Blogs > News-Herald Food and Travel

Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Blood sucking leeches in Istanbul

When I first saw the large pickle jar of leeches in the outdoor area of the Spice Market in Istanbul I was totally creeped out.

They clung to the sides of the large jar on a side aisle opposite a section of caged birds, including chickens.

Where ever I go I check out markets because they tell a lot of things about the place I'm visiting. I wasn't sure what these leeches were saying about Istanbul except that maybe the medieval practice of bloodletting still is practiced here.

But a later search of the internet revealed that sterilized leeches have been rediscovered by modern medical science and were approved for use by the FDA in 2004. Although I doubt I can get them at my local drugstore, they're used to help heal veins that have been reconnected during surgery.

Not only does the leach suck out excess blood to allow the vein to reattach, but its saliva contains a blood thinner, so blood continues to flow after the leach drops off, which it usually does after 20 minutes, according to an old USA Today article I found. Usually about a dozen leeches are used at a time and they sell for $7.50 each.

I still don't know what the leaches in Istanbul were being sold for, but they didn't look particularly sterile by the appearance of the jar they were in.


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