in the world.  (One might well add Ayurvedic, in spite of some supernatural elements.)  Only these two absolutely eliminated supernaturals and their arbitrary will.  Only these two based their teachings on a few simple basic principles.  Only these two (plus Ayurvedic) led to serious medical science in the future.  Unschuld refers only to the two traditions as “medicine,” other medical traditions being “healing”; this is an idiosyncratic usage that will not be followed here.  I might want to add Native American traditions, such as the Maya one I studied, because these do have basic principles of a scientific nature, but even the highly pragmatic Maya system includes a great deal of supernatural and magical healing, not systematically separated from the strongly empirical and systematic herbal tradition.

However, it now appears that China had a serious nonmagical medical system before the fivefold correspondences took over.  The brilliant medical anthropologist Elisabeth Hsu (2009, 2010b) has recently analyzed early documents, including ones newly discovered through archaeology.  She finds that the “body ecologic” was preceded by a general notion of the body as produced by or influenced by yin and yang, and by being seriously affected by its natural emotions and emotionality.  The body (xing) was animated by qi, which involved “feelings and emotions” (2010b:349; see also 357ff.).  This she calls a “sentimental body.”  Its upper and outer zones were more yang, lower and inner more yin.  Joy and anger were particularly important and influential emotions.  (I would assume that this is because of their very obvious effects on one’s physical sensations.)  She finds that “early Han physicians paid [attention] to…feelings and emotions…they took individual psychology seriously, and in their view it affected visceral processes” (2010b:109).  This view of life carried over into the Yellow Emperor’s Classic:

“Grief and worry harms the heart;

A double coldness harms the lungs;

Rage and anger harm the liver;

Drunkenness and sexual indulgence, and encountering the winds while sweating, harm the spleen;

If one uses force excessiveliy, such as after sexual intercourse, when sweat is exuded such that one can bathe in it, then one harms the kidneys” (Hsu 2009:108-109).  Again, the feelings of heart palpitation from grief, and the dehydration and weakness and cold (from electrolyte imbalance) following excessive sweating (which really can harm the kidneys), are the actual clinical signs attended to.  Hsu correctly emphasizes the strong difference between this psychologized medicine and the absolute separation of bodily medicine from psychological medicine that characterized much of western biomedicine until recently (and still does in some quarters).  She also notes the awareness that early thinkers had of the value of music and ritual for “modulation of emotion and morality” (p. 358) or at least the Durkheimian function of getting people’s emotional lives coordinated and engaged with state morals.  In general, over the centuries, Chinese have often tended to somatize what most westerners would consider psychological problems, but also to see the emotional roots of what westerners would tend to consider physical problems. Of course, readers of medical literature from Osler to Oliver Sacks will know the separation is not so absolute in the west either.  In any case, we are well advised to recall that one cannot project the western separation of “body” and “mind” on Chinese medicine.

Hsu has also analyzed a text transmitted by Sima Qian in his great Han Dynasty history, Shi Ji (Hsu 2010b).  This is a document purportedly written by one Chunyu Yi, who lived in the earliest part of Han but would have composed the book in the 150s BCE.  The transmitted text, consisting largely of 25 case studies, is so augmented and overedited (by Sima and probably others) that it is impossible to tell if Yi even existed, but at least it shows that extremely sophisticated pulse analysis was done at that time.  Pulse in Chinese medicine refers to a much more complex, subtle, and multiply tested process than the simple pulse of western medicine.  It is an early example of featuring qi as all-important, and specifically dealing with the qi of each internal organ-field.

Many of his cases were made ill by overindulgence in women and wine.  One woman got sick “because she desired a man and could not get one” (p., 84).  One individual was noted as being unable to urinate because he had been overactive, after heavy drinking, in the “inner quarters,” which may suggest gonorrhea.  It was cured with a succession of herbal teas, presumably diuretic and antibiotic.  Hsu thinks several cases that do not refer explicitly to sex are actually about it, Yi being a delicate speaker when discussing the nobility.  If she (and other commentators) are right, most of Yi’s main cases involved overindulgence in sex with either drinking before or cooling too fast afterward.

More interesting, however, are the many who got sick from falling in cold water and then getting overheated, or became sweaty and then got chilled or stressed by wind or other influences while drying out.  This belief is exactly the same among the Maya of Mexico that I have lived with, and indeed my wife and I were raised with versions of it in the midwestern United States.  It seems to be worldwide.  Yi treated one case by making him drink 60 litres of medicated ale—quite a heroic measure but probably pleasant enough (Hsu 2010b:78).  Another patient (p. 83) got sick from washing his hair and then going to sleep before it dried.  My wife remembers being counseled not to go out or do anything with wet hair, and so do my Maya friends.  In their cases, we can trace the idea back to Galen, but Yi was writing well before Galen—evidently this idea occurs to doctors worldwide.

In general, a large percentage of the problems were caused by or associated with “wind,” meaning not only literal wind but also intangible disruptive airs or influences in general (again, just as in Maya medicine).  The leading authority Shigehisu Kitayama sees wind as “the unregulated and irregular,” leading to madness and seizures (Hsu 2010b:213).  It remains important in Chinese medicine today.

Another individual strained his back lifting a heavy stone, and was cured with a softening decoction (p. 84).  He also had difficulty urinating (Yi thought kidneys were involved; a biomedical doctor would probably think “muscular spasm”).  This is a straightforward case.  Another straightforward case (19, p. 84) involved diagnosis of intestinal worms by symptoms immediately recognizable to a medically experienced writer today, and they were treated with daphne, a convulsive systemic poison that would indeed clean out the worms (though an overdose would have killed the patient too).  Another was clearly cystitis (p. 204), and treated accordingly, with a medicinal tea that was presumably diuretic, astringent and antibiotic.

The Chinese were already well aware of all these qualities, and knew effective herbs.  Yet another ate horse liver, considered poisonous in old China (possibly because horses ate plants poisonous to humans and the toxins concentrated in the liver).  Several other cases are less clear, but all cases seem to involve diseases that start from a specific causal event or event sequence.

Hsu contrasts the Chinese approach, focusing on the ongoing physical condition that appears as illness, with the western focus on a defined cause leading to a subsequent effect.  However, Yi’s cases actually read exactly like biomedical cases:  a specific event leads to an illness, which then produces symptoms and sometimes death.  Hsu lists these specific causal events (p. 114).  Chill aftrer overheating can create ongoing symptoms in both Chinese and western traditions.  When it comes to death from overindulgence in alcohol, there is literally no difference in approach or causal theory between Yi and a modern doctor, except that the modern doctor would have more accurate knowledge of the physiology involved—and even there Yi knew that damage to internal organs was involved.  Hsu is attending not to a real difference in causal theory so much as to a difference in the intervening variables assumed to be operating.  Of course there are differences in the causal theories too, with the Chinese indeed attending more to ongoing states than some western researchers do, but the contrast is not a simple open-and-shut one.

Westerners may prefer to look at those very cause-effect relationships.  Chinese do not ignore them.  However, Hsu finds that Chinese may prefer to look at intervening variables, and finds great differences between east and west.  Indeed, cultures tend to differ more in the black-box variables they infer than in observed relationships.  It is easier to see that overindulgence in alcohol causes problems, or that catching a chill is bad for health, than to understand why (in physiological terms).

Acupuncture, so famous now in the west, suddenly appears in the Han Dynasty.  Earlier references to needling seem to be merely lancing boils and other things for which needles are used worldwide.  Acupuncture is totally different.  It involves needling at strategic points of the body, where flows of blood and qi can be stimulated, blocked, cleaned, dispersed, drained, or corrected; hollowness is solidified, overflowing drained, stagnation removed, and so on (see Wu 1993:16).  Several different types of needles are used.  Most are very fine; the bigger ones tend to be the ones used for lancing boils and other less arcane purposes.

The earliest major treatise on acupuncture is the Ling Shu, “Spiritual Pivot,” the second part of the Yellow Emperor’s Classic (following the Su Wen, “Basic Questions”).  The Ling Shu certainly confirms Elisabeth Hsu’s choice of “the body ecologic” for the body described in the Yellow Emperor medical tradition.  A great deal of the book is a discussion and extension of the parallels between the individual body, the body politic, and the cosmos.  In fact, the book makes it obvious that a great deal of acupuncture treatment is specifically derived from assuming “resonance” between these.  The Ling Shu explains resonance about as clearly as anyone could:  “The sun resonates with the moon, the water with mirrors, the durm with drumming sounds.  For the sun and moon are bright…water and mirrors reflect…drums and drumming sounds resonate in time [i.e. rhythm],” and so on (p. 158).  We are talking about real similarities in basic qualities here, and even about resonance in the most literal sense of the (English) word, in drumming.  The extension of this to the resonance of Heaven, Earth and Humanity, and of cosmos, politics, and individual, is a natural logical step, however wildly overextended by Han thinkers.

Han cosmology and philosophy were based to a great extent on actual essential uniformities; the human body is a microcosm not just metaphorically or symbolically, but quite literally.

Note, for instance, that the above list of things to do to manage the qi channels bears no resemblace to anything biomedically effective, but an uncanny and very clear resemblance to the management of water in irrigation. Similar water and irrigation metaphors, or rather essential identities, occur throughout the book (e.g. p. 139).

Qi received from food is muddy or turbulent; clear qi comes from the air.  The clear qi flows upward and into yin organs, the muddy goes down and into yang organs.  They can get into opposition, a disordered state (see p. 148). “Debauched qi swirls and flows” (154), resulting in imbalances, which show themselves in ominous dreams.

Also, “The protective qi and the sun travel in the yang during the day.  At midnight, the travel is in the yin…” (p. 119).  The valley qi and other geographical qi’s are described.  As to the body politic, “To cure the state is to cure the household,” followed by a repetition of the ancient Chinese proverb: “Enter a country and [ask about] the customs.  Enter a household and [ask about household rules]” (p. 123).  Rebellions in a country make medical treatment difficult; rebellions within the body are the same.  Lustful and unregulated behavior of elites ruins not only their health but the realm’s; and much more.  Some of the parallelism is directly mediated through good government making it possible for people to have adequate food and clothing, but some is clearly resonance again (see p. 124).

Finally, in a stunning passage, the entire macrocosm/microcosm is laid out in concise and comprehensive terms.  This passage bears quoting in extenso, because it seems to be one true distillate of all Han thinking.  (I am leaving out, however, several resonances so forced or so purely abstract that they add little.)

“Heaven is round.  Earth is flat.  Man’s head is round and his feet are flat, making the correspondences and resonances.  Heaven has the sun and moon.  Man has two eyes.  Earth has the nine regions.  Man has the nine orifices.  Heaven has wind and rain.  Man has joy and anger.  Heaven has thunder and lightning.  Man has tones and sounds.  Heaven has the four seasons.  Man has the four limbs….  Heaven has winter and summer.  Man has chills and fevers.  Heaven has the ten days of the celestial stems.  Man’s hands have ten figers.  The earthly branches are twelve.  Man’s feet have ten toes, plus the penis and testicles make the correspondence. Women lack these latter two sections but can enwomb the human body [i.e., the female genitalia correspond to the male and thus make up twelve].  Heaven has yin and yang.  Man has male and female. …Earth has high mountains.  Man has shoulder and knee caps.  Earth has deep valleys.  Man has armpits and the crease of the knee….  Earth has grass and greens.  Man has fine hairs.  Heaven has day and night.  Man has sleeping and waking….  Earth in the fourth month cannot produce grass.  Man in later years does not produce children….”  (227).  “Man” here is ren, “person of either sex”; note that women are specifically mentioned.  As if this were not enough, a great deal more listing of resonances occurs throughout the book, with a glorious finale at the climax (pp. 249-257).  Seasonal directions and warnings throughout the book show that the Han obsession with seansonality and proper seasonal activities was fully present in acupuncture; other texts, such as the Guanzi and Huainanzi, ground these in agriculture and forestry, where they are largely practical and rational.  Their extension to medicine is not without some justice—everyone in the world seems to have figured out that we get fevers in summer and colds in winter—but the Yellow Emperor’s medical tradition took it far beyond pragmatics (see e.g. p. 267, which bears comparison with Hippocrates on airs).

The fivefold set of phases seen in the Su Wen are, naturally, present here too, with the Five Viscera—heart, lungs, stomach, spleen and kidneys—emphasized.  They have their proper colors,flavors, musical tones, and so on (pp. 156-157). The five wei, flavors, are extremely important, and remained so.  They are still vitally imporant in Chinese medicine today.

Heat and cold are major causative entities, and their effects must be dealt with in countless ways (see e.g. many kinds of hot illnesses, and treatments, pp. 105 ff.).  The book tells the student about conditions beyond treatment, when death is certain; these as seen on p. 107 are a good description of acute terminal phases of more or less typical infectious diseases in general; and on p. 111 are warnings about the frequent inability of acupuncture to deal with intestinal worms.  There are also many of the warnings that every medical book in history, especially in China, must have in it somewhere:  treat the illness as soon as possible—even before it arises if you can catch the prodromal signs.

Elisabeth Hsu’s emotional body survives in the book, too, and emotions cause illness.  So do the other problems noted above in the Shi Ji text.  “Worry and fear can strain the heart.  Chilling the body and cold drinks can injure the lungs….  When there is great anger, the qi ascends and does not descend….  When one is struck or hit, or has sexual intercourse while drunk, or is exposed to wind while sweating, it can injure the spleen.When one uses effort in lifting heavy objects, or has unlimited sexual intercourse, or bathes while sweating, it can injure the kidneys” (p. 20).  Similar warnings about excessive emotion and emotion-bearing activities (drinking, sex, fighting) occur throughout the book.  In more general terms, “all [illnesses] are born in wind, rain, winter’s cold, summer’s heat, clearness and humidity, or joy and anger.  When joy and anger cannot be controlled, it causes injury to the viscera.  Wind and rain cause injury to the top.  Clearness and humidity cause injury to the bottom…” and much more on causation (p. 216).

Several entire classifications of people according to their qi weaknesses and strengths occur in the book (pp. 161f-162; 205-211; 251 ff.).  One classification of human types involves resonance with the winds: each human physiotype is particularly endangered by the wind of a particular season (177).

Closely related to the work Hsu analyzes, but several centuries later, is the Mai Jing, “Pulse Classic.”  This amazing work, which runs to almost 400 pages in translation, was written by Wang Shuhe around 300 CE, during the Jin Dynasty.  Thanks to careful collating and editing not too many centuries later, it survives as a fairly coherent work, though it is surely not quite the way Wang Shuhe left it.  It describes many types of pulse and the countless medical indications that are provided by different pulse patterns in combination with other symptoms.  The illness picture given in this book is incredibly rich, detailed, systematic, and scientific  The science has not stood up well under modern biomedicine, but is still under investigation; clearly the end is not yet, and valuable insights may yet emerge.  Chinese doctors still believe firmly in the significance of qi and blood flow, cold and heat, and pulse diagnosis.

The point, though, is that this is a fully scientific text: it is based on the very best objective observation and recording Wang could muster, the theories are free from supernatural beliefs, and the work is systematized according to the theories.  These theories are those of the medicine of the time, basically those of the Yellow Emperor. As with the earlier works, much of the science involves cautious, controlled inference on the basis of the axiom that the human body is a microcosm of the world.  Thus, observations of earthly conditions can be generalized—but only if carefully tested against clinical observation.  Whether the results hold up to modern investigation or not, they were arrived at by the scientific method of the time.

Illness is due to the problems with qi and blood as stressed by heat, cold, wet, dry, and related environmental conditions.  Illness progresses from exterior to interior, affecting progressively the organ systems once it strikes deeply into the interior and nests there.  Different types of pulse correlate with different conditions in different organ fields.  One can tell whether and when a person is going to die, from the pulse and other signs.

Seasonality matters, and so does food.  The most important aspect of food in modern Chinese folk medicine, and important throughout the past as well, is the positioning in the Hippocratic-Galenic hot-cold-wet-dry quadrilateral.  Rice is neutral; wheat is cool and wet; shrimps are hot and wet; and so on through the thousands of foods and drugs in Chinese herbals. Sweets are wetting, hence their damage to the body (see e.g. Flaws 1995:10).

The fivefold system is also important—much more so at times in the past than the hot/cold system was.  Liver disease can occur in autumn from eating chicken; eating pheasant or hare can make spleen disease start in spring; the heart needs care abvout eating pork or fish, and winter is its danger season; lungs suffer from horse or deep meat, and summer; kidney disease follows from carelessness about beef in late summer (Wang 1997:26-27).  Even specific times of day are part of this fivefold correlation scheme (p. 62).  The microcosm/macrocosm resonances are invoked.  Spleen, for instance, is associated with earth.  “Earth is bountiful and rich by nature.  It breeds and nourishes the tens of thousands of living things” (71).  Thus the spleen is a beneficent, richly yielding organ, and associated with the stomach.  The lungs, on the other hand, are asssociated with metal, and are with the large intestine.  And so it goes, for the other organs.  Pulses have to be appropriate to all this.

Pathogens are familiar conditions: wind, wind dampness, summerheat, excessive heat of any kind, and the various deficiencies, blockages, and overflows of qi and other humors.

Long sections tell when sweating is desirable (and should be induced) and when sweating must be avoided, and so for other treatments including acupuncture and moxibustion.

Some diseases involve major mental inolvement, including lily disease and fox disease (p. 272).  These are both physical and mental in symptomatology, and seem to involve fevers that lead to mental confusion.  Stroke is described, a point to which we will return (p. 274).

Herbal medicine began, so far as we have records, with the Shen Nong Bencao of the later Han.  Bencao means “basic herbal.”  (It was, originally, probably a deliberate pun, since it can also be translated “roots and herbs.”  Ben still had its “root” meaning at the time; it was evolving into its more usual later meaning of “basic” or “origin,” with gen taking up the function of describing a botanical root.)  Shen Nong was the god of agriculture, supposedly living around 2737 B.C., but the herbal is pure Han in its theories, and the name was evidently used in about the same spirit that made Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld name his medical column for young people “Dr. Hip Pocrates.”   The herbal does not survive in its Han form; it was edited and put in definitive form by the great polymath of the 6th century, Tao Hongjing (452-536).  Even his edition survives only in various quoted and abstracted forms, though it has been ably reconstructed, and we can be fairly confident we have something like his work.  Sun Simiao reproduced large parts of it, and is an especially valuable source.  What survives has been translated by Yang Shou-zhong (Yang 1998). Tao wrote his own augmented herbal with 730 (365 x 2) simples.

The Shen Nong Bencao contains treatments of 365 simples (one for each day of the year), listed as Ruler, Minister, and Servant drugs, i.e. basic major drugs, adjunct drugs that help or balance or mollify the effects of the master drugs, and adjuvants that merely add soothing or other minor qualities.  In general, ruler drugs strengthen the patient—they are tonics and supplements. They are not toxic (or only trivially so).  Minister drugs fight the illness, and thus may be toxic at times.  Servant drugs add or balance. This political classification tended to disappear over time, as more and more “minor” drugs grew into major ones.  In the Song Dynasty, the government herbal reports:  “It is difficult to meticulously categorize the newly supplemented drugs” (Goldschmidt 2009) according to this system, so they downgraded it.  It is absent from what survives of the HHYF.  Evidently the flood of new drugs from both China and the outside world caused the system to break down.  (On bencao history, see Needham 1986; Unschuld 1986; Goldschmidt 2009 provides some useful additional notes.)

Drugs are also coded according to the five-flavors system and the heating-cooling-balanced system.  The latter may be already influenced by Greek medicine, but it is impossible to tell, because almost all the drugs are strictly Chinese and thus were not coded by early Western physicians or druggists.  The few foods treated are largely coded as balanced; most of them would be today too.  Sesame is balanced; authorities later have disagreed considerably on its position.  Red beans are balanced too; they are now warm (in modern Chinese practice), but were still balanced in the medieval texts.

Drugs are noted as treating the “three worms,” identified by Yang Shou-zhong, following Chao Yuan-fang of the 5th-6th century, as pinworms, roundworms and “red worms” (1998:3).  The “five evils” are also mentioned, and variously interpreted (p. 17); there are several lists of evils in the literature.  Marijuana is described as acrid and balanced.  In a very oft-quoted line, the Shen Nong says: “Taking much of it may make one behold ghosts and frenetidcally run about.  Protracted taking may enable one to communicate with the spirit light and make the body light [in weight]” (p. 148).

In an early supplement to this work, a vast number of incompatibilities are noted; we shall meet such things again.

However, there may have been some earlier western influence.  The term huoluan in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic (ca. 100 AD) may be from Greek cholera (Unschuld 2003).  This would put a major Greek borrowing as early as the late Han Dynasty.

Late in Han, Zhang Zhongjing (a.k.a. Zhang Ji; 150-219 CE) wrote the now-lost original edition of the Shang-Han Lun (“Discourse on Damaging Cold,” i.e. coldness that damages the person).   Zhang was from Changsha, not far from the Mawangdui tombs or from the court of Huainan, where Liu An and his staff had edited many major philosophic works a few centuries earlier.  Long lost, the Discourse on Damaging Cold was re-edited from Tang reconstructions (Goldschmidt 2009:99-100).  The rather modern cast to its medicine—it describes beriberi and oral rehydration for diarrhea—may therefore be Tang or even Song interpellations.  Zhong’s theory was that coldness was damaging the patients.  This referred to humoral cold, not literal cold wind, and thus it would seem possible that Hippocratic-Galenic ideas had become part of the basic medical axiom set, though it could equally well be parallel evolution; every culture realizes that physical coldness can be a problem, and many have independently extended it to something like a humoral theory.  Marta Hanson contrasts this book with the Inner Canon:  “The Inner Canon offered yin-yang and Five Phases doctrines, macro-microcosm models, and a type of correlative thought that related multiple registers of experience in a system of correspondences.  Zhang…is non-theoretical by comparison and deeply clinical in focus.  Zhang…described symptoms during the courses of disease, gave their underlying physiological and temporal patterns, and listed formulas iuseful as disease patterns changed” (Hanson 2011:12).

Shang-han was a general term for serious forms of diseases caused by or characterized by imbalance of yang and yin.  These came in six general varieties, referred to as jing “warps,” i.e. “basic strands.”  First was tai yang “greater yang” illness.  The other five were sunlight yang, lesser yang, and three types of yin disease.  The last of the yin diseases is the above-mentioned huo luan, and the symptoms described are exactly those of cholera (there is a theory that huo luan is actually a transcription of the Greek word).  In general, yin diseases are characterized by more weakness and less fever than yang diseases.  All descriptions are circumstantial and concise; someone was a very good clinical observer and recorder.  Unfortunately, it is usually impossible to correlate symptom lists with modern disease categories (though see below).  The problem is that so many infectious diseases call forth the same set of human defenses and vulnerabilities (deranged temperature control, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, etc.).

Shang-han came in many forms, each form corresponding to a whole class of conditions.   (One wonders whether Zhang saw all these as separate illnesses, or simply as severe, cold-worsened forms of the yang and yin conditions.)  It was not necessarily febrile but involved severe coldness, general aching, vomiting, and hiccoughs (Zhang 1981).  Related conditions or variant forms involve sweating, stiffness, chills, congestion, difficulty in urination, and cramps.  In biomedical terms, the symptoms are basically those of flu, but could also apply to almost any infectious disease.  Some forms involve alternating fever and cold, which can only apply to malaria.  Some types include diarrhea, some do not.  (It is denied for the condition in paragraph 20, which seems to refer to stomach flu and similar conditions; but present in the condition in paragraph 21, which appears to be acute salmonellosis including typhoid, but could also be any kind of dysentery, or even cholera; also in paragraph 25, which seems like a protozoan dysentery.  And so throughout the book.)  Zhang saw warm (febrile) disorders as transformations of cold damage, and did not explore them in detail, though he gave many recipes.  The Shang-Han Lun focuses on what we now recognize as infectious disease, lacks discussion of stroke or the other conditions discussed in juan 12 of the HHYF, nor does it cover wounds and bites (HHYF’s juan 34).

Zhang’s book was the major fount of drug formulas.  He gave concise but often effective recipes for every condition.  These survive today, and indeed fully a fourth of the medical recipes in the great modern collection Chinese Herbal Medicine: Formulas and Strategies (Scheid et al. 2009) are from the work.  Zhang and/or his editors were quite aware that diarrhea should be treated by teas with sweetness and with nutrient-rich and mineral-rich herbs.  He anticipated modern oral rehydration therapy by 1800 years or so, if the material is truly Han; at the very least, by the 900 years since the Song editions.  He also has a good description of beriberi, which was successfully cured with fresh herbs.  The book mentions about 90 herbs, many of which are in the HHYF but many of which are not.

Extremely notable is the almost total lack of discussion of organ systems (as opposed to actual organs), fivefold taxonomies, or any of the other theories so vitally important in much of Chinese medicine.  As Michael Nylan (2013) points out, fivefold correspondence theory was still under heavy debate in Han times, and there was not general agreement on it.  Qi plays an important role, but only as the source of the damaging cold.  This lack of connection with other theories did not escape Song medical writers:  “Zhongjing’s book’s meaning is deep and it principles are profound.  It does not [however] clarify the [role of the] circulation tracts, it does not explain the transformation of qi…” (Wang Wei—not the poet, but a Song doctor—quoted in Goldschmidt 2009:170).

Not long after Han, in the 3rd century CE, the alchemist and herbalist Ge Hong recorded in his book Emergency Prepararations Held Up One’s Sleeve that extract of qinghao (Artemisia annua) cured malaria (Marks 2012:111).  It has, of course, recently gone worldwide for that purpose, and is the drug of choice in many areas of the world today.  Meanwhile, plant exploration increased, marked by—among other things—what may be the world’s first true ethnobotany: the Nanfang Caomu Juan of 304 CE (updated since; see H. Li 1979, and cf. H. Li 1977 for other early medicinal plants).  This book described useful plants of southeast Asia, including what is now south China.

Early in the Tang Dynasty, the great doctor Sun Simiao wrote Recipes Worth a Thousand Gold (651), a major work of synthesis and organization.  He consciously interfaced Hippocratic-Galenic ideas with the Five Phases and yin-yang concepts of earlier Chinese tradition (Sun 2007).  His work was influenced by Buddhism, not only in its western cast but in its argument for purity of mind in the physician (Scheid 2007:41).  Sun was one of the geniuses of Chinese culture, and was duly elevated to the position of God of Medicine and Longevity.

At this time, foreign plants, especially those that came with Buddhist medicine and medical missionaries, started to appear in numbers in Chinese herbals (Laufer 1919; Salguero 2014).  Sun has many, including eight common medicinal foods newly come from the west.  The Newly Revised materia Medica (Xinxiu bencao) and the Supplement to the Materia Medica (Bencao shiyi) written in 739…both included largte numbers of new foreign drugs” (Salguero 2014:40).

Soon after, the Tang Bencao appeared under the editorship of Su Jing, with 984 simples.  A Hu Bencao (“Iranian Herbal”) was compiled by one Zheng Qian around 740.  The story of exotics in Chinese medicine has been told by Berthold Laufer (1919) and Shiu Ying Hu (1990, reprinted in the 1996 Huihui Yaofang edition).

A Persian who settled in China in the 9th-10th centuries and used the Chinese name Li Xun wrote a book in Chinese on western medicine, the Haiyao Bencao, “Basic Herbs from the Ocean Route” around 756 (Hu 1990; Kong et al. 1996; Liu and Shaffer 2007:217; Savage-Smith et al. 2011:217; Salguero 2014:40 thinks it was “ninth or tenth century”).  Arab and Persian traders were well established in China by then; in the 9th century there was an Arab quarter with 200,000 residents (probably mostly locals, but many Near Eastern merchants) in Canton and with major establishments and trade at Quanzhou in Fujian (the main port in the next couple of dynasties).  They brought foods and herbs as well as other products.  Frankincense and myrrh entered Chinese practice.

Buddhist medicine brought in the Greek four-element theory, with earth, wind, fire and water as the elements; Chinese accepted these in Buddhist contexts (Salguero 2014).  The Buddhist tridoṣa—Three Humors—of wind, bile and phlegm proved very hard to deal with.  Wind was important in Chinese medicine, but the understanding of it was quite different from the Indian.  Choler (bile) is almost unmentioned and melancholia was not a concept in China.  The Chinese tried to deal with bile by invoking “hot” and “yellow” medical concepts (Salguero 2014:80), but clearly these remained alien to Chinese traditions, and are notably absent in the HHYF, where “hot” (re) has its usual Chinese meanings.

Chinese medicine also makes no obvious use of the four Greek humors—blood, phlegm, bile, and black bile—as such, but it does attach great importance to blood, and it also makes a major issue of phlegm (see Scheid et al. 2009, esp. 773ff. for phlegm).

Commentaries on the Sutra of Golden Light recommend against eating too much or little, waiting too long or not long enough; forbidden foods; and eating meat with milk.  They also cautioned Southern people not to eat jiang (whatever that was), and northerners to avoid milk  honey (obviously a hopeless counsel).  Buddhist works taught that eating bitter vegetables with honey prevents conceiving a male child, and that consuming alcohol, wheat or raw meat when one has a Fire Illness would lead to blindness or worse.  White heron fried in lard causes leprosy (lai).  Oily Flavor (ni) can treat various conditions (Salguero 2014:99).  The Chinese were disgusted by some aspects of Indian medicine (drinking cow urine…) and conversely the Indians found nothing to praise in similar Chinese practices, and, on a more important doctrinal level, traditional and Confucian Chinese were horrified by the Buddhist emphasis on loathing the body and abhorring it and all its products.  The strong affirmation of the body and of physical life and activity in Chinese tradition certainly stands in dramatic and marked contrast to the hatred of the flesh that is central not only to Buddhist but also to traditional Christian (see e.g. Romans 7-8) and certain other western religions and philosophies. Chinese may have many traditional disciplines of the body, but they did not oppose flesh and spirit as savagely as the west, at least until Buddhism taught them to; even then, Chinese ascetics seem much less prone to excesses of “enthusiasm” than western ones.

Both Chinese and western medicine focused heavily on hot, cold, wet, and dry, but the question of whether the Chinese obsession with hot, warm, balanced, cool and cold is of Western origin is too simple.  All major medical traditions in the world recognize that getting overheated or chilled is not a good thing.  Chinese knew this long before they knew of western medicine.  However, the Galenic tradition obviously influenced codings and beliefs; working with folk medicine in many Chinese communities, I found very few differences from what I know from Mediterranean and Latin American experience.

The Song Dynasty deserves major consideration here, because it profoundly changed Chinese medicine and set the stage for the HHYF.  In Song, bencao literature grew, with up to 1748 simples described in the Zhenghe Bencao (“regulating harmony” or “regulation and harmony” bencao) of 1116 (Goldschmidt 2009; Hsu 2010a, 2010b; Hsu and Harris 2010; Unschuld 1986). In 1076, the Song government started an imperial pharmacy to standardize drugs and enforce quality and honesty (Goldscmidt 2009:124ff).  Printing became common, greatly increasing the number of medical books and making nonscholarly sources widely available for the first time.  More herbs from the west are recorded in the Song Hui Yao (Historical Records of the Song Dynasty; Savage-Smith et al. 2011:217).  New classifications of herbal drugs appeared (see e.g. Scheid et al. 2009:xx).

Volker Scheid (2007) reports that “Song…was a time of rapid economic and social change based on the development of new technologies of agricultural production.  Commoners were released from quasiserfdom and became independent landholders.  Commercializaation of life and urbanization increased.  The hereditary aristocracy…was replaced by a more fluid gentry elite…book printing facilitated intellectual exchange….  This stimulated scholars to systematize knowledge, which had previously circulated in smaller social networks, on a grander scale” (Scheid 2007:37).  These trends all began in Tang and continued through Ming (see Mote 1999), but certainly they were prominent in Song.  Population grew, leading to economic growth but also more disease. Foreign contacts increased, and presumably some diseases came with them.

Scholars, partly because there were too many of them for the imperial bureaucracies, turned to medicine in large numbers (Scheid 2007:42).  They tended to displace downward the traditional professionals, who often followed local family traditions.  Song philosophers and moralists argued that medicine was an ideal way for a scholar to use his knowledge if he could not manage to fulfill his ideal role as government servant.

The rise of scholarly medicine was so rapidly and strikingly effective that the emperors themselves became involved.  The brilliant (if feckless; Kuhn 2009; Mote 1999) polymath emperor Huizong contributed a preface to the official medical encyclopedia and then went on to write a major theoretical work on medicine (see Goldschmidt 2009:183-6).

In contrast to earlier body-respecting medicine, Song medicine introduced autopsies, largely for forensic reasons (McKnight 1981; McKnight and Liu 1999).  Dissection became acceptable, though still not common.

However, the rapid rise of the scholarly physicians led to more arcane and textual medicine (Scheid 2007).  Meanwhile, the Five Circuit Phases (wuyun) and Six Qi’s (liuqi) added themselves to the picture.  This new theory was called yunqi, and it had a long reach, affecting the leading medical writers of the time.  We are not totally clear what these five and six entities were, but they apparently added a dynamic, environmentally grounded quality to the medicine.  The five circuit phases—not the same as the classic Five Phases (wu xing)—seem to have been terrestrial, the six qi atmospheric (Leung 2003; cf. Goldschmidt 2009:183ff).

The doctor Lu Wansu concentrated on cooling; Zhang Congzheng on purging; Li Dongyuan on bu tu (lit. “supplementing the earth”), and Zhu Danxi on enriching yin (Scheid et al. 2009:xx-xxi).

Colder or warmer environments and personal temperaments were taken into account, no doubt partly inspired by Galenic influences.  Older ideas of the five phases and flavors, “poison” (du, which means “poison-potentiating” as well as poisonous), and strengthening or supplementing (bu), were key concepts already (as they are to this day).  After this, herbals continued to increase in coverage, climaxing in the great Bencao Gangmu, finished in 1593 and published in 1596, probably the greatest herbal in the world in its time (cf. Nappi 2009; Needham 2004:142).  The west soon had fuller and better herbals, though actual theoretic advances in botany had to wait until John Ray in the mid-17th century, or—Needham thinks—even Tournefort in the late 18th century (Needham 2004:144.)

One major influence was a revival of a text from the past. In Song, many works derivative of the Shang-Han Lun were created.  Song doctors made a major industry out of trying to square Zhang’s cold-focused medicine with the new emphasis on warm or heat problems (Goldschmidt 2009:157ff).  Song doctors, and doctors in later dynasties, focused increasingly on these warm disorders (Scheid 2007), perhaps because fevers increased over time in the polluted Chinese environment.  In Ming and Qing, heat disorders were to become even more prominent.

Combining Zhang’s medicine with other traditions may have cost China a chance to develop a scientific medicine, because Zhang’s sober clinical eye was an invaluable corrective to the arid, unrealistic logical paradigm of the correspondence school.  The more the Song scholars integrated it with the latter, the more they diluted its value.  All too predictable was the Song emperor Huizong’s espousal of the correspondence theory, which fits so well with the bureaucratic mind and so poorly with the mind of a real-world medical agent.

The same spirit animated too much of the government encyclopedia, which, for instance, spun the old story (known in the west too) that the body has 365 bones, corresponding to the number of days in the year.  Just as Song’s so-called “sprouts of capitalism” withered over time (Mote 1999), the hard-science tradition from Zhang to Sun to the Song forensic investigators could easily have developed into a scientific empirical medicine, but failed to do so.  The situation is a perfect reversal of that which took place in western Europe, where beginnings of observational medicine at the same time went on growing, eventually to culminate in the 17th century, with Sydenham, Harvey, and others replacing book-driven schemes by observation and experiment.

Zhang, Sun Simiao, and other books established a canonical set of prescriptions for any and all disorders.  These could be varied, often by adding more and more drugs to balance out the original set.  Doctors came to rely on published formularies as opposed to earlier, more individualized or familial, practices (Scheid 2007:39).

Many of the Song doctors, however, acquired a sense of clinical practice and awareness from their own practice and from Zhang.  They could develop or modify their own formulas.  They reported good descriptions of actual symptoms in actual patients.  Shen Gua, who among his other achievements wrote a medical work, began it by pointing out that a good doctor will examine everything—the symptoms stressed by Zhang and those stressed by the correspondence school (Goldschmidt 2009:175 quotes him extensively).  If history had been only slightly different, the Chinese would have anticipated the west in realizing that the old idea that illness is a weakness in the patient—caused by cold and heat, or by diet, or by environmental trauma, or by fear or other emotions—had to be supplemented by serious attention to the different kinds of diseases.  (Of course, ironically, we are now learning that biomedicine’s focus on diseases has to be supplemented by concern for environment and emotion!)

Li Dong-yuan, a leading Song doctor, emphasized the importance of the spleen and stomach, and the ease of damage to the spleen by fire (medical, not literal) and other environmental influences.  This seems to me a response to the southward movement of Chinese culture and the consequent familiarity to malaria.  Chronic malaria enlarges the spleen and makes it tender and easily injured; I heard on the Hong Kong waterfront in the 1960s that one way of killing a person was to hit him hard in the spleen, which would rupture and lead to death.  This assumes that the person was extremely malarious, an all too safe assumption in the old days.  In any case, the spleen remains important in Chinese medicine out of all proportion to its biomedical role.

Li Dong-yuan was the first to describe and stress yin fire, “upward heat associated with damp heat below…[that] causes chaos…in the clear and turbid qi” (Flaws 1995:12).  This in connection with the spleen is a fair description of the feeling of chronic malaria.  (Clear qi should rise and energize the body; turbid qi remain below, partly in the form of the digestive process that separates nutrients from wastes.)  Bob Flaws (1995) also points out—from his practice, and certainly correctly—that in milder forms it is a fine description of the results on the stomach and associated organs of the modern junk-food diet.   (He follows Chinese folk and traditional practice in recommending a qing dan, “purifying and blanding,” diet, i.e. one high in neutral foods like grains and beans and low in high-calorie, hard-to-digest, and pungent foods.  This makes perfect sense biomedically as well as Sinologically.)  Once again, we have to recall that these doctors are talking about real conditions, however strange their language and classification system may be to biomedically-trained readers.

In spite of all this, epidemics swept China, especially in the 1040s.  The government responded by publishing more manuals as well as through the hospital program.  In 1057, the government established a Bureau for Revising Medical Texts (Scheid 2007:38).  In 1089, when prefect of Hangzhou, the great poet Su Shi founded China’s first charity hospital.  This inspired state hospitals on a large scale, beginning around 1100; these were independent from reief homes.  Under Huizong, the empire soon followed, beginning a program of hospital and poorhouse building in 1102.  It soon ran out of money, but not before innovating isolation wards to prevent contagion—a new idea in China, where strengthening the patient always took precedence over worrying about the illness.  It seems more than possible that the idea of the hospital and above all the ideas on contagion and isolation came from the Near East.  Wards were separated to reduce contagion—showing it was well recognized—and “salaried physicians were awarded bonuses on the basis of positive treatment outcomes” (Levine 2009:597).  This brings us closer to the ancient goal of paying the doctor when one is healthy, and not when one is sick (a Zhou or Han Dynasty idea that anticipated medical insurance by a couple of millennia).

In connection with all this, Song, under Huizong, estabished a medical school (Yixue) in 1103, “designed to raise the stats of imperially licensed physicians to parallel that of Imperial University graduates” (Levine 2009:588).  This involved clinical experience as well as learning texts.  It was under the Directorate of Education, which also ran a mathematical school (founded 1104) and other technical enterprises (Levine 2009).

Acupuncture and moxibustion flourished, but largely among the nonscholarly practitioners (Leung 2003).  The separation of working physicians and healers from scholarly practitioners—theoretically, scholars who practised medicine on the side, for families and friends, rather than for profit—was established strongly in this period.  Such enlightened amateurs raised the status of medicine greatly.  Professional doctors were, and remained, low in the social hierarchy.

A fascinating insight into Song medical thinking is provided in a brilliant essay by Cong Ellen Zhang (2011; could she be a descendant of Zhang Zhongqing?).  She studied the belief in a miasma called zhang (a totally different character from her name, of course).  This illness-causing and pervasive problem existed in the deep south, especially lowland tropical Lingnan (Guangdong and Guangxi).  It was a product of the heat, wetness, intense sun, and possibly the lush vegetation (or, alternatively, the lush vegetation and the miasma were both produced by the wet heat).  It was a general term for the sicknesses and misery provoked in northern Chinese in that climate.  It seems especially to have targeted the many exiles sent down to that dismal and remote location, there to suffer boredom, isolation, humiliation, and fear.  At least one account of the time explicitly differentiates it from malaria.  Song accounts of it are strikingly reminiscent of 19th-century English accounts of the horrors and dangers of the tropics.

There were green-grass miasma in spring, yellow-plum ones in summer, new grain ones in late summer, and yellow-flossgrass ones in fall, the last being the worst (Zhang 2011:200, from Fan Chengda).  Su Shi, who died of it (i.e., probably of some tropical-acquired chronic disease), treated it with ginger, onion and fermented black beans (Zhang 2011:215); others used Pinellia, Atractylodes and Agastache (Zhang 2011:216), herbal curealls that probably did little to help.  It was a medically recognized regional miasma, a general aerial force or condition, dangerous or outright deadly.

What emerges from the Song texts is the critically important point that the doctors were genuinely interested in clinical treatment, not primarily in abstract theory.  However much they may have diligently labored to theorize their practice, they were more interested in the patients’ recovery.  This goes against the received wisdom in western studies of Chinese medical history, which is heavily reliant on theoretical texts and thus tends to see Chinese medicine solely in terms of theory.  The result is the claim that Chinese medicine is incommensurable with Western, and could not relate to it.  This is the claim we disprove in our work on the HHYF, and the disproof rests on the perception that Yuan doctors were interested in curing patients rather than in keeping their theories pure, and therefore could adopt Near Eastern medicine and make some sense of it.  However wrong—in biomedical terms—were the accommodations of shang-han and correspondence medicine, they prove that Chinese doctors were more than willing to mix and blend paradigms if they thought it could help suffering clients.

With the Jin Dynasty, stronger medications, such as purges, became common also (Leung 2003:378).  New ideas and practices were established widely.  As in agriculture and other realms, new ideas and practices arose dramatically in the Song Dynasty (Unschuld 1985, 1986) but were developed more in later dynasties than in Song itself.

An important later Song work is Wang Zhi Zhong’s work Zhen Jiu Zi Sheng Jing (2011), a 12th-century manual of acupuncture and moxibustion. It is incredibly detailed, with names, treatments, and often descriptions of hundreds of illnesses.  These range from clear-cut, straightforward conditions to arcane and complex ones.  Perhaps the most clear-cut is back pain, blamed on too much physical work or activity and treated by simple needling and moxibustion (p. 221).  At the other extreme are diseases due towinds, which tend to have complicated, detailed, and highly overlapping symptomatologies.  One wonders how the Song Dynasty doctors figured out which was which.  The book gives treatments for conditions ranging from nightmares and madness to deafness and lumbago.  Male and female problems are detailed.  Relating to what we have left of the HHYF are brief sections on hemiplegia (partial paralysis usually due to stroke), which is blamed on winds (171-172, 279). It is worse if on the left side in males, on the right in females.  Tendon spasms (159) described in terms similar to the HHYF description, but much more simply.  They are due to winds.

Overall, causes are usually attacks or influences by winds.  These may strike the whole body or particular organs or body parts.  Often disturbances of qi are the problem. At other times—but surprisingly rarely for a Chinese doctor—he blames overdoing alcohol, hot food, and sex.  Following Zhang Zhongjing in looking at shang han and han re (“cold-and-heat”), he sees excessive cold and heat as often causative.  At other times, as with the back pains, overexertion is the problem; he blames eye troubles on the classic causes, such reading in dim light, standing in smoke, going outdoors in the wind, and doing too much fine detail work, but also drinking too much alcohol and eating too much hot food.

Even for a Chinese doctor, Wang is notable for clear, systematic, naturalistic presentation.  There is nothing mystical about his work—no demons, no obsessive fivefold correlations, no incomprehensible references to different sorts of qi.  He seems to have a definite affinity for Sun Simiao, whom he cites frequently.  His only fault is not distinguishing clearly between wind conditions, or between these and other illnesses due to cold, heat, and other factors.  He seems to have simply summarized earlier descriptions; he was, after all, interested in the acupuncture and moxibustion treatments, not in the causation.

In contrast with the HHYF, his descriptions are clear, simple, and comprehensible.  He seems typical of the Song period’s emphasis on getting rid of excessively complex and aridly schematic medicine and focusing on wind, qi, heat, cold, pathogenic energy, and physical causes (weakness, overexertion).

Overall, this is broadly similar to the HHYF, which is equally concerned with those variables.  The details, however, are very different, making it appear that the HHYF does indeed draw heavily on Near Eastern tradition.

By the time of the HHYF, Chinese medicine was based firmly on a conceptual framework of considerable subtlety and elaboeration.  It was based on:

The fivefold correspondences, including organ-fields, viscera, flavors, seasons, and much more;

The five degrees of hot and cold;

The vital importance of qi and blood as the circulatory systems of the body, and their dynamics, including stagnation, depletion, turbidity, overflow, and other irrigation-paralleling dynamics;

The yang and yin, and their complicated dynamics—they could be depleted, weakened, overproduced, and otherwise disarranged;

Related, but variously conceptualized, internal forces such as “fire”; yang and yin fires exist and can be damaging.

The dangers of external conditions including wind (both real and inferred) and heat, cold, wet (or damp) and dryness;

Personal problems that weaken the body, from worry and anxiety to fear, anger, excessive sex, and excessive eating and drinking (especially alcohol);

And miscellaneous other, less theoretical, conditions such as childbirth, injuries and traumas of all kinds, poisons, bites, stings, and the like.

Finally, a vast amount of magical, folk-religious, and folkloric practice continued, though it had no excuse in terms of the above system of medicine.  Charms, exorcisms, taboos, credulous beliefs in longevity, and other such practices continue today.  “A massive encyclopedia of medicine compiled at imperial behest at the height of the Song dynasty contains three fascicles (juan) cataloging talismans, rituals, and other interdictions, an indication of the continiuing high value placed on spirit-based medicine in the loftier echelons of society” (Salguero 2014:26; the work is the Zhenghe shengji zonglu of 1122).  A stunning compilation of this bizarre and arcane lore has recently appeared in Shih-Shan Susan Huang’s study of Daoist art, Picturing the True Form (2012).  It contains a vast number of medieval pictures of real and imagined parasites, real and imagined anatomy, charms, gods and spirits of the human body, and other strange medical apparitions (see esp. pp. 52-85).

It is likely that a few Chinese of the time made a distinction between the more scientific, theory-grounded, realistic medicine and this lore of spirits and demons, but one suspects that the vast majority of the people saw them all as equally true—just as medieval Europeans did.  The more rational theories and therapies were, after all, far from biomedical reality, and probably gave no better cure rates than the magical ones did.  And there was a vast space in between where the traditions fused, as I saw in east Asia 50 years ago, when spirit-mediums wrote herbal prescriptions or even told patients to buy aspirins and antibiotics medicines at the drug store.  Huang’s illustrations include plates that have imaginary demons posed next to fairly accurate renderings of internal parasites (pp. 53, 62; Ming Dynasty pictures but from older sources).

Perfectly empirical methods for lengthening life (meditation, good diet, moderate drinking) were combined with fantastic measures that depended on placating a vast horde of spirits and beings within the body.  The ancient idea of the body as microcosm was alive and well, informing physiology in sometimes useful, sometimes misleading analogical ways.


All these medical traditions melded into an extremely elaborate and complex framework.  It allowed for classification of conditions and thus for planning treatment.  Such nosology required yet another whole system of diagnostic observations:  pulse, countenance, tongue appearance, reported aches and pains and other symptoms, observed lumps and swellings, evidence of weakness or unnatural activity, insomnia, excessive hunger and thirst, aversion to food, vomiting, diarrhea, and all the other medical signs known to the world.

A very complex system of nosological entities was identified, with formulas for medicines to treat each one of them (see Scheid et al. 2009).

This system had almost no points of contact with modern biomedicine beyond the obvious matters of trauma, and unmistakable medical conditions like hemiplegia and insanity.  On a borderline were conditions like beriberi and malaria, recognized and described but understood so differently from biomedical understandings that they  emerged as rather different clinical entities.  The core meanings of terms we translate as “beriberi” and so on might be similar in Chinese medicine and modern biomedicine, but the extensions of these terms would be different from those of biomedicine.

Of course in all cases the explanations and treatments were very different indeed from those of biomedicine.  Jaundice, for instance, was impossible to miss, and some connection with the liver was realized, but the condition was considered to be usually due to dampness affecting the organs, and was thus treated with warming and drying herbs that had no biomedically notable effect.

The resemblances to Hippocratic-Galenic medicine were much greater.  There were the obvious matters of hot/cold, blood, phlegm, many illness categories, many medicines, and the like.  There were similarities in blaming stroke on wind, insanity on anxiety or overindulgence in pleasures, and others that will be noted below.  In spite of the differences in these systems, there was clearly some influence from west to east throughout history, and probably some the other way as well.

Chinese herbal medicine involved a vast number of herbal remedies that did have some effect, by biomedical as well as traditional Chinese standards.  Empirical observation had made hundreds of connections between herb and cure.  Oral rehydration therapy, use of qinghaosu for malaria, use of stimulant and carminative drugs, use of digestives like mint, use of antibiotic salves and washes on skin infections, and many other successful treatments were known; these were explained in Chinese terms, but can now be explained in biomedical terms.  It may not matter much whether the stimulant and carminative action of cinnamon is explained by human adaptation to volatile oils or by activation of the qi and the yang energy.  It does matter, however, when people extrapolate according to their beliefs:  looking for other stimulant volatile oils, or trying other herbs that seem somehow to be linked to qi action.   A great deal of Chinese medical practice was based on logical deduction or quasi-empirical reapplication.  Such deduction, in any medical system, has to be rigorously tested against experience.  This was not always the case in China (or today in biomedicine, for that matter).  Errors resulted.

A quite different factor that feeds into all this was the rise in status of doctors.  Partly because other avenues of advancement were rather thin under Yuan (Brook 2010:152), but partly also to take care of their families and neighbors without any concern for economic rewards, many literati took to doctoring (Leung 2013).  An expectation arose that a Confucian should know enough about medicine to take care of his family—at least to be an informed consumer.  Medicine became an appropriate thing to study.  Thus a tradition of educated writers on medicine—something already known in Tang—grew steadily in Song and Yuan.  This had mixed effects.  As proper Confucian gentlemen, these scholars were not about to sully their hands in autopsies and visits to public hospitals.  (Amazingly, several actually did.)   Usually, they focused on intuitive understandings of the most ancient classics, such as the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine.  They would also deal with empirical reality to the point of assessing the success of remedies they and their friends tried, but generally at an anecdotal level, not at a statistically significant one.

Yuan and Ming medicine have found an excellent historian in Angela Ki Che Leung (2003, 2013, and sources cited therein).  She has discussed in detail the rise of literati doctors, the expansion of medical work, the coming of western and Central Asian ideas, and especially the rise of an extremely elaborate and specialized medical world in Ming.  Much of this is beyond our focus here, but her work on Yuan is valuable for understanding the world of the HHYF.

Another question is medical technology.  Distilling was well known to both Mongols and Chinese, with various sophisticated though small stills surviving (and excellently analyzed by Luo Feng, 2012).  They were used mostly for liquor, but for medicine as well.  Dissection, bonesetting, and surgery had their full instrument kits.  Medical technology of the period, however, largely awaits further research.

With all these trends, medical science advanced significantly in Song and Yuan, but did not develop anything like the breakthrough that happened in Europe after 1600.  They began to make the final step of forthrightly going with experimental results, confirmed by others.  But the ancient books still dominated too much of thought and practice.  They stopped just short of the outright defiance of tradition that characterized Harvey and Sydenham and Boyle in the later west.

A digression into later times is necessary at this point, because it reveals much about Chinese medicine.  The Song fascination with cold disorders led to a rise in fascination with warm illnesses, wenbing, in Ming and later; recently, SARS was included in this category when it appeared in China (Hanson 2011).  Warm illnesses were naturally typical of the south, especially the far south, so infamous for its miasmas, contagions, witches who created gu poisons, and generally sick conditions (Hanson 2011:69-73).  Snakes, notably hot animals especially if poisonous, abound in the south, spitting venom and corrupting the environment (Hanson 2011:71).  Syphilis also abounded in the south, and men were warned to avoid loose women there (Hanson 2011:76-78).  In addition to gu, even today often considered a specialty of the Miao/Hmong, there were deadly herbs such as “intestine-splitting herb” and “rat grass” (Hanson 2011:82-83).

Hanson stresses the rise of geography in Chinese medical thinking.  China slants from west to east, a basic bit of cosmology in early times, and of course grows warmer from north to south; thus the illnesses are different in the southeast, a zone of hot, weak, lowland conditions.    Chinese doctors also discovered class.  In an oft-quoted passage, Li Zhongzi of Ming noted that “The wealthy and noble feed themselves rich foods and grains; the poor and lowly fill their bellies with sprouts and beans….  Those who labor with their minds [the wealthy] have a depleted center, weak sinews, and brittle bones.  Those who labor with their bodies have full centers, strong bones, and powerful sinews” (Hanson 2011:63).  Galen described exactly the same contrast in almost exactly the same terms—one would suspect borrowing except that the resemblance is too close!  Li would have had to have Galen before him (and a Latin dictionary).  Great minds really do run in the same channels.


Chinese Medicine and Chinese Science

“Medicine” is a contested term in the world, and its application to Chinese traditions reveals many of the complexities.

Paul Unschuld, the leading expert on the history of Chinese medicine, has recently proposed restricting the term to scientific healing—healing based entirely, or fundamentally, on inferred natural laws that transcend the whims of supernatural beings, spirits, witches, and other troublemakers.  By that standard, medicine has been invented twice in the history of the world:  by the Greeks in the 6th-7th centuries BCE and by the Chinese in the 2nd-3rd and after (Unschuld 2009).  One might question the dates slightly, and one might feel a need to add ayurvedic medicine as a third contender, but otherwise it does seem that true scientific medicine is sharply and narrowly confined to those two (or three) cases.

The word “medicine,” however, is almost universally used to include the healing practices of all the world’s peoples, and I will continue to use the word in that wider sense.  Moreover, all medical traditions, everywhere, are a mix of empirical knowledge, inferred general principles, and agentive claims.  Chinese medicine before the Han Dynasty had its protoscience, including ideas of yang and yin