Pharmacy leech jar, England, 1830-1870
Leeches were used in bloodletting – a practice once carried out to treat a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. This jar was used to hold leeches which would have been on sale to medical practitioners. They are a type of worm with suckers at both ends of the body although only the frontal sucker, which has teeth, is used to feed. Once attached to a living body, they feed on blood. They can live for quite a while between meals, so the lid has holes in the top to allow air into the jar. Leeches were such a popular treatment that by 1830 their demand outstripped the supply. Leeches are again being used today following plastic and reconstructive surgery as they help restore blood flow and circulation.
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Glossary: leech jar
Jar for keeping leeches in with pierced cover
A type of worm that possesses suckers at both ends of its body. Formerly widely used for letting blood, the medicinal leech may now be used following microsurgery to encourage the growth of new capillaries. Leeches are found in tropical forests, grasslands and in water.
Puncturing a vein in order to withdraw blood. A popular medical practice for over two thousand years. Bloodletting often involved withdrawing large quantities of blood in the belief that this would cure or prevent many illnesses and diseases. The practice has been abandoned for all but a few very specific conditions.