May 9th, 2022Glen about the house
There are many garden plants, especially vegetables and fruits, with either an interesting history concerning how they came to be grown in our own backyards or, more importantly, how they found their way into our kitchens.
Almost since the beginning of time many different plants have been considered to be cures for a wide variety of ailments. Others have been more recently discovered to have definite palliative as well as culinary properties. For example from as early as 320BC lettuces were commonly grown and were thought to be good for your eyesight. Centuries later, in 1699, lettuce was thought to promote chastity.
But it doesn’t end there. It is believed that radishes, onions and garlic were fed in large quantities to the Egyptian pyramid builders as a staple part of their diet. However by 1719 radishes were thought to be have been used to cure corns on feet. It’s debatable that many would try that cure today.
We have the early mariners Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh to thank for expanding our fruit and vegetable palates. Although most were marauding treasure-seekers, they did spare the time to seek out and collect new and exciting plants. The potato, originally thought to be an aphrodisiac, proved to be a saviour for the lowly masses of Europe.
The tomato, brought from Peru by the Spaniards, was originally grown for a time as an ornamental plant. The fruits were not eaten because they were found to be closely related to the deadly nightshade family. Incidentally, so are potatoes.
Since their introduction into Western gardens they have undergone a number of name changes. First known as the Apple of the Moors, the plant was later named the Golden Apple, and later the Apple of Love. The present name, tomato is derived from the Aztec – tomatl.
The runner bean, capsicum and chilli pepper were imported by Christopher Columbus. Chillies were then taken to India in the 16th century by the Portuguese where the locals soon learned to use them in their curries. One might wonder just how hot curries were before their introduction.
During the 16th and 17th centuries the globe artichoke, pictured, was thought to be an aphrodisiac, while the Jerusalem artichoke, not an artichoke at all, derives its name from the early American settlers who thought it tasted like the globe artichoke, the flower of a type of thistle.
Not surpisingly, the Jerusalem part of the name comes from the Italian name for sunflower – girasole – for the vegetable is the tuberous root of a plant very closely related to the sunflower.
In 640 AD, the Britons, fighting under Cadwallader against the Saxons, were able to identify themselves on the battlefield by wearing a leek in their caps. Meanwhile the Saxons frequently took each other for the enemy and killed one another by mistake.
Much later, in the mid 1700s, leeks were thought to stop drunkenness and were externally applied for the treatment of “serpent stings and burns”. Closely related to leeks, the onion was also thought to have medicinal qualities. In 1597 it was written that the juice of the onion, if rubbed onto a bald head in the sunlight, would quickly promote growth of hair.
Centuries earlier, Alexander the Great was said to have fed his troops with onions. He felt that this would increase their enthusiasm for fighting. Many herbs and spices were held responsible for curing a variety of maladies throughout history. For example, during the 17th century roasted dill seeds were used to treat mouth ulcers, and mint could be used on bites from mad dogs.
To be continued…
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