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Albarello drug jar used for Lacc, Italy, 1701-1730

‘Lacc’ is short for Gum Lacca, a resin secreted by insects living on certain trees, although for a long time it was thought to be from the trees themselves. Lacc was prepared by apothecaries and pharmacists who added the powdered version into a boiled mixture of water and plant roots until the solution was a blood red colour and as thick as honey. It could then be formed into lozenges. Lacc was used to purge the watery humours that were believed to gather in the chest and so cause dropsy. Lacc was also used to break up stones in the bladder and relieve the symptoms of scurvy and jaundice.

Object number:

A42744

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    Glossary: humours

    The fluids of the body whose balance is essential to well-being. They are blood, choler (yellow bile), phlegm, and melancholy (black bile). The system of the humours was closely related to the theory of the elements by the Ancient Greeks (especially Hippocrates), who were the first society to widely embrace the theory and apply it to medical practice. In Ancient Roman culture, the theory of the humours was embraced by Galen. During the neo-classical revival in western culture, the theory of the humours was a dominant form of medical practice. Its legacy in the form of activities such as blood-letting continued in England into the eighteenth century.

    Glossary: drug jar

    A (usually earthenware) container designed to hold apothecaries' ointments and dry drugs.

    Glossary: pharmacy

    The preparation and medicinal dispensing of drugs.

    Glossary: scurvy

    Disease caused by a lack of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), which is contained in fresh fruit and vegetables. Symptoms include weakness, painful joints, and bleeding gums.

    Glossary: lozenge

    A small medicated sweet to be dissolved slowly in the mouth. Lozenges are intended to sooth and lubricate the throat.

    Glossary: jaundice

    The yellow appearance of both the skin and ‘whites’ of the eyes that occurs when too many red blood cells are being broken down.

    Glossary: dropsy

    An accumulation of fluid in the body tissues which results in swelling.