From London's Ghost Acres

Different leech species were used by the medical community for the removal of blood. The Compendium includes the use of leeches to treat inflammation of the eye (by placing leeches around the orbit), and to place leeches on the temples to remove a headache. Other treatments also include ague or intermittent fever, gum boils, bruises or sprains, bronchitis, dysentery, epilepsy, piles, toothaches, croup, hooping-cough, and measles.

British Pharmacopoeia 1867

The Leech Hirudo

“1. Sanguisuga medicinalis… the Speckled Leech; and 2. S. officinalis… the Green Leech, Collected in Spain, France, Italy, and Hungary.” [1]


“Body elongated, two or three inches long, tapering to each and, plano-convex, wrinkled transversely; back olive-green with six rusty-red longitudinal stripes. !. Belly greenish-yellow, spotted with black; 2> Belly olive-green, not spotted.”[2]

A Compendium of Domestic Medicine, 1865

Hiudo medicinalis (medical leech) is the species used by Savory and other medical men, and are “applied to the skin in order to draw off blood.” “In inflammation of the eye, originating from cold or accident, it is advisable to apply three or four leeches round the orbit. If applied to the temples, in headache arising from determination of blood, they will always be found to be safe, and, generally, a successful rememdy.” [3]

Remedies Containing or to be used with

  • Leeches: see def[4]
  • Plasters, Blisters: topical bleeding should be administered (with either leeches or cupping) before the use of plasters for blisters.[5]

Diseases Treated with

General Diseases

  • Ague, or Intermittent Fever: “Should there be in the hot stage a congestion of blood in the external vessels of the head, or delirium, cupping from the temples or leeches must be applied, and all opiates avoided.”[6]
  • Boils, Gum: “if there be any constitutional disturbance about the face, leeches and purgatives, and the usual means for subduing inflammation, may be resorted to.”[7]
  • Bronchitis: leeches (8-12) are to be applied to the chest of a patient who suffers a very acute attack of bronchitis.[8]
  • Bruises and Sprains: In cases with “much inflammation,” leeches are to be used, along with fomentations, aperient draughts, and an antiphlogistic regimen.[9]
  • Diarrhoea, or Looseness: leeches are to be placed on the abdomen of a patient suffering from tenderness of the stomach when pressure is applied.[10]
  • Dysentery: in the early stages of the disease it is important to “lessen inflammatory action,” which can be done by either bleeding the arm, leeches, or cupping. Savory indicates, however, that this is rarely needed, as dysentery rarely develops fever.[11]
  • Epilepsy: leeches can be applied behind the ears if there is reason to believe the disease is the result of “determination of blood to the head”[12]
  • Headache: “if the complaint proceeds from too great a determination of blood to the head, venesection, or the application of leeches behind the ears, or to the neck or temples, should be resorted to.”[13]
  • Inflammatory Sore Throat: If it is determined that leeches are required, they are to be placed behind each ear.[14]
  • Piles, or Haemorrhoids: “if the tumours be much inflamed, leeches applied to them will be found an important remedy”[15]
  • Toothache: to reduce inflammation of the gums, apply a leech.[16]
  • Whitlow: leeches and astringents can be applied to the affected area during the early stages of the disorder. Leeches should be used repeatedly if the disease progresses to affect the entire arm.[17]

Infantile Diseases

  • Croup: if intial treatment does not work “the entire throat should be covered with leeches, say eight or ten…”[18]
  • Hooping or Chincough: leeches are to be used if the fever continues to run high, and the cough progresses to cause swelling in the face and neck.[19]
  • Measles: if cough persists in an infant and breathing becomes difficult, the infant is to be bled with leeches.[20]
  • Water in the Head: “in the inflammatory stages of this complaint, the temples should be covered with leeches, and repeated daily as long as any symptoms of inflammation appear.”[21]


  1. General Medical Council of Great Britain, British Pharmacopeia, (London: Spottiswoode & Co.,1867), 149
  2. GMCGB, 149
  3. Savory, John. A Compendium of Domestic Medicine (London: John Churchill and Sons, 1865), 114.
  4. Savory, 93
  5. Savory, 118
  6. Savory, 205
  7. Savory, 209
  8. Savory, 213
  9. Savory, 215
  10. Savory, 227
  11. Savory, 228
  12. Savory, 230
  13. Savory, 237
  14. Savory, 238
  15. Savory, 248
  16. Savory, 258
  17. Savory, 263
  18. Savory, 270
  19. Savory, 274
  20. Savory, 278
  21. Savory, 283