Reconstructed materia medica of the Medieval and Ottoman al-Sham

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This article presents the results of a study of the medicinal uses of natural substances in medieval and Ottoman al-Sham (the Levant). It involved a meticulous survey of a wide range of historical sources spanning approximately 1100 years and including medical and pharmacological literature, travelogues, geographical and agricultural literature, dictionaries, archives, the Genizah and other medieval sources. Our main goal was to arrive at a reconstruction of the unwritten materia medica of the medieval and Ottoman Levant. Of the many and varied medicinal substances on which we were able to extract information, we were able to identify 286. These are presented according to the following classification: 234 species of plants (81.8%); 27 species of animals (9.5%); 15 kinds of minerals (5.2%) and 10 substances of other or mixed origin (3.5%). Analysis of the data showed that the region under study served as the geographic origin of the majority of the substances, only a minority of the materials was imported. The main reason for this is the geographic location of the Levant as a junction between three continents, as a cultural meeting point and as trade center. Finally, our data revealed that the al-Sham region was an independent source of production and marketing of medicinal substances during the medieval and Ottoman periods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-179
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Ethnopharmacology
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grants from the Edelstein Center, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and Koret Foundation, San Francisco. The author would like to thank Professor Eran Dolev, Professor Allan Wiztum, Professor Ya'akov Lev and Dr Yosef Drori for their support and helpful remarks.


  • Levant
  • Medicinal substances
  • Medieval
  • Ottoman
  • al-Sham
  • materia medica

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Drug Discovery


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