The complete distilling apparatus consists of three parts: the "cucurbit" (Arabic ḳarʿa, Greek βίκος), the "head" or "cap" (Arabic anbiḳ, Greek ἄμβιξ), with an attached "tube" (Greek σωλήν), and the "receiver" (Arabic ḳābila, Greek ἄγγος or φιάλη). Modern retorts have the "cap" and the "cucurbit" made into one. The anbik is also called the raʾs (head) of the cucurbit. The liquid in the cucurbit is heated or boiled; the vapour rises into the anbik, where it cools by contact with the walls and condenses, running down the spout into a receiver. A modern descendant of the alembic is the pot still, used to produce distilled beverages.
Dioscorides' ambix (De materia medica) is a helmet-shaped lid for gathering condensed mercury, for Athenaeus (~ 225 C.E.) it is a bottle or flask, with later chemists it denotes various parts of crude distillation devices. According to Zosimos of Panopolis, the alembic was invented by Mary the Jewess.
The anbik is described by Ibn al-Awwam in his "Kitab al-Filaha" ("Book of Agriculture"), where he explains how rose-water is distilled. Amongst others, it is mentioned in the "Mafatih al-Ulum" ("Key of Sciences") of Khwarizmi and the "Kitab al-Asrar" ("Book of Secrets") of Al-Razi. Some illustrations occur in the Latin translations of works which are attributed to Geber.
- M. Ullmann (1986), "AL-KĪMIYĀ", The Encyclopaedia of Islam 5 (2nd ed.), Brill, p. 111b, ISBN 90-04-07819-3
- E. Wiedemann; M. Plessner (1986), "AL-ANBĪḲ", The Encyclopaedia of Islam 1 (2nd ed.), Brill, p. 486a, ISBN 90-04-08114-3
- Henry Liddell; Robert Scott, eds. (1897), "ἄμβιξ", A Greek–English Lexicon (8th ed.), Harper & Brothers, p. 73
- Edmund Lippmann (1919), Entstehung und Ausbreitung der Alchemie, Springer, pp. 48–49
- Marcellin Berthelot (1889), Introduction à l'étude de la chimie des anciens et du moyen âge, Steinheil, pp. 132, 135–142, 161–164