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* HERBS & SPICES by Wm. Gorby

* Without going into a great deal of information about each of the herbs or spices available, I thought that perhaps I would discuss some of the more common herbs/spices that would have been in existence during the 18th century. I will also briefly talk about when they came into common use and where they are found. Remember, even though they were available during the 18th century, depending on your personae and your geographical area, you may not have had access to the spice or the money required to obtain the item. Also, early on, people actually prized certain herbs or spices for their supposed medicinal qualities rather than their ability as a flavor enhancer.

Some of the more common herbs of this time were members of the mint family. With the exception of the sweet basil, the members of this family were all indigenous to the Mediterranean region. Basil was indigenous to Africa. The members that comprise this family are basil, marjoram, peppermint, rosemary, sage, and thyme. While oregano is also a member of this family, its use in North America was virtually nonexistent until after World War II, due to its introduction by re- turning GIs. All of the others were available to Europeans during the 18th century and all were used as far back as the time of the Roman Empire. Of these, the three most commonly used would have been peppermint, mostly for medicinal teas, sage and thyme.

Sage was used in England to make infusions prior to the introduction of tea. An infusion in this context means the herb is allowed to steep in water at room temperature instead of using boiling water. While we normally think of sage as the main flavor ingredient of sausage its association with pork was unknown prior to the mid 19th century.

Thyme was also very common in the 18th century, however it wasn’t used to flavor food, it was used as a medicine. The oil of thyme has been as an ingredient of mouthwashes and disinfectants since the early 16th century. The oil in thyme is very active in retarding the growth of the staphylococcal and salmonella bacteria. Both of the bacteria are responsible for food poisoning although each causes a different type.

Since staphylococcal is one of the main skin contaminants and is responsible for the infections most often associated with superficial cuts, scratches, and abrasions, it might be helpful and historically correct to carry a vial of thyme oil to treat cuts and scratches.

Another group of herbs that were available in the 18th century as well as the early 19th century are members of the carrot family. The flavors of this group of herbs derives its variety of flavors not from the green growth portion but from essential oils derived from the seeds. Among these herbs are anise, caraway, coriander, cumin, dill, and fennel. Each of these herbs have been used for thousands of years. All of these herbs were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Caraway seeds have been found in archeological excavations in Switzerland dating around 8,000 years ago. Coriander has been used as an herb/spice since before 5,000 B.C.. Coriander became very popular in Europe, particularly France, in the 17th century. Shortly after its arrival in France, it was widely used in England. Parsley was used by the Greeks mainly for medicinal purposes. It was introduced into England during the time of the Roman occupation, over 2,000 years ago. Cumin is mentioned in both the Old and New Test- aments and reference is made to it in early English writings well before the 18th century; actually around the time of the Norman Invasion.

Ginger, which belongs to the ginger family, along with cardamom and tumeric, comprise another group of herbs, or spices which were all available to the 18th century personae. The Chinese were using ginger in the 6th century B.C.. It app- eared in the Mediterranean area in the 1st century A.D., brought there by early traders. By the 16th century it was widely cultivated throughout the West Indies, brought there by the early Spanish exployers. Tumeric first appears in European writings in the Middle Ages, and was used not only as an herb or spice, but also as a dye for clothing. There are also a number of herbs and spices that were well known in the 18th century but are not classified under any of the previous families of plants and are not by any means related.

Allspice, native to the West Indies and Central America was first discovered during the Spanish Invasion of Mexico. It was in common use in London by 1601.

Cinnamon, is the dried inner bark of an evergreen tree in the laurel family. It is native to Asia and was traded and used extensively as long as 3,000 years ago. During the Middle Ages it was 2nd only to black pepper in popularity. It is certainly an item that would have been very common in 18th century America.

Cloves are the dried floral buds of a tropical evergreen tree, native to the East Indies. It was first used by the Chinese in 300 B.C.. It was used by the Egyptians in the 2nd century A.D. and was widely used in Europe by the 8th century.

Nutmeg is the shelled seed of an evergreen, native to the Spice Islands or the East Indies. Mace is the covering of nutmeg seed. Both are used primarily to sweeten beverages and desserts and have been used extensively since the 12th century. Both are therefore historically correct for the 18th century trekker.

Black pepper is the dried fruit of the tropical pepper vine native to India. This spice was also used as far back as the time of the Roman Empire. The fruit is picked green, allowed to ferment in the sun for a short period of time in order to develop a more pungent flavor and then dried.

And finally, there is vanilla. Native to Central America, it was unknown to Europeans prior to 400 years ago. the product is extracted from the fruit of a climbing vine that is a member of the orchid family. While this spice was available in the 18th century it would be the most difficult to obtain of all the spices and herbs discussed to this point. There were many attempts to grow the plant in other tropical areas early after its discovery but all failed. Successful growth of the plant outside Central America did not occur until the mid 19th century. Because of limited cultivation, large quantities of vanilla were never available for export until as previously noted in the 19th century.

Hopefully this simplistic overview has been beneficial to you. It has changed some of the foods that I now carry and has certainly enhanced the flavor of what I consume.

Now I would like to discuss some of the most basic 18th century foods, grains. Because grains are concentrated source of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, and are easily stored for long periods of time, they have played a crucial role in human nutrition for tens of thousands of years.

Grains are convenient. They are an excellent source of protein and are capable of long term, nonrefrigated storage. While no grains are composed of complete proteins, various cultures have learned through- out history to combine certain grains to form complete sources of protein in the diet. Even those people living in the 18th century knew which foodstuffs could be combined to produce the best diets. Remember; the body cannot store the amino acids of an incomplete protein and wait to pick up the ones it needs later in the day. The protein must be complete when ingested or it is lost. While not important for a weekend trek, it could have been the difference between life and death to the early pioneer or frontiersman.

The grains that will be discussed are wheat, barley, rice, maize, rye, and oats. The first four have been with us for thousands of years. Rye and oats are relatively recent domestications. The edible portion of the cereal plant, commonly called the grain or kernel is technically a complete fruit. Three of the grains, barley, oats, and rice bear fruits that are covered by small, tough leaf-like structures that fuse to form the husk. Wheat, rye, and maize bear naked fruits and do not have to be husked prior to milling.

Wheat is one of the oldest of the cultivated food plants. Wheat has been found in tombs and early writings as far back as 5500 B.C.. Compared to other cereals, wheat is a very demanding crop. It is very susceptible to disease, grows poorly in warm humid climates, grows best in cooler climates, but it cannot be grown as far north as rye or oats. It was brought to America in the 17th century but did not reach the great plains until 1855.

I was able to locate writings from early American history that wheat was first grown in North America in 1602. The first wheat grown in Virginia was in 1611. Wheat never achieved the status in Virginia that tobacco did. Most Virginia planters were loath to waste land on wheat since the market value of tobacco was so much greater and wheat was so hard to raise in Virginia. Maryland depended less on tobacco than did Virginia, and more on wheat. This was due to the cooler temperature and the avail- ability of water power in the Chesapeake Bay region to mill it.

The American colonies made their first substantial exports of wheat and flour to England in 1767 when Britain abolished the import duty on both these pro- ducts. In 1773, when grain crops failed throughout Europe, England’s survival was, for at least 2 years, dependent upon America’s wheat exports. It is interesting, in light of this information that England chose to alienate her American colonies to the point of rebellion.

Wheat grown throughout America during the 18th century, produced an average yield often bushels of wheat per acre, according to Thomas Jefferson. Today the average yield of one acre of wheat is close to 100 bushels. By 1718 wheat was an important part of colonial life, and its importance continued to grow throughout the 18th and 19th century. Its importance today can easily be seen by noting the market increase in yield per acre that has been able to achieve. Wheat as a component of a trekkers food supply would obviously be correct.

When ground up and mixed with water, the protein component of wheat forms a complex, semi-solid structure called "gluten". Gluten is unique in that its structure is both plastic, and elastic. It can stretch under pressure and yet resists pressure applied to it. It is this unique property that allows us to make bread. It is also why it is added to cornmeal to make cornbread. Without the wheat the cornmeal has no structure or integrity. The gluten will expand to accommodate the gases produced by yeast, and yet will contain the gases without stretching to the point of bursting.

And now that we have established the availability of wheat for the 18th century personae, I would like to discuss barley. Along with wheat, barley is one of the oldest known grains. The remains of coarsely ground combinations of wheat and barley have been found in Stone Age archeological excavations. Barley has the advantage of a relatively short growing season and is by nature a very hardy plant, resisting both frost and drought. It is grown from the arctic circle to the tropical plains of northern India. Barley was the chief grain used by the ancient Hebrews, Romans, and Greeks to make bread. Barley was the chief bread grain in Europe until the 16th century. Barley lost much of its importance in bread making when leavened bread became common. Barley has a very low "gluten" content and is relatively refractory to the action of the yeast. Remember the advantages of both the elastic and plastic properties of wheat gluten are what makes wheat so exceptional for bread-making.

Barley was introduced into the Americas in 1543 by the second Spanish Governor of Colombia. The Pilgrims planted it in New England when they arrived, but without much success. Early Pennsylvanians proved more receptive to it and grew it in fair quantities. The early Pennsylvanians didn’t use it for bread making however, they combined it with their limestone filtered water and made an excellent whiskey of it. This would ultimately lead to the Whiskey Rebellion of the 18th century.

The third grain to be discussed is rye. Rye seems to have originated in central Asia around 4,000 B.C.. It moved slowly westward as a contaminating weed in the cultivated fields of wheat and barley of Nomadic tribes. Rye is a relative new-comer among human foods, having attracted little attention as a food stuff prior to 1,000 B.C.. Early in its history it was heavily cultivated in England, central and Northern Europe. Up until our present century it was the predominant bread grain of northern Europe.

Rye was first planted in the new world by the French in Nova Scotia in 1606. Samuel de Champlain was said to have personally grown it for his household use 4 years later. Jesuit missionaries attempted to introduce it to the Iroquois along with Christianity. While appreciated by the Jesuits, the Indians continued to use maize. Both wheat and rye were plant- ed in colonial America from southern Virginia to New England. Rye flourished when wheat would not. However a good deal of the rye found its way into the manufacturing of whiskey.

In New England, rye was often mixed with cornmeal to make a dark Indian cornbread. Rye has enough gluten in it to closely compete with wheat for the ability to turn out excellent bread. Rye has from earliest times caused great plaques throughout the world because of its susceptibility to ergot, which rarely infects other cereal grains. Ergot is a parasite fungus that under the right conditions will contaminate large areas of rye growth.

Ergotamine, the actual chemical component of the fungus causes severe constriction of blood vessels that can completely shut down the circulation to certain areas of the body. It can cause gangrene of the extremities, seizures, psychosis, and other neurologic disorders due to the decrease in blood flow of the central nervous system. Since it decreases blood flow to female uterus, it leads to miscarriages and in the 18th century was used to cause therapeutic abortions. In most cases, however, it killed both mother and child.

The last major recorded epidemic of ergot poisoning took place in 1816, in France. The main reason it claimed so many lives, aside from the limited knowledge of the chemistry of ergotamine was the failure of the ergot to actually alter the taste of the rye.

One interesting sidelight to ergotamine is that under the right conditions, when ergot- amine is baked in bread, because of the heat and presence of certain carbohydrate and protein compounds it can be converted to lysergic acid diethyl- amide or LSD. In all probability it is the resultant effects of both the ergotamine and LSD which caused people throughout time to believe in demon possession and witchcraft. The neurologic effect of ergotamine or LSD certainly would lead one to assume you were possessed. And if the population of the entire villages died along with their animals I would assume witchcraft might be blamed, especially when there was no evidence of any contagious process. In fact, during the time in Salem Witch Trials in New England, the primary grain under cultivation was rye.

Fortunately, today with our modern methods of farming, the contamination of rye is no longer a problem. I consider this a great plus since I have started to use quite a bit of rye flour while trekking. Biscuits made of rye flour in my opinion are superb, even though they may not be as light as one of wheat.

Next, I would like to discuss oats. During my research on the subject of grains I came across an interesting definition of oats from a 17th century dictionary: "a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people." This seems to be the general opinion of the English in respect to this grain. Oats probably originated in the area now known as Germany. They have a great reference for cooler climates. Originally oats were merely contaminants of fields of wheat or barley, where they were pulled up and burned. Eventually it was discovered that oats made great food for livestock and so the burning ceased. Oats are relatively recent with respect to cereal grains, having been known for only 2,000 years.

By far, during the 18th century, the Celts, Scots, and Welsh consumed the greatest amount of oats as food. The rest of the world generally used oats as feed for livestock. Oats have about 5 times the fat content of wheat, and because of its high fat content it has a tendency to become rancid. This would in the 18th century generally decease its long term storage. Also oats have no gluten producing proteins which means that no breads can be made from oat flour.

Rice is another grain that has been with us for quite some time, but one we don’t generally talk about when discussing trek- king. It certainly is applicable and was very available during the 18th century. Alexander the Great introduced rice into Europe in 300 B.C.. South Carolina was the location of the first commercial American planting in 1685. In 1731, South Carolina exported 42,000 barrels of rice to England. In 1765 three times that number of barrels was shipped to England. During the American Revolution, when the British occupied Charleston, South Carolina, they harvested all the rice in the Carolinas and sent it to England, along with the rice that should have been saved for seed.

Because of this, from around 1780 to 1787, when Thomas Jefferson provided the Carolinas with new seed from France, rice was generally not available in the United States, (there was some trade from Canada). This could be important if your personae is in existence during this time period. The presence of rice as a commercial crop once again in the south helped this area recover faster from the ravages of the American Revolution, than the North.

And finally there is corn. Corn however, is probably not what you think it is: it is a generic term and it depends on where you live. In the United States, corn means maize. In England the term means wheat and in Scotland corn is the same as oats. In northern Germany, Korn is rye. In truth all corn means is "grain" and each locality interprets it as standing for its own familiar grain.

n the 18th century colonies, as well as today, when we speak of corn, we speak of maize. Maize is a relatively new grain when compared to the rest of the grains we have discussed. It is a grain unique to the Americas and while used for thousands of years by the Native American Peoples, it wasn’t until the first voyage of Columbus, in 1492, that Europeans learned of this grain. It is definitely the single most valuable food plant contributed by the New World to the Old.

Maize, by all historical accounts originated in the southern areas of Mexico around 700 B.C.. By 4,000 B.C. it was in the area now known as the southwestern United States. It reached the Ohio River Valley a mere 2,000 years ago. Regardless of the time of its arrival, as soon as it did, it became a staple food of the Indian culture that acquired it.

Maize saved the first white Virginians from starvation during their very first winter in Jamestown, when the Indians gave Captain John Smith some 500 bushels of corn, after the Virginians had exhausted their food supply. It was also the food that allowed the New England Plymouth colony to survive and prosper. First raised in Europe in significant quantities around 1525 by the Spanish, it finally reached England in 1562. Generally, throughout Europe and England it was little used and considered quite inferior to other more common grains.

In the United States, from the 17th century through the present, corn has always been highly prized. During the American Revolution, the Continental Army virtually "lived on cornmeal". It was a useful item in any form to the early colonist or frontiersman. Even today at least half of all the corn produced in the world comes from the United States. While any of the previously discussed grains would not be out of place during a historical trek, corn, or maize certainly may have been more available.


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The Sioux prepare a favorite dish, used at great feasts, called wash-en-ena, consisting of dried meat pulverized and mixed with marrow, and a preparation of cherries, pounded and sun-dried. This mixture, when eaten raw or cooked, has an agreeable vinous taste. To this compound is frequently added, when to be cooked, a kind of flour made from root of pomme blanc, (white apple,) thus designated by the French Canadians, and derived from the Psoralea esculenta.


Note: You may notice how this report made it sound that our Native American brothers were a poor people, not able to care for themselves, living off the land with items that no other people would consider eating, unheard of to the Europeans.

Many of the government reports of this period were written to sway public opinion, to moving the Native American to central locations where the government could provide living quarters and a steady food supply.




(Serves 8)

2 cups dry pinto beans

5 cups water

2 small, fresh, onions, chopped (or equivalent dehydrated)

1 cup stewed potatoes, or tomato sauce (or equivalent


1/4 cup molasses

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon chili powder

Add pintos to water. Cover and simmer until tender, 2 to 3 hours. Add other ingredients and simmer until tender and tasty.



(Serves 6 to 12)

3 cups cooked pinto beans, mashed

1 dozen whole wheat flour tortillas

1 tablespoon oil

2 small, uncooked jalapeno peppers, chopped (or equivalent dehydrated). Heat a skillet. Add the oil and the chopped peppers and saute 5- minutes. Add the beans and cook them until almost dry. Then put 1 to 2 tablespoons of the mixture in a tortilla and roll. For a different taste dip the tortilla in hot oil. Then fill with the mixture and roll.



(Serves 6)

3 cups cooked pinto beans, mashed

1 fresh clove garlic, minced (or equivalent dehydrated)

1 small fresh onion (or equivalent dehydrated)

1 teaspoon salt

1 pinch of oregano

1/2 cup grated cheese (or equivalent dehydrated)

Mix all ingredients. Cook in top of double boiler over hot water until cheese is melted. Also makes a good filling for tortillas.



Some folks use a skillet and grease, but you can just buy Korn Nuts at 7-11 if that will suit you. Traditionally dry corn was cooked by throwing kernels in hot ashes for a while.

I use a sheet cake pan ( a glorified cookie sheet, if you ask me) and place a single layer of dried corn kernals in it and place it in a 350 degree oven. After a few minutes you will hear the corn "popping". The corn doesn't make popcorn, rather it "snaps and cracks" and will turn a light brown color. Remove from the oven and cool. The corn can be eaten as is and will store pretty much eternally. Or the corn can be crushed to powder (a blender or food processor works well for this, or use a metate or a mortar & pestal) to make pinole, also known as rockahominy and other names. A small handful consumed with the help of a big drink of water or eating a large pellet made by mixing a handful of pinole with a little water will stick to your ribs better than you can imagine. Some folks season or flavor the pinole with salt or sugar and, sometimes, cinnamon. Suit yourself here, but remember that salt tends to draw moisture.

Buy your corn from a health food store or a VERY well stocked grocery store. Feed store corn might have additives that you may not want to eat and seed corn will almost certainly have some additives, including pesticides and fungicides and God knows what other "cides". The health food store will possibly have blue corn or "Indian" corn. Even better.

Remember this, plain pinole is bland to the highest degree. It can be counted on to feed you but it is best relegated to "iron ration" status. A steady diet of the stuff will soon have you eating tree bark.

YMOS - Lanney Ratcliff



This is how I do it. And remember I use hard Indian corn. Sweet corn works too but it hardly needs sweetening as I later explain. Start out with dry kernels rubbed off the cob not cut off.

I like to use a cast iron skillet but I also have a popcorn popper that swirls the kernels around on a hot "plate" under a clear bowl/lid and it works good too. Any thing like the above will work.

Use fairly high heat but watch out for scorching, gives the finished product a very bad taste. In a skillet, cover the bottom with a layer or two of kernels and no oil if you want it to keep without going rancid. Stir constantly to keep from scorching and to continually expose all sides of the kernels. Listen and watch for the snapping and splitting open of the kernels. When you don't hear those sounds or see the kernels splitting open anymore you are done.

You can do the salt brine wash at this point and turn the parched kernels out onto a plate, etc. or you can turn the heat down and while they are still hot add some brown sugar, maple sugar or molasses to the skillet to coat the kernels with a bit of sweetness. A quarter cup of brown sugar to a batch of kernels in a 10" skillet is about right. Continue to stir the mess until the sugar melts and sticks to the kernels. Turn the mess out onto a plate to cool. Sugar coated parched corn usually doesn't last long after everyone finds out you have it but it does draw moisture and thus doesn't make for a very good trail food in moist weather. Anything you don't understand just let me know. I remain......

YMOS - Capt. Lahti'

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I would like to thank Wm. Gorby along with some of the brothers of the American Mountain Men for giving us permission to use the material seen in this section of my web site. Gentlemen my hat is off to all of you, thank you.

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Until next time, we leave as friends and followers of those that went before us.

Buck Conner 

"One who trades”

"Uno quién negocia"

“Unqui commerce”