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Chinese Materia Medica illustration, Ming: Cluster mallow

  • Wang Shichang et al. (Ming period, 1368-1644)
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Credit: Chinese Materia Medica illustration, Ming: Cluster mallow. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark

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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. This is a botanical illustration of Cluster mallow (Malva verticillata L.) showing the appearance of the plant. Bencao pinhui jingyao states: Cluster mallow seeds (dongkui zi) are first cited as a medicinal substance in Shennong bencao jing (The Divine Farmer's Canon of Materia Medica). Cluster mallow is planted in the autumn and covered over during the winter. In the spring, it grow tall and produces seeds known as dongkui zi. The shoots and leaves can be used as a vegetable, which is given the name kuicai. Cluster mallow seeds is sweet in sapor and cold in nature. It has the effect of promoting urination and defecation; assisting lactation and draining pus. It can be used to treat dysuria, absence of lactation, food retention (jizhi) and constipation, etc.


Dong kuizi (Cluster mallow, Malva verticillata L.)


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