Esoteric Online

Glossary of Apothecary Terminology

Common terms found on labels of apothecary bottles/jars:

  • Exsic Exsiccated (dried)
  • Praec Precipitated
  • Pulv Pulverized
  • Sp. Spirits
  • Tr Tincture was usually an alcoholic solution of a nonvolatile substance (volatile tinctures are whiskeys and other spirits).

Common ingredient names found on labels of apothecary bottles/jars:

  • Alum alum and was used as an astringent in mouthwashes and gargles, dermatological preparations and as the styptic in styptic pencils.
  • Belladon Belladonna (usually available as a tincture "Tr.") is prepared from belladonna leaves and used as an antispasmodic and mydriatic.
  • Cantharides dried beetle Cantharis vesicatoria or commonly known as Spanish Fly. A homeopathic medication, it was used topically as a rubefacient, counter-irritant and vesicant or blistering agent. Taking internally it could cause sexual arousal (priapism) in the male, unfortunately it also caused kidney failure.
  • Capsici is Latin plural of Capsicum, so TINCT. CAPSICI is a tincture of the dried ripe fruits of Capsicum frutescens, more commonly know as Cayenne Pepper. Was used internally as a stimulant or topically as a rubefacient (a preparation that causes reddening of the skin). Still in use today, marketed as a cream, Zostrix, used to treat arthtritic disorders and neuropathies.
  • Carum was an aromatic extract from Carum carvi (commonly known as caraway), used medicinally as a flavoring agent and carminative.
  • Caryophy Caryophyllus or the dried flower of Eugenia aromatica (cloves) and was used as an aromatic.
  • Catawba According to the 1854 US Dispensatory the Catawba or Catalpa tree is a beautiful flowering tree, occasionally cultivated for ornamental purposes, reputed to be poisonous. A decoction was prepared by boiling 3 or 4 ounces of Catawba seeds with 12 ounces of water down to 6 ounces and it was then administered in the morning and at night for the treatment of asthma. This medicine probably fell out of favor in the 1800's due to lack of efficacy as there are no reference to Catawba in any early 1900 references.
  • Cubeba from the cubeba or tailed pepper plant. This was used as a stimulant and carminative.
  • Digital. leaves of Digitalis purpurea. Used as a sedative and cardiac tonic, slowing and strengthening the heart beat.
  • Guaiaci Guaiac is obtained from the resin of the wood of Guaiacum officinale and used as a remedy in rheumatism. Guaiac was found later to be very useful in modern medicine to detect occult blood. Usually available as "Tr. Guaiaci", meaning Tincture of Guaic.
  • Hydrastis dried rhizome and roots of Hydrastis canadensis or more commonly known as Golden Seal, used as a tonic, laxative, alternative and detergent in the 19th century and still available today.
  • Jalapae was made from a root exported from Mexico and was used to treat hyperemia, dropsy, and worms.
  • Junip. Juniper was used as a stimulant and diuretic. Usually available as "Sp. Junip. C.", meaning Compound Spirits of Juniper.
  • Mypciae. Myrciae obtained from the dried bark or root of Myrica cerifera (Bayberry) and was used as a tonic, astringent and to treat toothaches. Usually available as "Sp. Mypciae", meaning Spirits of Myrciae.
  • OL. AURANT or citris aurantium is orange, used as a flavoring agent and also as a antispasm tonic.
  • P.Pip.Nig. Powdered Piper Nigrum which is powder from the dried unripe fruit of Piper Nigrum or Black Pepper.
  • Plumbi Acetas or lead sulfate was used as an astringent and sedative.
  • Rad. Iris from the plant family N.O. Iridaceae. An extract of this plant was used medicinally as a cathartic or laxative and as a treatment for dropsy.
  • S. Cardam Semen Cardamoni is the dried seeds of Elettaria cardamonum, an aromatic imported from India and used to prepare volatile and fixed oils. This was used as a flavoring agent, aromatic, stomachic and carminative.
  • Scillae inner scales of the bulb of the Drimia indica (Liliaceae) and commonly known as Squill which was used as an expectorant, emetic and diuretic.
  • Sod. Bromide Sodium Bromide which was used as a nervine or sedative (was the active ingredient in Dr. Miles Nervine).
  • Sulph Sulfur was widely used in the 19th century as an antiseptic, antifungal and keratolytic.



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