Alchemy and pharmacy interferences

Numerous apothecary jars and specialized works, pharmacopoeias and dispensatories, include alchemical symbols. Still, they only indicate categories of substances of preparation procedures, the most obscure symbol being „arcanum”, used for either toxic or secret ingredients that the pharmacists did not want to label.

Signa pharmaceutica usualia

Balneum Mariae (Mary's bath) is a process of controlled heating in a pot with liquid (double boiler) that has been attributed to he alchemist Maria Prophetissima (3rd c. A.D.) The process was nevertheless known before, during the Roman period for example, and became common in cooking, chemistry and pharmacy.

Balneum Mariae, 16th c. illustration

Gold was used in pharmacies to coat some pills and as ingredient of cordial waters (alcoholic drinks with gold flakes). Cordial waters are based on the idea of the alchemists’ Aurum potabile, pure gold liquefied according to secret methods, considered universal medicine (panaceum) and a true Elixir of Life. Alchemists believed gold to be a pure substance, thus its consumption could only benefit the body. Still, some 15th-16th c. texts mention intoxications with gold and even deaths.

Nicolas Culpepper, 1565, Aurum Potabile
Discover more connections between pharmacy and alchemy in Transylvania visiting the Alchemy and Pharmacy temporary exhibition on display at the History of Pharmacy Collection in Cluj-Napoca (July-December 2017).
Join the Facebook event HERE.

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