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Wooden mortar and pestle, Europe, 1501-1800

Mortars and pestles were a key part of every pharmacist’s and apothecary’s equipment. The pestle, carved from a single piece of wood, is used to pound and mash medicinal plants and herbs and grind up hard ingredients used in medical treatments. The mortar, which in this example looks as though it has been made from a tree branch, is a bowl used to pound against. Today, mortars and pestles are more likely to be found in kitchens rather than pharmacies.

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Glossary: mortar

Cup-shaped vessel in which drugs or herbal mixtures are pounded with a pestle.

Glossary: pestle

An elongated piece of hard material usually made of stone. A pestle is used for grinding pigments, herbs, spices or other materials in a mortar.