The SAPSF Emblem

The Emblem of the South African Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation

The South African Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation has, as its emblem the Buchu Leaf, containing four other main Pharmaceutical symbols, namely the Medicinal Snake, Rx and the Carboy/Mortar and Pestle.

The Buchu Leaf Symbol:

The Buchu leaf or herb has deep roots in South Africa, and is found in the Western Cape Mountains of Southern Africa within the Cape Floral Kingdom, also a World Heritage site.

It was here, in the early 1700’s, that the indigenous Khoi San people introduced Buchu to European settlers. Buchu was highly prized and a scarce commodity, and the Khoi San considered the herb to be a cure for all ills as well as an aid to longevity – so much so that a thimbleful could be exchanged for an entire sheep.

Prior to the advent of modern medicine, many of the world pioneers trusted Buchu to treat a wide range of ailments, from headaches, stomach disorders and the common cold to various serious life-threatening diseases, including bilharzia and cholera. What may look like an ordinary shrub is in fact the world’s first natural anti-inflammatory – the leaves of this humble herb have been offering Western man instant natural pain relief for over three hundred years.


When  the Cape Colonists introduced Buchu into Europe in the latter part of the 1700s, it became known as ‘Noble’s Tea’ as only the exceptionally wealthy could afford to purchase its leaves.  The use of Buchu rapidly spread around the world, and evidence of its fame and widespread use can be found in the cargo manifest of the Titanic, which was carrying 8 bales of Buchu when she went down.

In 1821 the drug house Burchell’s introduced Buchu to the medical profession, and by the 1860’s, the leaf had been imported into the United States as a panacea for a wide variety of ailments.  Buchu has  since been recorded by every major world pharmacopoeia, including the American Merck Index, the British Martindale’s 1977 edition and the Scottish Medical Journal.


The Medicinal Snake Symbol:

The snake was a symbol of wisdom, immortality and healing in Middle and far Eastern cultures far older than that of  ancient Greece, although its association with Aesculapius has been attributed to snakes used at a temple dedicated to him in Epidaurus in the north eastern Peloponnese. This symbol is often considered particularly suitable for pharmacy.


The Rx Symbol:

The recipe  sign appears at the start of prescriptions.  Although universally accepted as an abbreviation of “recipe” (Latin for ‘take thou’), it has also been suggested that it is the astronomical sign of the planet Jupiter.



The Mortar and Pestle Symbol

The English word mortar derives from classical Latin mortarium, meaning, among several other usages, “receptacle for pounding” and “product of grinding or pounding”. The classical Latin pistillum, meaning “pounder”, led to English pestle. The Roman poet Juvenal applied both mortarium and pistillum to articles used in the preparation of drugs, reflecting the early use of the mortar and pestle as a pharmacist’s or apothecary’s symbol. The antiquity of these tools is well documented in early literature.


The Carboy Symbol

The  carboy, a glass vessel with a globular base tapering to a narrowneck, was commonly displayed filled with brightly coloured liquids in pharmacy shop windows well into the second half of this century, and has come to be a symbol of pharmacy. The term carboy is a corruption of the Persian word qarabah or qarrabah, meaning “large flagon”, and the carboy is thought to originate from the Near East, where drug sellers used large glass vessels, filled with coloured liquids, especially rosewater and wine, in their stalls.