Cantharid - famous poison and aphrodisiac

The cantaridae (Lyttavesicatoria), also known as the soldier beetle, are harmful insects of the Coleoptera order. In the past, the insects were “harvested” by shaking the trees (mainly ash trees) and collecting the beetles on canvases placed underneath. The catharidae were then drowned in water and vinegar, dried, and crushed.
Lytta vesicatoria or the soldier beetle
 The relevant substance is cantharidin, toxic and smelly, but very famous for being the oldest known European aphrodisiac. Nevertheless, its effects are purely irritant and inflammatory, though locally stimulating blood flow.
Eighteenth-century cantharid powder
 Besides this very famous use, cantharid powder was also used in plasters, to cause blisters, as nervous stimulant (against drowsiness) and as an abortive. Mixed with food, the powder is almost undetectable and was thus used as poison, i.e. the poison of choice of the Medici family.
Wooden jar and parchment sheet including the alchemical sign for powder
The History of Pharmacy Collection in Cluj-Napoca includes five jars for cantharid powder, tincture and homeopathic dilutions, dated to the 18th and 19th centuries. Some actual powder has been preserved in a parchment sheet from the 18th-century apothecary chest of Tereza Kemeny. The parchment in question and one of the wooden jars include the alchemical sign for “powder” .

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