Glass leech tube, England, 1801-1900
Leeches were used in bloodletting, a cure intended to balance the four humours. This tube was used to transport leeches from place to place and may have been used to apply them to the body. Leeches were gathered from streams and sold on by apothecaries. Leeches are a type of worm with suckers at both ends of the body; they suck blood until their bodies are engorged. Leeches are sometimes used today following plastic and reconstructive surgery as they help restore blood flow and circulation.
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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: leech tube
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.