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Elixers, potions and more at 19th- century apothecary

From the April 1999 ACP-ASIM Observer, copyright © 1999 by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

Step back to a time when bloodletting, gris-gris potions and medicinal sodas were considered modern medicine.

Visitors to the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum (514 Chartres St., 504-565-8027) do just that when they walk through the doors of this authentic 19th-century apothecary. The pharmacy is complete with prescription files that date back to 1867, proprietary medicines that predate the Pure Food and Drug Act and surgical instruments used in and prior to the Civil War.

Louis J. Dufilho, the first licensed pharmacist in the United States, opened the pharmacy in 1823. For 43 years, patients could fill prescriptions, buy medicinal herbs and cosmetics or find relief from such ailments as "locomotor ataxia and insanity" simply by drinking soda fountain elixirs.

Today, visitors to the museum will see an authentic 1855 soda fountain made of Italian black and rose marble. First introduced in the 1830s, such fountains were a way of making medications more palatable by adding flavoring and seltzer to them, explained museum director Clara Baker. In fact, pharmacists claimed fruit nectars and phosphate flavorings made these remedies so tasty that people wanted them whether they needed them or not.

Other popular elixirs included Moxie, a soft drink that was patented as being able to cure "brain and nervous exhaustion, loss of manhood, imbecility and helplessness." And in 1929, Charles Grigg marketed the original "7Up," which contained lithium and was prescribed for gout, uremia, kidney stones and rheumatism.

The museum exhibits a variety of 19th-century medicines, miracle cures and remedies. Hand-blown apothecary jars filled with crude drugs, medicinal herbs and gris-gris potions are on display next to live leeches, leech jars, bloodletting devices and other tools of the contemporary 19th-century pharmacy. A working botanical garden in the rear of the museum still grows kitchen herbs, spices and medicinal plants.

The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $2.

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