What is an Apothecary ?

Historically, the apothecary was the fore-runner of all today's healers, be it G.P.'s, surgeons, dentists, nurses, naturopaths, pharmacists etc. It all started during the "dark ages", when a person known then as an alchemist was employed by the local wealthy prince or landowner to try to "transmute" base metals (such as lead, iron, copper etc) into gold. Of course, none of them succeeded, but during their experiments they occasionally stumbled on to a new discovery (eg brass + copper = bronze) that had previously been unknown to man.

Over the centuries he gradually accumulated a comprehensive range of knowledge, & during the 1800's some of their number decided to move out of their caves & dungeons & set up shop on the front street, in order to display, advertise & sell their knowledge, expertise & wares, as what became known as the village apothecary.

The apothecary was the community healer. Over the years he had accumulated a vast range of drugs & medicaments extracted from natural sources such as leaves, roots, seeds, bark, herbs, weeds, as well as mineral products & animal parts. Use of these medicaments in their crude form was a problem, so the apothecary set about devising ways to extract the active ingredients from the drug in its crude form, in order to simplify administration & to standardise the strength of the products. Once he had obtained the extracts, he began to explore different ways to present his products, such as mixtures, lotions, pills, powders, suppositories, creams, ointments etc.

By the early 1900's, "patent" medicines began to make an appearance, whereby medications that their inventors thought successful enough were made in bulk & wholesaled to other shops, & where possible the formula was patented to prevent imitation. As time passed, more & more patent medicines appeared, including tablets & capsules, so by the mid 1900's, the shop was known as a chemist shop and was run by a pharmaceutical chemist. The chemist still made up medication, but was by now mostly as a result of the local doctor writing an extemporaneous prescription, & the trend was more & more away from the chemist making up his own formulations.

Gradually the pre-made-up products took over, which by now were known as proprietary medicines, as patenting the formulas became virtually impossible. This take-over by proprietary medicines is now complete, the chemist is now known as a pharmacist, & the apothecary has been relegated to years gone by………………………………..

                                                                 ………………..OR HAS HE ……………… ???

For the background to "The Apothecary " click here.