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Chinese Materia Medica illustration, Ming: Cassia blossom

  • Wang Shichang et al. (Ming period, 1368-1644)
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Credit: Chinese Materia Medica illustration, Ming: Cassia blossom. 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. The illustration shows a cassia tree in blossom. Bencao pinhui jingyao states: Cassia is first mentioned in Mingyi bielu (Additional Records of Famous Physicians). It is extremely hot in nature, and sweet and pungent in sapor. Three parts of the plant - the bark, the inner bark and the twigs - are used for medicinal purposes. It warms the centre and replenishes deficiencies, gets rid of cold malignity (han xie), unblocks and promotes circulation in the blood vessels, and regulates the movement of Qi. It is used to treat exogenous wind malignity (waigan fengxie), joint pain caused by wind-damp (feng shi bitong), stagnation and blockage of the blood flow, cold pain in the epigastric region, etc.


Cassia flower


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