Plant Trivia TimeLine – BP through AD 1450


5-15 Billion+ 6 December. Carbon (the basis of organic life), oxygen, and other elements were created from hydrogen and helium in the fury of burning supernovae. Having arisen when the stars were formed, the elements of which life is built, and thus we ourselves, might be thought of as stardust. (Dauber & Muller, 1996)

3.75 Billion. Mixed deposits of ferrous and ferric oxide suggest the presence of free atmospheric oxygen. This could be construed as evidence for photosynthetic activity. (de Duve, 1995)

3.5 Billion. Formation of the oldest dated stromatolites. These layered geological formations are built by successive generations of blue green algae (cyanobacteria.) (de Duve, 1995) Lower Precambrian rocks in South Africa contain what is possibly the earliest known evidence of cellular organisms, resembling blue green algae. (Bold, Alexopoulos, & Delevoryas, 1980)

2 Billion. Data suggest that by this time in the history of the Earth molecular oxygen began to make a significant difference in the nature of the atmosphere. (de Duve, 1995)

1.6 Billion. Strong evidence indicates that filamentous and unicellular blue green algae existed by this period in the history of the Earth. (Bold, Alexopoulos, & Delevoryas, 1980)

900 Million. Late Precambrian deposits at Bitter Springs, Australia, hold numerous kinds of blue-green and green algae. (Bold, Alexopoulos, & Delevoryas, 1980)

570 Million. Dawning of the Paleozoic era

395 Million. The lower Devonian Period. The Scottish Rhynie chert deposit from this period is famous for its excellent representation of Rhynia, one of the earliest vascular plants in the fossil record. By 350 million years BP land plants at last became significant. By the upper Devonian, Calamites (the giant horsetail) achieved abundance (as represented in strata of that age.) We know now that seed bearing plants (Archaeosperma and Spermolithus) are represented in upper Devonian deposits. (Bold, Alexopoulos, & Delevoryas, 1980)

345 Million. This time marks the beginning of the Mississippian period. Together with the Pennsylvanian which followed (through to 225 million years BP), the two periods constitute the age of coal – often called the Carboniferous.

136 Million. With deposits from the Cretaceous period we see the first evidence of flowering plants. (Bold, Alexopoulos, & Delevoryas, 1980)

49 Million. The Azolla Event (AE). Hypothetically, Earth experienced a melting of Arctic ice and consequent formation of a layered freshwater ocean which supported massive proliferation of the fern Azolla. That vegetation sequestered significant atmospheric carbon dioxide, as successive generations of the fern sank and created oil and gas reserves in the Arctic, while depletion of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere impacted global climate. (seeWikipedia)


50,000 Wild date seed were left in the Shanidar Cave of Northern Iraq. Also discovered at that site was evidence that cave dwellers consumed chestnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, and acorns. (Root, 1980)

30,000 In 2009, Archaeologist Eliso Kvavadze and colleagues discovered linen fiber, even twisted linen threads, left in the Dzudzuana Cave, in Georgia – constituting the earliest documented evidence of human use of fiber..

17,000+ Excavations at Wadi Kubbaniya, Nile Valley (Egypt) reveal charred remains of 25 different plants, including wild nutsedge tubers, acacia seed, cattail rhizomes, and palm fruit. (Levetin & McMahon, 1996)

8000+ The cultivation of grains had an essential role in the development of civilization. By this time period, wheat and barley were Near Eastern food crops. In ancient cultures, barley was the everyday food of the poor. Archeologists have learned that by this time peopleused flint sickles and grindingstones.

7000 Flax was known in Syria and Turkey, and is apparently the earliest plant source for fiber (used to make linen) as well as an important source of oil (pressed from the seed). By 5000 B.C. we know that various species of flax (Linum) were cultivated/harvested. Evidence shows that flax seed size increased over time, suggesting that humans were selecting for larger seed.

6800 A “large hoard of carbonized lentils,” over 1,000,000 seed, was abandoned in B Yiftah’el, north Israel. The size of this hoard indicates the lentils were under cultivation. (Zohary & Hops, 1994)

6500 Faba bean was known in Israel. Lentil, pea, chickpea, and faba bean constituted the principal pulses for ancient Old World agriculture.

6500 Inhabitants of Abu Hureya, Syria relied on 8 domesticated crops for plant-based sustenance. This appears to represent a steady increase in crop cultivation and abandonment of other found sources, in that excavations of older middens (as early as 11,050 BP/9,050 BC) suggest the community regularly consumed as many as 118 species of seed and hard fruit. (Fry, 2016)

6000 Chili pepper and beans of this date have been discovered in a Peruvian highland valley. Lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus) and regular beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are known archaeologically from Peru. (Heiser, 1981)

5500 Researchers have discovered evidence of gourds, squashes, beans, and chili peppers in midden levels dating from 5500 to 7000 B.C. in Tamaulipas, Mexico.

5000 Corn (Zea mays) was cultivated in Meso-America. This important grain would be introduced to Europe by Columbus. [See 1550, China]

5000 Domesticated rice (Oryza sativa) is reported from the Ho-mu-tu site in Chekiang Prov., China. Cabbage seed from this period were discovered in earthen jars in Shensi Province (today cabbages make up 1/4 of all expenditures for vegetables among Chinese families).

4000 Cotton seed dating from this time period have been found in Pakistan.

4000 Grape (Vitis vinifera) is thought to have been cultivated in the area from Afghanistan to the Black Sea.

c3050 In this year, the oldest-known living Bristlecone Pine germinated. (Wikipedia, 2017)

3000 Sorghum was known in sub-Saharan Africa. [See 1100 B.C., China].

2850 Two un-inscribed rolls of papyrus paper were entombed with Hemaka, who was the chancellor and royal seal-bearer to Pharaoh Den. These rolls were escavated by WalterEmery in 1936, and are said to be the oldest known examples of paper made from papyrus culms. Papyrus was the major writing surface for the ancient Western world until more than 2,000 years later when parchments (stretched skin) and then “laid” paper (made of rag linen) became common. (Gaudet,2014)

c2830 A Bristlecone Pine seedling germinated, giving rise to Methuselah, one of the oldest surviving Bristlecone Pines, and one of the most ancient living organisms on Earth. (McKibben, 2008)

2800 The Fah Sh n-Chih Shu details five sacred crops of China: soybeans, rice, wheat, barley, and millet. (Root, 1980)

2750 A coffin from the Egyptian Saqqara Pyramid was made of six layers o fwood veneers, sandwiched and glued together like plywood. Cypress (Cupressus), juniper (Juniperus), and cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus) were used. (Connor, 1994)

2737 Tradition credits Chinese Emperor Shen Nung with the first brewing of tea as a beverage. (Levetin & McMahon, 1996)

2732 Shen Nung, the second of China’s mythical emperors is said to have encountered the tea plant and to have discovered the use of tea. (Hohenegger, 2007)

2000 Pearl millet was cultivated in sub-Saharan Africa.

2000 Since the Bronze Age, olive has figured into the wealth of many Mediterranean populations.

2000 Peach (Prunus persica) and apricot (Prunus armeniaca) were mentioned in Chinese literature before 2000 B.C., where they are considered to be native. It is supposed that apricots were introduced to Greece by Alexander the Great. Certainly the Greeks knew peaches by 332 B.C. Virgil noted the Persian fruit in Rome, circa 50 B.C. By 1571 the Spanish had introduced three kinds of peaches to Mexico. [See 1663; 1977]

1550 A 65ft long medical scroll from Egypt (discovered in 1884 by Georg Ebers and named the Ebers Papyrus) lists about 800 medicinal drugs, including many herbs and spices, among them anise, caraway, cassia, coriander, fennel, cardamon, onions, garlic, thyme, mustard, sesame, fenugreek, saffron, and poppy seed. (Rosengarten, 1969)

1485 Hapshepsut, Queen of Egypt, had 31 myrrh trees imported to Egypt for planting at Thebes as homage to the god Amon. (Rosengarten, 1969)

1370 Chemical tests of red fabrics from Tell el ‘Amara, Egypt show the presence of alizarin, a pigment extracted from madder (Rubia tinctorum.) (Zohary & Hopf, 1994)

1325 Many seed and other plant products were deposited in the Tutankhamen tomb, including watermelon, safflower, emmer wheat, barley, lentils, chickpeas, flax, fenugreek, olive (both leaves and oil), almond, date palm, garlic, cumin, and coriander. (Zohary & Hopf, 1994)

1100 Soybean (Glycine max) long had been domesticated in China. It is thought that by 300 B.C. soybeans became one of two major food crops for northern China. By A.D.100 soybean was common throughout China and Korea. Lotus also was known to have been a crop by this time.

1000 Archaeological evidence shows peanuts were cultivated at this time in Peru, demonstrating that the peanut is truly native to South America.

1000 By this time it is certain that oats were cultivated, most probably originating as weeds in wheat and barley fields. (Zohary & Hopf, 1994)

780 Lu Yu, the Tea Sage, authored Ch’a-ching (The Classic of Tea), thought to be the first significant treatment on tea. Born in 733, Hupeh Province, China, Lu Yu is said to have grown up in the Dragon Cloud Monastery. (Hohenegger, 2007)

c694 Trees bearing wool (cotton) were introduced to Assyria by Sennacherib.

520 Bodhidarma, a Buddhist priest from India, is said to have visited the Emperor of China. Credited as China’s patriarch of Buddhism, Bodhidarma’s life is clad with legend, particularly related to long periods of meditation. Portrayed without eyelids, he is said to have cut them out and cast them to the ground, at which point a tea bush appeared. The story commemorates the importance of tea in wakefulness, and images of an unblinking Bodhidarma tie tea and zen together. (Hohenegger, 2007)

c500 The Susruta-Samhita, an Indian herbal, described 700 different plants of value. This time period in India also provides the earliest known record of banana.

c500 The oldest known Chinese herbal, the Classical Pharmacopeia of Tzu-I was written. Although no version of this book survives, its existence is documented by Shen Nung, the writer of the extant Classical Herbal (which was produced as early as 100 BC.)

c500 It is supposed that the radish was introduced to China from Europe.

450 Roman law, memorialized on twelve metal tablets, prescribed ownership and responsibility. Table VII, on Real Property, states “If a tree from a neighbor’s farm has been felled by the wind over one’s farm, … one rightfully can take legal action for that tree to be removed.” and “It shall be lawful to gather fruit falling upon another’s farm.”

c400 Hippocrates wrote numerous treatises on medicinal plants, discussing plants such as saffron, cinnamon, thyme, coriander, mint, and marjoram. (Rosengarten, 1969)

c399 Condemned to death, Socrates was allowed to administer his own sentence by drinking a potion of poison hemlock, the celery-relative Conium maculatum. (Levetin & McMahon, 1996.)

c300 Theophrastus (ca. 372-287 B.C.), the Father of Greek Botany, taught about plants from his own working knowledge of them, experience reflected in the “Inquiry” (Historia Plantarum) and “Causes” (De Causis Plantarum). Text covers 550 kinds of plants, including strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), date palm, figs, and water lilies. His avoidance of more mystical notions about plants made a seemingly auspicious beginning for botanical study. During the middle ages, however, the Theophrastan works were generally unavailable, and second-hand versions were corrupted with misinformation – thus the level of botanical knowledge available in writing actually declined. The rediscovery and printing of his works beginning in 1483 replaced muddled interpretations of plants and helped rekindle an interest in botany. (HNT)

c300 Plants known to the ancient Chinese were discussed by Erh Ya. Other treatments from the period mention cultivated crops such as yam (Dioscorea esculenta) and taro (Colocasia).

250 By this time the Maya are known to have cultivated cacao intensively in Belize.

241 Annual tribute demanded after the conquest of Sicily allowed Rome to provide wheat cheaply to its citizens. War in general brought benefits through the capture of productive acreage, the opening of markets for Roman plantation-produced wine, and the taking of slaves. (Gras, 1946)

216 The south China province of Kweilin (a word that means Cassia Forest) was founded. The Kwei River could be translated as the Cassia River. (Rosengarten, 1969) Cassia refers to the Chinese form of cinnamon, the pungent Cinnamomum cassia.

203 Tribute to Rome from Carthage included 500,000 bushels of wheat and 300,000 bushels of barley. (Root, 1980)

c50 Varro described Roman agriculture, including cultivation of grain (wheat, spelt, & barley – but not rye or oats), legumes, olive, and grapes. By this time Romans had well- developed systems of legume rotation (the use of legumes as a fertilizer crop to return nitrogen to the soil.) (Gras, 1946)

c50 Columnella wrote a treatise on Roman Agriculture, covering many subjects,including the various benefits and difficulties of managing slaves versus tenants on large properties. (Gras, 1946)

c50 Virgil, though not a botanist, gave descriptions and information concerning 164 different plants known to the Greeks in his Georgica. (HNT, 1492 edition) Advice included laying fields fallow and allowing a crop of vetch and lupine (legumes) to mature before sowing wheat. Virgil recommends the scattering of manure as well as ashes. (Gras, 1946)

43 Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero, De natura deorum academica, in translation by H. Rackham, 1933, Loeb Classical Library, London: William Heinemann) : “We enjoy the fruits of the plains and of the mountains, the rivers and the lakes are ours, we sow corn, we plant trees, we fertilize the soil by irrigation, we confine rivers and straighten or divert their courses. In fine, by means of our hands we essay to create as it were a second world within the world of nature.” (Williams, 2006)

24 Aelius Gallus, the Egyptian prefect for Augustus’ Roman Empire, led an ill-fated campaign to conquer the South Arabian spice kingdoms. (Rosengarten, 1969)


c32 The extreme value of spikenard, a fragrant emollient made from Nardostachys jatamansi, is highlighted in a Biblical episode in Mark 14:3-6. A believer is chastised by other supporters for anointing Christ with the expensive spikenard, which could have been sold for charity. By the time of Pliny [See c70] the increase in direct Roman trade with India [See c40] lowered the cost of spikenard to one-third of the value it held before Roman fleets began to sail with the monsoons. (Rosengarten, 1969)

c32 Biblical account of Palm Sunday. The date palm has long been considered the tree of life in deserts of the Old World. With70% sugar content the fruit serve humans and other animals. Moreover, the date palm is associated with fertility and fecundity.

C40 The Greek merchant Hippalus is said to have been the first to realize that the winds from seasonal monsoons could power sailing vessels between Egypt and the pepper- producing Malabar coast of India. This led to extensive development of Roman fleets, which captured the Indian spice trade from overland routes controlled by Arab traders. An account of this trade is recorded in The Periplus…, a treatise known from about 90 A.D. (Rosengarten, 1969)

c47 The approximate, presumed year in which Aulus Cornelius Celsus compiled De Medicina, a famous medical treatise constituting extant elements of Celsus’s much larger encyclopedic work (now lost) covering all aspects of Roman knowledge and technologies. As with other ancient, classical texts, no original survives; what we have is transmitted and augmented cultural history that was passed on in manuscript until publication was feasible. De Medicina was first printed in Florence, 1478, as one of the earliest medicinal incunables. Celsus’s text is core to European medicine, considered the foundation of later scientific/medical Latin. Scotsman James Grieve’s translation was published in 1756, the first English version of an ancient medical text. A legendary concoction described in De Medicina is mithridate, a complex potion named for its supposed-inventor Mithridates IV, who lived a century prior to Celsus. Fearing he was being poisoned (like his father), Mithridates is claimed to have fortified himself against future attacks through ingesting low levels of known poisons in a complex draught. Celsus is credited with having compiled the earliest Mithridate recipe, consisting of nearly 40 ingredients (and even more in other formulations). The translation given in Wikipedia (2019) includes: costmary (Tanacetum balsamita), sweet flag (Acorus calamus), hypericum, natural gum, sagapenum (Ferula), acacia juice, Illyrian iris (probably Iris germanica), cardamom, anise, Gallic nard (Valeriana italica), gentian root, dried rose leaves, poppy-tears (Papaver rhoeas, a wild poppy with low opiate content), parsley, casia (Cinnamomum cassia), saxifrage, darnel (the poisonous grass Lolium temulentum), long pepper, storax (resin from the bark of Liquidambar orientalis), castoreum, frankincense, hypocistis juice (from the parasitic flowering plant Cytinus), myrrh, opopanax (probably resin from Commiphora), malabathrum leaves, flower of round rush, turpentine-resin, galbanum (perhaps Cinnamomum tamala), Cretan carrot seeds, nard (Nardostachys jatamansi), opobalsam (perhaps the same as opopanax), shepherd’s purse, rhubarb root (Rheum), saffron, ginger, and cinnamon. This is, of course, preposterous. There is no way Celsus (if he really existed) would have known of these materials. Castoreum, for example, is a fragrant compound extracted from the anal glands of beavers, which are not native to the Mediterranean. Or perhaps it should have been translated as Castor Oil, which (in pure form) will contain ricin, a very toxic lectin. Regardless, recipes for Mithridate are embellished frauds, highly vaunted among mysteries and secrets that dominated cures before the 19th century.In this particular instance, it is almost impossible to imagine that a Roman writer in 37 AD had knowledge of, or access to, the range of ingredients in the translated formula. The list, by itself, suggests to me that the manuscript was not truly original to Celsus, rather it was created/embellished in the Middle Ages. (Link to Wikipedia: In Greek-based texts, the universal antidote is often termed Theriac (sugary treacles were the English substitute).

c50 Dioscorides (the Father of Medical Botany) authored his Materia Medica (HNT), a compilation of descriptions and medicinal uses for plants, including about 650 different species. As the most widely known western botanical text during the middle ages, Dioscorides’ work became the basis for most early herbals. With an expanding awareness of the natural world in the 16th-century, herbalists began to make their own descriptions of plants, and at last Dioscorides’s influence waned. In quoting Ludwig Choulant on Dioscoride’s influence (1841, Handbuch der Bücherkunde für die ältere Medicin): “He was the most important writer of all of antiquity on the subject of materia medica. to the later Greek physicians, to the Arabs and Arabicists as well, he was an infallible oracle. Even to the time of the sixteenth century, the habit could not be broken of believing that in pharmacology and in botany there could be anything beyond the teachings of Dioscorides.” (Stannard, 1999, IX, 16)

c70 Pliny (Caius Plinius Secundus, A.D. 23-79), in his compilation called a Natural History (HNT), discussed about 1000 different plants. Well known throughout the middle ages, Pliny’s book constituted a major source of information on plants. Primarily an historian and storyteller, Pliny related accounts uncritically, even fancifully. Once original, rarer source documents were discovered and printed, errors in Pliny’s account became more obvious. Still the work remains valuable; it is through Pliny that we know the exact costs of many products, and that farmers alternated crops, such as beans and spelt. Recognized in his comments was the growing trend of farm land consolidation into slave-maintained plantations. (Gras, 1946) On teaching: “Yes indeed, those who have gained a little knowledge keep it in a grudging spirit secret to themselves, and to teach nobody else increase the prestige of their learning.” (transl. Eamon, 1994)

79 On 24 August, Pompeii was buried by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Walnuts were left at a table, uneaten by priests whose meal was terminally interrupted. (Root, 1980)

c90 John predicted the fall of Rome (disguised as Babylon,) describing how the merchants of that city would mourn the loss of their cinnamon and frankincense. (Rosengarten, 1969)

105 In this year, according to tradition, the first paper was made. Paper maker, Ts’ai Lun (also written Cai Lun), used the inner bark of paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), as well as other material, such as fish nets. (Levetin & McMahon, 1996; Kurlansky, 2016)

c170 A wreath of delicate flowers was placed in a tomb. Among the flowers were roses, which having been unearthed, are considered among the oldest extant specimens. These came from excavations of a cemetery in Hawara, Egypt (Fayum Province), led by William Flinders Petrie, and when moistened in 1888 by George Schweinfurth revealed detail preserved in lovely perfection. Samples were delivered to rosarian Pierre-Charlesl-Marie Cochet in 1908. See page 10 in Phillips & Rix (1993) for interesting transcriptions of correspondence between people involved in that discovery. (Phillips & Rix, 1993)

280 Roman Emperor Probus rescinded the edict of Domitian, which had prohibited planting grape vineyards in outlying provinces. (Johnson, 1989)

290 A Peruvian Moche warrior priest was interred/entombed with gold and silver jewelry shaped like peanuts. (Levetin & McMahon, 1996)

c310 Several of over 150 “bog people” that had been discovered and examined from peat bogs of Northern Europe were examined by Danish archaeologist Peter Vilhelm Glob. In the person he calls Grauballe Man (excavated south of the Danish village of Grauballe), stomach contents included remains of 63 different “grains” – domesticated and wild plant seed of all sorts. Wheat, barley, rye, and oats were included in the inventory, reminding us these grasses were all in cultivation and widely available at that time Glob’s studies were recorded in his popular book The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved (published in Danish, 1965, referencing the English translation 1969, Barnes and Noble Books)

332 Constantine issued an edict that bound tenants to country parcels, ensuring continued cultivation of land that might otherwise be abandoned. (Gras, 1946)

335 Cloves were delivered to Constantine – the first record of this spice in the West. The source of cloves, flower buds of Syzygium aromaticum, had been known in China for centuries. Etiquette in the Han Court demanded that a person received by the emperor hold a clove in his mouth to sweeten the breath. (Root, 1980)

c350 During the middle ages popular herbals of very little scientific content appeared. They contained no observations beyond those taken from Dioscorides. The various versions of Apuleius’ herbals were unfortunate simplifications both in text and in accuracy of plant illustrations. The Huntington has a printed edition of Apuleius (1483), considered to be the first printed herbal.

400 Haric (Alaric) the Goth demanded 3000 lbs of black pepper as part of the ransom for the city of Rome. His assaults on the city continued, and Rome fell on 24 August 410 after the third siege. (Rosengarten, 1969)

500 Coffee, apparently native to the mountains of Ethiopia, was known as a beverage in Arabia. It was first thought to have been roasted in the 1450’s, with drinking of brewed coffee spreading to Egypt by 1510, to Constantinople in 1550, to Venice in 1616, to England in 1650, and to Holland in 1690. By 1600, coffee was grown in India, Ceylon, and the East Indies. Cultivation moved to the West Indies and Brasil via propagation from a single tree that was grown in Amsterdam. [See 1706]

548 Cosmas Indicopleustes wrote his Topographia Christiana, describing the harvesting and processing of black pepper (Piper nigrum.) (Rosengarten, 1969)

593 Tea is said to have been taken to Japan, where it assumed a major role in Buddhist ritual. (Simpson, 1989)

c600 Mohammed was partial owner of a shop in Mecca, trading in plant products such as myrrh, frankincense, and spices. (Rosengarten, 1969)

610 Papermaking is said to have been first introduced from China to Japan. (Levetin & McMahon, 1996)

632 Mohammed’s death. His injunction against consumption of alcohol had immediate impact, such that within ten years of his demise, drinking was already banned inArabia and much of the new Islamic empire (Egypt, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia,and Armenia.) (Johnson,1989)

674 China’s governmental authorities required paper manufactured for official documents be impregnated with natural toxins to reduce damage caused by insects. (Kurlansky, 2016) The original source for this citation is not given, but the name of the plant thought to be the source of the poison (philodendron) cannot be correct. Perhaps the source was berries was the Chinese Phellodendron, a member of the citrus family.

725 Wynfrith of Crediton (Boniface) felled the Donar oak at Geismar (near Hesse, Germany), a tree held as a sacred pillar (an Irminsul) by pagan Germanic tribes. The wood was said to have been used later to construct a chapel lectern. (Stannard, 1999)

746 The Dutch and Germans began adding hops to beer. The British would not use hops until after 1524. (Simpson, 1989) Hops adds its own unique flavor to beer,and is said to retard spoilage.

764 The Benedictine monastery of Lorsch was established. In an overt attempt to colonize the area, Charlemagne assigned control of royal forest in the Odenwald area to the Lorsch and Amorbach abbeys. By 900, Odenwald’s Unter-Flockenbach community was developing along the Waldhufendorf pattern, which came to characterize German forest- clearing settlements into the 13th century. (Williams, 2006; See also: Jan Horák & Tomáš Klír , 2017.

775 Charlemagne gave the upper slopes of the hill of Corton to the Abbey of Saulieu, where vineyards have a great history. Wine from this zone is still called Corton- Charlemagne. (Johnson, 1989)

812 Charlemagne ordered imperial farms in Germany to grow anise, fennel, fenugreek, and flax. (Rosengarten, 1969)

857 Several thousand people perished in the Rhine Valley, victims of St. Anthony’s fire. Today we know this condition to be a type of poisoning resulting from a toxic fungal infection (ergot) of rye. The fungal pathogen discolors the grain but gives limited hints otherwise as to spoilage. Epidemics were most serious during times of famine when people consumed grain that might otherwise have been discarded. Outbreaks occurred from time to time until 1816. The active ingredient is ergotamine. One study suggests that the Salem, MA witch trials resulted from hallucinations of important community members who were exposed to contaminated rye. (Root, 1980)

867 King Charles the Bald granted land on the Loire at Chablis to the Chapter of St. Martin at Tours for a vineyard. Because the Loire connects to the Seine, this wine became well known in Paris. (Johnson, 1989)

900 People in Flanders and Zeeland began systems of dikes to exclude the sea from lowland areas to create land for agriculture. In response to rising population, the same treatment began in Holland some 300 years later. (Ponting, 1991)

903 Ibn al-Faqih published Mukhtasar Kitab al-Buldan, which is interpreted to describe sorghum and cowpeas as food staples for Ghana. R. L. Hall in Viola & Margolis, 1991)

1000 Many plants, including spinach and olive, arrived in Spain with the Moors.

1150 Paper was first produced in Europe – introduced to Spain by the Moors. (Levetin & McMahon, 1996)

1057 Chinese Emperor Jen Tsung ordered a new national pharmacopeia be written. More than 1000 drawings were received in Hangchow and the treatment covered over 1000 plants.

1070 Mythical (and impossible to specify chronologically) in this year of the Shire- reckoning, Tobold Hornblower of Longbottom first cultivated the real pipe-weed (or “leaf”, presumably a Nicotiana, though tobacco is native to the New World) at his gardens in the Southfarthing. (Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings Part One: The Fellowship of the Ring, 1st ed. 1954, 18th Ballantine Books ed, 1991)

1180 A consortium of pepper wholesale merchants, a pepperers’ guild, was founded in London. Later this organization merged with a spicers’ guild. In 1429 the spicers’ guild became The Grocers’ Company (the word “grocer” from vendre en gros, French for wholesale.) By charter, this organization managed trade in spices, drugs, and dyestuffs; guild members held exclusive right to “garble” – which meant to select and process spices and medicinal products. (Rosengarten, 1969)

c1200 Opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, was introduced to China.

1236 The Statute of Merton gave English manor lords the right to enclose parts of the common woods, waste, and pasture. By 1485 the Tudor move toward increased enclosure further exacerbated problems with tenants, contributing to an uprising called Ket’s rebellion in 1549. (Gras, 1946)

1250 Having settled in New Zealand by 950 AD, Maori populations had grown to approximately 10,000 inhabitants. Utilizing fire as a clearing and game management tool, researchers estimate the Maoris had burned 8,000,000 acres of forest. (Williams, 2006)

1256 Albertus Magnus produced De Vegetabilibus, based on ancient herbals with some added observations and descriptions.

1300 Villanova detailed Poems for Health, recommending nut oils for cooking. (Root, 1980)

1315 From 1315 through the year 1317, medieval Europe had a significant famine. Following less than half normal crop production in 1315, people began consuming the seed supply for the next year. Wheat prices soared. Over 50% of livestock died, the poor starved. By 1318 bodies in Ireland were disinterred for food. (Ponting,1991)

1324 William of Ockham established a philosophical viewpoint that avoids complicated explanations: “What can be accounted for by fewer assumptions is explained in vain by more.” Called Ockham’s Razor, this approach admonishes scientists to search for the most “parsimonious” solutions to their questions. (HNT, first publication in 1495)

1358 The Jacquerie, an early, notable European peasant revolt, endured for 2 months. Brigands had so plundered the region (destroying unprotected villages and isolated homesteads, taking loot and food and leaving in their wake death, carnage, ruined homes, destroyed stores, trampled fields, and uprooted vines) that peasant farmers failed to replant for fear of further loss. In desperation peasant countrymen came together, at first in rebellion against deplorable conditions, eventually in retaliation. Though this and other movements were quelled, similar revolts (stemming from brigandry, manorialism, and feudalism) occurred throughout Europe (most notably in England in 1381 and Germany in 1525) for centuries. These revolts would continue to expand in scope and shift in epicenter, presaging the French Revolution of 1779 and the 1918 Russian Revolution. (Gras, 1946)

1358 Merchants were held to strict standards in Germany. In this year, Nuremberg instituted standards for Saffron – a law called Safranschau. Alexander Blythe (1882) reports records of severe punishment for adulterating products, such that in 1444 a very unfortunate vender named Jobst Fendeker and his false saffron were burned to death. (Blythe, 1882)

1450 Nicolaus of Cusa wrote De Staticus Experimentis, in which he proposed a plant physiology experiment similar to the van Helmont work of 1648. (David Hersey, Misconceptions about Helmont’s Willow Experiment, 2003, in Plant Science Bulletin on line, 48(3): 78.)

1450 Born in the 1450s: Aldus Manutius (who first  edited and published so very many ancient manuscripts), Giovanni Coboto, (John Cabot, the explorer), Hieronymus van Aken (Hieronymus Bosch, the artist who created “The Garden of Earthly Delights”), Cristoforo Colombo (Columbus, who led expeditions from Europe that first opened the Americas to discovery and settlement), Leonardo da Vinci (the artist and visionary), Amerigo Vespucci (who demonstrated the New World was separate from Asia, and gave his name to the Americas), and Petrus Martyr (Peter Martyr, an early historian of the Americas).

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