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Plants That Changed History
Plants Have Changed History
Much of human history and culture has been determined by what plants do or can be meant to do.
Sailors became deathly ill and deformed on long voyages until citrus fruits were found to prevent scurvy.
Limes enabled the British fleet to travel the globe (hence the term "Limeys" in reference to the English) and build an empire western culture and making the English language dominant all over the globe.
Did you ever hear of "Cinchona?"
Traded as early as 1650, it was found to be a treatment for malaria. Its use saved lives and increased the amount of land available for colonization by 25%. People would not have been able to settle in places like Florida, Mississippi and Georgia.
Mulberry – The Silk Road in Asia introduced cultures to eachother and caused the transfer of ideas, people and wealth along routes established for its trade.
Poppy –yields a white latex that yields 25 separate alkaloids
one of which is morphine – the addictive mental stimulant that yields a sense of well being and raised awareness without inhibition. Its first recorded use is over 8,000 years ago. It was freely available in the 19th Century and it cannot be synthesized.
Yam – In New Guinea it is a staple food crop – used for ceremonies – In 1942, American Russell Macherane extracted diosgenin and converted it into progesterone. 15 years latter the birth control pill was developed – It has had a profound effect on society and notions of sexuality and procreation.
Cotton-spinning these fibers is among the oldest human technologies. There are fragments dating back to 5,000 years ago. The 19th century Industrial technology revolution lead to factories which could mass-produce…. but to grow cotton still meant slaves. By 1861, cotton was the US most valuable commodity for export in terms of dollars…more than all other exports combined.
And what about the potato?
From the Andes, it thrives in different climates, In 1846, the Irish potato famine caused 1.5 million people to emigrate to the US. There are now more than 40 million American descendants.
Potatoes and Tomatoes were brought back from the New World and changed the diet of a whole continent forever.
Can you imagine Italy without tomatoes or Ireland without potatoes?
or Italy (and pizza and spaghetti) without tomatoes?????
And don't forget .....
Papyrus- A swamp reed with a hollow, fibrous stem. Two layers of stem laid out at right angle over one another and are pounded smooth. It was first used 5000 years ago in Egypt by scribes. Most of our written records today still remain on plant based material...paper from trees.
Grapes- Distilled to make wine by the action of the yeast, which turns grape sugar into alcohol, a powerful depressant drug, that effects brain function. It was used in Egypt and sent with the mummies for the afterlife. It provided sustenance in communities where water was not fit to drink.
Tea- a small evergreen, green shrub; There still remains a 12th century Zen tea ceremony. Monks developed it as an aid to contemplation. England became an international empire largely due to the trade of this herb.