Stuff What No Longer Exists… A Re-Enactors Conundrum

I love being a historian.  I love being a scholar.  I love doing research.  And I super love making the things that I research.  In 18th century medicine, there are many many things that I cannot make because the DEA would be on me like white on rice.  Many of these medicines included things like opium, mercury, and other controlled substances because they are poisonous or controlled substances.  As I remind those in my classes, to get here – we had to be there.  Meaning, to get to the point where scientists, medical professionals, and the DEA know that substances such as opium, mercury, and cocaine are bad for us and are not for casual use is because at once point we didn’t know these things and they were used casually.

Not only do I spend a good quantity of my life researching, I also try to recreate the safe medicines and other medical remedies (poultices, food for health, etc) so that I can show them to the average person during reenactments and classes meant for history buffs.

The problem doesn’t always come up when the substances are ‘iffy’.  There are also many food, plants, etc that are no longer available for a variety of reasons.  For example, from the Martin’s 1716 book A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland: Containing a Full Account of… (many many things are included, and trust me when I say I would lose your interest before we came to the end of the book title), there is a reference to mariners eating “sea-pork”, meaning whale.  Whale is illegal to be bought, sold, or brought into the United States.

In that same book, “molocca” beans are mentioned.  Specifically the seeds were ground into a fine powder and combined with milk (the type is not specified) and used for intestinal diseases such as dysentery.

My favorite thing, really, is how much I learn every time I read one of these books.  I learn about trade routes.  I learn about countries that I’ve never heard of – ones that may not even exist anymore.  I adore learning about plants and animals that are now extinct, but were important to the medical community – on either local or global scale.  It shows where we’ve been… and stuff what doesn’t exist anymore… the stuff that disappeared to transition us from where we were to where we are.

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