[Mineral water as a cure]

Veroff Schweiz Ges Gesch Pharm. 2008:29:13-402.
[Article in German]


The treatment of diseases with mineral spring water belongs to the oldest medical therapies. The "remedy" mineral water is therefore of importance also within the pharmacy. The present pharmacy historical work examines the impact of the use of mineral waters, as well as of their dried components, as therapeutic agents in the 19th and early 20th centuries, i.e. from approx. 1810 to 1930, as well as the contributions given by pharmacists in the development and analysis of mineral water springs. Beside these aspects, the aim here is also to describe the role played by pharmacists in the production of artificial mineral water as well as in the sale and wholesale of natural and artificial mineral water. In the first part of this work the situation in Switzerland and its surrounding countries, such as Germany, France, Italy and Austria, is discussed. The second part contains a case-study of the particular situation in the Canton Tessin. It is known from the scientific literature published at that time that information on mineral water was frequently reported. Starting from the beginning of the 19th century the number of such publications increased tremendously. The major part of them were publications in scientific journals or contributions to medical and pharmaceutical manuals and reference books. In particular the spa-related literature, such as spa-guides, was of growing interest to a broad public. The inclusion of monographs into the Swiss, the Cantonal as well the foreign pharmacopoeias granted a legal frame for the mineral waters and their dried components. These works are of major importance from a pharmacy historical standpoint and represent a unique proof of historical evidence of the old medicinal drug heritage. The most frequently used therapies based on mineral waters were drinking and bath cures. Several diseases, particularly those of a chronic character, were treated with mineral waters. The positive influence of these cures on the recovery of the patients was to attribute, on the one hand to the physico-chemical properties of the water and on the other hand to the climatic, nutritional and social factors characterising the selected health resort. All over Europe, pharmacists were dealing with mineral waters, among them even very famous names such as Klaproth, Trommsdorf, Lampadius and Fresenius. They were on one side involved in the development and analysis of the waters, while on the other side they were interested in their artificial production. Their knowledge and findings in the area of the mineral water source chemistry gave a crucial impetus to the future evolution of analytic chemistry. Following the improvements in the precision of analysis and classification of the composition of the mineral waters, the imitation of artificial mineral waters increased significantly. Certain pharmacists tried to copy well-known mineral waters in their properly furnished laboratories. At the same time, pharmacies were important sales points: natural and artificial mineral waters as well as their dried components were either sold there, or delivered upon prescription. In the second part of this work, specifically concerning the situation in the Canton Tessin, the most important local sources and spa resorts are described, as well as the analyses performed and the researchers involved. Moreover, the types of therapies used at that time are mentioned. The integration of the local mineral waters into the pharmacopoeia of the Canton Tessin, the Farmacopea Ticinese, is also discussed. Of particular interest are the delivery and the sale of mineral waters and their dried components by a local pharmacy. In the Canton Tessin, the five most frequented spa resorts were Acquarossa, Brissago, Craveggia, Rovio and Stabio. Craveggia spa resort is of course based in Italy; it has however been included in the present work due to its proximity to Switzerland and to a connected historical Substantial differences existed among the individual health resorts mentioned, especially regarding the quality and quantity aspects of the performed mineral water analyses, as well as in the reported written evidence and publications on the success of the therapies. Differences were also to be found in the conditions of the health resort facilities and in the medical support given. The therapy opportunities included mainly drinking and bath cures, which could occur alone or in combination. In the mentioned health resorts different clinical disease symptoms were treated. The most important baths were located in Acquarossa and Stabio, which were specialized in selected therapeutical domains, because of their particular water compositions. Numerous personalities from science and politics were concerned by the local springs and accepted to contribute to the promotion of these structures. Their engagement led to the integration of the native springs in the Farmacopea Ticinese. Since at that time it was extremely difficult to find experienced mineral water analysts in the region, the analyses of local native sources were assigned to qualified experts mainly coming from Italy. This scientific co-operation between the southern part of Switzerland and the northern part of Italy was, already at that time, active also in other work domains. The evaluation of the historical documentation available from the Farmacia Vantussi shows that this pharmacy supplied a considerable assortment of national and foreign spring waters, as well as foreign dried components. Of commercial interest was, to be noted, the free sale of the waters to hospitals, institutions, hotels, restaurants as well as to private households. The sales of waters and of their dried components upon prescription, however, constituted only the minor part. The introduction of the industrial bottling occurring in the first decades of the 20th century, led to a lowering price trend, through which the product 'mineral water' became accessible to a broader public. Henceforth its importance as welfare and medicinal water decreased and the product was considered purely as table water and as a foodstuff. As a consequence this new function brought the sales of mineral waters into the hands of depots and wholesalers, and later on also to retailers, while concomitantly pharmacies turned away from this kind of business.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Balneology / history
  • Beverages / history
  • Europe
  • Health Resorts / history
  • History of Pharmacy
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Mineral Waters / analysis
  • Mineral Waters / history*
  • Mineral Waters / therapeutic use


  • Mineral Waters