While researching the Treaty of Wanghia between the US and China, I saw the Product "capoon cutcheny" in the drugs section of the tariff table. Since I am neither an English nor a Chinese native speaker, I thought googling might help. Interestingly, the exact term only appeared five times, all either this treaty or in reference to it. By researching both words I found that "capoon" means castrated rooster, but I did not find any reference to "cutcheny" other than in this Treaty or as a last name. Does anybody have any idea what it means?

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    Of note: capoon occurs precisely once in OED (in a quote as a 15th-century term for capon) and cutcheny not at all.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 29, 2021 at 16:06

1 Answer 1


I am reasonably certain this is a transcription error, and given the context of drugs, that the actual entry is capoor cutchery. According to Merriam-Webster, this is

the dried root of an East Indian plant (Hedychium spicatum)

which is elsewhere cited as "a fragrant root… said to come from India." Note that the Chinese characters in the sources (三奈, 山奈) may refer to a different plant, perhaps Kaempferia galanga or Curcuma zedoaria. My knowledge of botany, TCM, or Chinese characters is slim to say the least, so I make no pronouncements as to which is species is canonical.

The text of the treaty as printed in Treaties and conventions Concluded Between the United States of America and Other Powers Since July 4, 1776, an 1871 report from the Secretary of State to the U.S. Senate, gives the tariff table entry as capoor cutchery (page 140), and this product being of commercial value and medicinal use is attested in A Chinese Commercial Guide by S. Wells Williams, in the fourth edition (1858) of which is given this description:

  1. Capoor cutchery, son lai, the Indian name means root of camphor. This is the root of a tuberous plant which grows in Fuhkien and Sr'chuen ; it is half an inch and more in diameter, and is cut into small pieces and dried for exportation; the cleavage is covered with a fine reddish pellicle, but externally it is rough and of a reddish color. It is powdered and mixed with oil, and thus employed in friction and plasters; it has a pungent and bitterish taste, and a slight aromatic smell. It is exported in small amounts to Bombay, and from thence to Persia and Arabia, where it is used in perfumery and for medicinal purposes, and also to preserve clothes from insects.

You can find it under various spellings (capour, capor, kapoor) in various trade gazettes, tariff tables, and similar government and commercial documents.

  • Does it do any medical things that would corroborate it being in the drug section of the treaty?
    – Mitch
    Oct 29, 2021 at 17:25
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    Good idea. Under OCR, r comes out n.
    – GEdgar
    Oct 29, 2021 at 20:29
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    @Mitch, it was/is used throughout Asia as an antihelmintic (treatment for parasites such as worms) and in medicines, food, cosmetics and perfumery industries. Traditionally, it is widely used in treating inflammation, pain, asthma, foul breath, vomiting, diarrhoea, bronchitis, hiccough and blood diseases. Had a value of about $6 per pecul dockside at Canton in 1839. Grown in China and exported to various countries including Persia and Arabia. A pecul or picul was a Chinese measure of weight equal to roughly 133 pounds or 60 kg. Oct 30, 2021 at 7:35
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    @Lambie capoon cutcheny five results. capoor cutchery pages and pages of results.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 17, 2022 at 17:33
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    @ColleenV I don't care much about the spelling. I care about showing it is a product in a list of products and that this spelling was in an official document produced in the States back in the 1800's.
    – Lambie
    Mar 17, 2022 at 17:37

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