Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History
I have just read a gripping saga. Ostensibly, it's about plants, but actually, it's about us. This collection of anecdotes details how plants influenced human behavior which, in turn, affected the course of history. By chronicling the commercial activity surrounding the discovery and marketing of the food we eat, the beverages we drink, and the plants we transform, the author describes how those activities impacted wars, political boundaries, habits, social behavior, and addictions. I thought that I would be reading an encyclopedia of the history of important plants, but in fact, I was delving into an immensely fascinating epic about western civilization. No sooner had I completed an exciting chapter about one plant, when I could hardly wait to begin reading about the next.
The influence that plants had, and still continue to have, on our lives becomes apparent when we think about the amount of fossil fuel we consume, the large number of botanical gardens constructed around the world, and the considerable investments we make in our gardens. But that is only a small part of the bigger story. With this publication, the author identifies 50 plants that have altered the history of life on earth. Here are just a few tid-bits:-
-The discovery of the pineapple in the New World inspired the invention of the green house in Europe.
-Hemp was used to manufacture the paper used to write the American Declaration of Independence.
-Agave is used in the manufacture of bullets.
-Coconut is integral to making sterile I.V. drips.
-The opium poppy transformed the history of China. .
-Trade in black pepper created a need for banking.
-Peoples' craving for sugar influenced the growth of the slave trade.
-The French revolution may be traced to the significance of bread and a poor wheat harvest.
-8,800 pounds of mulberry leaves are needed to feed silkworms to supply enough yarn to make one blouse.
-Coffee is indirectly responsible for the Boston Tea Party and Harry Potter.
-Cotton uses only 3% of the world's farmland but 25% of the world's pesticides.
- painting of sunflowers changed the art world
-Fire-resistant uniforms are manufactured using Eucalyptus.
The author reports that in addition to influencing the course of history, some plants have also contributed to the self destructive behavior of some people. Many have done themselves harm from the weight gained by overeating sugar, from administering plant - based narcotics, or by drinking alcohol. Others have damaged their bodies by inhaling nicotine into their lungs or by marinating their liver with alcoholic beverages. On balance though, we also experience safe pleasures from plants by drinking tea or wine, by inhaling the fragrance of flowers, and by stroking a silk garment.
Reading this book is better than watching a documentary. It runs at a fast-paced clip from one plant to another, constantly revealing fascinating details about civilization, economics, and above all, human nature.