Ibn al-Baitar

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Ibn al-Baytar.JPG
Born 1197
Died 1248
Nationality Andalusian
Fields Botanist, Scientist, Pharmacist, Physician
Known for Scientific classification Oncology
Influences Al-Ghafiqi, Maimonides
Influenced Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, Amir Dowlat, Andrea Alpago[1]

Ibn al-Bayṭār al-Mālaqī, Ḍiyāʾ Al-Dīn Abū Muḥammad ʿAbdllāh Ibn Aḥmad (or just Ibn al-Baytar, Arabic: ابن البيطار‎)  (1197–1248) was a Muslim scientist, botanist, pharmacist and physician who worked during the Islamic Golden Age and Arab Agricultural Revolution. His main contribution was to systematically record the discoveries made by Islamic physicians in the Middle Ages, which added between 300 and 400 types of medicine to the one thousand previously known since antiquity.[1]


Born in the Andalusian city of Málaga at the end of the 12th century, he learned botany from the Málagan botanist Abu al-Abbas al-Nabati with whom he started collecting plants in and around Spain.[2] Al-Nabati was responsible for developing an early scientific method, introducing empirical and experimental techniques in the testing, description and identification of numerous materia medica, and separating unverified reports from those supported by actual tests and observations. Such an approach was thus adopted by Ibn al-Baitar.[3] (The statue depicted is in Benalmadena Costa and the inscription states that al-Baytar was born in Benalmadena).

In 1219, Ibn al-Baitar left Málaga to travel in the Islamic world to collect plants. He travelled from the northern coast of Africa as far as Anatolia. The major stations he visited include Bugia, Constantinople, Tunis, Tripoli, Barqa and Adalia.

After 1224, he entered the service of al-Kamil, an Ayyubid Sultan, and was appointed chief herbalist. In 1227 al-Kamil extended his domination to Damascus, and Ibn al-Baitar accompanied him there which provided him an opportunity to collect plants in Syria. His researches on plants extended over a vast area including Arabia and Palestine. He died in Damascus in 1248.

Al-Baytar used the name "snow of China" (Arabic: ثلج الصين‎ thalj al-Sin) to describe saltpetre while writing about gunpowder.[4][5]

Kitāb al-jāmiʿ li-mufradāt al-adwiya wa al-aghdhiya[edit]

Ibn al-Baitar’s major contribution is Kitāb Al-jāmiʿ li-mufradāt al-adwiya wa al-aghdhiya (Arabic: كتاب الجامع لمفردات الأدوية والأغذية‎), which greatly influenced the works of later writers, especially in the Near East, in and out of the Islamic world.[1] It was a pharmacopoeia (pharmaceutical encyclopedia) listing 1,400 plants, foods, and drugs. The book also contains references to 150 other previous Arabic authors - including his teacher Nabati - as well as 20 previous Greek authors.[6][7]

Ibn al-Baitar also provides detailed chemical information on the Rosewater and Orangewater production. He mentions: The scented Shurub (Syrup) was often extracted from flowers and rare leaves, by means of using hot oils and fat, they were later cooled in cinnamon oil. The oils used were also extracted from sesame and olives. Essential oil was produced by joining various retorts, the steam from these retorts condensed, combined and its scented droplets were used as perfume and mixed to produce the most costly medicines.

Kitāb al-mughnī fī al-adwiya al-mufrada[edit]

Ibn Al-Baitar’s second major work is Kitāb al-mughnī fī al-adwiya al-mufradaa, an encyclopedia of Islamic medicine which incorporates his knowledge of plants used extensively for the treatment of various ailments, including diseases related to the head, ear, eye, etc.[6]

Other works[edit]

  • Mīzān al-ṭabīb.
  • Risāla fi’l-aghdhiya wa’l-adwiya.
  • Maqāla fi’l-laymūn, A treatise on Lemon, have also been attributed to Ibn Jumac; translated to Latin by Andrea Alpago.[1]
  • Tafsīr kitāb Diyusqūrīdis, a commentary on the first four books of Dioscorides.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Vernet 2008.
  2. ^ Saad & Said 2011.
  3. ^ Huff, Toby (2003). The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West. Cambridge University Press. p. 218. ISBN 0-521-52994-8 
  4. ^ James Riddick Partington (1960). A history of Greek fire and gunpowder (reprint, illustrated ed.). JHU Press. p. 22. ISBN 0-8018-5954-9. Retrieved 2011-11-28. "The first definite mention of saltpetre in an Arabic work is that in al-Baytar (died 1248), written towards the end of his life, where it is called "snow of China." Al-Baytar was a Spanish Arab, although he travelled a good deal and lived for a time in Egypt." 
  5. ^ Peter Watson (2006). Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud (illustrated, annotated ed.). HarperCollins. p. 304. ISBN 0-06-093564-2. Retrieved 2011-11-28. "The first use of a metal tube in this context was made around 1280 in the wars between the Song and the Mongols, where a new term, chong, was invented to describe the new horror...Like paper, it reached the West via the Muslims, in this case the writings of the Andalusian botanist Ibn al-Baytar, who died in Damascus in 1248. The Arabic term for saltpetre is 'Chinese snow' while the Persian usage is 'Chinese salt'.28" 
  6. ^ a b Russell McNeil, Ibn al-Baitar, Malaspina University-College.
  7. ^ Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, volume 1: Astronomy, Theoretical and Applied, pgs. 271-272. Ed. Roshdi Rasheed. London: Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0415124107