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From Alchemist to Apothecary

As alchemy became less and less commonly practiced, many alchemists found themselves with unusual skills that proved useful in other fields. With their knowledge of inorganic acids and salts, as well as of traditional herb cures, many alchemists became apothecaries.

Physicians, long accustomed to preparing their own drugs, gradually began to consult alchemists about prescriptions -- the beginning of the now common doctor-druggist relationship. In the 16th Century German engraving shown at left, a progressive physician consults an alchemist for a remedy. Most doctors of the time, however, were skeptical about the curative powers of alchemical potions, deeming them quack panaceas.

a doctor ahead of his time
a doctor ahead of his time

The work many alchemists did while trying to discover the elixir of life led many into the field of medicine, and many became respected physicians in their own right.

From their scarecrow shape, mandrake roots were often depicted as human, as in the 15th Century French engraving at below right. Fearing them while also prizing their narcotic effect, alchemists rooted them up with dogs in dead of night.

left: mandrake root
right: the magical mandrake root

mandrake rootthe magical mandrake root

Ralph E. Lapp Life Science Library: Matter New York: Time Incorporated, 1965

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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Chemistry >> Alchemy

This page was last updated on 10/28/2017.