Saturday, June 17, 2017


In colonial days, people sought help for their illnesses from a man called an apothecary who did some of the same things as the colonial doctor did. Just as people of today respect and listen to a doctor’s advice, colonial people thought highly of apothecaries.

To decide what to do, an apothecary Read More 
looked, listened, and asked questions. He prescribed medicine for smallpox, malaria, and childhood ailments. The apothecary visited sick people, and he sometimes performed bloodletting to treat illnesses. Bloodletting involved cutting into a person’s vein to drain some blood from him or applying a worm called a leech which sucked out some blood. They believed that this helped balance the patient’s body fluids. Some apothecaries delivered babies and performed simple surgeries including tooth extractions.

            An apothecary could obtain medicines in a variety of ways. He might order medicines or the ingredients to make his own from England. Sometimes he grew his own herbs or paid people to gather wild plants. Unlike the present day drugs, the medicines of colonial days could all be bought without a prescription.

The preparation of medicine involved grinding dried plants with a mortar and pestle then weighing the ingredients before mixing the medicine. An apothecary kept the ingredients and the medicines in glass jars.
            Like today’s drugstores, an apothecary shop sold other items. One might find soap and toothbrushes for cleanliness, candles for light as well as coffee and tea for drinking. For the homemaker’s kitchen, an apothecary might stock cooking spices, salad oil, and anchovies.

            Most apothecaries first served as apprentices, but some attended medical school. To learn what to do, colonial apothecaries and doctors could buy textbooks, something not available at the time to most other craftsmen.


“Apothecary.” Colonial

Cohen, Jennie. “A Brief History of Bloodletting.” May 30, 2012.

“Colonial Life.”

Lawall, Millicent R. “Apothecary Shops of Colonial Times.” Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, March 1936.

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