Pine Cone Preserves: a sweet jam made from soft young cones believed to have health benefits in Russia and Georgia.

Aside from their decorating uses, especially in Christmas season, pinecones play an important role in nature and, like all plant parts, they have a very specific function in the plant world. Generally they serve as a protective cover for pine nuts, (a key ingredient in pesto!). Pine cones and pine trees belong to a group of plants called gymnosperms and date back to prehistoric times. There are a group of plants who have naked seeds, not enclosed in an ovary and the main function of a pine cone is to…

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Mad Honey: the hallucinogenic honey that can sell for over $60 a pound on the black market

When bees feed on the pollen of rhododendron flowers, the resulting honey can become a hallucinogenic punch. It’s called “mad honey”, and it has a slightly bitter taste and a reddish color. More notably, a few types of rhododendrons, among them Rhododendron luteum and Rhododendron ponticum, contain grayanotoxin, which can cause serious physiological reactions in humans and animals. Depending on how much a person consumes, reactions can range from hallucinations and a slower heartbeat to temporary paralysis, but also unconsciousness, dizziness, hypotension and atrial-ventricular block. However, rhododendrons flourish at high…

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Why we owe food regulation to a 19th-Century chemist who poisoned his colleagues

Try to imagine twelve fine young men sat around a fine dinner table with a fine white tablecloth and fine silver settings, with their bow ties rested at their chins as they delicately brought forkfuls of more or less delicious foods to their mouths. Well, although each morsel laced with formaldehyde and benzoate, while borax tablets that polished off the meal. These heroes were the so-called “Poison Squad”: for five years, beginning in 1902, their nightly meals came from a government-run kitchen, where they ingested common (and previously untested) food…

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Hong Kong and the sad echoes of the 1894 plague epidemic

While COVID-19 are stopping the world on current days, a 19th-century pandemic still haunts Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan district. Nearly 130 years ago, the neighborhood was an epicenter of one of the deadliest pandemics on record, and like many former zone in which plague spread, the area still carries with it the weight of that tragedy. At the time the waterfront city was a British colony and vital port of trade. As such, it experienced a mass influx of mainland Chinese laborers, from tradespeople to servants, who came to the…

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3.500 years ago the Ancient Egyptians used an effective Pregnancy Test!

At the University of Copenhagen in Denmark there is a unique collection of Ancient Egyptian papyrus manuscripts. A large part of the collection has not yet been translated and still unpublished. There are texts about medicine, botany, astronomy, astrology, and other sciences practiced in Ancient Egypt. When you hear about the history of science, the focus is often on the Greek and Romans, but Egyptians goes much further back, in fact one of these medical texts was written 3,500 years ago when there was no written material on the European…

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