Apothecary /əˈpɒθɪkəri/ is one term for a medical professional
who formulates and dispenses materia medica to physicians, surgeons,
and patients. The modern pharmacist (also colloquially referred to as
a chemist in British English) has taken over this role. In some
languages and regions, the word "apothecary" is still used to refer to
a retail pharmacy or a pharmacist who owns one. Apothecaries'
investigation of herbal and chemical ingredients was a precursor to
the modern sciences of chemistry and pharmacology.
In addition to dispensing herbs and medicine, the apothecary offered
general medical advice and a range of services that are now performed
by other specialist practitioners, such as surgeons and
Apothecary shops sold ingredients and the medicines
they prepared wholesale to other medical practitioners, as well as
dispensing them to patients. In 1600s England, they also controlled
the trade of tobacco which was imported as a medicine.
Apothecary work as gateway to women as healers
4 Other mentions in creative literature
5 Noted apothecaries
6 See also
8 External links
Apothecary derives from the Ancient Greek word ἀποθήκη
(apothḗkē, "a repository, storehouse") via Latin apotheca
("repository, storehouse, warehouse"), Medieval Latin apothecarius
("storekeeper"), and eventually Old French apotecaire.
In some languages the word "apothecary" is still used to designate a
pharmacist/chemist, such as German and Dutch (Apotheker) and
Luxembourgish (Apdikter). Likewise, "pharmacy" translates as
"apotek" and "apteekki" in the Scandinavian (Danish, Norwegian,
Swedish), Finnish, and some Slavic languages such as Bosnian
"apoteka", Serbian "апотека", Russian and Ukrainian
"аптека" (pronounced "apteka"). In Yiddish the word is
"אַפּטייק", pronounced "apteik".
Use of the term "apothecary" in the names of businesses varies with
time and location. In some areas of the
United States it has
experienced a nostalgic revival and been used for a wide variety of
businesses, while in other areas such as California its use is
restricted to licensed pharmacies.
French apothecary (15th century).
Apothecary, as a profession, could date back to 2600 BC to
ancient Babylon, which provides one of the earliest records of the
practice of the apothecary. Clay tablets were found with medical texts
recording symptoms, the prescriptions, and the directions for
compounding it. The
Papyrus Ebers from ancient Egypt, written
around 1500 B.C., contain a collection of more than 800
prescriptions, or ancient recipes for the apothecaries of the time. It
mentions over 700 different drugs.
Around 2000 to 2500 BC, Emperor Shen Nung is credited creation of the
Shen-nung pen ts'ao ching (Divine Husbandman's Materia
Medica). Considered a foundational material for Chinese
medicine and herbalism, it became an important source for Chinese
apothecaries. The book, which documented 365 treatments, had a
focus on roots and grass. It had treatments which came from minerals,
roots and grass, and animals. Many of the mentioned drugs and
their uses are still followed today. Ginseng’s use as a sexual
stimulant and aid for erectile dysfunction stems from this book.
Ma huang, an herb first mentioned in the book, led to the introduction
of the drug ephedrine into modern medicine.
According to Sharif Kaf al-Ghazal, and S. Hadzovic, apothecary
shops existed during the
Middle Ages in Baghdad, operated by
Islamic pharmacists in 754 during the Abbasid Caliphate, or Islamic
Golden Age. Apothecaries were also active in Islamic Spain by the
By the end of the 14th century,
Geoffrey Chaucer (1342–1400) was
mentioning an English apothecary in the Canterbury Tales, specifically
"The Nun's Priest's Tale" as Pertelote speaks to Chauntecleer (lines
... and for ye shal nat tarie,
Though in this toun is noon apothecarie,
I shal myself to herbes techen yow,
That shul been for youre hele and for youre prow.
In modern English, this can be translated as:
... and you should not linger, Though in this town there is no
I shall teach you about herbs myself,
That will be for your health and for your pride.
In Renaissance Italy, Italian Nuns became a prominent source for
medicinal needs. At first they used their knowledge in non-curative
uses in the convents to solidify the sanctity of religion among their
sisters. As they progressed in skill they started to expand their
field to create profit. This profit they used towards their charitable
goals. Because of their eventual spread to urban society, these
religious women gained "roles of public significance beyond the
spiritual realm (Strocchia 627). Later apothecaries led by nuns
were spread across the Italian peninsula.
Early Italian Pharmacy, 17th century, Gift of Fisher Scientific
Science History Institute
Science History Institute From the 15th century to the
16th century, the apothecary gained the status of a skilled
practitioner. In England, the apothecaries merited their own livery
company, the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, founded in
1617. Its roots, however, go back much earlier to the Guild of
Pepperers formed in London in 1180.
Interior of an apothecary's shop. Illustration from Illustrated
History of Furniture, From the Earliest to the Present Time from 1893
by Frederick Litchfield (1850–1930)
The Lady Apothecary.
Alfred Jacob Miller
(between 1825 and 1870). The Walters Art Museum.]]
However, there were ongoing tensions between apothecaries and other
medical professions, as is illustrated by the experiences of Susan
Reeve Lyon and other women apothecaries in 17th century London.
Often women (who were prohibited from entering medical school) became
apothecaries which took away business from male physicians. In
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became the first woman to be licensed
to practice medicine in Britain by passing the examination of the
Society of Apothecaries. By the end of the 19th century, the
medical professions had taken on their current institutional form,
with defined roles for physicians and surgeons, and the role of the
apothecary was more narrowly conceived, as that of pharmacist
(dispensing chemist in British English).
In German speaking countries, such as Germany, Austria and
Switzerland, pharmacies or chemist stores are still called
apothecaries or in German Apotheken. The Apotheke ("store") is legally
obligated to be run at all times by at least one Apotheker (male) or
Apothekerin (female), who actually has an academic degree as a
pharmacist —— in German Pharmazeut (male) or Pharmazeutin (female)
— and has obtained the professional title Apotheker by either
working in the field for numerous years — usually working in a
pharmacy store — or taking additional exams. Thus a Pharmazeut is
not always an Apotheker. Magdalena Neff became the first woman to
gain a medical qualification in Germany when she studied pharmacy at
the Technical University of Kalsruhe and later passed the apothecary's
examination in 1906.
Apothecaries used their own measurement system, the apothecaries'
system, to provide precise weighing of small quantities.
Apothecaries dispensed viles or poisons as well as medicines, and as
is still the case, medicines could be either beneficial or harmful if
inappropriately used. Protective methods to prevent accidental
ingestion of poisons included the use of specially shaped containers
for potentially poisonous substances such as laudanum.
Apothecary work as gateway to women as healers
Throughout medieval times, apothecaries were not trained in
universities as physicians were. More often, they were trained through
guilds, and apprenticeship. Therefore, their business was typically
family-run, and wives or other women of the family also worked
alongside their husbands in the shops, learning the trade themselves.
Women were still not allowed to train and be educated in universities
so this allowed them a chance to be trained in medical knowledge and
healing. Previously, women had had some influence in other women's
healthcare, such as serving as midwives and other feminine care in a
setting that was not considered appropriate for males. Though
physicians gave medical advice, they did not make medicine, so they
typically sent their patients to particular independent apothecaries,
who did also provide some medical advice in particular remedies and
Many recipes included herbs, minerals, and pieces of animals (meats,
fats, skins) that were ingested, made into paste for external use, or
used as aromatherapy. Some of these are similar to natural remedies
used today, including catnip, chamomile, fennel, mint, garlic and
witch hazel. Many other ingredients used in the past such as
urine, fecal matter, earwax, human fat, and saliva, are no longer used
and are generally considered ineffective or unsanitary. Trial and
error were the main source or finding successful remedies, as little
was known about the chemistry of why certain treatments worked. For
instance, it was known that drinking coffee could help cure headaches,
but the existence and properties of caffeine itself was still a
Other mentions in creative literature
William Shakespeare's play "Romeo and Juliet" : A poor apothecary
sells Romeo an Elixir of Death with which Romeo commits suicide to be
with the late Juliet.
William Shakespeare's play "King Lear":
King Lear exclaims: "Give me
an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination."
The character of Mr Perry in Jane Austen's novel Emma performs many of
the functions of a doctor.
William Faulkner's story "A Rose for Emily" : The main character,
Miss Emily Grierson, goes to an "apothecary" and buys arsenic,
supposedly to kill a rat. Which turns out later to have been her
"Yankee boyfriend", who had sought to cast her aside harshly.
Warhammer 40k universe, Space Marines who practice battlefield
medicine are known as Apothecaries.
In J.K. Rowling's
Harry Potter series, the wizarding shops that sell
ingredients for potions are known as apothecaries.
Ingrid Noll wrote the bestseller German book "Die
Apothekerin" which was translated to "The Pharmacist" in English.
Cadfael in The
Cadfael Chronicles written by the
linguist-scholar Edith Pargeter under the name "Ellis Peters" is an
apothecary, herbalist, and amateur detective.
Hildegard of Bingen
History of pharmacy
Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
^ Awofeso, Niyi (2013). Organisational capacity building in health
systems. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. p. 17.
ISBN 9780415521796. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
^ King, Helen (2007). Midwifery, Obstetrics and the Rise of
Gynaecology : The Uses of a Sixteenth-century Compendium.
Aldershot, Hants: Ashgate. p. 80. ISBN 9780754653967.
Retrieved 13 December 2016.
^ a b Woolf, Judith S. (2009). "Women's Business: 17th-Century Female
Pharmacists". Chemical Heritage Magazine. 27 (3): 20–25. Retrieved
22 March 2018.
^ Gately, Iain (2001). Tobacco : a cultural history of how an
exotic plant seduced civilization (1st Grove Press paperback ed.). New
York: Grove Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0802139603. Retrieved 13
^ "apothecary". Online Etymology Dictionary.
^ Duden, Band 7, B.I.& F.A. Brockhaus AG, Mannheim 2001
^ "Apdikter". Lëtzebuerger Online Dictionnaire. Ministère de la
Culture. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
^ "apotek — Den Danske Ordbog". ordnet.dk. Retrieved
^ Friedman, Nancy (September 15, 2014). "Going Medieval: The Revival
of "Apothecary"". Visual Thesaurus. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
^ a b c Allen, Jr, Lloyd (2011). A History of Pharmaceutical
Compounding (PDF). Secundum Artem, Volume 11 Number 3.
^ American Botanical Council (1998). "A Pictorial History of Herbs in
Medicine and Pharmacy". Herbalgram (42): 33–47.
^ a b c Pursell, JJ. The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and
How to Use Them (Kindle Edition). Timber Press, 2015 Portland, Oregon
^ a b “Shen Nung, the Divine Husbandman.” Classics of Traditional
Chinese Medicine. From the History of
Medicine Division, National
Library of Medicine. An online version of an exhibit held at the NLM,
Nationals Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD October 19, 1999-May 30,
^ Pursell, JJ (2015). The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and
How to Use Them. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press. pp. 3–14.
^ Chuncai, Zhou (2002). Illustrated Yellow Emperor's Canon of Medicine
(Chinese/English Edition). Dolphin Books.
^ a b Sharif Kaf al-Ghazal, "The valuable contributions of Al-Razi
(Rhazes) in the history of pharmacy during the Middle Ages", Journal
of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine, Vol.
3 (6), October 2004, pp. 9–11.
^ a b Information taken from the abstract of Hadzović, S (1997).
"Pharmacy and the great contribution of Arab-Islamic science to its
development". Medicinski arhiv (in Croatian). 51 (1–2): 47–50.
ISSN 0350-199X. OCLC 32564530. PMID 9324574.
^ John Brian Harley, David Woodward (1992). The history of
cartography. 2. Oxford University Press. p. 28.
^ Strocchia, Sharon T. (2011). "The Nun Apothecaries of Renaissance
Florence: Marketing Medicines in the Convent". Renaissance Studies. 25
(5): 627–647. doi:10.1111/j.1477-4658.2011.00721.x.
^ Barrett, C. R. B. (1905). The history of the Society of apothecaries
of London. London: E. Stock. I shall endeavour to trace the history of
Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London, from its
incorporation as a separate body on December 6, 1617, down to the
^ Copeman, W. S. (2 December 1967). "The Worshipful Society of
Apothecaries of London--1617-1967". Br Med J. 4 (5578): 540–541.
doi:10.1136/bmj.4.5578.540. PMC 1749172 .
^ "Origins". The
Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London.
^ "The Lady Apothecary". The Walters Art Museum.
^ Green, Monica (Winter 1989). "Women's Medical Practice and Health
Care in Medieval Europe". Chicago Journals. 14: 441, 449.
^ Annie G., Porritt (1919). "Reviewed Work: The Life of Sophia
Jex-Blake. by Margaret Todd". Political Science Quarterly. 34 (1):
180. JSTOR 2141537.
^ Liaw, ST; Peterson, G (May 2009). "Doctor and pharmacist - back to
the apothecary!". Australian health review : a publication of the
Australian Hospital Association. 33 (2): 268–78.
doi:10.1071/ah090268. PMID 19563315.
^ "German Pharmacy, Apotheke, vs Drogerie". Journey to Germany.
Retrieved 13 December 2016.
^ Beisswanger, Gabriele; Hahn, Gudrun; Seibert, Evelyn; Szász,
Ildikó; Trischler, Christl (2001). Frauen in der Pharmazie: Die
Geschichte eines Frauenberufs. Stuttgart: Deutscher Apotheker
^ Cazalet, Sylvain (2001). "Tables of weights and measures.
Apothecaries' weight". HOMÉOPATHE INTERNATIONAL.
^ Griffenhagen, George; Bogard, Mary (1999). History of drug
containers and their labels. Madison, Wis.: American Inst. of the
History of Pharmacy. p. 35. ISBN 0931292263. Retrieved 13
^ Wilson, Robert Cumming (2010). Drugs and pharmacy in the life of
Georgia, 1733-1959. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press.
p. 166. ISBN 0820335568. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
^ Allen, David E.; Hatfield, Gabrielle (2004). Medicinal plants in
folk tradition : an ethnobotany of Britain & Ireland.
Portland (Or.) [etc.]: Timber press. ISBN 9780881926385.
^ Douglas, Julianne. "Remedies and Recipes". Writing the Renaissance.
Retrieved 3 November 2014.
^ Trifone, Nicole (Spring 2017). "A Dose of Expertise". Retrieved 8
^ The story, with the word "apothecary" used, is abstracted by Janice
L. Willms in New York University's Literature, Arts, and Medicine
Database—"A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner.
^ Cranch, Robbie (1993). "Mystery in the Garden: Interview with Ellis
Peters We used to make bottled medicine that we compounded specially,
with ingredients like gentian, rosemary, horehound". Mother Earth
Living (December/January). Retrieved 13 December 2016.
"On Keeping Shop: A Guidebook for Preparing Orders" is a book, in
Arabic, from 1260 that extensively discusses the art of being an
Look up apothecary in Wiktionary, th