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Hungary’s booming leech business – even Napoleon bought Hungarian leeches for his army

Hungary’s booming leech business – even Napoleon bought Hungarian leeches for his army

Hungary had all the leech power back in the 19th century. Hungary exported millions of leeches all over Europe and even to the United States. NlCafé wrote a detailed report about the history of the use of medicinal leeches in Hungary, and how we used to have the biggest leech business in Europe.

There are several species of leeches in Europe which used to be used as “medicinal leeches” to treat certain kinds of diseases.

Medicinal leeches have been used as treatment for thousands of years in Asian cultures, and they are still used in modern alternative medicine as well.

In the 19th century, the French have been obsessed with medicinal leeches, and they collected as many as possible. However, they run out of them after a while, and they needed to import leeches from other European countries.

FINA

Hungarian painting decorates the French president’s office

Millions of leeches were imported from Hungary to France during the 19th century.

Over the course of only 12 years (1824-1836), Hungary exported almost 20 million leeches to France. Napoleon himself ordered 6 million of them for his army.

Hungary exported its medicinal leeches not only to France, but to Algeria, America and Australia.

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The so-called pákászok collected the leeches. They were people who lived in small towns on the moors. They lived off of fishing, hunting and collecting. They used different techniques to catch the leeches. For example,

they used punts (narrow boats), and the leeches latched onto the bottom of the punt because it sort of looked like a big animal. Others simply walked into the water without pants, and they let the leeches latch onto their bare legs.

Leeches were removed with salt and collected in buckets. Sometimes, people made their sick horses stand in the water and let the leeches latch onto them.

The booming leech business was over in Hungary when the country’s natural landscape changed (moors were drained, rivers were channelled), and it was no longer an ideal environment for leeches.

Moreover, synthetic hirudin was discovered. Hirudin is a naturally occurring peptide in the salivary glands of blood-sucking leeches which has a blood anticoagulant property; it keeps the blood flowing after the initial phlebotomy performed by the worm on the host’s skin.

Eventually, creams and ointments were made with synthetic hirudin, thus making the actual leeches obsolete.

Hirudo therapy can be used to treat, among many others, menstruation problems, infertility, hearing- and eyesight problems, oedema, lumbago or arthritis. Hirudin has anticoagulant, pain-killing and anti-inflammatory properties.

Featured image: Illustration/Pixabay

Source: www.nlcafe.hu; www.gyogyszeresztortenet.hu; www.termeszetvilaga.hu; YouTube

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