The maze-garden of alchemy – general interest

[Afterword – information on this subject in English is not easily come by; if you’d like one or two more paragraphs – within limits of fair dealing, and solely for personal study – do let me know].


No argument about the Voynich botanical figures is implied here;  I just thought that the linguists might like to know that herbal-alchemy texts existed in India and some are still in print today.


The following passage ‘Brahma Kantak Kalp’ from:

Narayan Dutt Shrimali (Dr.), Alchemy Tantra: from Mercury to Gold (1996). Dr. Shrimali says in one place that people who understand Sanskrit and Persian will most easily understand his text.



Brahma Kantak Kalp


Brahma kantak is easily found throughout India especially in Abu and in the forests of Mahya Pradesh. There is an important experiment concerned with this herb.


Kantakbrahamavrikshasaya Puspamaniya Yatnatah Khalanam Tadvaseneiv Paaradasya Samachret Jalayantre Paaradam Tu Nikshipedyatnatah Sut Tanniyasim Tatra Dadyattamram Swarnamatvamapnuyat.


i.e. The tree of Brahma Kantak perennially bear yellow flowers. Although there is no fragrance in these flowers yet their colour is very beautiful.


Take one kilogram fresh flowers of Brahma Kantak and grind them in a mortar. Add 120 grams (12 tolas) of pure mercury and triturate  it thoroughly adding some water for six days. When it becomes homogeneous, collect it and transfer this mixture in a pan. Now, take 120 grams of pure copper and melt it by keeping it at a high temperature in a furnace.


When this copper becomes liquefied, pour it over the mixture of flowers. Just after doing this, the mercury, contained in the mixture turns into pure gold and remains beneficial for the entire life.


This experiment has been done several times, and indeed this is a successful and authentic formula of preparing gold.






Now, according to an online source, ‘Kantak’ is attested  in a text of the fourth century BC, but there the term is thought to describe a kind of bamboo.


Kautilya (300 BC) in his work Artha-Shastra mentions the trade in bamboo craft as one of the more important sources of state revenue. He describes various local bamboo species. Utaj bamboo as hollow and thorny, Chimiya as solid and soft, Chap bamboo having a small hole and being free of thorns, bitter in taste but good for making bows, Vansha having long internodes and big hollows with thorns, Satin and Kantak as separate species and Bhalluka as thornless with long internodes – longer than all others.


A wiki article on ‘Amarkantak’ explains the word as Sanskrit, having a literal meaning:  of which is immortal (amar) obstruction (kantak).


Another site, dedicated to Ayurveda, includes several plants whose names include the element ‘brahma’, including

  1. brahmakarma (Cleome gynandra / viscosa Linn.) – dog mustard.
  2. brahmayashtika (Clerondendrum serratum Spreng) –
  3. brahma suvarcala or brahmasuvarcala – Malva sylvestris – common mallow
  4. brahmi – Bacopa / Herpestis monnieri Pennell – thyme-leaved gratiola
  5. brahmajata – Artemisia sieversiana Willd –
  6. brahmapavitra – Desmostachya bipinnata Staff. – sacrificial grass

.. but no ‘brahmakantak’ as such.


these names above, and more in:-


Table of Ayurvedic Plants and Minerals with Sanskrit (and Synonyms), Common, and Botanical Names


According to that table, ‘kantak’ is used of a wide variety of species, most of them grasses or small herbs.


Of those I’ve listed above, the last is a grass but not a bamboo and a bamboo with yellow flowers seems not to exist.


In fact, a bamboo in flower is a such a very rare sight it’s  worth blogging about.


So it would appear that while many and ancient alchemical recipes did exist (Dr. Shrimali’s book is 200 pages long), trying to put them into effect was  as difficult in the eastern as in the western world.


Some such association might, just possibly,  explain why there is a group of herbal manuscripts made in Europe which show points of similarity to the Voynich botanical section. Those herbals  are ones known in the Latin-speaking world as  ‘alchemical herbals’ of a type which one Italian collector, Ulisse Aldrovandi described in his collection as “Plants of the Alchemists”. They are commonly known today as ‘Alchemical herbals’ though the term is perhaps not the most appropriate. (See next post).



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