Every Pharmacy Symbol and their Meaning

In different parts of the world, many badges, logos, icons and images, have served as the pharmacy symbol. Though there is no particular pharmacy symbol that has become a gold standard across the whole world, some symbols are more widely adopted than others.

Meaning of Rx in Pharmacy

The Rx is a popular abbreviation used to represent pharmacy. It is derived from a Latin term, recipere, a verb meaning ‘to take back’ or ‘to receive’. Initially used by doctors to send notes to chemists, it is still a mark of authority of prescription in the US, and many other countries.

Different Pharmacy Symbols

There are different versions of the pharmacy logos being used currently. We will list and explain the different pharmacy symbols.

Mortar and Pestle

pharmacy symbol mortar and pestle
The mortar and pestle by the right is the Scandinavian variation of the logo

The mortar and pestle is probably the most widely used symbol used to represent pharmacy. It dates back to 1759. The mortar and pestle are traditional tools used in compounding of medications by apothecaries. They are used in grinding and trituration of different pharmaceutical ingredients in extemporaneous preparations.

They are still used for formulations of capsules, powders, ointments, topical creams, liquid formulations. The mortar and pestle are mostly made of porcelain, while the handle of the pestle can be wooden.

The mortar and pestle pharmacy logo was widely used in for a long period of time in Britain and European midland. It is still used in Scotland, and the United States. Another variation of the mortar and pestle is used in the Scandinavia.

The Green Cross

Pharmacy symbol the green cross
The Green Cross

The green cross is now widely used as a sign of authority by many pharmacy shops around the world. It has it origin in continental Europe from the 20th century. When the Red Cross International adopted the Red Cross in 1863, pharmacy switched to the Green Cross.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain introduced it to Britain in 1984 as the standard pharmacy symbol. They also required that the colours should be shades of green, or in black and white, with the word “pharmacy” or “pharmacist”, or the Society name attached to it.

The Bowl of Hygieia with the Serpent of Epidaurus

Bowl of Hygeia pharmacy symbol

The bowl of Hygieia has roots traced to Greek mythology. Hygieia, the daughter of Aesculapius, was the Greek Goddess of health and wellness. Her symbol shows a serpent drinking from a bowl or chalice. The bowl is wide and shallow, but with a long stem. This is the symbol used as pharmacy logo in Hungary.

The symbol has different variations used by pharmacy associations in Canada, Germany, US, Australia, France, Austria, and other European countries.

In some Islamic countries, they prefer to attach the crescent and the star to it.

One Snake on a Staff (Serpent of Epidaurus on the Staff of Aesculapius)

Staff of Aesculapius pharmacy symbol

This symbol is made of a serpent intertwined with a rod, held by a Greek god, Aesculapius. Aesculapius is associated with medicine and healing. The snake represent wisdom, healing, and immortality in Middle and far Eastern culture.

The rod of Aesculapius is the most used medical symbol in the world. It can be seen in the logo of the World Health Organization. This icon can also be seen on the far left corner of the crest of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. It is more of a general medicine symbol rather than a pharmacy logo.

Two Snakes on a Staff (Caduceus)

pharmacy symbol Caduceus
The Caduceus is not widely used again due to debates over its suitability in medical field

Caduceus, a Greek word for “herald’s staff” has a complicated history, and meaning. The symbol is a staff with wings representing Mercury (Roman) or Hermes (Greek), messenger of the Gods and also God of commerce. There is also a serpent intertwined with the staff.

Caduceus is also a symbol of commerce, and can also represent printing. It is widely used in many coats of arms.

It was popularized by the US Army Medical Corps in the 19th century. Though the Rod of Asclepius is the most used symbol in medicine, the Caduceus is used by some medical bodies. The usage as a medical symbol is highly debated, but still some health organizations favour it. It has limited use in pharmacy settings.

The Serpent Around a Palm Tree

Serpent Around a Palm Tree pharmacy symbol
Image credit: Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, The Recipes Project

Introduced in the 1800s, it was used by the French and Portuguese pharmaceutical bodies. In the symbol, the palm tree represents the vegetable kingdom, the serpent represent the animal kingdom, and the rocks at the base of the palm tree -the minerals’ kingdom.

The symbol has featured a variation of the snake, palm tree and cross since the 19th century.

The Show Globe

Show globe pharmacy logo
Show Globe

The show globe was a symbol of pharmacy used by English chemist in the 17th century, and the US in the 20th century. It is a glass vessel that contains colourful liquids. This symbol was restricted to English-speaking countries.

Sources

You can download free pharmacy logos and symbols from Vecteezy, Freepik, Pngtree

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