50 Plants That Changed The Course of History
There are so many plants around the world, and several of them have actually changed the world in one way or another. Plants first appeared about four hundred and thirty million years ago, and now there are roughly three hundred and ninety-one plant species. Some plants are used for cooking, and some are used for medicinal purposes. They are central to our well-being as key components of our culture, religions, and medicines.
Opium Poppy drove the Anglo-Sino Opium Wars in the mid-1800s, where opium addiction was promoted to gain commercial trading advantages. The plant has been known for relieving pain and its use for surgical analgesia.
The opium poppy is essential for the pain-killing cancer drug morphine, but infamous as the source of heroin and the addiction it causes.
The Yam plant has the ability to block conception in otherwise fertile women, which was first noted in Mexican women in the 1950s. An active ingredient was synthesized to deliver the birth control pill, allowing women to be free from the burden of fertility.
Yams are produced in West and Central Africa, but the biggest producer in the world is Nigeria. They are the first harvested crop of the year, and they can get up to almost five feet in length.
Tobacco was one of the first global plants to be consumed around the world. It was consumed first as snuff, then as pipe tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes. In 1616, Pocahontas went to London partially to promote the tobacco colony in Virginia.
The plant has small yellow flowers, and there are more than seventy species of tobacco. It contains the highly addictive stimulant alkaloid nicotine, which is known to cause deadly diseases. "Tobacco is the evil weed. It has a massive impact on health but also has a Janus face as a very useful plant for drug and vaccine development. It is a laboratory rat sort of plant." ----- Ms. Minter.
The Quinine plant comes from the bark of the Cinchona tree and is an anti-malarial drug that has saved many lives from a disease that was one of the world's number one killers. It allowed British armies to establish colonies in tropical countries around the world.
A sudden shortage of quinine caused researchers to produce other drugs to treat malaria, but quinine is still valued as a secondary medicine. There are even some Cinchona plantations still around today.
The rice plant's cultivation has also transformed landscapes in Southeast Asia. It isn't just food in Japan; it also holds historical and contemporary meanings.
All parts of the rice plant are utilized, with the largest part being used for tatami mats and bran providing a facial scrub. Rice is the main source of nutrition for more than half the world's population. One of the most fascinating parts of the Japanese landscape is all of the fields of rice.
Reishi Mushroom means "herb of spiritual potency," and is the most revered herb used by Asian people throughout history to promote longevity, radiant health, and a more centered state of mind. It is one of the most protective herbs in the world and is said to provide immunological, neurological, metabolic, hepatic, and vascular protection.
The plant was cherished by Buddhists, Taoists, royalty, and herbalists. It is very important, so much so that it is cultivated throughout Asia and even in America for sale in the United States and the international market.
The agave plant was considered a sacred plant and held a major role in certain people's religion. Agave fibers were used to make brushes, nets, bowstrings, cradles, skirts, shoes, mats, ropes, snares, and baskets. The plant's leaves were soaked and pounded in order to release the fibers that were dried and separated by combing.
It was then used for food and shelter. It was also fermented into a kind of liquor that was used during religious ceremonies, and today tequila is a global industry worth more than a billion dollars.
Tea is originally from China and was originally much scarcer and more valuable than it is today. It is now one of the world's most popular drinks, and it has played a central role in several important historical events. Back in ancient times, the medicinal effects of tea were felt and promoted.
Studies have shown that drinking tea every day can ward off disease processes ranging from diabetes to obesity to cardiovascular disease to cancer to depression. All tea leaves come from bush evergreen plants.
In the 16th century in Britain, the hemp plant's fibers were a key raw material for clothing and rope. It is a class II narcotic, providing important medical treatments for conditions from cancer to multiple sclerosis.
Over time, industrial hemp has evolved into other products such as health foods, clothing, construction materials, organic body care, biofuels, plastic composites, and more. There are vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in hemp seeds that provide significant health benefits. It acts as an antioxidant and helps reduce free radicals.
Cinchona isn't a food plant, but it did change the world. It contains at least twenty-three species of trees and shrubs that are all native to the tropical Andean forests of western South America.
It has been sought after because of its medicinal value, as its bark yields quinine, which treats malaria. The plant is used for increasing appetite, promoting the release of digestive juices, and treating fullness, bloating, and other stomach problems.
The sweet orange plant originated in a region of Southern China, Northeast India, and Myanmar. The earliest mention of the plant was in Chinese literature in 314 BC. Today, orange trees are found to be the most cultivated fruit trees in the world.
The fruit's peel and juice are used to make medicine, with the peel used to increase appetite, reduce phlegm, and treat coughs, colds, intestinal problems, and stomach acid.
The saffron plant is native to Southwest Asia but was first cultivated in Greece. Saffron threads were interwoven into Persian royal carpets and funeral shrouds.
In addition, it was used by worshippers as a ritual offering and as a dye, perfume, and medicine for various ailments. The plant has been linked to health benefits, including libido, improved mood, sexual function, reduced PMS symptoms, and enhanced weight loss.
Coca is the second most popular flavoring in the world and is made from cocoa. The Mexican Aztecs once regarded it as the food of the gods, with the three top producers of coca being the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Indonesia.
The traditional medical uses are as a stimulant to overcome fatigue, thirst, and hunger. It is really effective against altitude sickness, and the raw coca leaves are consumed for their nutritional properties.
Upland cotton, also called Mexican cotton, is the most widely planted species of cotton in the world. About ninety percent of all cotton production is derived from the upland cotton species.
The cotton plant is native to northern South America, West Indies, and Central America. This plant was used by the Zuni people to make ceremonial garments, and the cotton was made into cords and was also used ceremoniously.
The barley plant was one of the earliest cultivated and domesticated crops. It is found on many archaeological sites, and seventy percent of barley production is used as animal fodder.
Thirty percent is a source of fermentable material for beer and certain distilled beverages and as a component of various foods. Barley is used in stews, soups, and bread. Barley is a highly resilient crop and is able to be grown in various environments.
If it wasn't for the hop plant, there wouldn't be any beer. It shows antibacterial properties against gram-positive bacteria and the plant also has a long history of herbal remedies for various effects:
"Hops are stated to possess sedative, hypnotic, and topical bactericidal properties. Traditionally, they have been used for neuralgia, insomnia, excitability, priapism, mucous colitis, topically for crural ulcers, and specifically for restlessness associated with nervous tension headache or digestion." ---- Unknown.
The sweet pea plant has been cultivated since the 17th century and is native to Sicily, southern Italy, and the Aegean islands. The first sweet peas were introduced by a Sicilian monk, Francis Cupani. The plant is grown for its flower color and its intense, unique fragrance.
The story is that the plant's sweet aroma and simple but beautiful blooms apparently delighted a Sicilian monk so much that he sent seeds to plant collectors and botanical institutions around the world.
Lavender is one of the more well-known plants and is used for many different purposes. It is a perennial plant that will come back every year, and it produces a soothing scent and calms down nerves.
You can also drink lavender tea and use lavender oil for massage treatments, aromatherapy, and even hair treatments. Lavender is known for easing tension, headaches, helping promote sleep, relieving pain, and treating respiratory problems.
The nutmeg plant can be found growing across the tropics in China, Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Grenada in the Caribbean, Kerala in India, Sri Lanka, and South America.
The spice has a distinctive pungent fragrance and a warm, slightly sweet taste. In history, grated nutmeg was used as a sachet, and the Romans used it as incense. In the 1600s, it became important as an expensive commercial spice in the Western world.
The white mulberry plant is a fast-growing tree and is generally a short-lived tree with a short lifespan. It is native to India and is then cultivated and naturalized in the United States, Mexico, and Australia. The plant's leaves are the preferred feedstock for silkworms and food for livestock.
The leaves are also prepared as tea in Korea, and the fruit is eaten or made into wine. The plant is a traditional Chinese medicine and has been said to reduce high cholesterol, obesity, and stress.
Potatoes are eaten in every country and are an inexpensive and filling food. The crop actually failed in the 1840s, and a quarter of the population starved to death. Vodka actually became the drink of choice in Russia thanks to the potato because making alcohol from potatoes was cheaper than making it from grain.
Potatoes are easy to grow and are native to the Peruvian-Bolivian Andes. The plant's tubers are highly digestible and supply vitamin C, protein, thiamin, and niacin.
The olive plant is a small tree or shrub and is typically found in the Mediterranean Basin. The olive fruit is of major agricultural importance in the Mediterranean region as the source of olive oil.
Olive cultivars are primarily used for oil and eating. The olives that are cultivated for consumption are referred to as table olives. However, about ninety percent of all harvested olives are turned into oil, and the rest into table olives.
The black pepper plant is a flowering vine that is cultivated for its fruit, known as a peppercorn. Peppercorn is usually dried and then used as a spice and seasoning. It is native to the Malabar Coast of India. The plant has been used for both flavor and as a traditional medicine.
It was believed to cure several illnesses, including insomnia, constipation, sunburn, toothaches, and oral abscesses. In 1213 BCE, black peppercorns were found stuffed in the nostrils of Ramesses II, placed there as part of the mummification rituals shortly after their death.
The English Oak plant is native to most of Europe. It provides protective shading and improves air quality, with the leaves of an oak tree absorbing airborne pollutants.
The leaves, bark, and acorns were believed to heal many medical ailments, such as inflammation and kidney stones. There are also health benefits of oak that include wound healing. In addition, acorns provide a valuable food source for many small mammals.
The dog rose plant is native to northwest Africa, Europe, and western Asia. The shells of rose hips from dog roses contain high levels of antioxidants, natural sugars, organic acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids, making them excellent for consumption.
The fruit is often used to make syrup, marmalade, and tea and is high in vitamin C. In fact, during WWII, the plant was planted in victory gardens and was relied on for sources of vitamins A and C.
The sugarcane plant is typically used for sugar and is grown in tropical and subtropical regions. It is the world's largest crop by production quantity and accounts for seventy-nine percent of sugar produced globally.
In some areas, sugarcane reeds are used to make mats, pens, screens, and thatch. It was used for trade because it was considered a luxurious and expensive spice. In addition, some parts of the sugarcane are commonly used as animal feed.
The white willow is usually found in wet or poorly drained soil and is fast-growing but short-lived. The wood is tough, strong, and has minimal resistance to decay. The charcoal made from the wood was once important for gunpowder manufacture, and the wood was also used to make cricket bats.
The bark tannin made tanning leather, and the willow bark was used to make baskets. The plant has also been used by herbalists for many ailments such as fevers, dyspepsia, and dysentery.
The tulip plant grew wild in eastern and central Asia and was cultivated by Constantinople as far back as 1055. During the 15th century, they were one of the most prized flowers and were the symbol of the Ottomans.
The petals are actually edible, and the taste varies by variety and season but is similar to lettuce. Tulip medicinal uses include treating and soothing rashes, stings, scratches, and minor burns. They were once used by the Turks in love potions.
The Cacao plant's nutrients help to lower blood pressure, aid in preventing blood clots and improve blood flow to the brain and heart. The powder helps increase insulin sensitivity and reduces the risk of diabetes.
It grows in the forest and produces cocoa powder, which is a highly concentrated powder made from chocolate liquor. It is the key ingredient in chocolate. History suggests that the plant was consumed by humans as early as five thousand years ago.
The common wheat plant is also known as bread wheat and is responsible for ninety-five percent of the world's wheat. It is the most widely grown of all crops, and it is most often used to make bread and cereals.
The plant is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and E, along with iron, calcium, and magnesium. The plant was first domesticated in Western Asia and spread to Europe, North Africa, and East Asia. It reached North America in the 16th century.
The vanilla plant is a spice that is the most popular flavoring in the world and is native to Mexico. However, it is now grown mostly in Madagascar and is one of the most expensive spices in the world. It is one of the most difficult plants to cultivate, and the steep price has resulted in a black market.
"To prevent people from stealing their beans, farmers will incise a code that identifies themselves and their farm on each pod, similar to ranchers branding their cattle." ----Drori. Vanilla also has medicinal benefits, such as providing some relief from sleep apnea, having a calming effect, and can be used to reduce your sugar intake.
The wine grape plant produces polyphenols, which are thought to have antioxidant, lipid-lowering, and anti-inflammatory actions which reduce CVD. The plants are native to the Mediterranean region, southwestern Asia, and Central Europe.
Grapes can be eaten fresh or dried and can also be made into wine. The fruit has been harvested for both medicinal and nutritional value for thousands of years.
Many people have the corn plant in their home because it is said to cleanse indoor air quality, improve mental health, focus and concentration, have anti-oxidant properties, and provide restful sleep.
Corn silk is a type of natural fiber that grows on corn plants. Corn is said to help protect your eyes and lower blood sugar levels. The corn plant is a sleek tall plant that adds aesthetic to the house.
The ginger plant originated in Maritime Southeast Asia and was domesticated by the Austronesian people. It was one of the first spices to be exported from Asia and was often used by ancient Greeks and Romans.
The plant is used in traditional medicine and as a dietary supplement. In addition, it is a common spice used all over the world in food, herb tea, and more.
The onion plant is a vegetable that is used all over the world. The crop is first harvested, then dried, and finally, the onions are ready for use or storage.
Onions are used in cooking mostly but have also been used as a pesticide, and they contain one of the natural oils sometimes used in hair oil. Traces of onions recovered suggest that onions were used as far back as 5000 BC.
The pineapple plant is native to South America and is a fruit. The top producers are the Philippines, Brazil, and Costa Rica, and they were once so exotic and expensive that they became symbols of wealth and hospitality. The fruit and its juice are used in cuisines all over the world.
The fruit is loaded with nutrients, contains anti-oxidants, aids in digestion, may reduce the risk of cancer, may boost immunity, and is easy to add to your diet. It was a staple food of Native Americans. In the 18th century, the plant was introduced to Hawaii, and several plantations were established.
The papyrus plant originally grew throughout Egypt, along the Nile River and other large bodies of water. Egyptians were drawn to the tall plant, and they began harvesting it to eat. “Papyrus swamps were the larder of the day; they were teaming with life. They didn't have refrigeration back then, so it was a fantastic source of fresh food." ---- Drori.
The Egyptians quickly realized that they could make paper, using the soft white pith running through the plant's thick reeds by weaving them together. The plant has also been used in the treatment of certain eye diseases.
The foxglove plant is native to Europe, northwestern Africa, and western Asia. Chemicals from the plant are used to make the prescription drug called digoxin which is most often used for heart failure, fluid build-up in the body, and irregular heartbeat.
However, all parts of the plant are poisonous and are sometimes used to cause vomiting. The spire of the blossoms resembles clusters of gloves, and it was once thought that the areas where the plant grew naturally were inhabited by fairies.
The cardamom plant is a spice that is native to the Indian subcontinent and Indonesia. The first references to the plant were found in Sumer and the Ayurvedic literature of India. Oscar Majus Kloffer introduced the plant to cultivation in Guatemala before World War I.
It is used as flavorings and cooking spices in food and drinks. In addition, it is used to help lower blood pressure, may contain cancer-fighting compounds, has anti-inflammatory effects, and helps with digestive problems.
The fern plant reproduces via spores and doesn't have seeds or flowers. They first appeared on record three hundred and sixty million years ago. The plant has been the subject of research due to its ability to remove some chemical pollutants from the atmosphere.
Some fern plants are used for food, and fern tubers were used by the Guanches to make gofio in the Canary Islands. It also is known to improve the humidity levels and gives a soothing effect.
The eucalyptus plant is native to Australia, and basically, every state and territory has a representative species. It has been grown in plantations and can be used for pulpwood, essential oils, or honey production.
The plant has many benefits, such as it may reduce pain, treat dry skin, relieve cold symptoms, promote relaxation, act as a natural insect repellent, and can help keep your teeth healthy.
The soybean plant is known for its edible bean, and it contains high amounts of dietary minerals, B vitamins, and phytic acid. They were a crucial crop in East Asia long before there were written records, and there is evidence of it between 7000 and 6600 BC in China.
It is used in many forms of food and oils, and another major use of soybeans is as livestock feed. It also has several health benefits, including reducing your risk of cancer, increasing cardiovascular health, and helping your thyroid function.
The sunflower plant is cultivated as food crops for humans, poultry, cattle, and ornamental plants. The plant is said to lower rates of cardiovascular disease and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The seeds are a source of several vitamins and minerals that can support your immune system and increase your ability to fight off viruses.
"Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of vitamin E, the body's primary fat-soluble antioxidant. Vitamin E travels throughout the body neutralizing free radicals that would otherwise damage cell membranes, brain cells, and cholesterol." ----- Dr. George Matelijan.
The rubber plant is native to eastern parts of South and Southeast Asia. The Aztecs used rubber to make balls for thousands of years, and today, there are thousands of uses for rubber.
Rubber is used for tires, boots, latex suits, and so much more. Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia are the top global rubber producers. The plant is beneficial because it is an air purifier and has therapeutic value.
The crab apple plant is an excellent source of pectin and its juice. They are also a good source of malic and tartaric acid. The fruit has been used for indigestion, inflammation, gout, constipation, and fever.
The plant originated in the mountainous regions of Central Asia and was often used for cooking flames for smoking foods. There are at least three crab apple species that are native to North America. Crab apple wood releases a pleasant aroma while burning very slowly.
The indigo plant is a shrub that has been naturalized for tropical and temperate Asia and parts of Africa. The plant has been cultivated worldwide for many centuries.
Wild indigo is often used for infections such as influenza, the common cold, diphtheria, malaria, typhoid, other respiratory tract infections, and many other conditions. Indigo is used as a source of dye and is one of the oldest known natural dyes. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
The peanut plant is grown mostly in China, India, and Nigeria. African American botanists developed more than three hundred uses for peanuts. It has been dated back seventy-six thousand years.
It was mostly animal feedstock until the 1930s when it started being used for human consumption as well. The beloved product, peanut butter, was developed in the 1880s and 1890s. One concern is that many people have severe allergic reactions and can even die.
The ginkgo plant is one of the oldest tree species and homeopathic plants. It is also a key herb in Chinese medicine, with the leaves being used to create capsules, extracts, and tablets. The plant is best known for its ability to boost brain health, treating patients with mild to moderate dementia.
Studies are also looking into whether the plant helps with diabetes. It is native to China, and it first appeared more than two hundred and ninety million years ago.
The coffee plant is native to tropical and southern Africa and tropical Asia. Its seeds are used to flavor various beverages and products, and the fruits and seeds contain a large amount of caffeine. The plant is one of the world's most valuable and most traded commodity crops.
It contains many nutrients like caffeine, vitamin B2, magnesium, antioxidants, chlorogenic acid, and quinic acid. It has been said that coffee fruit can protect your brain, lower blood pressure, promote weight loss, and can boost immunity.