P.L. Simmonds.

The Commercial Products of the Vegetable Kingdom Considered in Their Various Uses to Man and in Their Relation to the Arts and Manufactures; Forming a Practical Treatise & Handbook of Reference for th online

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easy digestion. A tolerably good imitation of it is made by beating,
stirring, and drying potato starch in a similar way.

The grated starch of the roots, floated in water, is spontaneously
deposited, and when repeatedly washed and dried in the sun, forms
cassava flour, called "Moussache" by the French.

The juice of the bitter cassava, mixed with molasses and fermented,
has been made into an intoxicating liquor, which is much relished by
the negroes and Indians.

The concentrated juice of the bitter cassava, under the name of
cassareep, forms the basis of the West India dish, "pepper pot." One
of its most remarkable properties is its highly antiseptic power,
preserving meat that has been boiled in it for a much longer period
than can be done by any other culinary process. Cassareep was
originally an Indian preparation.

The manioc or cassava is cultivated in America, on both sides of the
equator, to about latitude 30 degrees north and south. Among the
mountains of intertropical America, it reaches to an elevation of
3,200 feet. It is cultivated also in great abundance on the island of
Zanzibar, and among the negro tribes of Eastern Africa to the
Monomoesy, inclusive; on the west coast of Africa, in Congo and
Guinea. It appears not to have been introduced into Asia. The farina
of the manioc is almost the only kind of meal used in Brazil, at least
in the north, near the equator. An acre of manioc is said to yield as
much nutriment as six acres of wheat. Meyen states, "It is not
possible sufficiently to praise the beautiful manioc plant." The
Indians find in this a compensation for the rice and other cerealia of
the Old World. It has been carried from Brazil to the Mauritius and

The following quantities of Brazilian arrowroot, or tapioca, were
imported in the undermentioned years: -

1833 942
1834 888
1835 1,663
1836 3,735
1837 2,142
1838 462
1839 402
1840 983
1841 1,870
1843 2,325

St. Lucia grows a considerable quantity of manioc; it exported of
cassava flour in -

1827 8
1828 814
1829 279
1830 99
1831 59
1834 713

The cassava root grows abundantly in most of the West India islands
and tropical America; the trouble of planting is inconsiderable, and
the profit arising from its manufacture, even by the common process of
hand-grating, is immense. I should be glad if I could induce the
enterprising of our colonial settlers to give this a fair trial, as
well as encourage the present growers to increase their crops and
improve the quality of the article, so as to render it suitable for
the English market. The manufacture of starch will one of these days
become a productive source of colonial wealth. Since cassava was first
grown in the West, its capabilities as a starch-producer have, to a
certain extent, been known, and for that purpose it has been in
limited use.

Mr. James Glen, of Haagsbosch plantation, Demerara, has recently
tested its value as an article of export, and added it to the other
industrial resources of that colony.

This gentleman, by erecting machinery on his plantation for grinding
the root and preparing the starch of the bitter cassava, has already
shipped the article in considerable quantities to Europe, and it has
been sold at a price which puts the profit upon sugar cultivation
completely to the blush. His agent in Glasgow writes, that any
quantity (like that already shipped) can command a ready sale at 9d.
per lb. Its use is co-extensive, or nearly so, with that of sugar. The
productive capabilities of the soil are not perhaps generally known;
nor is it necessary that, to pay the grower there, it should bring
even half that price. A sample of a ton, which was prepared at
Haagsbosch in 1841, was submitted for examination to Dr. Shier, at the
colonial laboratory, Georgetown, who admitted it to be a beautiful
specimen of starch, although it had undergone but _one_ washing. The
root from which it was made, was planted eight or nine months
previously, upon an acre of soil, which had never undergone any
preparation of ploughing, or been broken and turned up in any way. The
plants were never weeded after they had begun to spring, nor were they
tended or disturbed until they were ripe and pulled up. The expense of
planting the acre was five dollars, and reaping this crop would, I
suppose, amount to as much more, say £2 in all. The green cassava was
never weighed, but the acre yielded fully a ton of starch - equal, at
9d. per lb., to £84.

The experimental researches of Dr. Shier have led him to believe that
the green bitter cassava will give one-fifth its weight of starch. If
this be the case the return per acre would, under favorable
circumstances, when the land is properly worked, be enormous. On an
estate at Essequibo, a short time ago, an acre of cassava, grown in
fine permeable soil, was lifted and weighed; it yielded 25 tons of
green cassava. Such a return as this per acre would enable our West
India colonies to inundate Great Britain with food, and at a rate
which would make flour to be considered a luxury. Dr. Shier is
convinced that, in thorough drained land, where the roots could
penetrate the soil, and where its permeability would permit of their
indefinite expansion, a return of 25 tons an acre might uniformly be
calculated upon. What a blessing, not only for those colonies, but for
the world, would the introduction be of this cheap and nutritious
substitute for the potato.


In the present disturbed state of the grain markets of Europe, the
advantage of cultivating plants which directly or indirectly can form
a substitute for the potato, admits of no doubt. It appears to me,
moreover, that when the way is once opened up, even under ordinary
circumstances, the tropical colonies of Great Britain, without
diminishing the quantity of sugar and coffee they produce, could
advantageously supply the British market with the purest starches, and
possibly also with various other articles of farinaceous food.
Anything that will lead the planters to a more varied cultivation than
the present uniform and persistent one, will be advantageous to our
colonies; and the growth of farinaceous root crops for exportation,
cannot fail to produce most beneficial effects on that class of the
peasantry in the British possessions, who are owners of small lots of
land, which at present they either totally neglect, or cultivate most

In 1846, Dr. A. Gesner, one of my correspondents, called attention, in
my "Colonial Magazine," to two indigenous roots of North America,
which he thought deserving special attention. These were _Apios
tuberosa_, and _Claytonia acutiflora_, _or Virginiana_.

1. _A. tuberosa_ (Boerhave), or _Glycine Apios_. - This plant is common
throughout the Northern and Southern States of America, and is also
met with in the lower British North American Provinces. It is known
under the native name of _Saa-ga-ban_ by the Micmac Indians, by whom
the pear-shaped roots are used as an article of food. Like the
_Arachis hypogæa_, it belongs to the Leguminosæ family. The fruit and
flower resemble those of the wood vetch. It is thus described in
Professor Eaton's "Manual of Botany for North America," published in
1836: - "Color of corolla, blue and purple; time of flowering, July
(and August in Nova Scotia), perennial; stem, twining; leaves,
pinnate, with seven lance-ovate leaflets; racemes shorter than the
leaves, axillary; root, tuberous. Root very nutritive; ought to be
generally cultivated."

The average size of the tubers is that of cherries, but a few are
found of much larger dimensions. In their appearance they resemble the
common potato, having apparently the peculiar indentations called
eyes. The skin of the tuber is of a rusty or blackish brown color. The
interior is very white, and the root has the taste and odor of the
common potato. The Indians state that the roots, if kept either in a
dry or moist state, will not suffer any decay for a lengthened period.
They are very farinaceous, and contain a large per centage of starch,
which resembles that of wheat; by being dried the tuber shrinks a
little, but it immediately expands on being thrown into warm water. It
contains much nutritive matter, is wholesome, and I have no doubt, if
properly cultivated, it will prove to be very prolific. The tubers are
situated a few inches below the surface of the soil, and are strung
together like beads by a strong ligament.

A similar kind of earth-nut, or tuberous root, probably the _Glycine
subterranea_ of Linnæus, the Voandzou of Madagascar, is extensively
cultivated in various parts of Africa.

2. _Claytonia acutiflora_ or _Virginiana_, the Musquash of the Micmac
Indians, is found throughout the Northern and Southern States of North
America. It is thus described by Prof. Eaton, "Man. Bot. N.A." - "Color
of corolla, white and red; situation, alpine, perennial; leaves,
linear, lance-ovate; petals, obovate, retuse; leaves of the calyx,
somewhat acute; root, tuberous. It blossoms in May. The seed is ripe
in June, when the plant disappears."

These roots may be collected along the sea coasts and principal lakes
and rivers of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward's Island,
although they are not plentiful, for they are greedily devoured by
some of the wild animals, and wherever swine have been permitted to
run at large they have been destroyed.

Dr. Gesner shipped several bushels of the saa-ga-ban to the principal
agricultural societies in Great Britain, also to Halifax, and Nova
Scotia. The ordinary potato of this country does not yield more than
14 per cent. of starch, and it contains 76 per cent. of water. From
the best saa-ga-ban Dr. Gesner obtained 21 per cent. of starch, and
the quantity of water is reduced to 50 per cent. It also contains
vegetable albumen, gum, and sugar. From these facts it is evident that
the saa-ga-ban is much more nutritive than the potato, and the weight
of the tubers, in their wild state, compared with the weight of the
slender vine in the best samples, is equal in proportion to the common
cultivated potato in its ordinary growth. The starch is very white,
and closely resembles that made from the arrowroot. It is not
improbable that the quantity of water in the tuber will be increased
by cultivation; yet the fibrous parenchyma will be reduced, and taken
altogether, the nutritive properties will be increased; if the plant
improve as much by cultivation as the potato and many others have
done, its success is certain.

The North American Indians have several wild roots which they dig up
for sustenance when other food is exhausted. Among these are - 1st, the
mendo, or wild sweet potato; 2nd, the tip-sin-ah, or wild prairie
turnip; 3rd, the omen-e-chah, or wild bean. The first is found
throughout the valleys of the Mississippi and St. Peter's, about the
basis of bluffs, in rather moist but soft and rich ground. The plant
resembles the sweet potato, and the root is similar in taste and
growth. It does not grow so large or long as the cultivated sweet
potato, but I should have thought it the same, were it not that the
wild potato is not affected by the frost. A woman will dig from a peck
to half a bushel a day.

The Indians eat them, simply boiled in water, but prefer them cooked
with fat meat.

The wild potato, of the north-west of America, is a general article of
food; it is called by them wabessepin; it resembles the common potato,
is mealy when boiled, and grows only in wet clay ground, about one and
a half feet deep. The crane potato, called sitchauc-wabessepin, is of
the same kind, but inferior in quality. The Indians use these for food
as well as the memomine, and another long and slender root called
watappinee. Probably it is the first of these that is referred to by
Nicollet, as the prairie potato. "All the high prairies (he says)
abound with the silver-leafed _Psoralia_, which is the prairie turnip
of the Americans, the _pomme des prairies_ of the Canadians, and
furnishes an invaluable food to the Indians." There are several
species of _Psoralia_, viz., _esculenta_, _argophylla_, _cuspidata_,
and _lanceolata_.

The prairie turnip grows on the high dry prairies, one or two
together, in size from that of a small hen's egg to that of a goose
egg, and of the same form. They have a thick black or brown bark, but
are nearly pure white inside, with very little moisture. They are met
with four to eight inches below the surface, and are dug by the women
with a long pointed stick, forced into the ground and used as a lever.
They are eaten boiled and mashed like a turnip, or are split open and
dried for future use. In this state they resemble pieces of chalk. It
is said that when thus dried they may be ground into flour, and that
they make a very palatable and nutritious bread. M. Lamare Picot, a
French naturalist, has lately incurred a very considerable expense to
obtain the seed, which he has carried to France, believing that it is
capable of cultivation, and may form a substitute both for potato and

The wild bean is found in all parts of the valleys where the land is
moist and rich. It is of the size of a large white bean, with a rich
and very pleasant flavor. When used in a stew, I have thought it
superior to any garden vegetable I had ever tasted. The Indians are
very fond of them, and pigeons get fat on them in spring. The plant is
a slender vine, from two to four feet in height, with small pods two
to three inches long, containing three to five small beans. The pod
dries and opens, the beans fall to the ground, and in spring take root
and grow again. The beans on the ground are gathered by the Indians,
who sometimes find a peck at once, gathered by mice for their winter

There are also several kinds of edible roots growing in the ponds or
small lakes, which are gathered by the Indians for food.

The _psui-cinh-chah_, or swamp potato, is found in mud and water,
about three feet deep. The leaf is as large as the cabbage leaf. The
stem has but one leaf, which has, as it were, two horns or points. The
root is obtained by the Indian women; they wade into the water and
loosen the root with their feet, which then floats, and is picked up
and thrown into a canoe. It is of an oblong shape, of a whitish
yellow, with four black rings around it, of a slightly pungent taste,
and not disagreeable when eaten with salt or meat.

The _psui-chah_, with a stem and leaf similar to the last, has a root
about the size of a large hickory-nut. They grow in deep water, and
being smaller are much more difficult to get, but the Indians prefer
them; they have an agreeable taste, and are harder and firmer when
cooked. Both these roots are found in large quantities in the musk-rat
lodges, stored by them for winter use.

The _ta-wah-pah_, with a stem, leaf, and yellow flower, like the
pond-lily, is found in the lakes, in water and mud, from four to five
feet deep. The Indian women dive for them, and frequently obtain as
many as they are able to carry. The root is from one to two feet in
height, very porous; there are as many as six or eight cells running
the whole length of the root. It is very difficult to describe the
flavor. It is slightly sweet and glutinous, and is generally boiled
with wild fowl, but is occasionally roasted.

In his exploring expedition into the interior of Guiana, in the region
of the Upper Essequibo, Sir E. Schomburgk notices the discovery of a
variety of Leguminosæ, whose tubers grow to an enormous size, fully
equal to the largest yam. These roots were not, at the time he was
there, in full perfection, but their taste was somewhat between the
yam and the sweet potato. The Taruma Indians called them Cuyupa. The
roots are considered fit for use when the herb above ground dies. Sir
Robert brought a few of the seeds of the plant with him on his return
to Demerara.

Two interesting productions have been recently introduced into the
Jardin des Plantes, at Paris, from the Ecuador, by M. Bourcier,
formerly Consul-General of France in that country. One is the red and
yellow _ocas_, which is of the form of a long potato, and has the
taste of a chesnut; the other is the _milloco_, which has the taste
and form of our best potatoes. These two roots, which are found in
great abundance in the neighbourhood of Quito, grow readily in the
poorest land. The _oca_ is cultivated in the fields of Mexico, but
only succeeds in the warmer districts. From the bulbous roots of the
cacomite, a species of _Tigridia_, a good flour is also prepared

Stevenson ("Travels in South America," vol. ii., p. 55) says, a root
called the oca is cultivated in several of the colder provinces of
Peru. "This plant," he states, "is of a moderate size, in appearance
somewhat like the acetous trefoil; the roots yellow, each about five
or six inches long, and two in circumference. They have many eyes, and
the roots, several of which are yielded by one plant, are somewhat
curved. When boiled it is much sweeter than the camote or batata;
indeed it appears to contain more saccharine matter than any root I
ever tasted; if eaten raw it is very much like the chesnut. The roots
may be kept for many months in a dry place. The transplanting of the
oca (he adds) to England, where I am persuaded it would prosper, would
add another agreeable and useful esculent to our tables."

The Brussels paper, _L'Emancipation_, mentions that a root has been
discovered by the Director of the Museum of Industry, in that place,
destined to take the place of the potato. It is the _Lathyrus
tuberosus_, called by the peasants the earth mouse, on account of its
form, and the earth chesnut on account of its taste. This plant exists
only in some localities of Lorraine and Burgundy. The Lathyrus has
never been cultivated, and it is thought that it will attain, with
cultivation, the size of the potato. The French peasants have a
prejudice against cultivating it, because they say it walks under
ground, and leaves the place it is planted in to go into the
neighbouring field. The fact is, that it grows in a chaplet, of which
the bulbs are arranged along a root running horizontally, of which the
two extremities are very rarely found, so that on taking up the
hinder tubercles it continues its growth in front, which gives rise to
the saying that if the plant had only time enough, it would make the
tour of the world.

The bulb of _Gastrodia sesamoides_ (R. Brown), a curious herbaceous
species of orchis, native of New Holland, is edible, and preferred by
the aborigines to potatoes and other tuberous roots. Some of my
accredited informants believe it might be turned to profitable
account, but being a parasitic plant, it could scarcely be
systematically cultivated. It flourishes in its wild state on loamy
soil in low or sloping grounds. The first indication of its vegetation
in the spring, is the appearance of a whitish bulb above the sward, of
an hemispherical shape, and about the size of a small egg. The dusky
white covering resembles a fine white net, and within it is a pellucid
gelatinous substance. Again within this is a firm kernel, about as
large as a Spanish nut, and from this a fine fibrous root descends
into the soil. It is known in Van Diemen's Land, and other parts of
Australia, by the common name of native bread. Captain Hunter, in his
Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson on the first settlement of
the Convict Colony, speaks of finding large quantities of "wild yams,"
on which the natives fed, but the roots were not bigger than a walnut;
therefore it was probably this plant.

_Arracacha esculenta_, of Bancroft and Decandolle (_Conium
Arracacha_). - This perennial herb is a native of South America, which,
from its salubrious qualities, is extensively cultivated in the
mountains of Venezuela and other parts of tropical and Southern
America, for culinary purposes. It is propagated by planting pieces of
the tuberous root, in each of which is an eye or shoot. The late Baron
de Shack introduced it into Trinidad, from Caraccas, and it has thence
been carried to the island of Grenada. It throve there remarkably
well, but has been unaccountably neglected. He also sent roots of this
valuable plant to London, Liverpool, and Glasgow. Although it bears
cold better than the potato, it requires a warmer and more equal
temperature than most of the countries of Europe afford. It would,
however, make an excellent addition to the culinary vegetables of many
tropical countries, uniting the taste of the potato and parsnip, but
being superior to both.

The arracacha has been introduced into the South of Europe, not as a
substitute for, but as a provision against a failure of the potato
crop. It is highly recommended by the Rev. J.M. Wilson, in the "Rural

Stevenson ("Travels in South America," vol. ii., p. 383) says the
yucas (cassava), camotes (sweet potatoes), and yams cultivated at
Esmeraldas and that neighbourhood, were the finest he ever saw. "It is
not uncommon for one of these roots to weigh upwards of twenty pounds.
At one place I saw a few plants of the yuca that had stood upwards of
twenty years, the owner having frequently bared the bottom of the
plants and taken the ripe roots, after which, throwing up the earth
again, and allowing a sufficient time for new roots to grow, a
continual succession of this excellent nutritious food was procured."

The Aipi grows in Brazil, and according to T. Ashe, may be eaten raw,
and, when pressed, yields a pleasant juice for drink; or being
inspissated by the heat of the sun, is kept either to be boiled and
eaten, or dissolved and drank. The tapinambar grows in Chili, and is
used by the Indians.

The tapioca, or bay rash, a plant which grows about the out-islands of
the Bahamas group, was found of great use as a food plant to the
inhabitants of Long Island, during a scarcity of food occasioned by
the drought in 1843. This root grows in the form of a large beet, and
is from twelve to sixteen inches in length. It is entirely
farinaceous, and, when properly ground and prepared, makes good bread.
It fetches there four to six cents a pound.

The root of the kooyah plant (_Valeriana edulis_) is much used by some
of the North American Indians as food. The root is of a very bright
yellow color, with a peculiar taste and odor, and hence is called
"tobacco root." It is deprived of its strong poisonous qualities by
being baked in the ground for about two days. A variety of other roots
and tubers furnish them with food. Among these are kamas root
(_Camassia esculenta_), which is highly esteemed; the bulb has a sweet
pleasant flavor, somewhat of the taste of preserved quince. It is a
strikingly handsome bulbous plant, with large beautiful purple
flowers. Yampah root (_Anethum graveolens_) is a common article of
food with the Indians of the Rocky Mountains.

The roots of a thistle (_Cersium virginianium_, or _Carduus
virginianus_), which are about the ordinary size of carrots, are also
eaten by them. They are sweet and well flavored, but require a long
preparation to fit them for use.

The people of Southern India and Ceylon have for many hundred years
been in the habit of eating the bulb or root, which is the first shoot
from the Palmyra nut, which forms the germ of the future tree, and is
known locally as _Pannam kilingoes_. It is about the size of a common
carrot, though nearly white. It forms a great article of food among
the natives for several months in the year; but Europeans dislike it
from its being very bitter. Recent experiments have proved that a
farina superior to arrowroot can be obtained from it, prepared in the
same way; and 100 roots, costing 2½d., yield one and a-half to two
pounds of the flour.

From the boiled inner bark of the Russian larch, mixed with rye flour,
and afterwards buried a few hours in the snow, the hardy Siberian
hunters prepare a sort of leaven, with which they supply the place of
common leaven when the latter is destroyed, as it frequently is by the
intense cold. The bark is nearly as valuable as oak bark. From the
inner bark the Russians manufacture fine white gloves, not inferior to
those made of the most delicate chamois, while they are stronger,
cooler, and more pleasant for wearing in the summer.

The fruit of the _Cycas angulata_ forms the principal food of the

Online LibraryP.L. SimmondsThe Commercial Products of the Vegetable Kingdom Considered in Their Various Uses to Man and in Their Relation to the Arts and Manufactures; Forming a Practical Treatise & Handbook of Reference for th → online text (page 53 of 93)