Image of the Week: 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.
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