Shen Nong (神农)

The Divine Farmer

Emperor of China c.2737BC-c.2698BC

Image of Emperor Shen Nong

Shen Nong was a Chinese Emperor who according to Chinese history (or Mythology depending on your point of view) lived approximately 5000 years ago. Also called the Yan Emperor or Emperor of the Five Grains, Shen Nong is attributed as being the father of agriculture in China, having invented the plough (according to Chinese legend) and teaching his people how to farm grains and to use these as food.

Shen Nong in popular Chinese Mythology and Culture is also said to have extensively tested hundreds of herbs personally in order to ascertain their medicinal value and effects on the human body. Legend has it that Shen Nong was once poisoned an amazing seventy two times in a single day during his research. An interesting part of the Shen Nong legend says that the Emperor had a transparent body hence he was able to test various herbs and their effects on the body by actually seeing what happened inside his body.

He is in fact attributed with identifying literally hundreds of medical and poisonous herbs - Tea being (it is said) one of those discoveries. Tea in fact may have been of great benefit to Shen Nong during his research into herbal medicines as tea (Camelia sinesis) is meant to be an antidote for over 70 different poisonous herbs. Tea legend in China states that the discovery of tea was an accident that occurred when tea leaves from twigs being used for fire rose up on a column of hot air and subsequently landed in the water being boiled. Being naturally adventurous and a keen herbalist, he tried this brew and the rest is of course history.

The Chinese literary work "The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic", which was compiled several thousand years after Shen Nong, attributes the discoveries documented within the work to him. Shen Nong's original work is considered the first its kind in China and he is said to have catalogued over 365 species of medicinal plants that later became the basis herbalogical studies in China for thousands of years to come. Shen Nong and his work is perhaps one of the key reasons for China's advanced medicinal practices in the past and today.

Amongst his other achievements Shen Nong is also said to have introduced Acupuncture to China and legend has it that this extraordinary Emperor was born with the head of a bull and the body of a man and that in his early life he spoke after three days, walked within one week, and was able to plow a field at the tender age of three. Shen Nong eventually died from a toxic overdose as a result of an experiment for which he was unable to get an appropriate antidote in time.

After his death Shen Nong was deitified by his people as a tribute to his works for his people. In Chinese mythology Shen Nong is one of the three noble ones. Called the San Huang, he is considered to be the god of wind and the patron of pharmacists.

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