A dictionary of Arabic plants and their medical uses

Playfair, George (transl.). The Taleef Shereef, of Indian Materia Medica. Translated from the original.

Calcutta, printed at the Baptist Mission Press, 1833.

8vo. IV, (5)-189 pp. including an index, mostly of Hindustani and Sanscrit terms. Modern cloth and paper-covered boards.


First edition. A dictionary of plants and their medical uses, "translated" from the Arabic by an English physician who had at the time practiced 26 years in India. Plant names are given in Arabic and in romanized Hindustani, with the English common name, where Playfair knew one. The Unani medical philosophy of the book is based on the four humours, with Indian and Arabic influences. The author states he prepared this book because "I have often had occasion to regret that I had no publication to guide me, in my wish to become acquainted with the properties of native medicines, which I had frequently seen, in the hands of the Physicians of Hindoostan, productive of the most beneficial effects in many diseases, for the cure of which our Pharmacopeia supplied no adequate remedy". The original source is not identified but is frequently attributed to Muhammad Sharif Khan, a late 18th century Sunni physician. However, David Arnold, in "Colonizing the Body" (UC Press, 1993, pp. 47f.), is less sure: "The manner of the book's presentation is as bizarre as many of its entries. It is said to be 'translated from the original, with additions', but nowhere is the nature of the original text discussed or the name of its author given. Playfair moves in and out of his text like a slippery eel. Sometimes 'I' represents the unnamed author; at other times it heralds Playfair's own editorial interventions". Among the plants discussed is cannabis sativa, here listed as "bhang": "promotes appetites, cures disorders of phlegm, produces idotism, is the cause of foolish speech and conduct".

Title-page laid down on new paper with old ink signature at top; some worming to the margins of the preliminaries; one leaf with a repaired corner; another leaf lacking about one-sixth of the text at the bottom.

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