DĀRČĪNĪ (i.e., dār-e čīnī, lit., “Chinese tree/wood,” < Mid. Pers. *dār ī čēnīg; cf. Arm. lw. daričenik; Hübschmann, Armenische Grammatik, p. 137; Ar. dārṣīnī), or commonly dārčīn, the dried aromatic (inner) bark of many plants of the genus Cinnamomum (fam. Lauraceae) found in eastern, southeastern, and southern Asia (for a description of species, varieties, and their habitats, see Balfour, I, pp. 598-99, 731-32).
History. Some Persian medical authors of the Islamic period have referred to the use of dārṣīnī and the related salīḵa (see below) in early prescriptions traceable to Galenic pharmacology, which was practiced at the Jondīšāpūr hospital (see BĪMĀRESTĀN) in the Sasanian period, though there is no specific evidence of their use there. These prescriptions included the vaguely characterized jowārešn (< Pers. govārešn) al-šahrīārān “the digestive [compounded] for kings” and maʿjūn Qobāḏ al-malek “the electuary of King Qobād” (Ebn Sīnā, III, pp. 314, 350, 333-34; Jorjānī, p. 691).
Cinnamon has been found in Egyptian tombs of the pharaonic period (Meyerhof and Sobhy, in Ḡāfeqī, pp. 471, 475), and cinnamon and cassia bark are mentioned several times in the Old Testament (Heb. qinnāmōn/kinnamon and qēṣīʿāh/keẓi’ah or kiddah; see, e.g., Laufer, Sino-Iranica, p. 542 n. 3; Encyclopaedia Judaica, s.v. cinnamon) and by such early authors as Herodotus, Theophrastus, Strabo, and Pliny (Laufer, Sino-Iranica, p. 541). Although some modern scholars have inferred from the literal sense of dārčīnī that the ancients obtained cinnamon by land from China (Renaud and Colin, pp. 129-30 no. 291; Meyerhof in Ebn Maymūn, p. 50 no. 95; Dietrich, p. 197; Dymock et al., p. 204; Mazahéri, p. 441), the sinological evidence does not support their view (Laufer, Sino-Iranica, pp. 542-44). It seems more likely that in antiquity cinnamon and related products came mainly from Ceylon and India (cf. Strabo, 1.4.2, 15.1.22, 16.4.19, 16.4.25; Balfour, p. 732).
In the 1st century C.E. Dioscorides described many species or varieties of kassía and kinamómon (1.12-13) without, however, indicating their origins. The 9th-century Arab translators rendered them as either dārṣīnī, traditionally identified with the bark of Cinnanomum cassia Bl., or as salīḵa (lit., “excoriated (bark)”; Renaud and Colin, pp. 129-30), usually believed to have come from Cinnamomum iners Reinw. (or other Indian or Indo-Chinese species; Dymock et al., p. 203). The earliest author of the Islamic period to have provided an independent inventory of dārṣīnī species was the Egyptian Esḥāq b. Solaymān Esrāʾīlī (ca. 243-343/858-955; in Ḡāfeqī, Ar. text, p. 107; cf. Ebn al-Bayṭār, I/2, pp. 83-84). A contemporary of Esrāʾīlī, Yūḥannā b. Māsūya (d. 343/955; p. 19), mentioned three kinds of qerfa (lit., “rind, skin, bark”): qerfat al-qaranfol, the best; qerfa that smelled like camphor; and qerfa that smelled like dārṣīnī. ʿAlī b. Sahl Ṭabarī, author of the earliest surviving medical compendium of the Islamic period (comp. 236/850), named only qerfa (p. 398) and salīḵa (p. 397).
Abū Manṣūr Mowaffaq Heravī (fl. ca. 370-80/980-90), author of the oldest known pharmacological work in Persian, included separate articles on dārčīnī and qerfa (p. 154) and on salīḵa (p. 185). On the other hand, Abū Bakr Rabīʿ Aḵawaynī Boḵārī (d. ca. 373/983), who wrote the earliest medical treatise in Persian, used the terms dārčīnī, dārčīnī-e čīnī (Chinese dārčīnī, pp. 250, 390), qerfa,and salīḵa (pp. 250, 390 and passim). Ebn Sīnā (d. 428/1037) merely summarized Dioscorides’ information. The latest, partly original account of cinnamon in Persian is that by the 18th-century author Moḥammad-Ḥosayn ʿAqīlī Ḵorāsānī, who appears to have known most of the species and varieties and their sources (pp. 410-11: dārṣīnī, 688: qerfat al-dārčīnī [sic], 513: salīḵa). According to him, the best varieties came from Ceylon.
Although William Dymock and his colleagues (p. 203) insisted that cinnamon had not been cultivated in Ceylon before 1770, Alphonse de Candolle (p. 146) claimed that it was native to Ceylonese forests and had always been a principal product of the country. Bozorg b. Šahryār of Rāmhormoz, a Persian ship captain, had mentioned al-qerfat al-sehīlānīya "Ceylonese bark” in the 10th century (p. 180).
Medicinal and culinary uses. The numerous uses found for dārčīn in post-Galenic and folk medicine were derived principally from its identification as “hot” and “dry” (e.g., Ṭabarī, pp. 397-98; Heravī, p. 154). According to Ebn Sīnā (III, p. 289), when taken internally it would counteract venoms and poisons, relieve catarrh and cough, and cure dim eyesight caused by thick “moisture” in the eyes and liver obstructions. Applied externally, it would cure sores, tetter, freckles, and the like.
Like most other Galenic simples, dārčīnī has gradually fallen from use for medical purposes. Nowadays in Persia powdered dārčīn is used (in infusions, and usually with nabāt “rock candy”) only as a “hot” drug against sardī (“coldness” of the humoral constitution) and as a stomachic, carminative, or (because of its tannin content) antidiarrheal. A hot infusion of dārčīn popularly called čāyī-dārčīn (lit., “cinnamon tea”) is occasionally drunk, especially in cold weather, as a mild tonic; until not very long ago sidewalk barbers used to serve it to their clients while shaving their heads. Gisho Honda and his colleagues have reported only two kinds of dārčīn available in Tehran: dārčīn-e dorošt (coarse cinnamon) and dārčīn-e narm (soft/delicate cinnamon), identified as from Cin-namomum cassia and Cinnamomum zeylanicum respectively (p. 3). In 1937 David Hooper and Henry Field reported (p. 100) that “the small, black fruits of the cinnamon tree from China are sold in the bazaars” [of Tehran] under the name qorfa (sic) and that “the leaves of cinnamon (taken internally for rheumatism)” were called barg-e sāḏaj (sāḏaj leaf) in Tehran and sāḏaj-e hendī (Indian sāḏaj) in Isfahan.
Powdered dārčīn is sprinkled on a kind of rice pudding called šol-e zard and is included in some pastries, stews, and such regional dishes as the Kermānī pilaw with kohlrabi.
In 1368 Š./1989-90, 27,835 kg (total value: 4,293,195 rials) of “dārčīn and dārčīn-tree blossoms” were imported from Dubai, which was obviously an intermediary for exports from elsewhere (Gomrok, p. 21).
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Moḥammad-Ḥosayn ʿAqīlī Ḵorāsānī, Maḵzan al-adwīa, Calcutta, 1844.
E. Balfour, The Cyclopaedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia . . ., 3rd ed., 3 vols., London, 1885.
Bozorg b. Šahryār, Ketāb ʿajāyeb al-Hend . . ., ed. P. A. van der Lith, Leiden, 1883-86; tr. L. M. Devic as Les merveilles de l’Inde, Paris, 1878.
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Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, tr. J. Goodyer (1655) as The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides, ed. R. T. Gunther, Oxford, 1934.
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Ebn Maymūn (Maimonides), Šarḥ asmāʾ al-ʿoqqār, ed. and tr. M. Meyerhof as L’explication des noms de drogues, Cairo, 1940.
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Aḥmad Ḡāfeqī, Ketāb al-adwīa al-mofrada, partially ed. and tr. M. Meyerhof and G. P. Sobhy as The Abridged Version of “The Book of Simple Drugs” of Ahmad Ibn Muhammad al-Ghâfiqîby Gregorius Abu’l-Farag (Barhebraeus) I/1-3, Cairo, 1932-38.
Gomrok-e . . . Īrān, Sāl-nāma-ye āmār-e bāzargānī-e ḵārejī-e . . . Īrān, 1368, Tehran, 1369 Š./1990.
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G. Honda et al., Herb Drugs and Herbalists in the Middle East, Tokyo, 1979.
D. Hooper and H. Field, Useful Plants and Drugs of Iran and Iraq, Chicago, 1937.
Zayn-al-Dīn Esmāʿīl Jorjānī, Ḏaḵīra-ye ḵᵛārazmšāhī, facs. ed. ʿA.-A. Saʿīdī Sīrjānī, Tehran, 2535=1355 Š./1976.
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Originally Published: December 15, 1994
Last Updated: November 15, 2011
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Vol. VII, Fasc. 1, pp. 21-23