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- This article is about the ointment historically known as malabathrum, and the leaves from which it was prepared. For one of the plants which was a source of those leaves see Cinnamomum tamala
Malabathrum, malabathron, or malobathrum is the name used in classical and medieval texts for certain cinnamon-like aromatic plant leaves and an ointment prepared from those leaves. Cinnamomum tamala (sometimes given as Cinnamomum tejpata), grown most commonly in the eastern Himalayas, but also in the Western Ghats, is thought to be a notable source of these leaves, although other species of Cinnamomum and even plants in other genera may have been used. In ancient Greece and Rome, the leaves were used to prepare a fragrant oil, called oleum malabathri, and were therefore valuable.
Malabathrum is mentioned in the first century Greek text Periplus Maris Erythraei and sourced to a people called 'Sêsatai', identified with Kirradai (Kirata) of Ptolemy. Though malabathrum was a product of Northeast India, it was rarely traded by the western traders at the mouth of the Ganges (which is much closer to the source) but at southwestern Indian ports of Muziris/Nelcynda. It is mentioned in the Periplus that some people collected the green leaves after the Sêsatai in the northeast prepared them and carried them to the ports of trade. In the language of Kerala, Malayalam, the plant is called vazhana. It is also known as edana in Malayalam. The name malabathrum is used in mediaeval texts to describe the dried leaves of a number of trees of the genus Cinnamomum, which were thought to have medicinal properties.
The Greeks used kásia (cassia) or malabathron to flavour wine, with absinth wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). Malabathrum leaves (folia) were used in cooking and for distilling an oil used in a caraway-sauce for oysters by the Roman gourmet Gaius Gavius Apicius. Malabathrum is among the spices that, according to Apicius, any good kitchen should contain.
Malabathrum from Egypt (Dioscorides I, 63) was based on beef fat and contained cinnamon, as well; one pound cost 300 denarii.
- Casson, Lionel. The Periplus Maris Erythraei: Text With Introduction, Translation, and Commentary 1989. Princeton University Press ISBN 0-691-04060-5 p. 241
- "Latin Lexicon". Retrieved 2012-11-07.
- Casson, Lionel. The Periplus Maris Erythraei: Text With Introduction, Translation, and Commentary 1989. Princeton University Press ISBN 0-691-04060-5 pp. 241–242
- Casson, Lionel. The Periplus Maris Erythraei: Text With Introduction, Translation, and Commentary 1989. Princeton University Press ISBN 0-691-04060-5 p. 16
- "Thus, three grades of malabathron are produced, and then they are transported into India by the people who make them." Periplus Chap 65. Casson, Lionel. The Periplus Maris Erythraei: Text With Introduction, Translation, and Commentary 1989. Princeton University Press ISBN 0-691-04060-5 pp. 91-93
- De re coquinaria, I, 29, 30; IX, 7