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!