Medicinal Virtues of Jade

The curative properties of jade, also called nephrite or jadeite, its theraputic qualities, and the use of jade in Spain, Guiana, and China

A stone the therapeutic quality of which was specialized is the jade or nephrite. Strange to say, although there are very few places where this mineral can now be obtained,--the chief sources of supply being the province of Khotan in Turkistan and New Zealand,--in prehistoric times the stone must have been found in many different localities, since axe-heads and other artefacts of jade have been discovered in many lands both of the old and new world.

When the Spaniards discovered and explored the southern part of the American continent, they came across numerous native ornaments and amulets made of jade (jadeite) and brought many of these with them to Europe. The name jade is derived from the Spanish designation, piedra de hijada, meaning literally "stone of the flank," which is said to have been bestowed on the stone because the Indians used it for all diseases of the kidneys. The name nephrite owes its origin to the same idea. In ancient times jade appears to have been looked upon as a great aid in parturition, and many ingenious conjectures have been advanced as to the connection between this belief and the form of some of the prehistoric objects made of this material. Whether the Spaniards really learned from the Indians that the stone was especially adapted to cure renal diseases, or whether they only suggested this special and peculiar virtue in order to give an enhanced value to their jade ornaments, is a question not easily answered.

An early notice of jade as a remedial agent appears in Sir Walter Raleigh's account of his travels in Guiana. Treating of a people of "Amazons" said to dwell in the interior of the country, Raleigh says: ("The Discovery of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empire of Guiana," London, 1848, Hakluyt Pub. Originally published in 1596.)

These Amazones have likewise great store of these plates of golde, which they recover by exchange, chiefly for a kinde of greene stone, which the Spaniards call Piedras Hijadas, and we use for spleene stones and for the disease of the stone we also esteeme them: of these I saw divers in Guiana, and commonly every King or Casique hath one, which theire wives for the most part weare, and they esteeme them as great jewels.

By the middle of the seventeenth century the curative powers of jade for the various forms of calculi was very generally admitted. A singular instance is offered us in one of Voiture's letters. He was a great sufferer from "the stone" and he had received, from a Mademoiselle Paulet, a beautiful jade bracelet. Gratefully acknowledging the receipt of this peculiar gift, he expresses himself in the following frank way, a mixture of indelicacy and gallantry that seems strange to us: "If the stones you have given me do not break mine, they will at least make me bear my sufferings patiently; and it seems to me that I ought not to complain of my colic, since it has procured me this happiness." The name used for jade by Voiture, "l'ejade," supplied a missing link in the derivation of our name jade from the Spanish hijada. When the lady's gift was received by Voiture, some friends chanced to be present, and they were disposed to regard it as a token of love until he assured them that it was only a remedy. It appears that Mlle. Paulet was a fellow sufferer, and, alluding to this, Voiture writes: "On this occasion the jade had for you an effect you did not expect from it, and its virtue defended your own." (Lettres de Voiture, ed. by Octave Uzanne Paris, 1880, vol. i, p. 66, Letter XXIII.)

Renal calculi and poetry do not seem to have much in common, but the following lines freely rendered from an old Italian poem on the subject by Ciri de Pers show that even this unpromising theme is susceptible of poetic treatment: (Josephi Gonnelli, Thesaurus philosophicus, seu de gemmis," Neapoli, 1702, pp. 157, 158.)

"Other white stones serve to mark happy days,

But mine do mark days full of pain and gloom.

To build a palace, or a temple fair,

Stones should be used; but mine do serve

To wreck the fleshly temple of my soul.

Well do I know that Death doth whet his glaive

Upon these stones, and that the marble white

That grows in me is there to form my tomb."

As jade was and still is the most favored stone in China, although never found within the boundaries of China proper, it was very naturally accorded wonderful medical virtues. An old Chinese encyclopedia, the work of Li She Chan, and presented by him to the emperor Wan Lih of the Ming dynasty, in 1596, contains many interesting notices of jade. When reduced to a powder of the size of rice grains it strengthened the lungs, the heart, and the vocal organs, and prolonged life, more especially if gold and silver were added to the jade powder. Another, and certainly a pleasanter way of absorbing this precious mineral, was to drink what was enthusiastically called the "divine liquor of jade." To concoct this elixir equal parts of jade, rice, and dew-water were put into a copper pot and boiled, the result-ant liquid being carefully filtered. This mixture was said to strengthen the muscles and make them supple, to harden the bones, to calm the mind, to enrich the flesh, and to purify the blood. Whoever took it for a long space of time ceased to suffer from either heat or cold and no longer felt either hunger or thirst.

Galen (b. ca. 130 A.D.) wrote thus of the green jasper: (Claudii Galeni, "De simplie. medicament., etc.," lib. ix, cap. 19. "Opera Omnia," ed. C. G. Kuhn, Lipsiae, 1826, vol. xii, p. 207. See also Duffield Osborne, "Engraved Gems," New York, 1912, pp. 138, 139.)

Some have testified to a virtue in certain stones, and this is true of the green jasper, that is to say, this stone aids the stomach and navel by contact. And some, therefore, set the stone in rings and engrave on it a dragon surrounded by rays, according to what King Nechepsos has transmitted to posterity in the fourteenth book (of his works). Indeed, I myself have thoroughly tested this stone, for I hung a necklace composed of them about my neck so that they touched the navel, and I received not less benefit from them than I would had they borne the engraving of which Nechepsos wrote.


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