This is how ambergris looks like

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Ibn Masawaih: Kitab jawahir al-tib al-mufrada
    (Treatise on Simple Aromatic Substances)
    a Christian doctor working in Baghdad (d857) 
Taken from: MARTIN LEVEY Ibn Masawaih and His Treatise on Simple Aromatic Substances: Studies in the History of Arabic Pharmacology I

Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 1961 XVI(4):394-410 article on Cardamom by Husang Aʿlam

Also called Masuya, Masawaiyh or Mesue Maior/ Abu Zakariya Yuhanna ibn Masawaih



Ambergris perfumes

Aloes Tree

Camphor tree

Cloves Tree

Sandalwood tree

Pepper tree


All pictures in this row from Qazwini.


There are various kinds of which some are superior. However, they are known from experience by their provenance. The best of the types of ambergris is the salahati. It is superior. The best of the salahati kind is the blue type, very oily, fatty, used in perfumery. Then, there is the qaquli (From Qaquala, west coast of Sumatra) which has a good odour and is a little dry. It is inferior to the first and is not good for perfumery except in case of necessity. It is for refreshing the air. Then there is the mand; (Persian A species of jet or black ambergris) it is the most inferior and is found in many varieties. Of the mand, that from Shahr (Arabian coast from Oman to Aden) is the best. One knows it by its color which is black with yellow in it. It dyes the hand if it is touched by it. Its odour is like that of dry ambergris; it does not, however, remain in water. It is best as an unguent. It does not yield the result obtained from the dry. It is used in perfumery when the salahati is hard to find. Of the mand, that from Zanj is like the Shahr type. It is inferior to it in odor, black with no yellow in it. Of the mand, there is the purple-red. It dyes the hand. It is not used with aromatic salve except rarely. This is good to make the dye disappear from the hand. Then, there is the samaki type; it is ambergris which the fish and the birds eat at sea. Then it kills those who ate it and the waves cast it ashore. It becomes spoiled and the ambergris remains a liquid similar to pitch. It is bad in aromatics and in odor. With it one falsifies the best [ambergris] The salahati and qaquli types both come from the region of Sofala, India. The mand, Shahr type, comes from the Yemen coast, bounded by Oman to the coast of Hadramut. Then it stops a distance of some days journey this side of Aden. The Zanj [black] and red-purple types both come from the land of Zanj. One says this also of the Shahr variety; however, the Zanj is named for its black colour. It is said that ambergris is a plant on the floor of the sea. Also it is said that it is dung of an animal that is in the sea. Further it is said that it is the excrescence of the sea. Ambergris remedies the humours of the aged; it is put into electuarie. prescribed for them.



There are various types. Of it, there are the Indian, also called the Mandali (maybe Mandari port in India) and the samandrun that comes from the district of Samandrun (Indian port near Bombay) the region of Sofala of India……………….



There are various types, one of which is zabaji, its best. It is white resembling salt. Then, there is the sarbui which is next in quality. Then, there is the dumub, then the irar, then the isfaril, then the naht. The naht may be mixed with isfaril. Another is the musa’ad derived from all the camphors; it is not the original substance. All are brought from the land of Sofala in India………..





One kind. Its best is arid dry with a sweet, good odour. It is the fruit of a tree which comes from Sofala. It is introduced into liquid aromatics for women and into the cooking of nutmeg. It is hot, gentle, good for the ...



There are various types. The best of them is yellow, heavy, with no cavities, and dull as if it had been rubbed with saffron. It is a sweet aromatic of the Indian people. Then after it comes the white sandal which is white in appearance, aromatic in odour, and not like the first. Then there follows a sandal which is yellow and red, and has a strong odour. It is the strongest in odour but it is not sweet. Then there is the red sandal which is not for aromatics because it does not possess an odour. All these are brought from Sofala. ………..


Nutmeg and Fennel

They are equal as aromatics except in a minor way. The fenel is a leaf. The nutmeg is one of the weaker ones; it has a convex leaf with a lattice similar to the rose; this distinguishes it from the former. Often it is brought in its original shape so that it is interesting and is used in ornamental neckbands. It is brought from Sofala………..





There are various types. The best is the red, heavy, thick-stemmed which has the odour of apple. Also, there is the light, with abundant leaves, thin stems, which resembles the best in some of its odour. It is a fruit like the mustard. It is brought from Sofala……………






Indian Pepper

It is a seed smaller than the pepper, dust coloured, sweet, similar to the odour of Indian aloe wood. It is employed in liquid aromatics for women. It comes from Sofala, India.


Qaqola comes after harna/owa [the fruit of agalloch, Aloexylum agallochum Lour.] as to fragrance, which is like that of camphor. It enters into [the composition of] women's perfumes. It is brought from belad Sofala (the land of Sofala). It [consists in] a grain [sic, haabb, probably meaning 'seed pod'] like large chickpeas, sheathed [i.e., in a capsule], which, when crushed, produces small grains (like wheat grains) . . . Hal-bawwa is like the granules [i.e., seeds] of a crushed qaqola. It [also] is used in women's perfumes. It [also] is brought from the land of Sofala…..



It is like pepper in appearance. It is inferior to cardamom. Its odour resembles that of sisymbrium. It is introduced into liquid aromatics for women. It is brought from Sofala and is superior to cardamom in the warm nature.


Small Cardamom

It is like the thin part of the Cardamom. Its odour is close to that of the cardamom. It is employed in perfume for women. It comes from Sofala and is stronger than cardamom and better than it for the stomach.


Seed of the Misam

It is a seed like the seed of the terebinth, dust colored with redness in it, with an aromatic odour. It is employed in aromatics for women. It comes from Sofala.



It is a seed like the seed of the small chick pea. Its skin is hard as the skin of the prune. In its interior a black seed is suspended, like hemp and a little larger. It is employed in aromatics for women. It comes from Sofala.




True Wurus…………..



It comes from Abyssinia…………….


Ungues Odorati………….












Note: Husang Aʿlam  in his article on cardamom in adds: Sofala in these … cases may be taken to refer to the former Sofala district on the coast of southeast Africa, because the author specifies in the case of some other aromatics that they came from Sofalat al-Hend Sofala in India.

Masawayh: Kitab al-Jawahir wa-sifatiha

(The Book of Gemstones and their Properties) (d857)


Taken from: Hawliyat Islamiyah


The pearl fisheries of Oman and the countries that follow it; Abyssinia and Yemen. The begin is the Gulf

of Oman, then comes Muscat, Al Sihr, Socotra, the Gulf Aden and Berbera: the sea is 10 qaymans deep;

from there come all the big pearls who are the most white, and most expensive; small ones are rare; they

are better then the Qatari, because of their size they have not the roundness of the Qatari, but their

transparency is bigger, their whiteness more intense and they are close one to the other. There is in the

pearl fishery of Oman a special oyster called harkus: it is a long oyster and if there is in one a grain, it is

big and pure; the pearl fisheries of the gulf of Zendj are also part of Oman; one fishes only small quantities

and finds hardly anything; if a pearl is found, it is big as a umani or a bid less: there are no balbal.

Pearl fisheries in the gulf from the Catalan Atlas of 1375