Monday, March 31, 2008

Hirudo medicinalis - mea culpa!

Thanks to Grit's comment on my last post, I am now considerably more educated on the subject of the under-appreciated medicinal leech. I also received a stinging e-mail from the shop steward of the NUML Essex branch (National Union of Medicinal Leeches) demanding a retraction of my last post. (Okay, okay, I jest. Everyone knows leeches can't type.) Always one to eat humble pie, mend bridges and otherwise grovel when appropriate, I feel duty-bound to amend my position on this humble, yet still disgusting, little creature.

So - there really is such a thing as a medicinal leech (Hirudo medicinalis), although I'm still not convinced that Demi knew what she was talking about. They're not, in fact, "highly trained" at all; it seems the title "medicinal" comes to them by dint of their blood-sucking habits, rather than academic training. As many might know, blood-letting with leeches was big medical business in the 1800s and the import/export of said leeches was huge. According to the Romney marsh web site, in 1833, 42 million leeches were imported into France, while Germany sent around 30 million to the United States. The European medicinal leech was considered superior to its American counterpart, (hirudo decora - presumably a bit too showey, judging by its name. All fur coat and no knickers, as my gran used to say.) The Euro leech was able to suck more blood. Perhaps Demi knew more than I give her credit for and chose Austria for its calibre of leech. Because of the demand, the medicinal leech seems to have become extinct, or so people thought. However, in recent years, to the great delight of leech-lovers in the region, thousands have been discovered in Romney marsh (south east England). There is now what amounts to a conservation effort going on and leeches have pretty much been given a protected species label.

For those looking for an in-home leech treatment, the same web site says that catching these creatures "involves standing in the water and splashing for a minimum of 20 minutes. This disturbance of the water attracts hungry leeches in search of a bloodmeal. In clear water, the animals can be seen quite clearly as they swim towards the point of splashing and can be easily netted. In murky ditches they arrive unseen and attach with their suckers to the surveyor’s wellington boots (don't forget to wear them by the way) from which they must be carefully removed before they slide off." Sounds fairly do-able.

Interestingly, and rather disgustingly to my mind, leech therapy is having a bit of a revival. It's now being used to restore circulation to grafted tissues and reattached appendages. Apparently, as they feed, their suction restores blood flow after delicate reattachment surgery. "Medicinal leech saliva also contains many useful medical compounds that have anaesthetic, vasodilator, anticoagulant and clot-dissolving properties." No mention of any detoxifying benefits however, so my original opinion of Ms. Moore remains pretty firm - there's one born every minute.

So now you know!

11 comments:

  1. Ahh just as I thought. I have my wellies at the ready, now where's the turps. Who am I kidding, I have trouble taking my make up off before I go to bed!!

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  2. I've never been a big fan of blood sucking (figuratively or bona fide) and it doesn't matter how many PHd's are behind a name. Leeches are just nasty.

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  3. I didn't realise Demi Moore had any blood to suck. She looks like something out of Madame Tussuad's (can't be arsed to check the spelling) to me. And I agree with you completely about the Daily Misogynist (though I still read it on the sly). They also always get up in arms about mothers who dare to go back to work.

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  4. I agree with you about one born every minute! I know the leeches are making a comeback re wound care - apparently it works well with less need for chemical intervention and healing is faster. I haven't seen it done though and don't think I would want a leech on my leg. Or anywhere.

    Not even my wellie....

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  5. I've heard of alternative therapies but...........

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  6. Hi - just saw your comment on the Telegraph site with the 'baby or not?' advice! I wrote a comment as well but it hasn't been posted yet!!

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  7. I suppose I could be convinced that something sucking my blood is good for me but how do you who, and what part of them, it was sucking before? it's a bit like when you go to the poison garden at alwick and hear about all that stuff they used to use and think probably malaria or err some more typical north east ailment perhaps sounds better than the treatment

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  8. I remember living in the Far East and going for a walk in the Jungle with Dad. My sister got a leech on her leg and Mum took it off with the tip of her cigarette and then accidently squeezed it - I fainted! I'm not desperatley fond of them and the idea of having a bath with them!!!!!!

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  9. i think demi moore should holiday in romney marsh. i could recommend a caravan site. ok then, i couldn't actually recommend it, but if you want en suite leeches you can't do better.

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  10. I think it can safely be said that I've done my bit to raise the profile of the "medicinal leech" (cough, cough) if not Demi Moore's IQ reputation.
    I still think they're (the leeches, that is) having a huge laugh at our expense!!

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