Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Lesson in Herbs: A Trip to the Past - Part 5

Colonists knew all about herbs and spices, not only for flavouring food, but also for cures and tonics. Two ladies in the "British camp" gave a lesson on their uses.

For example, yarrow was used to dye clothing. Tobacco was applied to stings, and house leeks (I call these hens and bitties) were good for burns. All kinds of things were made into teas, including mint and chamomile. Some teas were made to cure ills and some were merely cheaper alternatives to imported black tea.

Spices were ground up with a mortar and pestle (I still use a small one) and nutmeg was grated. Sugar came in a "loaf" or cone wrapped in paper.

I didn't realize they had cough lozenges, back then. The apothecary made it with licorice and put his stamp on each lozenge. Pieces of candy, made from anise, peppermint or tamarind, were called comfits.

The colonists used plenty of salt. Before canning came along, people preserved food by drying it, smoking it, or putting it in brine. Meat might be layered in coarse salt — no need to grind it for preserving food.

I learned another thing. We feel like our world has recently gone global because of the information age. But American colonists lived in a new global market because of sea trade. Sugar, spices, rum and salt were all imported.

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