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Museum Treasures 

Pharmaceutical leech jar, 19th century

This drug jar was used in the 19th century to store leeches, which were used to treat localised swelling and infections.

leeches full size

Source: RPS Museum

Owing to their popularity in treating disease, leeches were at risk of extinction during the middle of the 19th century

This beautiful drug jar was used to contain an unsavoury remedy — leeches. These have been a popular treatment for thousands of years, draining blood to restore the imbalances in the body that were thought to cause disease.

In the middle of the 19th century, leeches were a common sight in pharmacies, used to treat localised swelling or infections. Around this time, the medical use of leeches became so popular that they were at risk of extinction.

As our understanding of the body developed, so did the use of leeches. Today, it would be difficult to find a jar of leeches in your local pharmacy, but leech therapy continues to have clinical applications: particularly for stimulating blood flow after cosmetic or reconstructive surgery.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20208509

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