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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. The name is believed to have been invented by Paracelsus from Switzerland, who modelled 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. 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.

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.

See also[edit]


  • P.A. Porto: "Summus atque felicissimus salium": The Medical Relevance of the liquor Alkahest. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 76(1), p. 1 - 29 (2002), ISSN 0007-5140
  • Eyrénée Philalèthe: "Anthoposophia theomagica", 1650.
  • Balzac's 1834 alchemical novel "La Recherche de l'Absolu" has been published in English both as "The Quest of the Absolute" and "The Alkahest".
  • The short story "Alkahest: The Deathtoll Solution", by John M. Ford.

Popular culture[edit]


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