Family Name: Graminaceae
Sugar cane is the source of much of the worlds sugar. Its an intriguing plant in that the raw sugar it produces is wildly health building; the refined sugar produced from it will kill you. A plant I am researching at the moment, you will be hearing more about this as the story develops.
Sugar Cane Article
Sugar Cane Article
Sugar cane is a very large tropical grass that does a stupendous job of making and storing simple sugar molecules. The plant itself is rather amazing. It looks a bit like pampas grass and left to its own device, it grows in similar clump like formation. The stems can reach twenty feet and the leaves are dark green strap- like affairs placed on the stem every six inches or so. The stem is about the thickness of a big garden hose and is segmented like its close relation, bamboo.
Its leathery leaves soak up the equatorial sun and magically convert it into glucose. The plant stores this sugar in the segmented chambers found in the stem Long before the written record, the hunting and gathering human noticed the plants tendency to store sugar and began chewing on these stems to sweeten their day. And, about as early as he and she beat iron into pots, they discovered you could squeeze the sweetness out of the stem, and boil it down to concentrate the juice into a super sweet syrup.
Sugar cane is native to India and not surprisingly, India hosted the early centres of sugar production. How long ago was this? The Indians were producing sugar 4000 years ago. In fact, the Indians have processed sugar cane into blocks of sugar for so long that no one knows when they started the practice. What we do know is that they traded it for items from the west from the most ancient of times.
The ancient Indian art of sugar was a complicated affair and resulted in a catalogue of different products. Interestingly, each of the products was used for a different medicinal purpose. An abbreviated list of sugar cane by products would include the following.
1.Ikshu rasa: or sugar cane juice.
2.Phanita: sugar cane juice boiled down to one fourth its original amount.
3.Gud: sugar juice boiled down to a dark brown thick consistence.
4.Shakkur: coarse brown sugar known as country sugar.
5.Chini: white sugar
6.Misri: double refined and crystallized sugar
7.Matsyandika: juice boiled down to a solid mass
8.Gaudi: fermented liquor obtained from treacle
9.Sidhu: fermented liquor obtained from sugar cane juice.
Biblical sugar production
If we move down the time line to 300 or 400 BC, we find that sugar growing and processing had spread all the way to Israel . The Hebrew word for sugar cane is kanah hatov. Now, the Bible talks about a couple of different types of sweet canes. Some smelled sweet (lemon grass) and some tasted sweet.(sugar cane). If you are reading the Bible and come across a sweet cane reference, how do you know which is being referenced? When the bible is referring to sweet smelling sweet cane, it will be lumped in with other fragrant substances, like spikenard, cinnamon, or sandalwood. If it stands alone, the reference is dealing with sugar cane. Here are a few biblical sugar cane references.
Joshua 16:8 The border went out from Tappuah westward unto the river Kanah …
Joshua 19:29 And Hebron , and Rehob, and Hammon, and Kannah ..
Isaiah 43:24 Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money…
In the quote from Joshua we see a river called kanah. Sugar cane loves a wet home and grows along rivers. It seems it specifically grew along this river. In the second quote, we find a place named kanah. This suggests one of two things. Either a lot of sugar cane grew in this town, or the town was a centre of sugar production. In the third quote we see a sweet cane associated with money. This lets you know that even in the biblical day, money and sugar went hand in hand.
The Israelites were fortunate enough to have three species of sugar cane right in their back yard, Saccharum officinarum, Saccharum sara, and Saccharum biflora. Saccharum sara is native to Lebanon , Saccharum biflora is native from Lebanon on down to Saudi Arabia . Historians believe that the Israelites had access to the superior of the sugar bearing grasses, Saccharum officinarum through trade with India .
The Hebrews, like the Indians, would have processed sugar to the extent technology allowed. More than likely, they used the sweet cane as something to chew on, pressed it to produce a sweet nectar, and cooked this juice down into a variety of different syrups and brown sugar like lumps. No one knows the extent to which the Israelites knew sugar. However, they must have known it pretty well. When Israel was destroyed by the Romans, and travelled into Europe and the Arabian world, they went out with sugar making skills.
Sugar in ancient Europe
Sugar is mentioned by Theophrastus, Herodotus, and others ancient Greek and Roman medical types. They called it the honey of canes. This suggests the sugar they knew was in a liquid, or syrup like form. As Christianity hit Europe , sugar was known as sacharon. There is debate as to who first mentioned it, Herodotus or Strabo. Herodotus mentioned it in 321 BC so it was making its way into the west early on. Varro talked about it in 68 BC. He talks of a sugar bearing grass native to India . Lucan said that Indians near the Ganges drank a sweet beverage made of the cane. Dioscorides,in 77 AD, tells us that sugar came from India and Arabia . He knew it well enough to say that it arrived looking like salt. Pliny, mentions it under the name saccharum. An unknown writer, writing in 54-68 AD mentions that it came into and then out of the ports of Aden .
Pliny is interesting in that he said the substance was only used in medicine. He also said that it arrived in pieces the size of a nut. The ancient Europeans were not that familiar with the substance and were a little confused about how sugar came into existence. Dioscorides thought it grew on the canes themselves and was picked off like an apple. Paulus aegineta quotes Achigenes and said, “The Indian salt is like common salt in colour and consistence, but resembles honey in taste.” It seems some people thought it was mined like other minerals.
Ancient Arabian history
Cane sugar is mentioned by Abu Zayd al Hasan in 850 AD and tell us that it was commonly produced on the Persian Gulf . Moses of Chorene tells us that at that in 950 AD it was in fact manufactured in that location in substantial quantities. Sugar is often said to have been introduced into Arab medicine in the tenth century by Rhazes, a Bagdad physician that died about AD 932. This is questionable as sugar had been in circulation for a long time when Rhazes came along and records indicate it had always been used as a medicine.
In these Arabian centres of sugar production, the lead sugar makers were the Hebrews. Suffice it to say, by the Middle Ages, the Jews were famous sugar makers. Indeed, in Egypt , between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries the sugar industry was dominated by Jewish businessmen. The last name Sukkhari (sugar maker) was one of the most common Jewish last names in North Africa . Not only did the Jews make sugar, they dragged it into Europe through trade.
When the Jews moved into Spain and Portugal along with the Moors, they continued the profession. As a consequence of their expertise, Jews from the Iberian Peninsula were taken to the colonies in North and South America to set up the sugar business in the New World .
They had been working with the stuff since 300 BC so they had a few things to say on the subject. Thus sugar was brought to the New World .
The beauty of this arrangement for Europe was that it no longer had to buy sugar from the Eastern spice trader. The Colonies produced a ready supply that could be controlled and increased based on need. The middle- man had been cut out of the equation. However, Europe ‘s hunger for sugar could not be quenched. This lead to a need for more labour, and, we all know this led to slavery.
The New World still leads the production of cane sugar. Millions of tons are produced each year, in a process not too different from how it went down in India 4000 years ago. However, what is different, is that the medicinal uses of sugar have disappeared from the menu. What the ancient Indians, Israelite, and even colonial European knew, we do not. So much so, we only see it as something that is entirely bad for a person.
Words from History
As has been detailed, the art of sugar making came from India and the words we used to describe sugar also came from that sub-continent. The Indians called this sweet substance Sakkhar, the Arabian traders that bought it from them called it Sachar, in turn the French folk that bought it from the Arabian traders called it sucre. Several traders down the line, English people ended up calling it sugar.
And, there is another important word that comes to us from history. Khand. Whilst Europeans were still clubbing their dates and dragging them back to the cave they shared with the pigs, the Indians were fine tuning a fine culture. Long ago, the Indians learned that you could suspend strings in sugar cane juice and eventually crystals would form on the string. They called these strung sugar crystals Khand. Ever wonder where the word candy comes from? Wonder no more. By the time these sugar crystals made it to Europe , they became known as candy. In time, all products made of sugar crystals became known as candy. Who knew rock candy on the end of a cocktail stir was such an ancient tradition.
Sugar for health
What of sugar cane and its products for health? What knowledge has been lost? Lets start with India .
An Indian source dating to the last century had this to say of the sweet substances. ” Sugar is one of the most generally used articles of diet. It is taken into the system for the purpose of maintaining animal heat. Sugar, being readily soluble in water,is the most easily digested of all substances which maintain heat ;and hence the reason why it is supplied to the young of the higher forms of animals; it is secreted by the female of all the mammalia, in the milk which is furnished universally to their young during the first months of their existence. The instinctive love of sugar so well known as the characteristic of the child seems to point out its adaption to the wants of the infant system .”
Simply put, the Indian take on sugar is that it is an excellent source of energy, for those that need energy. This would include the young, the old and the sick. It gives the body the energy it needs to do what it needs to do with little muss of fuss.
In India , the most interesting use of sugar was as a disinfectant application. It was seen as a powerful antiseptic and was used in gonorrhoea and vaginal discharges, applied right to the troubled spot. It was used to dress gangrenous wounds and to fresh wounds to prevent gangrene. The Indians recommend sprinkling sugar onto an ulcer to speed healing and prevent infection. It was also used as a drawing plaster for boils and carbuncles!
This is especially interesting because contemporary research indicates sugar is one of the most healing applications in burns and wounds. A number of very interesting studies have shown that it is tops in first aid. It keeps wounds infection free and rapidly speeds the healing process. All over America , hospitals are using a combination of sugar and betadine to pack wounds!
Even American Doctors from the last century saw the medicinal application of cane sugar. Dr.Scudder on such physician, said this of it. ” The different varieties of sugar and saccharine principles so extensively employed for dietical and condimentary purposes, are also valuable for their therapeutical properties. For a full detail of their medicinal uses, the reader is referred to this article under the head of alteratives. Sugar is highly nutritious and demulcent. That it is highly nutritive is proved by the reports of those who have travelled in the sugar growing countries. During sugar season of the west india islands, every negro on the plantations, and animal, even the dogs, grow fat .”
How was that for a racist comment! When you root around old medical books, you see just how rampant racism was at the turn of the century in America . However, lurking in the racism is a significant fact. Sugar has the ability to bolster a person under significant stress. The slave of yesteryear lived in deplorable conditions, physically and psychologically. In addition, they died hard labour with a minimum of food. The worst of the year was during sugar cane harvesting and processing. From a purely medical standpoint, you would have expected this down trodden population to loose a lot of weight and succumb to stress related illness. This was not the case. In fact, they gained weight.
One could be quick to say, well, they grew fat because they had sugar to eat. But, there is more to it. Under stress, people loose weight, regardless of how many calories they take in. The body produces hormones that cause wasting away. This historical nugget lets us know something very interesting. Sugar has an anti-stress effect.
Dr. Scudder continues and gives us a better look at how doctors used sugar, ” As a demulcent,it is used in coughs, colds, bronchial and consumptive diseases, both as an independent agent, and in the form of candies, syrups, cough mixtures, etc. It is recommended and even employed as a chemical antidote to the salts of copper, lead, gold, silver, and mercury. It is dissolved in new milk, and swallowed freely in cases of poisoning. The benefit resulting from its use in these cases is clearly referable to its demulcent action in soothing and sheathing the intestinal mucous membrane from the action of the corrosive.”
The doctor suggests we look at his section on alteratives to appreciate sugars medicinal actions. His comment tells us he saw it as an alterative. As such, it would be helpful to know what an alterative was. Here is his own definition. ” Alteratives are defined to be agents which change, is some insensible and inexplicable way, certain morbid actions and conditions of particular organs, or of the general system. They produce no sensible evacuations, or modification of function, by which we can in any way judge of their mode of operation. They are administered to counteract certain morbid habits of the body, or cachectic states(wasting conditions) of the constitution, and to re-establish the healthy functions of deranged organs .”
Simply put, the doctor observed that sugar could be use to get the body to move out of an unhealthy state and into a healthy state. Odd isn’t it? This doctor used it to stabilise people suffering from serious health conditions like tuberculosis, influenza, cancer, and malaria. And, he found it worked.
Convalescence and chronic disease
Our bodies are fired by sugar and indeed sugar is a cell’s preferred food. As the Indian doctor indicated, mammalian milk is loaded with sugar. Sugary mammalian milk is a way for the mother to pass on energy to her child that is too young to feed itself. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with sugar rich food if you are in need of a lot of energy. Lets face it, most people today sit behind a desk and punch a keyboard all day long. This does not require much energy. The rule of thumb on sugar should be this. If you need a lot of energy you should eat sugar. If you are a couch potato, you don’t need a lot of energy and you should not eat sugar. When you put unnecessary energy into the body, the body happily stores it away for later use. It makes us grow fat.
When people are sick, they need a huge amount of energy to fire the bodies defence system. Sugar is a good thing for people really battling to stay alive. We see this use mentioned by Doctor Scudder when he talks about sugar being used to bolster persons doing battle with serious disease. The cells of the body can use the energy sugar offers to fire the healing process.
I was speaking to an AIDS patient recently and he told me had cleaned up his diet in the aim of staying alive. He was quick to say that sugar had been removed from his diet entirely. His change in diet caused a big weight loss. Not a good idea for a person fight with AIDS. Fundamentally, this guy was on the right tract. It is important to eat fruit and vegetables in great quantities when one is trying to get healthy. However, in this case, sugar would have been an excellent source of easy energy. People with life threatening conditions, or those that are in the convalescent phase of an illness, need to eat as much sugar as they can get down.
Sugar (Sacharum offinarum)
1. Materia Medica of the Hindus. P. 265.
Sugar was known to the Hindus from an early age. The Sanskrit word Sarkara came the Arabic sakkar, the Latin sacharrum, and the English sugar. The Sanskit mention 12 different type of preparations from sugar cane however only 8 remain in use.
The list includes:
Ikshu rasa: sugar cane juice.
Phanite: sugar cane juice boiled down to 1/4 th
Guda: sugar cane juice boiled down to a thick treacle.
Matsayandika: sugar cane juice boiled down to a solid consistency.
Kanda: partially dried treacle with white crystals.
Sarkara: white sugar
Sitopala: sugar candy
Gaudi: fermented liquor obtained from treacle.
The properties of these different preparations are said to be different and are to be used distinctly. However, sugar and treacle are widely used in Hindu medicine. Interestingly, old treacle is preferred over new made treacle.
The roots of five different sugar bearing cane plants are used to make a specific medication (Trinapanacha mula ). The medication is used to treat gonorrhea, strangury, and suppression of urine.
Imperata cylindrica (Darva)
Indian Plants and Drugs. P.346
The products or preparations of the sugar cane as described by sanskrit writers are as follows:
Ikshu rasa or sugar cane juice.
2. Phanita or sugar cane juice boiled down to one fourth, it can be drawn out in threads.
3. Gud or jaggery, also known as ras, which is prepared by boiling the juice down to a dark brown thick consistence, the crude form of sugar commonly used by Indians. It consists of considerable proportion of of molasses or treacle known as chhoa the uncrystalized portion, invert sugar, of the saccharine juice which is drained off and sold as distinct product.
4. When the better qualities of gud have been more or less completely drained of molasses they constitute the coarse brown sugar known as country sugar or shakkar which is much used and which consists of a soft, moist, partly crystalline mass varying much in quality. From the coarser description of gud, the crystalling forms of sugar are directly prepared. The molasses having been pressed out, the crystalline portion is bleached in the sun, dissolved, clarified and crystallised, the resulting product being the familiar (5) white sugar known as chini or safed shakkar.
Double refined and crystallised sugar, called (6) Misri or khand, is also prepared in several forms, including kusa misri, sugar candy , which is made by pouring the clarified solution or syrup into vessels in which strings have been suspended round which the crystals congregate.
The other preparations of sugar cane are (7) Matsyandkia which is made by boiling the juice down to a solid consistence, but it still exudes a little fluid on drawing;
(8) gaudi or fermented liquor obtained from treacle and (9) sidhu or fermented liquor obtained from the sugar cane juice. The properties of these preparations are mostly those of sugar.
Sugar P. 382.
Medicinal Plants of Middle America . P. 39.
In curacao, the dry fallen leaves are boiled and the decoction taken to rleive urinary complaints. Cubans drink the juice of the crushed stems or the root decoction as a diuretics. In the old literature, it is said that Cubans roast the stems and immediately suck the jice to cure chronic dysentery and long standing diarrhea. In Mexico , the juice of the roasted stems is taken as a cold remedy. The mashed root is applied to extract splinters from the flesh, mixed with vinegar, the crushed root is spread on as a poultice to cure backache, the mashed leaves relieve skin inflammation; the ash of the epidermis mixed with vinegar is applied on ring worm.