A Beginner’s Guide to Traditional Iranian-Islamic Medicine (TIIM) & Herbalism

Published on March 29, 2024

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Evidence of traditional wellness practices are found throughout every country, culture, and corner of the globe.

From Traditional Chinese Medicine to Ayurveda, Native American folklore to the traditional medicines of Africa; where there are people, there have always been sages, healers, shamans, and medicine women to help people stay healthy and recover from illness.

Modern alternative, integrative, or complementary medicine systems were born from these various indigenous practices.

Likewise, many modern drugs were originally created from the plants used in various forms of traditional herbalism.

Today, we’ll explore the fascinating history and practices behind one of the world’s most ancient traditional medicines, Iranian-Islamic Traditional Medicine, also known as Persian Medicine.

What is Traditional Iranian-Islamic Medicine?

Traditional Iranian-Islamic Medicine is the traditional wellness practice of Iran, formerly known as Persia, combined with Islamic doctrine related to health.

It is also known as Iranian Traditional Medicine, Persian Medicine, IITM, or Traditional Persian Medicine.

The Islamic component came in after the immersion of Islam in Iran, and Traditional Iranian Medicine concepts were mingled with Islamic doctrine.REF#3697

Well-known ancient Iranian physicians, such as Avicenna, were also Islamic scholars and played an essential role in integrating these two ancient systems.

Traditional Iranian Medicine is considered one of the most ancient forms of healing, going back thousands of years before its integration with Islam.REF#3698

For example, although the Greeks are credited with establishing what is now modern medicine, Jundishapur University in the ancient Persian civilization began training physicians even earlier than the institutions of the Greek civilization.REF#3699

Like all traditional healing systems, Iranian-Islamic Traditional Medicine (IITM) encompasses various modalities, including:

  • Herbalism and plant medicine
  • Dietary guidelines
  • Diagnostic systems
  • Lifestyle components
  • Specific forms of exercise
  • Manual therapies like massage, wet cupping, and phlebotomy
  • Spiritual aspects
  • Bath therapy
  • Sand therapy
  • Aromatherapy
  • Mineral water therapy

Doctors or practitioners of Traditional Iranian-Islamic/Persian medicine see themselves as servants of nature, bound to use natural, spiritual, and scientific resources to support good health and healing.

“Mizaj”, or Temperament, and Humor Theory

The concept of individualized medicine is all the rage in modern integrative medicine circles.

However, the ancients have been practicing individualized medicine for millennia. 

Iranian-Islamic Traditional Medicine is no exception.

According to IITM, everybody has a specific “Mizaj” or temperament, which determines their physical and/or mental characteristics, predispositions towards certain ailments, and even how they express health or disease.REF#3700

An individual's natural temperament or Mizaj is a state of moderation that leads to good health. Any imbalances in this temperament can lead to disease and illness.

Each person and each organ of the body has its own Mizaj. The Mizaj of the organs make up the whole body Mizaj.

It is believed health exists when the whole Body Mizja and the Mizaj of all the organs are in balance. 

Conversely, any imbalance in whole body Mizaj or the Mizaj of organs can lead to illness, known as sue-mizaj or dystemperament in Persian and Iranian Islamic Traditional Medicine.REF#3701

Mizaj is closely related to the four basic elements:

  1. Water
  2. Fire
  3. Soil
  4. Wind

These basic elements produce kinetic energy (warmth) and fluidity (humidity) in the body.

What Causes Imbalances in Mizaj? 

This is related to tempers or “Amzajeh.” 

Individual temperament is defined for each organ according to the suitable levels of hotness, coldness, wetness, and dryness.

According to IITM, there are nine categories of tempers:REF#3702

  1. Moderate
  2. Warm
  3. Cold
  4. Wet
  5. Dry
  6. Warm and dry
  7. Warm and wet
  8. Cold and dry
  9. Cold and wet

Different intrinsic and extrinsic factors, like age, gender, ethnicity, environmental conditions, weather, and different seasons can influence these tempers. 

Every natural substance, like food and drink is also believed to have a specific nature (Tabé) or temper (hot, cold, wet, dry, etc.), which can affect individual temperament. 

Iranian-Islamic Traditional Medicine also recognizes four humors in the human body: 

  1. Phlegm or Balgham
  2. Blood or Dam
  3. Yellow bile or Safra 
  4. Black bile or Sauda

Each of the humors relates to pairs of tempers, including:REF#3703

  • Cold and wet
  • Hot and wet
  • Hot and dry
  • Cold and dry

Each humor also relates to one of the previously listed elements: water, air, fire, and earth/soil.

The Mizaj is considered balanced when harmonized with the various influences on temper, including the humors.

Ayurveda has a similar concept to Mizaj known as a person’s Dosha, which also relates to specific aspects and the balance of the body, mind, and spirit.

The elements are also essential to Traditional Chinese Medicine’s (TCM) five-element theory, which relates to diagnostics and individualized treatment. 

TCM also focuses heavily on similar concepts to “tempers” and “humors” in diagnostics and treatment, citing things like “excess wind,” “damp spleen,” “warm liver,” and cooling or warming foods, herbs, and drinks. 

In TCM, the four humors are slightly different and include Qi, blood, moisture, and essence.REF#3704

Ancient Greek medical texts also emphasized balancing the same humors observed in IITM.

This is a fascinating example of how different traditional wellness practices spanning centuries and cultures often possess common threads.

6 Essential Principles of Persian Medicine/Iranian-Islamic Traditional Medicine

The main factors involved in maintaining or losing health come under six essential principles of Persian Medicine. These collectively form major aspects of an individual’s lifestyle and state of health.REF#3705

These six essential principles include:

  1. Weather
  2. Eating and drinking
  3. Activity and rest
  4. Evacuation and retention
  5. Sleep and wakefulness
  6. Psychological and mental reactions

It is believed that achieving and maintaining good health/balanced Mizaj relies on the proper balance of these six principles.

Traditional Herbs and Plants Used in Traditional Iranian Islamic Medicine

Iran’s diverse climate is home to hundreds of plant species, many of which are used in Iranian-Islamic Traditional Medicine.

Some examples include:REF#3706 REF#3707 REF#3708 REF#3709 REF#3710 REF#3711

  • Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • Licorice
  • Pomegranates
  • Honey
  • Black Seed
  • Rhubarb and rhubarb syrup
  • Anise and anise oil
  • Chickpea broth (Nokhodāb)
  • Celery
  • Ajwain
  • Zataria multiflora
  • Jujube fruit
  • Fig
  • Nettles
  • Marshmallow
  • Zofa (Nepeta bracteata Benth)
  • Ispaghula (Plantago ovate Forsk)
  • Quince seed
  • Shahtarj (Fumaria officinalis Linn)
  • Soqutan (Symphytum officinalis Linn)
  • Kathira (Astragalus gummifer Lab)

Medicinal oils are also foundational in Persian/Iranian-Islamic Traditional Medicine.REF#3712

These oils include plant and seed-based oils such as Olive Oil, Castor Oil, Hemp Oil, Black Seed Oil, Black Cumin Oil, and Sesame Oil, essential oils such as Frankincense, Lavender, Clove, Cinnamon, and Chamomile, or various plant/herbal-infused oils.

This is not an extensive list of all traditional plants and herbs used in Persian/Iranian-Islamic Medicine. 

However, it gives a glimpse into the diversity of plants used in this ancient wellness practice.

Dietary Influences in Iranian-Islamic Traditional Medicine

Diet is considered primary in Iranian-Islamic Traditional Medicine. Therefore, adjustments in diet are the first course of action toward better health.

Iranian sages of medieval Persia believed the quality and quantity of foods would influence physical and mental health. 

Food type, source, preparation, combinations, and timing were also considered vital in promoting physical and mental health.REF#3713

From the Islamic viewpoint, religious texts warn of the spiritual downfalls of over-eating and suggest one-third of a person’s appetite be reserved for food, one-third for drink, and one-third for air.

From this doctrine, people are encouraged to eat and drink to maintain a good life and physical health, in addition to observing the moral aspects of human life and spiritual satisfaction.

Therefore, specific individual diets are typically recommended to help balance Mizaj and maintain or restore health.

A Brief Overview of Nutritional Principles of Iranian-Islamic-Traditional Medicine

As previously mentioned, different foods are believed to have different Mizaj in IITM, therefore, a balance of specific food types is optimal for supporting health.

Here is a high-level overview of some of the core dietary principles of Iranian-Islamic Traditional medicine:REF#3714

  • Abstinence: This relates to eating a balanced diet in average temperament foods and avoiding food and drink forbidden in Islam.
    • Proper food combining: IITM believes foods are digested in different ways and at different times. We’ll cover more on this in the next point.
    • Foods are divided into three groups:
      • Latief (thin): These are considered “lite” foods that are easily digested and ideal for eating at the start of a meal, such as white bread, chicken wings, barley soup, and vegetable soup (without meat).
      • Mo’tadel (moderate): These take a moderate time to digest and would be eaten in the middle of the meal or alone. These include lamb, veal, camel calf’s meat, turnip, and carrot.
        • Kassief (dense): These digest more slowly and would be eaten last. These include beef, mushrooms, haleem (a recipe made of meat and whole wheat), and whole-grain bread.
        • The bulk of one’s diet should consist of moderate foods. Thin or Dense foods are considered extreme and should be eaten less frequently.
        • Drinking water and other beverages should be avoided throughout the meals until you feel a lightness in the stomach.
        • Fruit is healthy but must be eaten alone. If it is eaten with other foods or water, it can cause ill health.
        • Moderation is the key to healthy eating. Islamic Sages recommended not eating until you’re very hungry and to stop eating before you are satiated.
        • Chew food well and eat regularly timed meals in a peaceful place without rushing or being preoccupied with other tasks.

        Ultimately, a balanced diet high in foods of moderate temperament, absent of foods forbidden in Islam, and eaten mindfully without excess is the order of IITM.

        How Iranian-Islamic Traditional Medicine is Practiced Today

        As with all traditional wellness practices, ancient Iranian physicians and healers were trained based on wisdom and insights passed on by the Sages and scholars in formal institutions and informal apprenticeships, depending on the time in history.

        Today, physicians can enroll in a Traditional Persian Medicine Ph.D. program at eight Iranian universities as approved by Iran’s Ministry of Health.

        The Ph.D. program also requires physicians to become familiar with other fields of complementary and alternative medicine, such as traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, osteopathy, naturopathy, homeopathy, and Ayurveda.

        After completion of the degree, graduates receive a medical license as a doctor in Persian Medicine.

        Persian Medicine doctors provide services such as counseling, temperament evaluation, lifestyle modification recommendations, wet or dry cupping, bloodletting, leeching, massages, and enemas.

        The modern Persian Medicine doctor provides an integrative perspective, weaving in aspects of Traditional Persian Medicine and modern medical procedures in diagnosis and treatment.

        How to Learn More About Islamic-Iranian Traditional Medicine

        Although various traditional wellness practices have found popularity in the West, Persian Medicine/Iranian-Islamic Traditional Medicine remains largely unknown.

        Part of the challenge is that some of the best information has not yet been translated from Arabic, making it difficult to learn about this ancient and fascinating practice.

        However, we are starting to see evidence of its influence in trending health products like Black Seed Oil, Pomegranate products, and essential oils.

        Still, there is so much for those of non-Iranian heritage to learn about this ancient system of wellness, predating even Greek medicine.

        Hopefully, with time and technology, Westerners will come to know and experience the wisdom of Persian Medicine and its physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits.


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