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Chinese Materia Medica illustration, Ming: Alpinia japonica

  • Wang Shichang et al. (Ming period, 1368-1644)
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Credit: Chinese Materia Medica illustration, Ming: Alpinia japonica. 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 the flowers of Alpinia japonica (Shanjiang). Bencao pinhui jingyao states: The flowers, stems and leaves of Alpinia japonica are like those of the ginger plant, but the roots are inedible. The flowers also resemble cardamom (caodoukou). Alpinia japonica is pungent in sapor, warm in nature. It has the effect of regulating the centre and bringing down Qi; warming the centre and relieving pain; halting vomiting and diarrhoea. It can be used to treat cold pain in the epigastric region (wanfu), deficiency-cold in the stomach, huoluan (cholera and similar illnesses) with vomiting and diarrhoea, etc.


Flowers of Alpinia japonica (Shanjiang)


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