hist-brewing: Re: poisonous slander

-Tevildo. tevildo at hotmail.com
Mon Dec 13 06:57:27 PST 1999

>From: "Amy Tubbs" <sashamolotova at hotmail.com>
>Date: Sat, 11 Dec 1999 20:56:04 PST
>Subject: hist-brewing: poisonous brewing practices
>I'm interested in doing some research on poisonous practices in cooking and
>brewing during the Medieval times and the Renaissance.  Some topics I want
>to follow are the boiling of wine in lead pots, cyanide from fruit pits, 
>the use of wormwood and other lethal herbs.
>Does anyone have some good sources they could suggest?  Or perhaps some
>other topics I could look into?
>- --Lady Aleksandra
>Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

     Ha ha... "lethal herbs"? Do you seriously think that people would drink 
something that kills? I find that to be a load o' crock. Sure, some of the 
herbs contain chemicals that can harm you WHEN CONCENTRATED or straight from 
the plant, but these same chemicals, diluted with gallons and gallons and 
gallons of brew are relatively not-that-bad in comparison with the rest of 
medieval life. Think about it--grapes contain certain quantities of 
glycosides, which routinely kill people. Yet fresh grapes, grape juice, 
wines, etc. are routinely consumed by millions. The point is that you can't 
just identify a single toxin in a plant and automatically label it as 
harmful. Are you aware that wormwood tea was used often and liberally as a 
vermifuge? The health benefits (in the case the removal of worms from the 
digestive tract) greatly outweighed any possible risk these plants posed. 
Thujone oil, supposedly the psychoactive ingredient of wormwood, is 
INSOLUBLE in water and all but the strongest distilled alcohols. The 
currently accepted view is that most of the effects of absinthe were from 
the alcohol, and the wormwood was mostly there for flavor. It's true that 
drinking the extracted oil can cause brain lesions and renal failure, but 
try calculating how much absinthe oyu'd have to drink to absorb the same 
amount of thujone. I don't have exact stats, so I won't attempt the math, 
but it's a hefty amount, trust me. Again, the alcohol would take effect 
before the thujone, killing the person from cirrhosis of the liver and brain 
     While some of the toxins had cumulative effects, others (like cyanide, 
I think) created resistance. This could have been useful in a land where all 
the food isn't approved by the Department of Agriculture. Those little white 
crystals around the inside of freestone peaches is a form of cyanide, but 
peaches aren't banned, are they? They pose no threat to your health, unless 
you're consuming the stuff in huge quantities (like Laetril, the fraud 
cancer cure).
     Anyway, I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but in my humble opinion 
the two greatest risk factors in brewing, ancient or modern, are alcohol and 
hops. The chances of killing yourself with gruit herbs is about nil. I don't 
know one way or the other about the lead pots, but perhaps you could study 
the phytoestrogens in hops and put the ongoing debate to rest? It does 
indeed seem that the real risk of droop is among those who handle hops 
directly (i.e. all these brewers) and not the beer drinkers, but... Go 
ahead, do your research, and be sure to post your results here! I'm sure 
we'll all be interested in your results.             -Tevildo 

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