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Chinese Materia Medica illustration, Ming: Sichuan honey

Lettering: Picture title: Shuzhou [Sichuan] honey


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 illustration shows bees making honey. Fengmi is the generic term for honey, and Chuanzhou fengmi refers to honey from the Sichuan area. Bencao pinhui jingyao states: Shimi ('rock honey') is first cited as a medicinal substance in Shennong bencao jing (The Divine Farmer's Canon of Materia Medica). Shimi (rock honey), also known as yami (cliff honey), is made by a kind of black bees resembling horse-flies, whose habitat is high, rocky mountainous areas and caves. It is greenish and has a strong, rich flavour. It is sweet in sapor and neutral in nature. A viscous, yellowish-white substance, it has excellent effects of reinforcing the centre and replenishing Qi; lubricating and nourishing the zang and fu viscera; relaxing tension and relieving pain. It is used to treat deficiency and vacuity of Qi and blood, intestinal dryness and constipation, pain in the epigastric region (wanfu), etc.

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