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Drug jar for extract of cinchona bark, Lambeth, London, England, 1710-1740

The inscription “EX:CORT:PERUV:D” painted on to this ceramic drug jar is abbreviated from the Latin and translates as “hard extract of cinchona bark”. Cinchona bark was used ground up or in drinks as a pain and fever reliever, but was especially useful in the treatment and prevention of malaria. It was not until the 1800s that quinine, the active component of cinchona, was isolated. This allowed more effective anti-malaria drugs to be developed. For this container, powdered bark would have been added to water and boiled for an hour or two, until turning a red colour. Once cooled, the process was repeated until the liquid was clear. The extract was kept in two forms. The soft form was used for pill making; the hard form could be ground up at a later date.

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    Glossary: drug jar

    A (usually earthenware) container designed to hold apothecaries' ointments and dry drugs.

    Glossary: malaria

    Parasitic disease transmitted by certain kinds of mosquito. Malaria is characterized by fever and enlargement of the spleen. Each year, there are approximately 515 million cases of malaria, killing between one and three million people.

    Glossary: quinine

    A substance taken to fight malaria. Quinine is found naturally in the bark of the cinchona tree. It is also an ingredient in tonic water.

    Glossary: cinchona

    The dried bark of any of the Cinchona trees. Used to stimulate the appetite, prevent bleeding and, in the past, to treat malaria.