While not necessarily a medical show, The Apothecary Diaries still features plenty of medical mysteries to keep audiences intrigued.
The show approaches these mysteries in a very refreshing manner, with Maomao’s apothecary experience giving her some interesting insights. Let’s cover all the medical mysteries featured so far in the anime below.
The Apothecary Diaries: All Medical Mysteries
Emperor’s Children Dying
The first medical mystery seen in the first episode of the series is a perplexing one. While working in the rear palace, Maomao hears a rumor about how all the Emperor’s children mysteriously die after getting sick. None of the Emperor’s physicians can help, and the sickness is believed to be the result of a curse.
The newest victims of the ‘curse’ are Lady Gyokuyou’s daughter and Lady Lihua’s son, both of whom are sick. Other than the newborns, the mothers are also suffering from three main symptoms: headaches, stomachaches, and nausea.
Maomao is eventually able to figure out that the cause behind the newborn’s sickness is the white face powder used by the concubines, which she calls poisonous.
But what exactly was this face powder made of, and why did Maomao call it poisonous? Evidence suggests ancient China may have been using poisonous lead-based synthetic whitening makeup as early as 770 to 476 BC.
As the show takes place in a fictional country inspired by Ming-era China, the poisonous face powder was likely lead-based. This is backed by the concubines’ symptoms, which match the symptoms of lead poisoning.
Mysteriously Sick Soldiers
The second episode of The Apothecary Diaries brings us another medical mystery in the form of soldiers in an army camp mysteriously falling sick after eating food cooked by villagers. Many instantly suspect poisoning, but an officer dissuades them from acting rashly.
Jinshi seeks Maomao’s opinion on the situation, who explains that instead of deliberate poisoning, it’s more likely that the food was accidentally cooked near naturally found toxic plants.
To elaborate on her point, she uses the Rhododendron flowers around the rear palace as an example. These flowers cause nausea and difficulty breathing when chewed upon — the same symptoms experienced by those unlucky soldiers.
Maomao also mentions how some woods produce toxic fumes when burned. We see the soldiers burning wood at their camp and using branches as chopsticks.
These could be from Nerium Oleander, a shrub that is poisonous if ingested and produces toxic fumes upon burning. Symptoms of Oleander poisoning include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, agitation, fast respiration, convulsion, and coma. If not treated immediately, the condition may cause death.
Rash Causing Tablets
The Apothecary Diaries’ third medical mystery is seen in the show’s episode five and relates to an eunuch who gets a rash on his hands after touching some wooden tablets as part of his usual routine of burning the trash produced in the rear palace. The tablets color the fire an unusually bright green, convincing the eunuch that there is a curse at play.
This mystery has not reached its conclusion yet, but Maomao demonstrated how different compounds change the color of a fire, leading Jinshi to believe that the wooden tablets were coated in something to serve as a secret code.
Given the color of the fire produced and how it caused a rash, the wooden tablets could be coated in Borax. The Ancient Chinese used Boric Acid as early as the 10th century and since the wooden tablets were accompanied by a female’s clothes, borax seems the most likely culprit.
Poisonous Layered Drink
The anime’s fourth medical mystery is seen in episode eight, when a servant girl from a nearby brothel summons Maomao for what seems like a double suicide attempt. The courtesan is gasping for breath, while the man is unconscious and pulseless. Seeing tobacco leaves scattered around the room, Maomao suspects tobacco poisoning, which she treats with powdered charcoal. But something doesn’t seem right, and after more details emerge, Maomao is able to put together the actual story.
The man was a rich merchant’s son with a history of sweet-talking and dumping courtesans. Thus, the courtesan tried to murder him using a layered drink composed of a high-density, non-poisoned drink with a low-density drink laced with tobacco poison on top. The courtesan drank from the same cup to remove suspicion of poison, but cleverly used a wheat stalk to only drink from the lower layer. After the man was poisoned, the courtesan took a sip as well to make it look like a double suicide.
Maomao calls tobacco poison in this episode, and for good reason. Tobacco contains nicotine, which in high doses causes nicotine poisoning, leading to difficulty breathing, abnormal heart rhythms, shock, paralysis, and even death. The courtesan and merchant’s son’s symptoms are consistent with this, with the courtesan’s symptoms being milder due to consuming a smaller amount of nicotine.
- This article was updated on December 1st, 2023