Azerbaijan International

Spring 2003 (11.1)
Pages 48-53

Medieval Secrets of Health
Farid Alakbarli: Researching Baku's Medical Manuscripts
by Jean Patterson

Farid Alakbarov - Azerbaijani Scientist on Medival Medical Manuscripts
Left: Farid developed an early interest in animal and plant life. Here at age 11 with his parakeet.

At age 40, Dr. Farid Alakbarli is already the leading authority on medieval medical texts from Azerbaijan. In his research at Baku's Institute of Manuscripts, he has studied hundreds of rare texts - most of them written in the Arabic script - to learn how medieval doctors used traditional medicine to treat their patients. Many of these remedies have long since been forgotten.

Medieval physicians have much to teach us about medicine, Farid believes. Their traditional approaches have the potential to be used once again in modern medicine, once they have been properly investigated and scientifically analyzed. To restore and disseminate this lost knowledge, Farid has spent the last two decades reading and translating medieval medical manuscripts. His discoveries suggest that modern man still has much to re-learn about the human body and how to enjoy optimal health.

When it comes to Azerbaijan's Medieval Medical Manuscripts written in Arabic script, Farid Alakbarli has a lot of "firsts" after his name. He was the first to undertake serious, in-depth study of all the medical manuscripts that are housed at Baku's Institute of Manuscripts. This resulted in his compiling a catalog of 365 manuscripts. Among his discoveries were the manuscripts of two previously unknown Azerbaijani physicians: Abulhasan Maraghai (18th century), Murtuzagulu Shamlu (17th century).

He was the first person in Azerbaijan ever to study the concept of preventive medicine as it existed in medieval Azerbaijan, especially as it related to lifestyle, nutrition, sports, control of emotions, protection of the environment, medicine and pharmacology.

The Institute of Manuscripts in downtown Baku. One of Oil Baron Taghiyev's buildings constructed at the turn of the 19th century.
Left: The Institute of Manuscripts in downtown Baku. One of Oil Baron Taghiyev's buildings constructed at the turn of the 19th century.

Another of his "firsts" was the study of natural medicines as described in medieval Azerbaijani manuscripts. Before him, scholars such as I.

Afandiyev and Arif Rustamov had written descriptions about the ancient history of Azerbaijan's medicine, but none had approached this complex study by drawing upon both social and natural sciences.

Because one of his doctorates is in Biology, it enabled Farid to be the first person to study the species of herbs, minerals and animals as described in medieval Azerbaijani sources and analyze them from the biological, medical, philological and historical points of view. As such he has identified 256 species of medicinal herbs that had been forgotten. Once these natural substances have been tested experimentally and clinically, many can be included in the armory of modern medicine.

In addition, he found 866 types of complex medicines (such as tablets, pills, syrups), identifying their composition and describing their medical properties. Though found in medieval Azerbaijani manuscripts, they had never been analyzed scientifically before.

Farid was the first to propose that a new system of health protection should incorporate both traditional Azerbaijani medicine with modern scientific medicine. His ideas are summarized in various books and articles in Azeri, Russian and English. Thanks to his meticulous research, a new 1,400-term glossary (1992) exists of medieval Azeri pharmacological terms. Such a glossary had never been published before.

Below: Farid Alakbarli, 8, with his grandfather Aghabeyli Aghakhan (1904-1980) in 1971. Farid credits his grandfather with instilling in him a love of history by telling him stories about famous kings, writers and poets. Aghabeyli was a professor of biology, a geneticist, and a Corresponding Member of the USSR Agricultural Academy Of Sciences, an honor bestowed on only two Azerbaijanis during the Soviet period. He created a new breed of buffalos, the Caucasian Buffalo (now, called the Azerbaijan buffalo). His book "Buffalos" was published in Baku, Moscow and Vietnam (in Vietnamese language)

Farid Alakbarov - Azerbaijani Scientist on Medival Medical Manuscripts in his childhood with his grandfather
Prior to Farid's research, no medieval Azerbaijani medical books had been investigated, translated and published. In 1989, he and his colleagues published "Tibbname" (Book of Medicine by Muhammad Yusif Shirvani) which had originally been written in an old style of Azeri that was in use when it was first penned in 1712. This volume is now available both in modern Azeri and in Russian. This publication enabled readers for the first time to be able to access information about Azerbaijan's ancient medicine, as a primary source. The book has already been published twice - 50,000 copies each time - which is considered a very large print run for Azerbaijan.

Farid's most recent "first" comes this year, 2003, when he published for the first time a book about ancient Azerbaijani medicine in Russia (St. Petersburg). Along with his colleague, Akif Farzaliyev, the medieval treatise, "Tuhfat al-muminin" is now available. This was the third book that Farid had published together with his colleague in the Russian language.

The primary question that Farid has been dealing with for the last 20 years is how human beings, as revealed centuries ago in medieval manuscripts, learned to take care of their health. In the process, he has gained the perspective of early medical specialists to some of the major topics that scientists are interested in today, such as the secret to longevity. Today's doctors tell us to eat nutritious foods, exercise regularly and stay away from unhealthy habits like smoking or eating too many sweets. Medieval Azerbaijani doctors had their own theories about what constituted good health; some of their ideas align with the accepted advice of today, others differ radically. Did they know something that we don't?

Most definitely they did, says Dr. Farid Alakbarli, a medical historian who has studied hundreds of medical manuscripts written between the 9th and 18th centuries. These ancient manuscripts are housed at the Institute of Manuscripts in Baku.

Medieval doctors prescribed a wide variety of medicines made from plants, animals and minerals. In his research, Farid has identified 724 plants, 115 minerals and 150 animals that were once used for medicinal purposes in Azerbaijan. Of these, 256 species of medicinal herbs had completely been forgotten. Farid has also identified 866 types of complex medicines, such as tablets, pills and syrups, and described their medical properties.

Left: From the 13th century text: "The Book About Surgery and Surgical Instruments" by Andalusian (the Arabic name for Spain during Mauritanian rule) Arab scholar Abulgasim Zakhravi who was known in medieval Europe as Albucasis and whose books were translated into Latin and taught in medieval European Universities.

What do doctors from 600 or 700 years ago possibly have to tell us that we don't know already? Traditional medicine holds the key to untold advances in treating and preventing disease, Farid believes. "If we combine ancient knowledge with modern medical achievements, we can arrive at a new concept of preventive medicine.

"People often ask me why ancient medicine is so important, when we already have such strong modern preparations, like antibiotics and sulfonamides. First of all, natural medicine, if used correctly, doesn't have as many side effects as manufactured chemical preparations do. Secondly, in some cases, herbs may even be more effective than modern medicine. This is not to say that modern chemical preparations are weak. On the contrary, they are able to kill thousands of species of microbes. But an ax is less versatile than a surgeon's knife. Herbal medicine is like a surgeon's knife: it can be used precisely and gently because it is sufficiently sharp and effective at the same time

Left: The very informative pharmacology book, "Karabadin" (Pharmacy Book) by Nuh Afandi written in Turkish.

"People often ask me why ancient medicine is so important, when we already have such strong modern preparations, like antibiotics and sulfonamides. First of all, natural medicine, if used correctly, doesn't have as many side effects as manufactured chemical preparations do. Secondly, in some cases, herbs may even be more effective than modern medicine. This is not to say that modern chemical preparations are weak. On the contrary, they are able to kill thousands of species of microbes. But an ax is less versatile than a surgeon's knife. Herbal medicine is like a surgeon's knife: it can be used precisely and gently because it is sufficiently sharp and effective at the same time.

"Traditional medicine can be more effective than modern medicine, with fewer side effects. For example, some doctors treat urinary diseases with antibiotics and sulfonamides. However, almost all antibiotics can result in mycosis [an infection caused by a fungus] as well as many other diseases. Sulfonamides can concentrate in the kidneys and lead to the formation of kidney stones. On the other hand, herbal teas made of cypress cones, chamomile and other herbs may be used to treat urinary diseases without any negative side effects."

Left: Farid Alakbarli. The first time a medieval treatise about ancient Azerbaijani medicine has been published in Russia. Coauthored with Akif Farzaliyev. St. Petersburg, 2003.

Traditional medicine is still very much alive in countries like Iran, Pakistan, India and China. In some cases, healers treat diseases without the use of medicine at all. For example, yoga can be used to treat some nervous disorders through breathing and mental exercises. For example, standing on one's head improves blood circulation, enhancing memory and preventing sclerosis. Similarly, Chinese healers use acupressure and massage to treat nervous diseases.

"But what does modern medicine do?" Farid asks. "Doctors prescribe a lot of pills and infusions that aren't necessary. Gradually, the patient loses self-confidence and becomes completely dependent upon these drugs. He doesn't realize that he can help himself by pursuing a healthy lifestyle, eating a nutritious diet and getting regular exercise. Instead, he wakes up with a capsule and goes to sleep with a tablet. This kind of psychological dependence is very dangerous for the body and the soul.

"Many of the people who read my books try to use herbs for self-treatment. For example, a famous historian was recently complaining that modern medicine wasn't helping him. He asked my advice about herbal treatment, so I recommended several herbs. A week later, he called to thank me. His problems had been solved. As it turns out, the herbs I had recommended were very effective, whereas the enormous amount of antibiotics that he had taken before had only worsened his condition.

There are many such examples." Azerbaijanis have a long-standing tradition of using herbs as medicine. For example, many use chamomile flowers to treat urinary and intestinal disorders. Valerian root is well known as a sedative. "Unfortunately, people don't always know the correct dosage or how to combine these herbs with other herbs," Farid says. "Nor do they always know which herb is the most effective in specific situations. They drink the same herbs out of habit, without taking into account differences in age, gender, weight or other important factors. Therefore, the efficacy of the herb varies. In my books, I try to explain the correct way of using these herbs, as portrayed by medieval physicians."

Lifestyle for Longevity

Left: Last page of a medical manuscript where a copyist or reader added his own opinion or that of others in related fields. Such practice was quite common in that day.

Farid discusses medieval conceptions of health in his extensive volume, "A Thousand and One Secrets of the Orient," which was published in 2000 in Russian. This compendium of his work on traditional medicine features an exhaustive listing of medieval prescriptions. In ancient Eastern philosophy, he says, the emphasis was not so much on treating diseases as it was on preventing them from occurring in the first place.

One of most important sections of the book relates to diet. "Modern dietitians tell us not to eat animal fat because it contains harmful cholesterol," Farid says. "And yet, many Azerbaijanis who eat meat and animal fat live to be a hundred years old or more. How is this possible?

"According to ancient traditions, the secret is to eat meat in moderation along with fresh vegetables, in order to prevent the assimilation of fat. As a result, the organism gets all of the necessary elements and is not damaged. This proves that the recommendations of ancient traditions and medieval medicine are sometimes wiser than modern judgment."

Childhood Interests
How did Farid become interested in a field that was rarely studied, yet which holds much potential? He says his passion for scholarly work began in childhood. Farid grew up in Baku's Ichari Shahar (Inner City), the medieval walled city that foreigners often refer to as the "Old City." "I was surrounded by minarets, ancient fortress walls and towers," Farid says. "Maybe that's one of the reasons why I became so interested in history."

Farid's parents are both scientists who work in the field of genetics. Inspired by their example, Farid spent much of his childhood reading books from the family's extensive library, especially books on history and biology.

"I loved reading illustrated books about nature," he says. "I would spend a lot of time at the zoo and at the Baku Botanical Gardens, where I was fascinated by the various kinds of exotic palms, orchids and cacti. I also kept a variety of pets at home, such as parrots, fish, lizards and tortoises."

At age 11, he owned a parakeet - a little Australian Wavy parakeet, Farid says. "These birds are small like sparrows, mostly green, but sometimes blue or yellow. They are very common in Baku and very cheap. This particular parakeet had obviously flown away from its former owner and happened to land on my balcony. I managed to catch him with a colander from my mother's kitchenware. After a while, I realized that the parakeet seemed to miss the company of other birds, so I bought a friend for him from the ZooShop for 3 rubles (about $3). I ended up with a male and a female. I put them in a cage together and made a little nest, hoping that they would mate. But it seems they weren't interested, even though I had diligently read a book on raising parakeets and followed the instructions."

Farid's grandfather on his mother's side, Aghakhan Aghabeyli (1904-1980), was also an academic, specifically a biology professor and one of Azerbaijan's two corresponding members of the USSR Agricultural Academy of Sciences. "My grandfather inspired me because he was such a knowledgeable person," Farid recalls. "He developed a new breed of buffalo, the Caucasian Buffalo (now called the Azerbaijan buffalo). His book 'Buffalos' was published in Baku, Moscow and in the Vietnamese language.

"My grandfather was a biologist, but he also knew the Arabic script, Persian, German, literature, poetry, history and many other things. Besides, he had artistic ability and could draw and play the piano and tar. When I was young, he would often tell me stories about history and the famous kings, writers and poets of Azerbaijan."

When Farid was growing up, the official alphabet in Azerbaijan was Azeri Cyrillic, which had been imposed by Stalin in 1940. (Azerbaijan switched to the Azeri Latin script in December 1991. See Azerbaijan International 8.1 (Spring 2000). Search at

At that time, only the older generation knew how to read the Arabic alphabet, which had been used from the seventh century up until 1929. When Farid was nine or ten years old, his grandmother Ruhsara began teaching him how to read in Arabic. Soon he was able to read the older Azeri books in the family's library. Today, Farid is one of the few Azerbaijanis in the Republic who is able to read the Azeri handwritten manuscripts penned in the Arabic script though, of course, Azerbaijanis who live in Iran, which number approximately 25-30 million, would not have much difficulty in reading Azeri in Arabic script.

School and Komsomol
As a student at Baku's No. 134 Secondary Russian School, Farid excelled in subjects like biology, history and geography. However, during the Soviet era, good grades were not enough. All young people in the USSR between the ages of 14 and 29 were expected to join the Communist Union of Youth, or Komsomol. This was a prerequisite to joining the Communist Party.

"When I was in 10th grade, my classmates were all members in the Komsomol, that is, except me," Farid remembers. "I avoided it because I didn't want to attend those endless boring meetings and listen to contrived speeches, verses and songs about how great the Communist Party was and how wise and kind our 'grandfather' Lenin was. My teachers used to ask me why I hadn't joined the Komsomol like other 'good boys.' Usually, I would tell them that I didn't consider myself to be ready for such a great honor and responsibility. They would look at me in astonishment, suspecting that surely I was jesting.

"Finally, they issued a stern warning that I would not be accepted into the university if I didn't join the Komsomol. Despite my aversion to things political, I had little choice if I wanted to pursue an academic career. So I agreed. My acceptance was granted on the last day before I graduated from high school. However, I still tried to avoid attending the Komsomol meetings as much as possible. Eight years later in January 1990 [Black January], when the Soviet Army entered Baku and killed hundreds of civilians, I took advantage of the opportunity, as did many others, to protest the massacre by leaving the Komsomol officially."

Language Study
In 1980, Farid graduated from high school and began studying biology at Baku State University. In addition to science, Farid focused on learning foreign languages, especially Persian and Arabic. He had already studied Russian, Azeri and English and was studying the Arabic alphabet and the Persian language on his own.

"I used to open the dictionary and memorize the Persian words by heart," he says. "I also had an Arabic textbook by Alasgar Mammadov that I studied step by step. I would bring the textbook with me to the university so I that could read and translate during my breaks between biology classes. Unfortunately, the textbook was filled with Bolshevik propaganda about Revolution in Arabic countries, Azerbaijan and Russia. So I read additional books like the Koran. Along with my study at the Biology Department, I also attended the two-year Persian courses at the Institute of Foreign Languages. I successfully completed the course and qualified as a Persian language teacher."

At that time, Azerbaijanis who were interested in religion or foreign languages were under strict surveillance by the KGB. "I was no exception," Farid says. "The situation became even worse when some students and I formed an informal club to discuss political and cultural issues. One of my classmates was an informant for the KGB and I soon found myself in trouble. Our group did hold lively discussions about the possibility of independence of Azerbaijan from the USSR. [Azerbaijan did succeed in gaining their freedom from the USSR in December 1991].

"In 1982, I was called in and interrogated. They threatened me and told me to put an end to my anti-Soviet activity. I realized that the situation was becoming dangerous not only for me, but also for my parents and relatives. I felt like I had no right to put them at such risk, so I immediately went home and burned my diaries and notebooks in which I had written down my thoughts about scientific, cultural and political issues. I was 22 at the time."

Institute of Manuscripts
After graduating from the university, Farid decided to specialize in the History of Science. Combining his education in Biology and his knack for reading ancient scripts, he began working at the Institute of Manuscripts that is under the umbrella of the Academy of Science. Farid refers to the Institute as a "sacred temple of science" because of its enormously rich historical archive of about 40,000 works in Azeri, Turkish, Uzbek, Persian and Arabic. Many of the manuscripts date back to the Middle Ages.

"I was only 22 years old when I began working at the Institute, but I knew that I wanted to devote my life to serious research," Farid says. "I became the first person there to focus on studying medieval medical manuscripts."

Farid approaches his research from a multi-disciplinary point of view, which gives him a broader understanding of the medieval texts. He has a well-rounded education, with a Candidate of Science degree in Biology (1992) [equivalent to a doctorate] and a Doctor of Science in History (1998) [equivalent to a post doctorate degree]. When he studies manuscripts, he is able to analyze them from the point of view of a historian, botanist, biologist, physician, dietitian and linguist. At the Institute, Farid received advice and guidance from a number of mentors, including Dr. Mohsun Naghiyev, Nasib Geyishov and Muzafaddin Azizov. "Dr. Mohsun Naghiyev was head of the Persian department when I first started working at the Institute," Farid says. "He was such a kind, rare person. He knew Persian fluently and helped me from a linguistic point of view by explaining the meanings of words and teaching me how to read the various styles of cursive Arabic script."

Nasib Geyishov, a specialist in poetry and Sufism, shared his immense knowledge of how to translate accurately. "Geyishov was the only person at the Institute who really understood how to read the medieval medical texts," Farid says. "He told me which manuscripts were the most important and advised me on the best medieval and modern dictionaries and catalogues to use. Despite that medicine was not his field of expertise, he helped me read and translate many medical manuscripts."

Calligraphy expert Muzafaddin Azizov taught Farid the essentials of Arabic calligraphy. "Studying the art of calligraphy helped me learn to appreciate the beauty of medieval Eastern culture," Farid says. "Calligraphy is an integral part of Muslim culture, just as it is for the Chinese and Japanese. In the Middle Ages, any educated person had to know how to read calligraphy. I didn't set out to be a professional calligrapher; I simply wanted to learn how to read and write the various Arabic script styles. Thanks to Azizov's help, I can now read the medieval texts written in various calligraphy styles more easily."

Political Stirrings
For many scholars, delving into manuscripts that were written hundreds of years ago can be a welcome distraction from contemporary political issues. But for Farid, the world outside was rapidly changing. "It was the era of Gorbachev's Perestroika, and we felt the fresh air of freedom," he says. "Nearly all of the scientists from the Institute, including me, participated in meetings of the Popular Front, which was demanding independence and a solution to the Karabakh question. In fact, Dr. Abulfaz Aliyev (Elchibey), the chairman of the Popular Front and the future president of Azerbaijan, worked at our Institute. His workspace was right next to my table.

"At the time, some of my friends and elderly relatives warned me: 'be careful! You're working in a very dangerous place - the Institute of Manuscripts. This institution is comprised of an array of anti-Soviet elements, starting with Abulfaz Aliyev himself, whose desk is next to yours!' But I wasn't afraid. On the contrary, I was proud to work beside such a courageous person, even though I often disagreed with the ideas and methods of the Popular Front."

Soviet Censorship
Before Farid started his research, none of the medieval Azeri medical treatises had been investigated, translated or published. Then in 1988, Farid translated Muhammad Yusif Shirvani's "Tibbname" (1712) from old Turkish into both Azeri and Russian. Shirvani had been a palace physician for the Shirvan Shahs.

Once the translation of "Tibbname" was ready for publication, Farid encountered a major problem: the Soviet censors were not giving their approval for publishing it.

"The editor cautioned us: 'this book begins with the words, "Bismillahi rahmani rahim" (In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate). Such an invocation is politically and ideologically incorrect because we live in an atheist Soviet state. You must delete all references to Allah from the book. You may retain it in only one or two places, if you agree to type it, not in upper case, but in lower-case letters.'

"My colleagues Akif Farzaliyev and Mammadagha Sultanov and I all felt that this kind of censorship was utter nonsense. How could we possibly modify an historical text? Even though we were not traditional Muslims ourselves, we were scientists and as such, we were not willing to accept alteration of the text.

"Then the editor crossed out part of the book and said: 'We can't publish these chapters because they deal with astrology, alchemy and magic, not about medicine. These are ridiculous superstitious beliefs. We can't mislead our readers.' He still did not seem to grasp the idea that as ancient text this was a historical monument that should not be tampered with.

"The next day, the editor found even more shortcomings with the book. 'We have to remove all of the offensive, crude words from the text,' he announced. 'This medieval author was a shameless person. What terrible words he uses to identify sexual organs! How could you use retain such expressions in the text? Take all of them out. Yes, the Russians in Moscow are used to such vulgar words in their books, but we are still not as "civilized" as they are.'

"After all these corrections, 'Tibbname' became a much smaller book. We were still hoping that it would be published, but it turns out that we were mistaken. Six months later, the editor called us again and said: 'you must exclude these 10 chapters from the book. All of them are about sex. We are a Muslim nation, and we should not read such amoral things. If you want the book to be published, you'll have to remove them.'

"By this time, we were fed up. We told him: 'First of all, if we really are Muslims, why did you remove the word "Allah" from the book? Half a year ago, you said that we lived in an atheist Soviet state. What are you saying now? Secondly, Ibn Sina, Razi and other medieval authors were also Muslims, and they wrote about the treatment of sexual diseases. Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad said many things about sex in his hadiths [collections of wise sayings attributed to Muhammad by his friends after his death]. Are we greater than the Prophet and these writers?' However, the editor did not want to listen to us. Obviously, he was afraid of pressure from his own bosses, both in Baku and Moscow."

As it turns out, the "Tibbname" translation was eventually published, more or less intact with its full text. But not until 1990. Since then, the book has become very popular among the Azerbaijani public, selling more than 50,000 copies in its first edition. This is considered a very large print run for Azerbaijan with its population of 7.5 million at the time. But we succeeded and it marked the first time that Azerbaijanis could read firsthand about their own ancient traditional medicine.

During his research at the Institute of Manuscripts, Farid has uncovered several other rare medical manuscripts that had long been forgotten. These texts were not included in the treasury of books related to Azerbaijan's history; in fact, Farid was the first person ever to include them in the scientific literature of Azerbaijan.

One such text is "Mualijati-munfarida" (Treatment of Separate Medicines) by 18th-century physician Abulhasan Maraghai. In his book, Maraghai describes the treatment methods that were used for all of the commonly known diseases of his time. The title "Separate Medicines" refers to simple medicines that are comprised of only use one compound. Similarly, 17th-century physician Murtuza Gulu Shamlu wrote the book "Khirga" (Apparel of the Sufi) to describe how to treat reproductive disorders. A "khirga" is a humble cloak that was worn by traveling dervishes. Shamlu was the only medieval Azerbaijani author to devote much discussion to this topic (although such books in neighboring Muslim countries were quite common).

Farid has also discovered two Persian medical manuscripts that are not known to exist anywhere else in the world: "Arvah al-ajsad" (Souls of Bodies) by Kamaladdin Kashani (possibly 14th century) and "Zakhira-i Nizamshahi" by Rustam Jurjani (13th century). Both texts are very extensive books on pharmacology, with hundreds of formulas and descriptions of plants. "Zakhira-i Nizamshai" imitates the well-known Eastern pharmaceutical book "Zakhira-i Krarazmshahi" (12th century).

Reading these medieval texts is never easy, even for someone who grew up reading the Arabic script. For one thing, much of the specific medical terminology can be difficult to translate. In order to decipher a certain word, Farid may need to consult a number of different dictionaries, both modern and ancient. "I must be very responsible and precise," he says, "because my readers may try to use these ancient recipes for self-treatment." To help other medical historians decipher the texts, Farid has compiled and published a dictionary of more than 1,400 medieval Azeri pharmacological terms.

Any mistranslation could lead to disastrous results. Farid recalls one colleague who mistakenly translated the phrase "recipe for a depilatory" (getting rid of unwanted hair) as "recipe against baldness." "One day when I was working at the Institute," Farid says, "I heard a scream coming from the corridor. When I stepped outside, I saw a completely hairless man grabbing the throat of the translator. As it turns out, he was someone who did research at the Institute and who had only a mild case of baldness. He had bought the book, prepared the formula and applied it to his head before falling asleep. The next morning, all of his hair had fallen out! He was so enraged that he came to our Institute with the book in his hands so he could hit the translator with it."

Right now, one of Farid's goals is to gradually reintroduce the findings of medieval doctors. "Unfortunately, we have no laboratory at our Institute to really investigate the potential of these plants and substances," Farid says. "Medical institutions in Azerbaijan are still facing an economic crisis so they are unable to collaborate. So, not all of these herbs have been tested scientifically yet.

"We can benefit from the wisdom of our ancestors," he continues. "The secret is to find out what they were thinking and then to test it out. Once these substances have been clinically tested, we can start to include them in the armory of modern medicine."

To read articles by Farid Alakbarli in English and Azeri Latin, visit, which includes more than 20 of his articles plus six "Scientific Tales for Children". Farid currently has an article, "Aromatic Baths of the Ancients," published in the U.S. journal HerbalGram (No. 59). See

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