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Image of the Week: Leech jar

21 Mar, 2014

Leech Jar

This decorated pottery jar, made by Samuel Alcock and Co, was once used to store leeches in a pharmacy before they were sold to physicians.

Historically leeches were used thought to cure all sorts of ailments, from fever to haemorrhoids – and even black eyes. Leeches were used as a method of bloodletting, which was based on the idea that “humors” (blood and bodily fluids) needed to be in balance to ensure health.

In the early 19th century, at the peak of medicinal leech usage, around 35 million leeches were used every year in France. By the late 1800s bloodletting and leech therapy began to lose favour.

Although we have moved on from the humors-based understanding of how the body works, there is still a place for leeches in modern medicine in select circumstances, such as when a severed finger is reattached. While arteries can be reattached, veins are more delicate and regrowth is required. In the meantime, a leech can be used to steadily drain the trapped blood and prevent swelling. 

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. Over 100,000 high resolution images from our historical collections are now free to use under the Creative Commons-Attribution only (CC-BY) licence.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mike Vanzieleghem permalink
    21 Mar, 2014 2:21 pm

    Its a beautiful piece of porcelain china, as well as a grounding reminder of our creative approach to the art of medicine throughout history.

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