World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Alkahest

Article Id: WHEBN0000398628
Reproduction Date:

Title: Alkahest  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Alchemy, Azoth, Philosopher's stone, Alchemical substances, Universal solvent
Collection: Alchemical Substances, Mythological Substances
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Publication
Date:
 

Alkahest

Alkahest is a hypothetical universal solvent, having the power to dissolve every other substance, including gold. It was much sought after by alchemists for what they thought would be its invaluable medicinal qualities.

Image of Alchimia, the embodiment of Alchemy Woodcut published by Leonhard Thurneysser in 1574. Thurneysser was a student of Paracelsus.

Contents

  • Ideology 1
  • Issues with a "universal solvent" 2
  • Paracelsus' successor 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5

Ideology

The name is believed to have been invented by Paracelsus from Switzerland, who modeled it on similar words taken from Arabic, such as ‘alkali’. Paracelsus' own recipe was based on caustic lime, alcohol, and carbonate of potash.[1] He believed that this element alkahest was, in fact, the philosopher's stone.

Issues with a "universal solvent"

A potential problem involving alkahest is that, if it dissolves everything, then it cannot be placed into a container because it would dissolve the container. However, the alchemist Philalethes specifies that alkahest dissolves only composed material into their constituent, elemental, parts.[2] The old remark, "Spit is the universal solvent” mocks a very old idea that, somewhere, there might be found a solvent that will dissolve anything. In modern times, water is sometimes called the universal solvent as well, because it can dissolve a large variety of substances, due to its chemical polarity.

Paracelsus' successor

A later great alchemist named van Helmont picked up where Paracelsus had left off, in his major texts he also gave attention to transmutation of metals, to techniques for separating the pure from the impure parts of nature, and, of special significance, to a substance, called the liquor alkahest, which he accepted as one of the greatest secrets of Paracelsus and which he referred to as incorruptible dissolving water that could reduce any body into its first matter.

Van Helmont's writings point to even earlier medieval descriptions of a substance called sal alkali. Sal alkali, in turn, appears to have been a solution of caustic potash in alcohol, which reduces many substances. Helmont describes a process in which his alkahest–this sal alkali–is applied to olive oil. The result was identified as a sweet oil, which would have been glycerol.[3]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Paracelsus' recipe is popular with chemists even today; a bath of potassium hydroxide in ethanol leaves laboratory glassware sparkling clean
  2. ^
  3. ^


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
 
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
 
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.
 


Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.