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Bottle of blood purifying mixture

A glass bottle containing brown liquid, its worn label reads 'blood purifying mixture'.

Bottle of blood purifying mixture, © Science Museum/ Science and Society Picture Library

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  • Intro
    Museum's Description
    Teacher notes
    • When you look at this bottle of Blood Purifying Mixture it is hard to believe that this was used as medicine, it looks more like something a vampire might keep in his kitchen.

      The main ingredient, Sarsaparilla, comes from the Americas and would have been brought to Europe in the 16th century. At this time people would sill have believed in the ideas of Galenic medicine - the system of medicine first thought of by Galen, a doctor from ancient Greece.

      Galenic medicine is based on the idea that the body is made up of four substances or humours. Each of these humours needs to be in balance for the body to remain well. When the humours come out of balance a person would become ill.

      The humours were closely related to parts of the body, people’s moods and even the seasons. This blood purifying mixture was advertised as an “excellent Spring and Autumn medicine”. 

      By the 19th Century, when this mixture was made, people were beginning to move away from these old ideas about medicine. However the association of the medicine to the seasons shows that people still thought these things were linked.

      Things to think about:
      • Blood was one of the four Humours; do you know what the other three are?
      • The main ingredient is Sarsaparilla, a vine-like plant from North America and the West Indies, how do you think it came to be used in British medicine?
      • Can you think of any other strange medicines that have gone out of use?

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