The “golden age of alchemy”, which fell on 13th-17th centuries, resulted in numerous alchemical treatises, created by medieval scholars, venturing clergymen and mysterious kabbalists. One of them - "Cabala Mineralis" - suggested using urine as a possible ingredient for the elixir of immortality. A manuscript, located at London British Museum, dates back to the middle of the XV century and is ascribed to Rabbi Simeon Ben Cantara.
Colourful illustrations of this book explain how urine of a young boy can be used as a source of ammonium: "Our ammoniac is not that of the vulgar". Ammonium then shall be used together with mercury as essential components of philosopher's stone.
Urine's importance in alchemic work can be explained by the fact that it contains volatile components, which can help to volatilise metallic salts that are not willing to sublimate.
Around 1669 someone called Henning Brand - an enthusiast chemist from Hamburg, found an alchemy book, entitled “400 Auserlensene Chemische Process" by F. T. Kessler of Strasbourg” . A recipe from this book stated that a mix of alum, potassium nitrate, and concentrated human urine would turn basic metals into gold. In an attempt to solve the mystery Brand, he then rerouted and began to experiment with boiling huge amounts of human urine. At first he was satisfied with the amount of liquid he produced himself, then he put an eye on his wife's and friends' chamber pots. After a short while, an experiment gained such a wide audience that Brand made up his mind to acquire wholesale product from the Prussian army…It is thought that in the course of his experiments he collected overall 5500l of urine.
Brand boiled the large amount of liquid until it turned into a thick substance with red oil on the top. He then extracted this red oil and cooled down the rest of the substance until it turned black.
Having mixed the red and the black parts, Brand heated them again, distilled and...hocus pocus! The glass chamber got filled with glowing fumes that turned into a shining, white liquid, which, upon contact with oxygen, produced bright flames.
Needless to say, Brand was perfectly sure he had found philosopher's stone. He gave his discovery the name phosphorus - after the Greek name for Venus...
He continued experimenting with the new substance for six years, having discovered its many qualities, but not being able to obtain the so cherished, elixir of immortality. Only at the autumn of his life, Brand acknowledged that he probably had not discovered philosopher's stone, but something else. Later generations of chemists were to find out what exactly phosphorus was and obtained the credits for the discovery.
Thanks to his extensive correspondence, Brand was eventually recognized as a father of phosphorus (long after his death), - "13th element", the first chemical element that was discovered by the humanity since the ancient times.