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Chinese Materia Medica illustration, Ming: Sesame of Jinzhou

  • Wang Shichang et al. (Ming period, 1368-1644)
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Credit: Chinese Materia Medica illustration, Ming: Sesame of Jinzhou. 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 sesame (huma), showing the appearance of the plant. The variety from Jinzhou (in today's Shanxi province) was highly regarded. Bencao pinhui jingyao states: Sesame is first cited as a medicinal substance in Shennong bencao jing (The Divine Farmer's Canon of Materia Medica). The shoots and stems of the sesame plant are similar to flax. The leaves are lustrous and rounded with a pointed tip. When young and tender, it can be cooked as a vegetable, and it is frequently eaten by Daoists. Sesame is sweet in sapor and neutral in nature. It has the effect of nourishing the liver and kidneys, reinforcing the five viscera, increasing physical strength, and stimulating the brain. It can be used to treat deficiency and vacuity of Qi and blood, insufficiency of the liver and kidneys, post partum debility, etc.


Sesame (huma) from Jinzhou


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