The Real Snake Oil

Image from Hurriyet

In belated honor of May 14, Pharmacy Day (click here). Excerpt:

The first pharmacies in Turkey were opened in hospitals established in Anatolia during the Seljuk era, but it was only in the middle of the 18th century that pharmacies, resembling those in Europe, opened. The oldest known pharmacy was opened by foreign graduates of Europe’s pharmacy schools called the “Pharmacy with Two Doors” in 1757 at Bahçekapı…

There are documents and books related to treatment going back as far as the Seljuk period, from which one can obtain an idea of what medication would be prescribed in what instances. Some of the most commonly used medications would be prepared in large quantities by the pharmacists and stored so that they would last for a long time. These included remedies for “fevers, headaches, stomach aches, general malaise, skin conditions, insomnia and aching joints.”

The most important of the preparations were termed “tiryaks.” The tiryaks were used to strengthen the immune system and could be used before or after an illness. One in particular, Altıntaş describes, had more than 40 active ingredients including snake flesh and the longer it could be kept, the greater the effect. The ingredients generally consisted of plants and everything would be ground, sieved and mixed with honey…

The Şifahanes of Istanbul, published by IBB Culture, Inc., also describes the pharmacies in various mosque complexes around the city as well as the various pharmacies in Topkapı Palace… The book is replete with beautiful color photographs, source material and a readable text filled with interesting tidbits about Ottoman charity hospitals, doctors, medicine and pharmaceutical practices.

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