Ibn al-Baitar


Born 1197
Málaga, Andalusia, Almoravid dynasty, now Province of Málaga, Spain
Died 1248 (aged 51)
Damascus, Ayyubid dynasty, now Syria
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 pharmacist, botanist, physician and scientist. His main contribution was to systematically record the additions 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-ṣīn) to describe saltpetre while writing about gunpowder.[4][5]

Kitāb al-jāmiʿ li-mufradāt al-adwiya wa al-aghdhiya

Ibn al-Baitar’s largest and most widely read book is his Compendium on Simple Medicaments and Foods (Arabic: كتاب الجامع لمفردات الأدوية والأغذية).[1] It is a pharmacopoeia (pharmaceutical encyclopedia) listing 1400 plants, foods, and drugs and their uses. It is organized alphabetically by the name of the useful plant or plant component or other substance—a small minority of the items covered are not botanicals. For each item, Ibn al-Baitar makes one or two brief remarks himself and gives brief extracts from a handful of different earlier authors about the item. The bulk of the information is compiled from the earlier authors. The book contains references to 150 previous Arabic authors, as well as 20 previous Greek authors.[6][7] One of the sources he quotes the most frequently is the Materia Medica of Dioscorides, and another is Book Two of the Canon of Medicine of Ibn Sina. Both of those sources have similarities in layout and subject matter with Ibn al-Baitar's own book, but Ibn al-Baitar's treatments are richer in detail, and a large minority of Ibn al-Baitar's useful plants or plant substances are not covered at all by Dioscorides or Ibn Sina. In modern printed edition, the book is more than 900 pages long. As well as in Arabic, it was published in full in translation in German and French in the 19th century.[8]

Ibn al-Baitar 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

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

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 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. 1 2 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
  8. German edition in two volumes, 1840-1842, translated by Sontheimer. French edition in three volumes, 1877-1883, translated by Leclerc.


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