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Ming herbal (painting): Dioscorea bulbifera

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Credit: Ming herbal (painting): Dioscorea bulbifera. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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Painting of dioscorea bulbifera (huangyaozi), in the meticulous (gongbi) style, in colour on silk, from Bencao tupu (Illustrated Herbal). The painted illustrations in Bencao tupu were jointly executed by Zhou Hu and Zhou Xi in 1644 (the final year of the Ming period). The explanatory texts were provided by Zhou Rongqi. The book was not completed: each volume was to have contained 14-15 paintings, but only 29 are extant. Zhou Rongqi writes: Dioscorea bulbifera is a herbaceous climber. It dies back in winter and grows in spring. The vines, which grow to 3-4 chi (1 chi [Chinese foot] = c. 1/3 m.), are supple and nodular. The leaves resemble mulberry leaves. It has stem tubers which grow singly; these tubers are used in medicine. It is bitter in sapor, neutral in thermostatic character, and non-poisonous. It has the medicinal properties of cooling the blood and lowering fire; removing poisons and reducing goitre. It is used to treat bringing up blood (tu xue) and nose bleeds; scrofula (luoli); abscesses, ulcers and tubercular conditions (jiehe), etc.


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