Heartsick? An Estonian Pharmacy May Have Cure

NATO foreign ministers gathered for a summit last week in Tallinn, the seaside capital of the former Soviet state of Estonia. One of the town's biggest attractions is a pharmacy dating from the 15th century that deals in herbs, wine and drugs to make you fall in — and out of — love.

At an international summit, leaders often have time to get out and explore. But the NATO foreign ministers who met in the former Soviet state of Estonia last week were running behind schedule because of the volcanic ash cloud hovering over Europe. They were happy to have made it at all.

"The only regret I have is that I had to spend all my time in meetings, instead of enjoying Tallinn once again," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, referring to Estonia's small capital on the Baltic Sea.

I escaped the meetings long enough to look around -- and I'm happy the foreign ministers didn't.

Surely, they would have stopped at a major attraction in the town's cobblestone square -- the Raeapteek, or Town Hall Pharmacy.

My guide, local historian Juri Kuuskemaa, told me the place opened in 1422 and may well be Europe's longest continuously operating pharmacy. Legend has it that in the 18th century, a former owner, Dr. Johann Burchart V, nearly saved a Russian czar.

"When Peter the Great, Russian emperor, was dying and nobody could help him, he called Johann V," Kuuskemaa said.

But things didn't work out. The czar died before Burchart arrived.

The pharmacy is also legendary for its herbs, wine and medicines -- and its love drugs.

"You can go to pharmacy and buy special materials, so-called aphrodisiacom, and when you give to her or her, it is fate. Both could do nothing against it. And lady would love you to the end of their lives," Kuuskemaa explained.

But that's not all. "When you have two or three wives, for example, and you see one is happy but two are unhappy, you can buy here special materials to give to these two unhappies and they forget you, and they could find happiness with another man, not with you," Kuuskemaa said. "So it stops the love. It is an anti-aphrodisiacom, yeah. So love could be regulated with drugs."

On display inside, readily available, was the pharmacy's famous anti-aphrodisiac. Each individually wrapped piece of candy is packed with the secret ingredient: almond powder. People struck by love use it to cure themselves.

"How long we have sold it? ... I think 500 years," said pharmacist Ulle Noodapera.

But Noodapera said visitors will also just come in and taste it -- despite the risk. That's why I was worried about the foreign ministers dropping by.

Noodapera says she didn't see any of the world leaders partake of the anti-love confection.

Which is a good thing. The last place you'd want to kill the love is at a meeting of the NATO military alliance. Kuuskemaa agreed.

"Love has more power as rockets in the world and it is the main power of the world and for humanity, and this power really can protect us," he says. "Love. Not rockets." Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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