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The laborants’ activity in the Karkonosze region

The name “laborants” originated from the Latin word laborare – to work, to prepare. In the Karkonosze region thoey were the people who produced and sold various medicaments made from gathered medicinal plants and sometimes from other ingredients, such as minerals and animals. The medicines were produced in forms of powders, ointments, oils, elixirs, infusions or essences. According to the laborant’s tradition, herb harvesting was a ritual, performing which one must have obeyed to previously set and strict rules. The disobedience might have resulted in losing the medicinal properties of harvested herbs or in the Karkonosze Mountain Ghost’s – the lord of the mountain “gardens” - terrible revenge. Gathering of the herbs was understood almost as theft of valuable, medicinal treasures from his chemist shop and was perceived as dangerous entrance into his place. Hence the abundance of rites and ceremonies relieving the anxiety of those, who took such risks.

The herbal medicine production process was cloaked in secrecy and their dosing took forms of magical rites more than once. The Karkonosze laborants’ houses did not differentiate from each other from the outside. They were built with the use of the local architecture of columnal and stromal construction and with double sloping roof, but their interiors were equipped in a specific way. Attic was used for herb drying, whereas the dried herbs were kept in small detached buildings due to the danger of fire. The largest room on the ground floor was a laboratory, often with granite walls. It was equipped with a big kitchen stove and an apparatus destined for distillation (big bottles, cauldrons, flasks, radiators, filters). Next to the laboratory was a room full of equipment necessary for medicament production and portioning – mills, sieves, stirrers and mortars. In the side chamber there was a storehouse with shelves, wardrobes, barrels and chests for raw materials and finished products. The dried material, due to the danger of fire, was kept in small detached buildings. Next to the main laborant building there was a garden, in which various herbs grew – it was a kind of a “first-aid” chemist shop. The most popular depiction of working laborants can be found in the Karkonosze map of 1578 made by Simon Hüttel (1530-1601), a chronicler living in the Czech Trutnov.