Chinese Materia Medica illustration, Ming: Huangqin

  • Wang Shichang et al. (Ming period, 1368-1644)
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Traced copy of an illustration from Bencao pinhui jingyao (Materia Medica Containing Essential and Important Material Arranged in Systematic Order, completed 1505), in red and black ink. In 1503, the Ming emperor Li Zong put imperial physician Liu Wentai in charge of compiling a new herbal (bencao). The resulting work, which ran to 42 volumes, contained entries on 1815 pharmaceutical plants and other substances, with 1358 full-colour illustrations by artists including Wang Shichang. It was completed in the spring of 1505. However, in the summer of that year, The Emperor contracted a fever, which unsuccessfully treated by Liu Wentai, proved fatal. As a result Liu Wentai was banished from court, and the herbal was not allowed to be engraved or published. The original manuscript was preserved in the imperial palace, where only a select few officials were allowed to consult or copy it. The exemplar held in the Library of the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine) is a traced facsimile made in the Ming (1368-1644) period by an unknown hand. The illustration shows Scutellaria baicalensis (huangqin) from Chu prefecture (now in Anhui province) in plant form. Bencao pinhui jingyao states: It is first mentioned in Mingyi bielu (Additional Records of Famous Physicians). Huangqin from Chu prefecture is one of several regional varieties of this herb. The shoots grow to a height of 1-2 chi (1 chi [Chinese foot] = c. 1/3 m.). It has opposed leaves, similar to bamboo leaves in appearance but shorter. The stems are soft and tender. The flowers are white or greenish. The roots resemble fresh, tender ginger, and are yellow, plump and fleshy. Huangqin is sweet in sapor and neutral in nature. It is effective in tonifying the centre and replenishing Qi (bu zhong yi qi), nourishing the Five Viscera, strengthening the sinews and reinforcing the bones, making the body light and increasing longevity. It can be used to treat deficiency and impairment due to overexertion (xusun laoshang), weakness and flaccidity of the bones and tendons (jingu weiruo), deficiency of the spleen and stomach (pi wei buzu), Yin deficiency in the heart and lungs (xin fei yin kui), etc.


Root of Scutellaria baicalensis (huangqin) from Chu prefecture [in Anhui province]


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