Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pirates, Syphilis and Root Beer

I asked if anyone could identify two of the photos from my rainy day shoot - the leaf with the string of bell-like flowers, and the white ball in the old medicine jar - and sure enough, my phototog buddy Brenda C. came up with this:

"The one you were wondering the name of is striped maple, I think." Maple tree, okay, mystery solved, but ho hum. Maple. Boring, although the striped trunk is somewhat interesting. However, check out the other one:

"The little white ball of flowers in the old medicine wild sarsaparilla, I think. An interesting little herb, sarsaparilla (pronounced sass-parilla) was used by pirates in the 16th century against syphilis. But that's another version of sarsaparilla, not the WILD version."

Say what now? Pirates and syphilis? Now we've got ourselves some cool trivia. And it's interesting that I chose to put the cutting in an old medicine bottle that Doug found in the lake because it turns out, sarsaparilla is one of the oldest natural medicines around.

Remember the old soda fountains back in the day? (Think of the counter in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.) They were situated in drugstores because the druggists used to make health tonics from boiled roots and herbs, sweeten them to make them more palatable, and serve them mixed with water. Later on, at the turn of the century, carbonated water was the bee's knees so that replaced the plain water. And thus, root beer was born. It was a popular choice, and the base consisted of ginger root, sassafras root and sarsaparilla along with other ingredients the druggist threw in, things like coriander seed, cloves or licorice root. I happen to love root beer. It's my absolute favourite soft drink (or "pop" in the rest of Canada, and "soda" in the U.S.)

The health benefits of ginger are well known; it is used to treat nausea, arthritis, and migraines amongst other things because of its anti-inflammation properties, and indeed, if you are to believe Henry VIII, it even guards against the plague.

Sassafras Root is a known diaphoretic, that is, it makes one sweat profusely, or if you are a woman, perspire like an icy root beer on a hot day in July.

And the lowly Sarsaparilla Root found in my garden? Well, the Huron tribe used it to heal wounds, and Spanish explorers used it as a blood purifier and "body enhancer" (which sounds a bit vague, but heck, I'll buy into that.) And it seems most First Nations people used sarsaparilla as an all-round general tonic, good for just about everything that ails you - heart pain, toothache, pneumonia, psoriasis, and even.....syphilis. Just like those naughty pirates after, say, one of their raucous shore leaves on Spring Break.

Now the commercial root beers we know and love today may not be made with these ingredients, but we don't really know for sure as the recipes used are all trade secrets. But I'm willing to go out on a limb and drink more root beer in the hopes that the "body enhancer" claims still hold true. Or, failing that, I can dig up a sarsaparilla plant or two in my backyard and start my own brew.

Now there's a marketing idea for you - healthy soft drinks.

Bottoms up!


laughingwolf said...

good stuff, pam... i got 'educated' this morning :)

STD testing said...

I am so excited that in the long run there appeared the article that mixes facts and urgency, thanks