Short history

Short history of leech application in therapeutics

It is difficult to establish the beginnings of the integration of leeches within the medical practice. Plenty of ancient descriptions found in sundry medical treaties speak about the use of leeches to curative end. The oldest information on the leech treatment relate to Ancient Egypt (thanks to the epigraphic sources identified in old temples and pharaohs’ tombs). The renowned pharmacologist of Ancient Greece, Nicander of Colophon, is the author of a didactical-scientific poem of pharmacology called “Therica”, in which, on top of the description of venomous serpents and insects, and of the remedies against their poisons, leech therapy is also mentioned. The method is described in the medical writings of Hippocrates of Kos, Galen of Pergamon and Avicenna.

A medical treaty published in France in 1570 and translated into English in 1630 mentions the identification and use of medical leeches. In 1758, when zoologist Carl Linnaeus introduced the name of Hirudo Medicinalis, he most likely describes an adult specimen of about 10 centimeters in length, obtained from a local drugstore. As from the 16th century, the frequency of the use of leeches to therapeutic purpose increases considerably.

Leeches were so extensively used in Europe that France alone bought, in 1850, around 100 million pieces. In Romania, the first proof of the use of leeches to medical purpose is found in a document from Braila dating back to 1847. We speak here about the correspondence between the “Magistrate of the City of Braila” (Mayor) and the “Power” (Prefecture), in view of supplying the city and the hospital with leeches. In 1851, the need for leeches was so great that the city’s doctor complained to a patient he needed 20 to 40 leeches for just one application, and that leeches were overpriced, reaching up to 600 lei per oca .

At that time, barbers were the main distributors of leeches. Leech therapy was successfully used both in cosmetic treatments and in diet. We know with complete accuracy that, before balls, even the representatives of the high society were subject to leech application behind the ears, so their cheeks would redden to the audience admiration, after an entire night of dancing. Emperor August II of Austria used to choose the dining invitations to places where leech sausages were served (leeches were applied on a well fed goose, and after they would fill up and fall on a tray, they were put into the oven and then served as crispy diet sausages).

As from the first congress on leech therapy in 1990, the west European countries and America have initiated large studies on leeches and the manner of using them in therapeutics. From that moment on, western medicine has started to take into account the benefits brought by this creature.

On the other hand, Russia, a country famed for its medical researches, has carried out minute studies on leech therapy and on its beneficial effects. As far as the leech production is concerned, Russia yields by itself ten times the amount harvested from all the other breeding and growing laboratories worldwide.

Unlike Romania, a country which has maintained a tradition in leech therapy, but abandoned this branch of naturist medicine, Russia has understood the value of leech therapy and developed it exponentially.

In our country, the only recognized leech therapy specialist is Doctor Grigore Seremet (http://www.seremet.ro/)