Ahh the apothecary. I’ve found throughout my experiences that this one unique word elicits a few different reponses from people. Most don’t recognize it or know its deeper meaning, some are familiar with it but have misconceived notions of what it actually is [often imagining a mediaeval bird-masked and robed figure draining blood from a plague victim], and even less are those who will jump into an intellectual conversation about the joys and challenges of practicing as an apothecary.
So what’s the deal with this term? What does it mean and from where does it stem? I’ve included a few basic facts about the term ‘apothecary’ below, in hopes to give a clearer–if simplistic–view of the word and its useage.
Firstly, it’s an historic term, its use predating other terms we use today to mean a medical practitioner. In fact, our modern “doctor” just related to the highest education in mediaeval times, and anyone could be called a doctor with that degree. Which meant the doctor could teach. “Doctor” itself originates from Greek, roughly translating as “to teach”. So if you wanted to learn about philosophy or sciences of the day, you saw a doctor. If you were sick and needed medicine you saw an apothecary. These early pharmacists would study your symptoms and decide on the best course of medical action–with the help from medicinal plants and herbs. Food items of the day–think mostly fruits and vegetables–were also utilized as medicines. What’s that old Hippocrates quote? “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”? Yes that’s the one. It holds quite a bit of merit in terms of health and wellness.
Secondly, it is grammatically correct to use the term ‘apothecary’ for both the established pharmacy as well as the pharmacist. It wasn’t just ye olde pharmacy, it was also ye olde pharmacist. The person who supplied the meds. You know those Walgreens and CVS pharmacy stores, right? That would have been an apothecary, while the pharmacists behind the counters (and those awful dreaded lines) would have also been the apothecary. One word to rule them all!
Its modern use can be attributed to the renewed interest in natural and homeopathic medicinal practices we Westerners think be new. It’s also a great way to name a shop specifically dedicated to the procurement of herbs and spices used for medicines. Oh but how I do love the idyllic image of a shadowy shop smelling of tea and spice, walls filled with floor-to-ceiling shelves bursting with jars of healing herbs. Books, supplies, and a cheerful apothecary behind the counter ready with answers to questions about the human condition. Ahhh…imagine…
Traditional apothecary practices DO rely on knowledge of anatomy and physiology. In order to keep and utilize your own apothecary, and to properly and safely act in the capacity as an apothecary, you do need to study the human body. All the systems within and without that connect and make up our physical selves. This is where free online resources and basic anatomical-physiological eBooks can come in handy. All that takes are some Google searching and a bunch of reading!
It is surprisingly easy to start building your own home apothecary. Start with some herbal teas for sleep/cold and flu/digestion or a few essential oils like lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus or rosemary. Boom. You’ve officially crafted the beginnings of your own home apothecary. Keep other medicines and medications with your teas and oils, and you’ve successfully combined Eastern and Western medicine practices. I find they work well with one another, if done in good conscience.
If you have questions or are looking for holistic health resources, feel free to get in touch! If you have information and resources you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment below.