A Book on Medicinal Seeds


The eight-page manuscript presented here preserves two works: a short treatise on medicinal seeds and a fragment from a “chapter on the subject of chess.” The medical treatise contains 40 entries on various types of seeds, including seeds from fruits, vegetables, and grains. It begins with an entry on citron and ends with an incomplete entry on the Baraka (Nigella Sativa or Black Seed). Some of the seeds—such as those of watermelon, pumpkin, pomegranate, and cotton—are well known in the New World. Others, such as the alkekengi (Physalis alkekengi, or Chinese Lantern), a type of cherry native to Central and South Asia, are generally less common. Each entry gives the seed name, written in red, green, or blue, and a brief description about that seed and its medicinal uses. Later entries are followed by a sanʻatuhu (how it is made) prescription specifying the proportions to be used and, sometimes, the best variety of the seed in question. The text is written in an un-voweled black naskh script and is dated on or around December 10, 1513. The author and provenance are unknown. The text of the treatise is preceded by a two-page fragment from what appears to be a treatise on chess. The short chapter displays a rubricated numerology grid showing “the winner” and “the loser” in each grid cell. Accompanying the grid are an explanatory text and an incomplete poem on how to play chess by the notable 11th-century poet Ibn al-Habbariyah (died circa 1115), who was also known for his lewd satire. The two pieces appear to have been parts of separate works.

Last updated: January 10, 2018