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Plants That Changed The World


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Bianca
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« on: October 01, 2008, 10:09:41 am »









                                           Plants That Changed the World: Potato






Jane Seabrook and Richard Tarn,
Potato Research Centre,
Fredericton, NB

Take a look at the humble potato. It's a brown, starchy underground stem that is really mostly water (80%). But this mighty potato can, with a milk product like cheese or yoghurt, sustain human life. The potato is the most nutritious of all the world's starchy food crops with more protein, vitamins and minerals than rice, wheat, sorghum or corn.

Potatoes came to us from South America in the 16th century courtesy of the Spanish conquistadors. In South America the potato was an ancient cultivated crop with many varied forms ...... red or blue skin, coloured flesh, and unusual shapes. And even today, potatoes served in restaurants are much more varied than we see elsewhere.

Archaeological evidence has shown potatoes, corn and other food plants being cultivated in the high Andes of South America at least 8,000 years ago. The potato, along with tomato and eggplant, is a member of the nightshade family and has over 2,000 relatives world-wide, of which less than 200 produce tubers.

The term "potato" is probably derived from "batata" - a Caribbean Arawak Indian term for sweet potato. This is not surprising as early explorers and herbalists of the 16th century often gave several different plants the same name.

The early potatoes from South America probably arrived in Spain around 1570 and were small, knobbly tubers and were only a curiosity at first. Most people were afraid to eat them. Gradually, the potato gained popularity.

A King's courtier in France posted guards around potato plots during the day and left the plots unguarded at night. Peasants figuring that anything worth guarding might be useful came and stole tubers during the night, and the potato became a common source of food.

So popular did the potato become, that large groups of poor people depended almost solely on the potato for food. This was the origin of the Irish potato famine in which over a million people died of hunger when the Late Blight fungus caused the potato crop to fail several years in a row. The mass migration of Irish people looking for a better way of life settled in much of North America.

Early European settlers to North America brought potatoes with them that had adapted over time to long summer days and climate of Europe, and after three hundred years of adaptation looked little like the indigenous South American potatoes. Later some potato varieties were brought to North America from Central and South America. One of the early introductions was 'Garnet Chili;, a long, red-skinned curiosity.

Potatoes grown in Canada by early settlers were not particularly well adapted to our cold spring soils and short growing season. Slowly, farmers selected strains which suited Canadian conditions. Breeding of potatoes by Canadian scientists started in 1934 at the Fredericton Dominion Experimental Farm, now the Potato Research Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Currently, the Potato Research Centre is an internationally-known centre for research on potato breeding , molecular genetics, physiology, entomology and soils research. The Potato Gene Resources Repository housed at the Potato Research Centre in Fredericton maintains heirloom and Canadian-bred potato cultivars.

Because of their high nutritional value, potatoes continue to be attractive food in developing countries. The growth in potato production world-wide is in warm climates. Much of the effort of the International Potato Centre in Lima, Peru, one of a number of crop development centres around the world, is devoted to adapting the potato as a "winter window" crop for hot climates. Several North American potato processing companies have recently opened seed potato growing facilities and french fry plants in China signalling interest in the potato to the world's most populous nation.

So the next time you tuck into a delicious shepherd's pie, perogies, poutine, or a plate of fish and chips, remember that the humble potato came to us from the high mountains of the Andes via the Spanish galleons to Europe and then with our European ancestors to Canada.




This text is adapted from an article originally published in the newsletter of the Fredericton (NB) Botanic Garden Association. 18(1): Winter 2006.



http://www4.agr.gc.ca/AAFC-AAC/display-afficher.do?id=1166205946362&lang=e
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Bianca
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« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2008, 10:18:09 am »









                                                         A-Maize-ing I






     Mesoamerica is a region straddling the southern part of North America and the northern part of Central America.  Long obscured by modern day political boundaries it roughly encompasses the southern half of Mexico and the northwestern section of Central America.  It was a cradle of Pre-Columbian (before Columbus) civilization and was home to the renowned Maya and Aztec Indians, amongst others.  Sadly, as with the North American continent, the cultural richness of these peoples, not to mention their way of life, was all but destroyed by the European imperialists, in this particularly tragic case, the Spanish.  But all the European might could not vanquish some of the timeless gifts these people left to mankind; one of the most amazing being maize, otherwise known as corn in the United States.

     The term maize is a derivative of an early American Indian word mahiz.  “Corn” originally was an English term used to denote small particles, particular grains.  Corned beef received it’s moniker from the small grains (corns) of salt used to preserve it.  What we now call corn the early American colonists called Indian corn which was eventually lexicalized to corn.  Today, “Indian Corn” refers to the ornamental corn of Halloween and Thanksgiving fame.

     But the term “corn” is not the only aspect of this munificent vegetable to be morphed over the ages.  The plant itself is a transmutation.  Although the exact seminal plant species is uncertain, what you and I refer to as “corn” in the modern day supermarket aisle, is not what first sprouted in the New World.  The progenitor of today’s corn began somewhere in the Andes.  The Andean Indians introduced it to Central America where it eventually made its way to Mexico.  There are an array of theories outlining the specific ontogenesis but basically, sometime between 10,000 and 5,500 B.C. the first corn plants became hybridized and domesticated.  Sometime between 8,000 and 5,000 B.C. maize was flourishing in Mesoamerica.  Archaeological evidence confirms at least 3,600 B.C. but it is inescapable that the process was in motion before that. 

     Strangely, despite thousands of years of cultivation in the lower Americas, corn didn’t find its way to the modern day United States until around A.D.  By A.D. 600, a number of North American Indians were extensively growing it.  Corn’s journey to the Old World began with Christopher Columbus who ferried it back to Spain.  By 1500 it was under cultivation in Spain and by the 17th century it was a major crop for a number of European countries.   The Portuguese introduced it to East Africa and Asia and from there it was just a matter of time until it arrived in India and China through established trade routes.  It was flourishing in China in the 18th century and reached Korea and Japan soon after.  Corn is now one of the most widely grown vegetables on Earth, especially in the Americas.  The United States and China lead world production.

     Interestingly, the early Spanish invaders of Mesoamerica were aversive to corn.  Some of the Indian tribes practiced human sacrifice and grisly rituals which involved corn.  The conquistadors thus correlated corn with internecine paganism and considered its consumption unchristian.  Corn consumption was also associated with pellagra, a deficiency disease of niacin in conjunction with the amino acid tryptophan.  Corn is barren of niacin.  Tryptohan can be converted to niacin in the body thus attenuating the depletion of niacin.  A diet dominated by corn with little other vegetables or sources of tryptophan can result in pellagra.  Pellagra causes dermatological, gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms and ultimately death.  Eventually of course, the Europeans transcended their initial prejudices against corn. 

     What is truly amazing about corn is its versatility and seemingly innumerable uses.  Not even considering the culinary uses, (which we’ll address in the next edition of Food For Thought), the list is impressive.  The Indians wove the husks into clothing, sleeping mats, baskets, and children’s toys. Most of the corn grown in the United States and Canada is used as animal fodder.  There are also many industrial uses of corn including ethanol, cosmetics, ink, glue, laundry starch, shoe polish, medicines, fabrics, corncob pipes, and ornaments. 

     There are many different types of corn.  The most notable include Sweet Corn.  This is the traditional favorite, eaten off the cob with butter and salt, and found in supermarkets and roadside stands everywhere.  Sweet corn is so named because of its high sugar content.  It is seldom used for purposes other than direct human consumption.  Dent Corn, also known as Field Corn is the corn of choice for livestock feed and industrial products.  Flint Corn, also known as the aforementioned ornamental Indian Corn sports a range of colors and is primarily grown in Central and South America.  A sub variety of Flint Corn is used to make popcorn.  Its soft starchy center facilitates the “pop” into the fluffy, movie-snacking favorite. 



http://www.foodreference.com/html/art-corn-history.html
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« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2008, 10:29:40 am »



Woman and child sitting in field of
Oxalia tuberosa in Central Mexico.

Photo by Steven R. King, 1996.









                                             FOODS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD






Steven R. King, Ph.D.,
Shaman Pharmaceuticals, Inc.,
South S.F., CA
Adapted from Pacific Discovery,
Vol.45, No. 1, pp.23-31,
Winter, 1992.

For many foods which we now enjoy and rely upon, we must thank the people of the Americas who domesticated or discovered them. Many of our everyday foods originated in the ancient New World. Of the world's top 26 crops by tonnage, eight originated in the Americas. A third of United States crop value depends on foods that were first grown in the Americas. Without food crops from the New World, Indonesian satays, Indian curries, and even pizza would be unrecognizable. Let's look at some of the incredible variety of foods from the Americas and their impact on history.
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« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2008, 10:36:17 am »










POTATOES



Today, in the United States, we grow 250 varieties of potatoes (Solanum tuberosum).

Incredibly, Andean natives were already cultivating three thousand varieties before the Spaniards arrived. The Spaniards first encountered the potato in 1535. Initially, they fed potatoes, in combination with another well-known plant, coca,

(link Medicines that Changed the World: The Wonders of the Coca Plant)

to their Indian silver mine laborers, which kept the slaves working at a feverish pitch under incredibly difficult conditions. Eventually, potatoes were transported back to Spain, then dispersed throughout the world. Today at least 130 countries grow some variety of potato. 

Potatoes arrived in Ireland toward the end of the sixteenth century. By 1625, the potato was a cheap and nutritious staple. By the end of the eighteenth century, an Irish citizen might eat up to ten pounds of potatoes a day. Potatoes fueled an enormous increase in the population, particularly among the poor, with global repercussions.

Partly because of limited genetic diversity, the European potato crop failed numerous times due to blight and other fungal diseases, but none matched the famine that began in 1845 and resulted in an estimated one million deaths and at least 1.5 million immediate emigrants.

The potato arrived in North America in 1620 but commercial production did not begin until a hundred years later in New England. Demand for potatoes grew dramatically with the flood of Irish immigrants in the 1850's.

Today, potatoes are one of the four most important food plants in the world with the Soviet Union producing the largest harvest.
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« Reply #4 on: October 01, 2008, 10:44:39 am »










THE TOMATO



The tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) is native to Mexico but many varieties are found in the Andes.

Crop evolution specialists still return to Andean valleys in search of wild relatives that might help modern breeders to improve crops.

Tomatoes were actually accepted in Asia before they were in Europe, having been transported to the Philippines shortly after Magellan's' voyage of 1521. From there they were introduced into China, Japan, and India.

Before Columbus, the Italians had no tomato sauce!

The Spaniards brought the tomato to Europe in the 16th Century; it was grown in Italy in the mid 1500's.

In the United States, tomatoes were believed to be poisonous until the 19th Century. French and Italian immigrants first popularized the tomato in North America.
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« Reply #5 on: October 01, 2008, 10:49:46 am »









THE CHILI PEPPER STORY



Chili peppers (Capsicum annuum) transformed world cuisine through a simple historical accident.

The demand for black pepper sent European explorers abroad in search of new sources of the spice.

When the Spanish found themselves in the West Indies, mistaking them for the Spice Islands, they inquired about the location of pepper plants, but found none. The only spices to emerge from the Americas were allspice (Pimenta dioca) from the Caribbean and chili peppers from Latin America.


Chili peppers soon became a valuable item of trade. The ancestors of these crops are believed to have originated in Bolivia, but they influenced diets from the Inca to the Aztec empires, then traveled the world.

Chilies provide the spicy heat which we now associate with much Indian, Chinese, Southeast Asian, and Ethiopian cuisine. China is the now the world's biggest exporter of chili peppers, followed by Mexico and India.

Capsaicin is the pepper's fiery active ingredient, which researchers now believe may prove useful as an anti-inflammatory against arthritis.

And so, chilies may soon have as significant medical importance as they have had culinary influence.
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« Reply #6 on: October 01, 2008, 10:56:23 am »










THE PEANUT



So highly was the peanut regarded in ancient Amazonian cultures that its image was cast in precious metals and buried with royalty.

There are probably more than 80 wild peanut species.

Amazonian natives eat both wild and cultivated varieties, both of which harbor the genetic variations that could help improve and protect harvests elsewhere from disease, drought, and temperature changes.

Peanuts became a basic source of protein for millions of people. Just as the potato improved nutrition and spurred population growth in Ireland, the peanut increased the protein intake in Asia and Africa.

It reached Africa aboard Portuguese ships and Asia aboard Spanish ships. In Europe, the peanut gained a foothold only as a source of oil and food for livestock.

Today, in the United States, the major use of the peanut crop is to make peanut butter.
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« Reply #7 on: October 01, 2008, 10:59:18 am »










MANIOC



Manioc (Manihot esculenta) or cassava is one of the most important root crops in all of lowland South America.

First grown in the relatively poor soils of the Amazon, the indigenous peoples there domesticated at least 40 varieties. Though some manioc varieties can be eaten directly, others contain a poison that must be thoroughly removed. Amazonians developed a number of woven fiber presses and sieves to grate, press, and dry the tubers until they were safe to eat.

Manioc has some amazing food qualities. It can be stored in the ground for several years after it has reached maturity. It is also about one-third starch and produces a great deal of calories from nutrient-poor soils, which has led to its adoption by much of the world, notably in Africa.

Although manioc is one of the world's most important crops, in the United States manioc has seen little use, except in tapioca pudding.
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« Reply #8 on: October 01, 2008, 11:02:58 am »










CHOCOLATE AND VANILLA



One of the world's most cherished desserts comes from cacao (Theobroma cacao).

We call it chocolate, a name drawn from an Aztec dialect. Cacao became a trade item for the Europeans, but the Aztec considered it a gift from the gods.

Today the Amazonian Indians eat only the white seed coat. Chocolate is made from the toasted fermented seeds.






Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) is harvested from an orchid and was also first domesticated in Mesoamerica (known today as Central America).

There are ninety species but only two produce commercial vanilla. This plant is still cultivated by the Totonac Indians, who may have been first to domesticate it.

Today, however, almost all cultivated vanilla comes from Madagascar and the Comoro Islands in the Indian Islands.
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« Reply #9 on: October 01, 2008, 11:05:33 am »










CORN - MAIZE
 


Corn (Zea mays) was domesticated from a wild plant called teosinte (Zea mexicana) at least seven thousand years ago. Considered a sacred crop, corn figured prominently in Mayan creation myths; one famous image depicts an earth god sprouting from a stalk.

Adaptable to a wide range of habitats, corn converts the sun's energy more efficiently than other cereals.

Corn made its way to Europe as a curiosity with the first departing explorers' vessels.

It also entered Europe with the Moors, via Turkey and North Africa. Corn quickly took root in much of Africa. Together with the peanut and cassava, it completely transformed the diet of much of Africa which had been based on grains such as sorghum and millet. Corn brought about a rapid rise in population throughout much of the continent. Africans eat a large percentage of the more than three hundred million metric tons of corn produced worldwide each year.

Today corn is a dietary staple for more than two hundred million people worldwide.
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« Reply #10 on: October 01, 2008, 11:07:40 am »










OTHER VALUABLE FOOD CONTRIBUTIONS



Among the other popular foods originating in South America are pineapples
(link Medicines that Changed the World:

The medicinal uses of pineapple) (Ananas comosus),

cashews (Anacardium occidentale),

avocados (Persea americana), and

strawberries (Fragaria chiloensis and F. virginiana).
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« Reply #11 on: October 01, 2008, 11:10:23 am »








IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE
 


We have really just scratched the surface of potential staple foods native to Central and South America.

Some of the colorful Andean tubers are still poorly known outside of their homeland.

Indian grains and cereals are also just now being introduced to our markets. One example is the important Andean grain, technically a pseudocereal, called quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). Quinoa provides protein for millions of people in the Andes where the crop thrives despite the high altitude, extreme cold, and high winds. The Incas considered quinoa sacred. It contains high levels of all the essential amino acids making it a more balanced food than wheat, rice, corn, sorghum or millet. In
1988, 750 tons of quinoa entered the United States, Europe, and Asia.

The famines we've mentioned demonstrate the danger of depending heavily on a single crop without
the safety net of genes from its wild relatives. As crop monocultures become ever more vulnerable to disease, we have begun to realize the importance of agricultural techniques emphasizing biodiversity--some of which were practiced hundreds and thousands of years ago by ancient New World cultures!

The genetic resources and agricultural knowledge the people of the Americas oversee remain critical to global food security. Their storehouse of knowledge is only now becoming fully appreciated by modern agricultural researchers. The time has come to form a union to not only promote research in our own societies, but to give something back to the contributing people.



http://www.accessexcellence.org/RC/Ethnobotany/page5.php
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« Reply #12 on: October 20, 2008, 12:38:35 pm »



http://www.accessexcellence.org/RC/Ethnobotany/page4.php
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« Reply #13 on: November 06, 2008, 11:24:16 am »




               

               Highland Andean girl in Quito, Ecuador,
               selling medicinal plants.

 
               Photo by Steven R. King,
               1996.










                                            MEDICINES THAT CHANGED THE WORLD






Steven R. King, Ph.D.,
Shaman Pharmaceuticals, Inc.,
South S.F., CA
Adapted from Pacific Discovery,
Vol.45, No. 1, pp.23-31,
Winter, 1992.
 
By the time the first European explorers arrived, the native people of the Americas had developed com-
plex medical systems complete with diagnosis and treatment of physical as well as spiritual illnesses.

Indigenous peoples derived medicines and poisons from thousands of plants. Over the last 500 years, others, including those of us in North America, have profited from the medicinal knowledge and healing plants of this vast region. And yet, the Americas still contain an untapped wealth of healing gifts. Let's look at some of the plants that originated from Central and South America and how they affected history.
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« Reply #14 on: November 06, 2008, 11:29:22 am »



             

                   Drawing by David Wood,
              Genentech Graphics Department










                                                     A MEDICINE FOR MALARIA






 
In the early 1500's, Indian fever bark was one of the first medicinal plants to find appreciative consumers in Europe. Taken from the cinchona tree (Cinchona officinalis), the bark was used as an infusion by native people of the Andes and Amazon highlands to treat fevers. Jesuit missionaries brought the bark back to Europe.

By the early sixteenth century, this medicine was known as "Jesuit fever bark," quite a transformation.

The effectiveness of the bark's active ingredient, the alkaloid quinine, in treating malaria and other fever-inducing diseases made it worth nearly its weight in gold.

Cinchona provides the first case of a medicinal plant that was needed too much and too quickly.

Cinchona bark sewn in leather bundles was shipped in huge quantities from ports in Peru and Ecuador.

As European powers established colonies in Africa and Asia, the demand for cinchona bark only increased to combat the scourge of malaria. For three centuries the global demand for cinchona bark grew constantly, threatening the tree's survival.




 
In 1923
the standard malaria treatment
in the U.S.A.



An illegal act in the mid-nineteenth century ultimately saved the cinchona.

In 1865, Charles Ledger smuggled a small collection of seedlings from South America.

Since the British had commissioned their own team of smugglers, they declined to purchase Ledger's seedlings. However, the Dutch, eager to develop a supply for their colonies, bought some seeds. Within ten years, cinchona trees grew in Java. By 1930, Java produced more then 95 percent of the world's supply.

The outbreak of World War II cut off the bark supply to all but the Japanese and their allies.

Ironically, Southeast Asian seeds were then returned to Central America to establish plantations.

Today, as a result of widespread drug resistance to some of its synthetic versions, cinchona's active ingredient, quinine, has reemerged as the medicine of choice to fight the most deadly form of malaria, caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum.
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