From Ancient Apothecaries to Modern Food: A Journey Through History
The Relationship Between Food and Apothecaries
Once upon a time, apothecaries were a part of the grocery business. Their shelves and cabinets would be filled with herbs, spices, ceramic jars, and glass vials. The apothecaries would closely guard their secret recipes for their cures - it was a competitive business after all. No matter your sickness, there was bound to be a herbal remedy often in the form of wines, syrups, and cordials. They would import their spices from far and wide and for the less exotic ingredients, some of the apothecaries would grow the herbs and plants themselves in their gardens. Some of these herbs and spices were turned into medicines and the rest were distributed or sold direct to customers for cooking with. This is why in England, apothecaries were regulated by the Company of Grocers but in 1617 they broke away and formed their own guild, the Society of Apothecaries, giving them a lot more freedom to sell whatever they wanted.
The Rise of Quack Medicine
With their newfound freedom, came the rise of quack medicine.
Quack medicine: The word 'quack' comes from the Dutch word 'quacksalver', which is an unqualified person who sells dubious remedies and medical cures which are not effective.
Some of these herbal remedies did have healing properties and helped the sick, others were less helpful. At the time there was a fascination with the supernatural and superstitious. As a result, it wasn't unusual to find tonic peddlers and unlicensed chemists selling potions containing unusual ingredients like 'eye of newt' or 'flesh of a viper'. During pandemics and the plague years, quack doctors were at their busiest, largely preying on the poor. They'd make promises their elixirs would cure illness or prolong your life.