Iran’s Traditional Medicine

Iran’s Traditional Medicine (ITM) has its roots in ancient Iranian medicine. Over long years the ITM secured a firm foothold not only in Iran but also in the vast part of Europe and India sub-continent proving crucial in promotion of medicine as a whole.

In other words, the ITM could be likened to an alloy made up of Indian, Chinese, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek and particularly Aryan metals which turned into an all new matter with Post-Islamic medicine serving as a catalyst. It retained its original features yet had new distinctive attributes.

HISTORY OF IRAN’S TRADITIONAL MEDICINE (ITM) avicenna-logo_5476051660349

Medicine has always played a significant role in Iranian culture and civilization, one of the oldest and strongest in the world. Archeological finds at the site of the “Torched City” in Sistan- Baluchestan province speak of a surgical operation on the skull of a 13-year-old girl suffering from hydrocephalus some 4850 years ago. Iran, which straddled east and west, came to be known as the Middle Empire. The term “Iran” derives form “Aryan” and has a history stretching over 7000 years. Medicine, physicians and hospitals have been of great account in Iran since Median, Achaemenian, Parthian and Sassanid dynasties. Under Achaemenians the most important medical reference was Avesta, a collection of sacred Zoroastrian writings. Other sacred books dealt with medicine as well. Zoroastrians believed Thrita was the first physician in Iran. Mazdaism led by Zoroaster would teach people practical and scientific treatment of diseases.

Another Iranian faith was Ecbatana founded by Senapour Ahum Setut a student of Zoroaster, 100 years after the emergence of Mazdaism. Senapour and 100 of his students would treat patients. Medical science reached its peak in ancient Iran with the establishment of Gondi Shapoor University by Shapoor the First (241-271 AD). He founded the university after overwhelming Roman Emperor Valerianus. In the sixth century (AD) Khosrow Anooshirvan (531-579 AD), a Sassanid monarch, contributed to the education center a lot. In 489 (AD) the world-class faculty in Edessea city close to Syria was shut down. That prompted Christians, Nestorian scientists in particular, to flood the palace of the Sassanid monarch. The university of Athens closed down in 529 (AD). That led to migration of Neo-Platonic philosophers in Athens and Alexandria to Iran. They rose to prominence in Gondi Shapoor University where they later thought various courses. Khosrow Anooshirvan invited all famous scientists teaching at Gondi Shapoor to forge an assembly which can be identified as the first medical science academy in the world. Courses were offered in Pahlavi language in Gondi Shapoor. Among the most prominent scientists who thought at the university were Bakhtishoo whose children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren followed his line-practicing medicine for 6 generations (259 years), and the Masooyas (780-857 AD) who were originally Nestorian. In later centuries with the dawn of Islam, Gondi Shapoor proved instrumental in promoting Islamic Science, which shortly swept the world. This opened a new chapter in the medicine practiced in Iran and other Islamic countries. Iranian sciences absorbed Islamic concepts when Islam found it’s way into Iran.slide_2

In the early years of the Abbasid dynasty, Ibn-e Moghaffa (724-759 AD) translated medical texts from Pahlavi to Arabic. Abbasid statesmen would urge translator to translate scientific books from foreign languages, Sanskrit in particular, to Arabic. This paved the way for formation of an independent Islamic offshoot in medicine. At this stage Arabic became the official language of many Islamic countries. Many Iranian Muslim scientists would now write in Arabic. Ali-ibn-e Rabn Tabari wrote the first Islamic-era medical book “Ferdous-ul-hekmah” in 236 A. H. Tabari is also credited with teaching an ingenious- Mohammad Ibn Zakariya Razi (Razes)– who later rose to prominence.

Razes (865-925 AD) was the most famous clinical physician in Iran and Islamic nations. His works completed by those of Avicenna were instrumental in history of medicine. In the late 800s and early 900s Razes penned his first book. He wrote over 56 books, says Biruni (972-1048 AD). The most important of them was “Al-hawi” a comprehensive medical encyclopedia. By own account, he spent over 15 years to complete “Al-hawi”. This affected his sight and led to muscular dystrophy. “When physician is a no-show” also known as “Poor people’s medicine”, includes simple instructions for treatment of diseases. Poor people could use it not to pay visit fees. Just like all other books written at that era, Razes’ books were all in Arabic. Ali-ibn-e Abbas Majussi Ahvazi (930-994 AD) a physician who exclusively looked after King Azod-od-dowleh Dailamy was a famous physician who authored “Kamel-os- sana’at fi-tebb” a.k.a. “Tebbol maleki”.

Avicenna was a prominent physician of the late 900s and early1000s who systematized medicine in Islamic Iran. All his books and papers on medicine except for “Nabz” (Pulse), “Anatomy” and “Judiyeh” were in Arabic. His “Canon in medicine” gave medicine a shot in the arm. It was used for centuries as a major medical reference in the world, particularly in Europe.

Major advances were made in pharmacy and pharmacology by the ninth century. “Qarabadin”(Pharmacopoeia) by Shapoor ibn-e Sahl Jondi Shapoori was an indication of such advances. Drug stores and hospitals would use the book, which was in Arabic for centuries. Another major work on pharmacology was “Al-abnieh an-el hadayeq-ul-advieh” byAbu Mansoor Mowaffaq ibn-e Heravi (11th century) written in Farsi.

From the 1000s to 1200s several famous physicians emerged who wrote in Farsi. They tried to give Farsi a shot in the arm by writing their books in Farsi and by coining new medical terms in Farsi. Among the most prominent of them were Mushref-ul Zaman Mohammed Ilaqi, a student of Bahmanyar who was in turn a student of Avicenna and Ali ibn-e Abbissadeq Neyshaboori (995-1077 AD) a.k.a. Second Hypocrite and author of “Sharh-e Fosol Boqrat”(Commentary of hypocrites books).

Seyed Ismaeel Jorjani (1045-1137 AD) was a prominent physician who revived medicine in an era dominated by stagnation. “Zakhireh kharazmshahi” which appeared in Farsi was part and parcel of Iran’s Traditional Medicine. He penned other books on medicine in Farsi, too. In later centuries there was a tendency to write in Farsi, many books appeared in Arabic though. Avicenna’s “Canon in medicine” was still dominant during the 1200s and 1300s AD. All medicine texts were either abstractions of “Canon in medicine” or interpretation of what it said. Among the most prominent physicians of this era were Qotb-eddin ShiraziNajib-ul-din Samarqandi, Sadid-ul-din Kazerooni, Jamal-ul-din Mohammd ibn Afsavaei and Burhaneddin Nafis ibn Evaz Kermani.

“Ma-la-yasol Tabib Jahlo” by Yousef ibn Ismaeel Khoei was a book on materia and medica in Arabic. One of the Farsi books on materia and medica in this era was “Ekhtiyarate – Badi’ee” by Ali-ibn Hussein Ansari (1329-1404 AD). In the 1500s AD physicians shifted to a new style: brief and in-depth writing. So books written in this century were not reference books anymore. Prominent physicians of the 1400s included Mohammad Sabzevari, author of “Qavanin ul-alaj”, in Farsi and Faqih Shirazi author of “Tashrih-ul-abdan” and “Kefayeh mojahediyeh” in two volumes, the first of which dealt with theoretical medicine and the second with practical medicine. Sultan Ali Gonabadi is the author of “Dastoor-ul-alaj” and Yousef-ibn Mohammad Yousef Tabib Heravi wrote a couple of poetry collections on medicine in Farsi. He also penned “Hefz-ul seha”. Hakim Alaeddin Tabrizi is another author who wrote “Kamel alaei” which put medical terms in alphabetical order.

On the list of physicians in the 1600s and early 1700s are Kamal-ul-din Gilani author of “Jame-ul-Javame” in psychology, Mohammed Mo’men Hosseini Tonekaboni Deylami a.k.a.Hakim Mo’men author of ” Tohfat-ul-mo’menin” on simple and combined medicine, Mohammad Hashem ibn Mohammad Taher Tehrani author of “Mesbah-ul-khazayen” and “Meftah-ul-dafayen”. The latter appeared in Farsi. Superstition led Iran’s Traditional Medicine into decline in the 1700s AD. No prominent figure rose to revive Avicenna’s methods or introduce a new version of traditional medicine.

Modern medicine gradually offset traditional medicine. With the establishment of Dar-ul-fonoon, which was a polytechnique college patterned after European schools, European physicians were invited over to teach in this center. That was how Iranian physicians learned about western medicine and wrote books on the modern medicine practiced in the west. Among Dar-ul-fonoon’s physicians were Bolak, an Austrian, Schlimher, a Dutch, Tolojan a French and Iranian Abulhassankhani. That was how Iranian medicine set foot on a modern path, and what once was synonymous with Iran’s history became a thing of the past. However there were physicians who tried to standup to modern western medicine by writing books, among them Mirza Babay-e-Shirazi (Malek-ul-Atebba) who authored “Jouhariyeh”.slide_5

Modern medicine secured a firm foothold offsetting the spread of Iran’s traditional medicine. However since traditional medicine was an integral part of Iran’s culture, it never faded.


ITM was originated from the following basis:

  • The medicine practiced in Ancient Iran.
  • The medicine of Iran Plateau which was mainly based on Zoroastrian teachings and “Avesta”.
  • Oriental medicine – highly likely to have originated from Indo- chinese philosophies and faiths – which made its way to Iran via the Indian subcontinent and central Asia.
  • Mesopotamian medicine which found its way to Iran in the west and southwest over a long period of time.
  • Egyptian medicine, which was interjected to the ITM, thanks to expansionism of the Achaemenian dynasty (Darius is said to have captured as far west as Africa. Some even says he was the first who built the Suez canal).
  • Greek medicine which first made it onto ITM stage after Alexander’s invasion and then through the Islamic civilization and its westward expansion.
  • Folk medicine which was purely based on experience of people over centuries.
  • Islamic medicine, which emerged on ITM stage, thanks to expansion of Islamic civilization and left an in-depth positive effect.


The ITM looks at patients and diseases through an angle different from that of modern medicine. Modern medicine has an abstract supervision on the work of organs, tissues and genes, considering the disease as the driving force behind an imbalance in body performance. It does it’s utmost to strike a balance in organ, tissue or gene performance to cure the disease. The ITM, however, views man as one entity. Under ITM a disease shows that the whole body is imbalanced. So it tries to strike an overall balance. Prominent Iranian physician Akhaveini Bokharaei, author of “Hedayat-ul-Motealemin” says “Medicine was a profession to maintain man’s health, and retrieve it through science and experience when it was lost.”

Iran’s Traditional Medicine brings together natural sciences, anatomy, diagnosis, therapeutic and materia medica, and is based in the following principles:

  • The universe is a single orderly unit.
  • All components of the universe act in coordination with one another and are subject to certain rules.

Bodies are only called bodies when they have the following features:

  1. quantity
  2. quality
  3. time
  4. place
  5. direction
  6. rank
  • The closer bodies are to their origin, the hotter and more active they will be. Temperature causes expansion. So if bodies are closer to their origin, they are warmer and have more motion. The other way round is true as well. If bodies are far from their origin, they will be more and more motionless. As a result of this they become contracted which in turn makes them more fragile and stiff.
  • The earth is the lowest-ranking body in the universe.
  • Warmness, coldness, wetness and dryness are the basic components of the universe. Warmness and coldness are the primary natures while wetness and dryness are dubbed as secondary natures.
  • Adding up these natures will create features for bodies and elements.
  1. Warmness and dryness
  2. Warmness and wetness
  3. Coldness and wetness
  4. Coldness and dryness
  • In a first-ever encounter, man viewed things as purely physical. Later, after mulling them over he came up with the following classification.
  1. The solid represented by soil
  2. The liquid represented by water
  3. The gas or steam represented by air
  4. The force represented by fire and light
  • The more we move from “the force” towards “the solid”, the less warmth we will have. Condensity will increase, as we move in that direction. In other words, the solid and soil are the lowest while light and fire are the highest in nature.
  • Comparing the above features one would arrive at the following conclusions.
  1. Fire and light are warm and dry.
  2. Air is warm and wet.
  3. Water is cold and wet.
  4. Soil is cold and dry.
  • All beings are complex in the nature. The above features are more or less present in all creatures. However some features are hidden in some creatures, while they are more apparent in others.
  • Among other features of the beings is “constant transition from one stage to another”. Transition and metamorphosis are ever-present features of the world. Nothing goes waste in the world.
  • Rules and regulations apply to both the little world (particles) and the great world (universe). Both which are also known as microcosm and macrocosm are subject to fixed regulations.
  • Every “body” goes through three stages:

“Spirit, soul, body”, or “Spirit, life, corpse,” and or “Afterlife, limbo, world”. There are 4 different kinds of spirits.

1- Solid spirit

On the surface solids seem motionless, in actuality they are full of motion.

2- Vegetal spirit

This spirit grows and turns minerals to plants or other live beings, which in turn produce energy.

3- Animal Spirit

This spirit has apparent motion in addition to all vegetal spirit features. That is, it can change some rules to some extent.

4- Human Spirit

In addition to the features already mentioned for the above spirit, human spirit has free will. That enables man to obtain other human feature such as “knowledge, skill and creativity” to move toward evolution.

  • All beings in the world (solids, plants, animals and humans) affect each other.
  • There are certain rules governing the relations between components of the world. Some of them are clear-cut and evident at certain times, the others, which outnumber the first group, are invisible. The two groups surely interact. As science advances the number of known and evident rules increases. This will surely decrease the number of the unknown.
  • Elements, which make up world beings were created by the revolution of heavens. In a first stage warmness, coldness, wetness and dryness came into being. In the second stage, these four elements joined forces to create fire, air, water and soil. The third stage saw the creation of compound beings. In a later stage plants and animals came into being. In the latest revolution stage, humans were created. The number of natural elements, which are the cornerstone of life, stands at seven.

1- Arkan (Elements)

“Arkan” are simple bodies, which account for original constituents of human and non-human beings. They include fire, air, water and soil.

2– Mizaj (Physical Temperament)

Physical temperament is a product of combination of elements. Under a classification, physical temperaments fall into two categories.

  1. Moderate
  2. Immoderate
  3. Moderate temperament in turn falls into two categories.

q Real moderate is a temperament in which the amount of qualities or quantities, which run counter to each other, is equal.

q Hypothetical moderate includes all those temperaments, which are not real.

q Real moderate is a non-existent. What philosophers call Moderate is in fact hypothetical Moderate.

  1. Immoderate temperaments fall into two categories as well:

q Simple temperaments

In such temperaments the quantity of two elements is equal but the third element outweighs the fourth. That definition adds up to 4 different simple temperaments. For instance if warmness and coldness are equal in quantity, but dryness is bigger than wetness, that temperament is called “dry”.

q Complex Temperament

Neither pair is equal in this temperament. Two elements are always over whelmed by the other two. Overall, under this category we have four temperaments: “warm and dry”, “warm and wet”, “cold and dry” and “cold and wet”.

3– Akhlat (Structural Components)

Structural components are the components into which food is first turned. There are four of them.

  1. Bile, which is warm and dry.
  2. Blood, which is warm and wet.
  3. Phlegm which is cold and wet.
  4. Black bile, which is cold and dry.

Below is a chart showing the features of structural components in comparison with elements.

Element Structural Component Feature
Fire Bile Warm and Dry
Air Blood Warm and Wet
Water Phlegm Cold and Wet
Soil Black bile Cold and Dry

Each one of the structural components in turn falls into two categories: natural and unnatural.

To have life, water and air are the most important elements respectively. The main components of human body are bile and blood. Human life depends on blood circulation. When circulation stops, life comes to an end. Structural components interact. When there is a balance in relationship among structural components, life becomes sustainable.

Structural components are said to be made up of food. That means food, just like humans, has physical temperaments. Some foods are warm and dry so they make up bile. In fact they have anti-phlegmatic effects. Some others are warm and wet. They make blood and have anti-black bile effects. Another group is cold and wet. That is it helps create phlegm and has anti-bile effect. The last group is cold and dry helps the body make black bile. They have anti-blood effects. Natural drugs such as herbal medicines have physical temperaments, too. These temperaments are used as a basis for prescription of a certain herbal medicine for an illness.

4- Adha (Fully – Grown Organs)

Fully-grown organs are made up of akhlat (structural components). Each one of them has its special features. For instance heart is the warmest organ, while bones are the coldest. Organs fall into two different categories: “Raeesah” and “Qeir Raeesah”. The latter in turn falls into two categories “Khadem-ul-Raeesah” and “Qeir Khadem-ul-Raeesah”. “Qeir Khadem-ul-Raeesah” organs are either “Maroosah” or “Qeir Maroosah”. “Raeesah” organs are instrumental in sustainability of life. Among them are heart, brain, liver and testicles.

Examples of “Khadem-ul-Raeesah” organs are nerves, arteries, and urea, which help brain, heart and liver carry out their functions. Maroosah organs are those which receive the power from Raeesah organs. Among them are kidneys, stomach, spleen, and lungs. Qeir Maroosah organs are those which receive no power from Raeesah organs. Among them are bones and joints.

5- Arwah (Vital forces of life)

Arwah is the plural form of “Ruh”. They are made up of steams of structural components and fall into three different categories.

  1. Natural Ruh (Tabiee), which is pumped into veins from liver. It visits all parts of the body and facilitates nutrition and growth.
  2. Animal Ruh (Heywani), which is pumped into arteries from heart and circulate.
  3. Spirit Ruh (Nafsani), which is sent by brain to different parts of the body through nerves. It is the origin of sense and motion.

6- Quwa (Bodily power)

Quwa is the plural form of “Quwat” which is the power granted to human or animal body to do what they want to. Quwa fall into two different categories.

  1. The Quwa (powers) which are essential in life.
  2. The Quwa (powers) which are essential in reproduction.

The first group in turn falls into three categories.

q Natural powers which are based in liver and are instrumental in nutrition and growth.

q Animal power, which are based in heart and play a role in living functions. While the heart pumping blood, air is taken in and smoke-like steam is forced out of heart and lungs.

q Spiritual powers which are based in brain and control senses and motions. Spiritual powers fall into different categories in turn:

  1. a) Perceptive powers

Perceptive powers in turn fall into external and internal categories. External powers include vision, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. Internal powers include common sense, imagination, thinking, illusion and memory.

-Common sense is a power, which senses all tangible things.

-Imagination is a power, which retains the effects of what has crossed the line from tangible to common sense.

-Thinking is a power, which makes changes in tangible things like thinking of a headless or two-headed man. The difference between dreaming and thinking is that the first one keeps what it receives from the common sense but the latter makes changes to what dream keeps in it.

-Vahm (Conceit)

-Hafezeh (preserving power)

  1. bMotive power

Motive power falls into two categories:

“Ba_etheh” (incentive power), which encourages the person to make a motion which is useful or seems so; or it makes the person stop a motion, which is harmful or seems so.

“Fa_eleh” (active power) is the power, which makes muscles do what “Ba_etheh” instruct them to.

  1. Afaal (functions)

Afaal is the plural form of “Fel” which means task and activity. All the previous six entries are there to carry out certain tasks. Some tasks are accomplished by one single power like digestion and excretion. Some tasks require cooperation of a few powers. Among them are “turning food to structural components” and “turning structural components to “Ruh”, etc.

What was already mentioned reveals that the ITM has its roots in medicine of ancient Iran, folk medicine and the medicine practiced in other countries. It should be mentioned however that Islamic teachings have played a significant role in shaping up the ITM.


Geographical location and climatic condition variety as well as abundance of medicinal herbs species have provided Iran with very high potential for the manufacturing of medicinal herb products.ra4-1634

Currently fifteen companies, equipped suitably, are producing medicinal herbs in Iran and eight chemical drug manufacturers have set up production lines for medicinal herbs in the recent years. So far 91 brands of medicinal herbs have been approved by the National Expert Committee of Herbal Medicine at the Ministry of Health and Medical Education and are being produced and marketed through pharmacy shops all over the country. Majority of these medications is sold without prescription over-the-counter (OTC) and only a few need to be prescribed.

Iran is among the most geographically diverse countries in the world. This ancient nation can be divided into 12 separate geographic environments and boasts 5 major climates. No wonder Iran is so diverse when it comes to the natural herbal remedies it produces.

This astounding diversity in Iran’s geography allows Iran to host more than 7500 species of plants–around 1800 of which are used in medicine. Many of Iran’s most precious herbal treasures are plants found nowhere else in the world.

The World Health Organization tells us that there are currently 30 companies producing natural herbal remedies in Iran. The government of Iran, in contrast to the regulatory agencies here in the U.S., requires all herbal remedies to be manufactured to the same quality standards as pharmaceutical drugs.