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relationships between Herbalists, Apothecary and Alchemists

Posted: Sat Dec 30, 2017 8:54 pm
by john.holtripley
Hi there
I'm trying to make sense of production of medieval remedies and medicines. Presumably they would mostly be bought from an apothecary (or a witch?), but would it have been produced by them? Would a herbalist supply raw materials for medicine production, or would they supply a finished item?
Would Alchemists have been involved at any point? Did they make potions or medicines as such?

Thanks for any advice or pointers where to research further

Re: relationships between Herbalists, Apothecary and Alchemists

Posted: Sat Dec 30, 2017 11:41 pm
by Brother Ranulf
You need to specify a time period. In England there were no apothecaries or alchemists before the 14th century and witchcraft was not really acknowledged before the 13th. Remedies, treatments and medicines in the 12th century came from monastic infirmaries, from local midwives and wise women, from hugely expensive physicians, or from the countryside - folk remedies were widespread and established long before apothecaries came along.

For researching the types of medical treatments used in the 12th century you could look to the Trotula (written in Salerno but widely circulated around Europe), found in almost accurate translation here: ... __4855.pdf

Then there is the Chirugia ("Surgery") compiled by students of Roger Frugard in about 1180 and again widely circulated around Europe for at least the next century. Elements of this can be found in Tony Hunt's book The Medieval Surgery - Boydell Press 1999.

Monastic medicines have not been sufficiently researched or published, yet they were a hugely important factor throughout the medieval era. Every monastic house had an infirmary, along with herb gardens, intended originally to house and treat elderly, infirm and sick monks, but charitable care was also extended to guests and any locals (including aristocrats and kings) who might seek medical help. This is an area sadly neglected by historians, who seem fixated on the later mysteries of alchemy. Furthermore, almost all medical texts and books of herbs were to be found only in monastic libraries, such as this sample: ... ollection/
This news report is significant:
Literacy had a great impact on medical matters - at this time most people outside the Church were illiterate and therefore unable to access documents in Latin, so physicians needed to undergo a Church education before they could set up practice. Midwives and wise women worked entirely with folk remedies handed on by word of mouth.

Finally, it is worth remembering that enormous value was placed on the power of prayer and religious ceremonies in healing the sick - perhaps more than any medicines or surgical treatment.

Re: relationships between Herbalists, Apothecary and Alchemists

Posted: Sat Dec 30, 2017 11:56 pm
by Henri De Ceredigion
I have been led to believe, and therefore if I am wrong would like to be corrected, that by the 17th century the three worked in tandem with each other.

Re: relationships between Herbalists, Apothecary and Alchemists

Posted: Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:29 pm
by john.holtripley
Hi there,
Thanks for the great replies, and useful links.
I guess I was wondering primarily about the supply chain (for want of a better phrase). If we said roughly 15th century - who would do the harvesting of the materials - who would do the combination of those materials into the remedy, and who would then provide/sell those to the person using them?
Or am I thinking in too-modern terms?

thanks again