Ming herbal (painting): [Black] pepper

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Painting of [black] pepper (hujiao, Piper nigrum) 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: [Black] pepper (hujiao) is also called meilüzhi. It grows in the Xirong area [north-west China]. Youyang zazu [a Tang literary miscellany] says that it comes from [?]. The bush grows to over 1 zheng (c. 3.3 m.) in height. It has short leaves resembling those of the loquat. It bears white flowers in the first [lunar] month. The peppers grow in clusters like cascara (shu lizi), and serve as a pungent culinary condiment. [Black] pepper is also said to grow as a creeper on taller trees. It has leaves like beans or yams, and bears seeds in opposite pairs. The leaves unfurl in the morning and close up at dusk. When they are closed, they wrap around the seeds. If harvested and sun-dried in the fifth month, pepper can be used in medicine. It is extremely warming in thermostatic character, and can move Qi and assist fire. It is appropriate to be eaten by people suffering from cold-damp, but is harmful to those suffering from heat ailments.


[Black] pepper (hujiao, Piper nigrum)

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Ming herbal (painting): [Black] pepper. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY


Credit: Wellcome Collection

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