The earliest reference to kyphi is found in the Pyramid Texts: it is listed among the goods that the king will enjoy in the afterlife. Papyrus Harris I records the donation and delivery of herbs and resins for its manufacture in the temples under Ramses III. The Egyptian priest Manetho (ca. 300 B.C.E.) is said to have written a treatise called "On the preparation of kyphi" (Περὶ κατασκευ̑ης κυφίων), but no copy of this work survives. Three Egyptian kyphi recipes from Ptolemaic times are inscribed on the temple walls of Edfu and Philae.
The Egyptian recipes have sixteen ingredients each. Disocorides has ten ingredients, which are common to all recipes. Plutarch gives sixteen, Galen fifteen. Plutarch implies a mathematical significance to the number of sixteen ingredients.
Some ingredients remain obscure. Greek recipes mention aspalathus, which Roman authors describe as a thorny shrub. Scholars do not agree on the identity of this plant: a species of Papilionaceae (Cytisus, Genista or Spartium), Convolvulus scoparius, and Genista acanthoclada have been suggested. The Egyptian recipes similarly list several ingredients whose botanical identity is uncertain.
The manufacture of kyphi involves blending and boiling the ingredients in sequence. According to Galen, the result was rolled into balls and placed on hot coals to give a perfumed smoke; it was also drunk as a medicine for liver and lung ailments.
Dioscorides (10 ingredients)
- juniper berries
- cyperus (Greek κύπειρος)
- turpentine (pine or terebinth resin, Greek ῥητίνη)
- aspalathus (Greek ἀσπάλαθος)
- calamus (Ancient Egyptian "kanen", Hebrew קׇנֶה, Greek κάλαμος)
- rush (Greek σχοῖνος)
Plutarch (+6 ingredients)
Galen (+5 ingredients)
Egyptian (+6 ingredients)
- E. A. Wallis Budge (1920), "kap-t", Egytian Hieroglyphic Dictionary 2, John Murray, p. 786b
- E. A. Wallis Budge (1902), A History of Egypt 1, Oxford University Press, p. 129
- Victor Loret (1887), "Le kyphi, parfum sacré des anciens égyptiens", Journal asiatique 10 (juillet-août): 76–132
- Immanuel Löw (1881), Aramäische Pflanzennamen, Engelmann, p. 341