A look at plant origins

I was given a book written by Bill Laws, Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History. The book lists 50 items, from their origin to where they ended up, and the impact they have had on our everyday living.

  • Feb. 15, 2011 12:00 p.m.

I was given a book written by Bill Laws, Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History. The book lists 50 items, from their origin to where they ended up, and the impact they have had on our everyday living.

Plants are judged by their influence in four categories: edible, medicinal, commercial and practical. Entries range from crop staples like rice and wheat, which have fed entire populations for centuries, to herbs and spices that are highly prized for their medicinal qualities.

The ones I found most interesting were the sections on barley, rice and corn.

Barley was the one item that was found worldwide and provided food in some form to many parts of the world. As farming became more popular, it became better known as a food for animals. Guess what happened to it when the Scots got a hold of it? Many farmers really prospered, as they sold barley mash to the whisky brewers. With at least 15 major brands of Scotch whisky for sale, that’s a lot of barley!

The next item I found interesting were the details on rice. It was first found in Asia, and there are four main types of this grain-bearing grass. This is the most widely grown and most cultivated food crop in the world. Millions of people depend on it as a main source of food. I might mention that in many places, it is women who do most of the work in harvesting the crop.

Corn is the most amazing item we have as a food. It was first found in Central America and is the only plant that did not seed by itself.

The Spanish explorers first took it to Europe, and it is not known for sure, but it seems the Romanians and the Dutch found ways to hybridize some new varieties. We are all familiar with corn flakes, which is an American development. Corn meal was developed by the Europeans.

If you visit the central part of the United States, corn is grown in abundance as animal feed. Thousands of acres of corn feeds the beef animals from which we get those delicious roasts and steaks or that good pork chop.

And if you raise chickens in a big way, a large percentage of the mash used to produce eggs contains corn. It is the major animal food throughout the Americas.

The book has a lot of items listed that we use or are used in some manner such as wheat, onions and grapes. It is well worth the selling price.