Wild Rice in Isleworth, 1790

IMG_2616Looking into the cabinets of the RBGE herbarium never fails to turn up a surprise. Today I was looking for specimens that might have come from the almost entirely destroyed collection of John Hope, our great Enlightenment Regius Keeper. I went to see if there were any specimens of wild rice (Zizania palustris), a North American species in which he took an interest. There was none that could have belonged to Hope himself, but of equal interest was a small sheet from the collection of Archibald Menzies (whose career, which included introducing the monkey-puzzle tree, was launched by Hope). On his death in 1842 Menzies left his grasses, sedges and non-flowering plants to RBGE. These are mounted on curiously small (145 x 229 mm) sheets, which, confusingly, are labelled on the back. When I turned this sheet over, I was amazed to read the collecting locality as ‘In the pond at Spring Grove’. This instantly rang a bell as the Isleworth country house of Sir Joseph Banks.

From the published summary of Banks’s correspondence the story can be pieced together, as in it are several references to Zizania. Banks first obtained seed of the ‘Folles Avoine’ from an un-named source in Montreal in 1787, which could have been either Thomas Davies or Mervyn Nooth. Nooth was a pupil of Hope, who had several spells in North America, initially in a military capacity and later as Superintendent of the Quebec Hospital. He is better known for inventing a device for carbonating soda water (more accurately improving Joseph Priestley’s one). In an 1800 letter to James Edward Smith (another Hope pupil), Banks told Smith that Zizania was growing well by his pond, and that he had just obtained seed of another aquatic, Eriocaulon (first discovered in Skye by another Hope pupil, James Robertson) and hoped that it would grow as well as the grass, which it should be noted the French called ‘mad oats’ rather than ‘wild rice’.

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  1. Denis Robillard

    Hi Henry. Thanks for your post and keeping the zazania plant in focus from North America. I was also able to piece together some further details on this while conducting my research on Nooth. Jusrt so others know, John Mervin Nooth was born in 1737 and died in 1827. He lived in Quebec from 1788 to 1799 and was head of the Medical Department in Quebec.

    ZIZANIA PLANT 1789

    Befitting his love of botany and his need to seek out new medical material, Nooth took up an avid interest in domestic plants, in particular the zazania plant; this being just briefly after his arrival to Quebec in 1788. The details of this plant are first mentioned in a letter exchanged with Joseph Banks in 1789 and written by Dr. Christopher Carter, a medical friend of Nooth’s at Hotel Dieu in Quebec. Dated October 21, 1789, the letter mentioned that Dr. Nooth was sending some folle avoine to Banks. The later being the French appellate for the riverbank plant known in most circles as wild rice. But Nooth may not have been the first to send this plant back to England. Our Thomas Davies had gotten a hold of some up country as well and has dispatched it back to Kew in 1787.

    Also in 1787, a cousin of Joseph Banks named Odiham was sending to the Banks household a package of folles avoine or wild rice from a contact of his at Montreal. (there is not enough evidence to say that this was Nooth or Davies). They were also sending along black cherry stones and Plinoise nuts. In a follow up letter, Odiham indicated that the Sizain had not yet germinated.

    Nooth had become an old hand at sending plants in sound condition for instant use upon their intended destination.. As far back as 1781 he made mention of this knowledge in a letter to Lord Verulam of Gorhambury:

    “ I had the honor of writing Mrs. Walter ( his cousin) and encouraged by her former kindness, I took the liberty of desiring her to get some garden seeds from Bury Hill….The probability of the seeds being spoilt on the passage is always a sufficient excuse for the seeds not growing, although they had really passed their vegetating state…The best way to obviate the ill effects of the voyage is to pick the seeds in dry bottles, well corked and packed in the driest manner.”

    This sagacity around precautions followed him to Canada when he was freed-up to send seeds and samples of the zazania to Kew Gardens and beyond. One such contact was with the curate Gilbert White, a well known naturalist.

    Writing in his Garden Diary, Gilbert White of Selbourne wrote on August 23rd 1788 about these plants:

    “Some mushrooms spring on my hotbeds. Zizania aquatica, Linn: called by the English settlers wild Rice; & by the Canadian French– Folle Avoin. In consequence of an application to a Gentleman at Quebec, ( perhaps Nooth ) my Bro. Thomas White received a cask of the seed of this plant, part of which was sent down to Selborne. His desire was to have received it in the ear, as it then would have been much more likely to have retain’d it’s vegetative faculty: but this part of his request was not attended to; for the seed arrived stript even of it’s husk. It has a pleasant taste, & makes a pudding equal to rice, or millet. This kind of corn, growing naturally in the water, is of great service to the wild natives of the south west part of N. America: for as Carver in his travels says, they have no farther care & trouble with it than only to tie it up in bunches when it first comes into ear, & when ripe to gather it into their boats; every person or family knowing their own by some distinction in the bandage. Carver observes, that it would be very advantageous to new settlers in that country, as it furnishes at once a store of corn the first year; & by that means removes the distress & difficulty incident to new colonies till their first crop begins to ripen. Linnaeus has given this plant the name of Zizania: but what could induce the celebrated Botanist to degrade this very beneficial grain with the title of that pernicious weed which the enemy in the parable served among the good-corn while men slept, does not so easily appear.”

    Some further information on the zazania plants sent by Nooth to London found their way into print form and were republished in both 1804 and 1805 by the Monthly Review. Tilloch’s Philosophical Magazine of 1805 and Arthur Aiken’s Annual Review of Literature in 1805, also showcased information about zazania plants with a purely Canadian connection. Nooth’s name is mentioned with this plant when Aylmer Bourcke Lambert read a paper about his observations on it to the Linnaean Society on December 6th, 1803. The Linnaean Society had been founded in 1788 and the meetings were often held at Burlington House near Berkley St.

    Although records are spotty it would appear that Nooth’s was a member at large of the Society around 1804, long after he had left Canada. Lambert goes on to say this about the zizania in his lecture:

    “The seed of the Zizania Aquatica in a vegetating state from America was long a “desideratum” (or wish list) among the botanists of this country, for although seeds were received here at different times, yet none of them grew, at last, Dr. Nooth, by the desire of Joseph Banks sent them from the lakes of Canada put them in jars of water. As soon as they arrived they were soon in a proper situation where they came up in a few days and the plants ripened their seeds extremely well in the autumn. In a pond at Spring Grove (Kew), Sir Joseph Banks has a great quantity of the plant, growing annually, ripening its seeds, and sowing itself around the edges.”
    This first trial with the jars securing the live plants was likely in 1791 and these seeds, procured from Canada, were immediately sown in a pond owned by Joseph Banks near Hounslow. Under his care, these plants grew, and produced strong plants, which ripened their seeds. In turn those seeds vegetated in the succeeding spring; but the plants they produced were weak, slender, not half so tall as those of the first generation, and grew in shallow water only. The seeds of these plants subsequently produced others the next year sensibly stronger than their parents of the second year.
    In this manner the plants proceeded, springing up every year from the seeds of the preceding one, every year becoming visibly stronger and larger. Then by 1804, several of these plants had reached six feet in height, and the whole pond was in every part covered with them as thick as wheat grows on a well-managed field.
    According to Pulteney, with whom Nooth corresponded as early as 1766, sometime in 1792 at an imprecise date, Nooth had sent another series of plants from Ontario to Sir Joseph Banks. Dr. Pulteney and Dr. Gartshore happened to be at Kew visiting Banks when the package of seeds arrived and also made a note of it in their own respective diaries. It appears that Nooth has collected these plants while on a scientific field trip to Ontario with Governor Simcoe.

    • Denis Robillard

      Sorry for the typo. Actually Dr. Nooth was born in 1737 and died in 1828. He also collected plants while he was in Rhode Island during the war. I may be able to post that at a later date.

  2. Denis Robillard

    For the Love of Botany
    The botanical connections of Dr. John Mervin Nooth
    By Denis Robillard, 2015

    ‘To tell the truth I am somewhat bit at present by botany and can’t keep thinking everyone as fond of shrubs and trees as myself.”
    Here we have it directly, Dr. John Mervin Nooth (FSR) of Sturminster Newton was a self- avowed botany nut. He says so in a detailed letter back home to his cousin in Gorhambury, England in about 1779. He was sending home some shrubs from New York on an invalid ship in care of Mr. Hatcher from the hospital staff.
    Although his Edinburgh university records from 1762-1766 are somewhat silent on the subject it would appear that Nooth developed a passion and outright fascination with plants and botany while there. Dr. John Hope may very well have been one of his first instigators. Academic records obtained from the Edinburgh Botanical Garden’s, Dr. Noltie reveal that John Mervin Nooth was indeed enrolled in Dr. Hope’s botany class in 1764. This was followed up by a class in material medica in 1765.
    According to botany researcher Derek Doyle of Edinburgh, Dr. Nooth and his fellow students would have used the Pharmacopeia of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh as a standard study text. The editors of the 1744 edition would have all been Edinburgh physicians, although Dr. Hope was not among them. It was a Latin text, although English was fast becoming the lingua franca of medical instruction at Edinburgh as early as 1760. The principal elements of the pharmacopeia included topical applications, ointments, lotions etc. Among the more popular listed were : acacia, opium preparations, ipecacua, balsamics, senna, aloe, hyssop, calamine, cream of tartar, jalop, laudanum and mercurials.
    By the time he had arrived in America in 1776 Nooth’s botanical/agricultural fascination seems to have sprouted in full force. That year Nooth was comfortably attached to the British army’s medical corps, having arrived in Rhode island in early December 1776. The island had a purely strategic value for the British forces due to its closeness to the coastal shipping lanes.
    According to Howe’s General Orders for Rhode island between December 1776 and January 1778 it’s evident that Nooth had other tasks to do besides overseeing the medical staff. He got to exercise two of his favourite hobbies: gardening and botany.
    The orders given in early spring 1776 (March 24th) said: “Each British and Hessian regulars will be required to send a careful man that knows something of gardening tomorrow at 12 o’clock to the British Hospital in order to cultivate a garden for the British and Hessian troops. One sergeant from each regiment will follow the directions of Dr. Nooth.” Putting his cultivating mind to work, Nooth, sought out the additional assistance from a sergeant in the 22nd unit.
    Nooth already knew something about gardening and seeds from his early days at Edinburgh. Working the army’s communal garden would be a perfect fit for him. And not to be misunderstood: anyone caught playing around with the food source would suffer the strictest punishments.
    Failure to follow any directives set out by military personnel meant dire consequences for the perpetrators. By harvest time of that late summer, there were already complaints that some soldiers were passing the sentries at night to dig up potatoes from the garden. Several German men were collared for these severe offences. Running the gauntlet or multiple lashings were the standard forms of punishment in such cases.
    On August 20th 1777, Commander in chief William Howe was forced to give strict orders not to destroy any garden fences, nor to rob gardens or commit any depredations of the food supply. Howe had heard reports through General Lossberg of the German army that several of his soldiers were stealing potatoes and turnips. Not to be undone, cows, pigs, and poultry also suffered depredations from hungry soldiers. Howe decreed that any further disobedience of his general orders would be dealt in the most utmost severity.
    By early August of 1777 some of the crops that remained were ready to be eaten. On August 9th, it was announced that each regiment could receive 100 cabbages for the use of the sick by applying to Dr. Nooth directly at the General Hospital. As the same time as the vegetable cache, each regiment received 4 Butts of Porter wine per regiment. Meanwhile 20 pounds of straw per tent was delivered to the troops.
    By the winter of 1778-79 Nooth had assumed a more important role in the British medical hierarchy. He became Purveyor of all medical departments in North America. He threw his skills headlong into this hectic work. But rest assured he found some cozy opportunities to botanize when he had the chance. That winter he sent some trees and shrubs to a Mr. Turner back in England.
    “ In the fall I shall send another cargo of shrubs having lately formed an acquaintance at the east end of Long Island that will furnish me with a greater variety that I could before procure.”
    He wrote letters back and forth to Lord Gorhambury, who was no featherweight. By 1793 he had become an honorary member of the Board of Agriculture in England. In fact, this was a strong, natural conduit for Nooth to share and disseminate his ideas and knowledge on the subject of botany and agriculture.
    It seems that by 1780 Nooth had become an old hand at sending plants in near- perfect condition for instant use upon their intended destination. On July 18th 1781 he made mention of this knowledge in a letter to Lord Verulam requesting some garden seeds to be sent out from Bury Hill or Gorhambury:

    “ I had the honor of writing Mrs. Walter ( his cousin) and encouraged by her former kindness, I took the liberty of desiring her to get some garden seeds from Bury Hill….The probability of the seeds being spoilt on the passage is always a sufficient excuse for the seeds not growing, although they had really passed their vegetating state…

    The best way to obviate the ill effects of the voyage is to pick the seeds in dry bottles, well corked and packed in the driest manner.”

    ZIZANIA PLANT 1789

    Befitting his love of botany and his need to seek out new medical material, Nooth took up an avid interest in domestic plants, in particular the zizania; this being just briefly after his arrival to Quebec in 1788. The details of this plant are first mentioned in a letter exchanged with Joseph Banks in 1789 and written by Dr. Christopher Carter, a medical friend of Nooth’s at Hotel Dieu in Quebec. Dated October 21, 1789, the letter mentioned that Dr. Nooth was sending some folle avoine to Banks. The latter being the French appellate for the riverbank plant known in most circles as wild rice.

    In a follow up letter written October 25th, 1789 from Quebec, Nooth tells Banks : “ I have the honour of sending you by the Mary Ann, Captain Patterson, a Box enclosing some seeds of the Zizania aquatica which has been collected with care and dried without Smoke. I hope therefore it will arrive in a vegetating State and fully answer your wishes….”

    Further in this letter we find that Nooth has sent other botanical specimens to Banks. Along with the folle avoine, the doctor sent him a small parcel containing an “unknown fruit” which he procured from a friend at William Henry (modern day Sorel). Perhaps this is none other than Dr. Christopher Carter, a fellow chemist, sounding board and close friend.

    Jacques Rousseau in his collection of Nooth letters to Joseph Banks ( Extrait, du Naturaliste Canadien, Vol. LVIII: 1931) has identified this “unknown fruit” as Celtis oocidentalis L. Nooth remarked that its “timber is very hard and very useful”. As we have come to learn, the celtis is more commonly known as nettleberry, sugarberry or hackberry. It has a cork like bark and its berries vary from dark orange red to purple. Peas-sized, they are edible. This deciduous tree in the elm family, can grow up to sixty feet in height and ranges in Quebec and Ontario. It is not known how far Nooth went into research mode with this berry and tree. However, medicinally, a wood extract from this tree can be used in the treatment of jaundice. A decoction of bark has been used in the treatment of sore throats and to combat venereal disease. Lastly, a dye could be extracted from its roots. Again, no follow up from Banks regarding the status of this pant has come to light.

    Later that day in 1789, aboard the “Naples” ship Nooth sent off some specimens from the Cryptogamious class to his friend Dr. Johann David Shoepff a fellow physician residing in Beyreuth who was now focused on compiling samples for his German colleague Screiben who was planning a Flora Americana. Despite the typo, it turns out this person was none other than Johann Christian Daniel Schreber ( 1739-1810). Both Schreber and Shoepff were late students of the famous Linnaeus in Sweden. Schreber became the director of the botanical gardens at the University of Erlangen. He would go on to lend his editorial skills on Linnaeus’ 8th edition of the Genera Plantarum (1789). Aside from this busy botanical work, the professor is known for identifying and cataloguing several Canadian fauna such as the skunk, the bear, river otter and the fisher, among others. He put out a colorful illustrated version of this soon after.

    Schreber also corresponded with other scientists in Europe and knew Daniel Solander, a fellow known to the Royal Society. Perhaps Nooth himself was now secretly desiring to see the 8th edition of the Genera Plantarum for some of the collections he may have contributed to it.
    To finish this letter, Nooth promised to send an even more extensive collection of plants to Banks when he could be free enough to make an excursion in Quebec.

    His second letter to Banks dated November 5th, 1790 contained another carefully packed box of folle avoine as well as some samples of sumach berries ( sanguinaria Canadensis L.) which he had seen used by natives in the Quebec market to dye porcupine quills red. He was also sending a seed or berry that resembled a “coffee berry” but had no distinct name to identify it further.

    Back To Zizania

    Nooth seemed enamored of the zizania plant. There are several notes made of it in his correspondence with Joseph Banks. But Nooth may not have been the first to send this plant back to England. Our Thomas Davies had gotten a hold of some up country as well and has dispatched it back to Kew in 1787.

    Also in 1787, a cousin of Joseph Banks named Odiham was sending to the Banks household a package of folles avoine or wild rice from a contact of his at Montreal. (there is not enough evidence to say that this was Nooth or Davies).

    They were also sending along black cherry stones and Plinoise nuts. In a follow up letter, Odiham indicated that the “Sizain” had not yet germinated.

    Nooth’s botanical sagacity and packing precautions followed him to Canada when he was freed-up to send seeds and samples of the zizania to Kew Gardens and beyond. One such contact was with the curate Gilbert White, a well known naturalist.

    Writing in his Garden Diary, Gilbert White of Selbourne wrote on August 23rd 1788 about these same plants:

    “Some mushrooms spring on my hotbeds. Zizania aquatica, Linn: called by the English settlers wild Rice; & by the Canadian French– Folle Avoin. In consequence of an application to a Gentleman at Quebec, ( perhaps Nooth ) my Bro. Thomas White received a cask of the seed of this plant, part of which was sent down to Selborne. His desire was to have received it in the ear, as it then would have been much more likely to have retain’d it’s vegetative faculty: but this part of his request was not attended to; for the seed arrived stript even of it’s husk. It has a pleasant taste, & makes a pudding equal to rice, or millet. This kind of corn, growing naturally in the water, is of great service to the wild natives of the south west part of N. America: for as Carver in his travels says, they have no farther care & trouble with it than only to tie it up in bunches when it first comes into ear, & when ripe to gather it into their boats; every person or family knowing their own by some distinction in the bandage. Carver observes, that it would be very advantageous to new settlers in that country, as it furnishes at once a store of corn the first year; & by that means removes the distress & difficulty incident to new colonies till their first crop begins to ripen.
    Linnaeus has given this plant the name of Zizania: but what could induce the celebrated Botanist to degrade this very beneficial grain with the title of that pernicious weed which the enemy in the parable served among the good-corn while men slept, does not so easily appear.”

    Nooth’s seventh letter to Joseph Banks is dated October 16th, 1794. In it he shows his pleasure in how the Zizania “succeeds well in Europe. It may certainly be made a very useful article of culture.”
    He also describes how the local Indians collect the seeds of the zizania. ‘Wherever they find the plants numerous and the seeds ripe, they forcibly push their canoes thro’ them & as they pass they beat the seeds into the canoes with their Paddles. He calls this a “rude kind of harvesting.”

    Further details on zizania in London found their way into print form and were republished in both 1804 and 1805 by the Monthly Review. Tilloch’s Philosophical Magazine of 1805 and Arthur Aiken’s Annual Review of Literature in 1805, also showcased information about zizania plants with a purely Canadian connection. Nooth’s name is mentioned with this plant when Aylmer Bourcke Lambert read a paper about his observations on it to the Linnaean Society on December 6th, 1803. The Linnaean Society had been founded in 1788 and the meetings were often held at Burlington House near Berkley St.

    Although records are spotty it would appear that Nooth’s was a member at large of the Society around 1804, long after he had left Canada. Lambert goes on to say this about the zizania in his lecture:

    “The seed of the Zizania Aquatica in a vegetating state from America was long a “desideratum” (or wish list) among the botanists of this country, for although seeds were received here at different times, yet none of them grew, at last, Dr. Nooth, by the desire of Joseph Banks sent them from the lakes of Canada put them in jars of water. As soon as they arrived they were soon in a proper situation where they came up in a few days and the plants ripened their seeds extremely well in the autumn. In a pond at Spring Grove (Kew), Sir Joseph Banks has a great quantity of the plant, growing annually, ripening its seeds, and sowing itself around the edges.”
    This first trial with jars securing live plants was likely in 1791 and these seeds, procured from Canada, were immediately sown in a pond owned by Joseph Banks near Hounslow. We must remember that Banks had acquired his property at Spring Grove Heston in 1779. In this spacious environ he began to grow exotic plants and fruit including American cranberries, apples, peaches and figs.
    Under his care, these plants grew, producing strong plants, which ripened their seeds. In turn those seeds vegetated the succeeding spring; but these plants were weak, slender, not half so tall as those of the first generation, and grew in shallow water only. The seeds of these plants subsequently produced others the next year sensibly stronger than their parents of the second year.

    In this manner the plants proceeded, springing up every year from the seeds of the preceding one, every year becoming visibly stronger and larger. By 1804, several of these plants reached six feet in height. The whole pond was covered with them as thick as wheat grows on a well-managed field.
    Nooth’s letters to Banks between 1789 and 1792 are carefully composed giving detailed accounts of these water plants and the manner in which they were collected and parceled for the arduous sea voyages home. In 1789 they were sent in boxes along with a collection from the Cryptogram class which were slated for Dr. Schoepff his army buddy in Beyreuth. In the late fall of 1790 he sent along more zizania plants under the care of another military protegee, Colonel Davies and he was careful to note that he “ packed it in every manner I could contrive to insure its vegetation on its arrival to Britain.” He further added that “some of the seeds are in wet moss, others in bottles together with the mud of the river where they grew..”

    In a follow up letter from Banks in 1791, Nooth learned that these first samples had successfully germinated at Kew. He found some additional folle avoine plants in Upper Canada the previous July and speculated that “even the heat of a Canadian summer is not capable of bringing these plants to maturity.”
    But as Mr. Tulloch of the Philosophical Magazine pointed out in 1808, “ here we have an experiment which proves, that an annual plant, scarce able to endure the ungenial summer of England, has become, in fourteen generations, as strong and as vigorous as our indigenous plants are, and as perfect in all its parts as in its native climate.”
    Bourck Lambert was convinced this plant could be grown in Great Britain and in Ireland in shallow water and be a substitute for wheat.”

    Other plants

    We must remember that zizania was not the only plant Nooth cared about. There were definitely others on his long list which are mentioned sporadically. Some were picked for their medicinal value while others for their rare, aesthetic value.

    According to Richard Pulteney, with whom Nooth corresponded as early as 1766, sometime in 1792, Nooth had sent another series of plants from Ontario to Sir Joseph Banks. Dr. Pulteney and Dr. Gartshore happened to be at Kew visiting Banks when the package of seeds arrived. They made a note of it in their own respective diaries. It appears that Nooth had collected these plants while on a scientific field trip to Ontario with Governor Simcoe.

    In October 1794,Nooth sent more plants aboard the ship Eweretta with Captain Paterson. These small packages contained three dozen plants of the Cypripedium calceolus. He also sent three plants of Sarracencia purpurea.

    The cypripedium is best known today by its common name, ladies slipper. It was first noted by Linnaeus in 1753 and then by William Aiton in 1789. Nooth recorded collecting this plant in both 1794 and 1797.
    The sarracencia is better known as the purple pitcher plant. First discovered by Nicholas Sarrazin of Quebec, it now bears his name. It was also known as oreille de cochon and nepenthe and was used as tincture to fight smallpox.

    In 1797, a comical incident was noted about plant collecting in Quebec. It seems that Nooth was behind in sending his shipment of cypripedia off to Banks. It was late in the season. It was because he had to fire his drunken gardener and was now at loose ends to find a fresh supply to send off to Banks.

    Nooth was careful to point out in this same letter that he came across a new method of preserving and packing plants and seeds. He says: “they should have their roots well surrounded with swamp moss and the whole well secured in mating. You will see by the enclosed that the practice of packing in Moss was altogether new but I hope it will soon become general on this Continent & in Europe.”

    In 1789 the second edition of the Edinburgh New Dispensatory and Elements of Pharmaceutical Chemistry came out. On page 114 of that volume edited by Andrew Duncan, an old school mate of Nooth’s, we find the following details on acidum abietis of Canada. Duncan says : “it had been prescribed by the late Dr. Hope of the Royal Infirmary at Edinburgh and he found good effects from it in some instances of obstinate coughs and cases of chronic catarrh.” The balsam Canadense, a transparent resinous juice of light amber color was good for phthisical affections,” Duncan mentioned.

    On page 164 of this same book we find a description of the aquatic avens plant. This is a rough plant found wild in the Canadian woods. It smells like cloves and the root has a warm, bitter astringent taste. The root has been used as a stomachic to strengthen the visera. It produces an essential oil which can be used with Peruvian bark. It serves as a substitute for quinine and is good against ague, cancer, chills, diarrhea, dysentery and fever. A cordial for ague could be used by boiling the root in wine. Dr. Withering (who incidently was a roommate of Nooth’s at Edinburgh) mentions that “the powder of the root is used for these purposes by the Canadians.”

    For the Good of his Majesty’s Service

    Further to plants collected in Quebec, in the fall of 1797, Nooth’s medical colleague at Quebec, Dr. George Longmore, composed a report about 14 soldiers who had been accidentally poisoned at the barracks in that city by drinking a concoction of home-made tea. This report eventually made it into the hands of Andrew Duncan who published it in “ Medical Commentaries of Edinburgh” Volume 3 in 1799. In his original report Longmore takes great pains to make accurate observations on the physical state of the men. After a few days when the urgency of the incident began to subside, Nooth and Longmore began “to inquire more particularly into the nature of the tea which had produced such alarming and deleterious effects.” On examining the plants, they discovered three different genera of the class of decandria. These consisted of the ledum, the andromeda and the gualteria. All three plants were collected in the same neighbourhood of the Quebec garrison.
    The doctors observed that the ledum palustre is very commonly used as a tea by the lower classes of inhabitants in Quebec. It is known under the name Labrador tea. The andromeda is a rough and disagreeably bitter tea, said Longmore. The gaulteria is more pleasant. “A tea of the last is frequently used by the Canadians and is said to be a cooling and grateful tissan in fevers.” Longmore observed that “many of these plants of this class appear more or less to be poisonous.

    “They are extremely active when taken in quantity and may perhaps at some future period, be introduced into practice as remedies of considerable efficacy.”

    Dr. Longmore further went on to say that some native in the Hudson’s bay area employ strong decoction of the Andromeda to intoxicate and stupify themselves.”

    According to Longmore in his report, all 14 men began to exhibit symptoms about 20 minutes after drinking their concoction of tea. “Within the hour most of them had taken ill and several now appeared to me to be in the most imminent danger.” In all of this drama, Longmore did not hesitate to praise his medical friend:

    “I immediately dispatched the orderly man of the hospital to request the assistance of my friend Dr. Nooth, who in every case of emergency, and indeed upon all occasions, is ever ready to show his humanity and to exert his professional talents for the good of his majesty’s service.”

    Nooth stayed on with his capable Quebec medical staff until 1799, until a freak horse riding accident affected Prince Edward in Halifax. The tumble produced severe injuries and a broken leg which necessitated Nooth’s careful attention and succor and both he and the Prince’s immediate return to England. In one of his last letters back to London dated February 16th, 1799, Nooth alludes to another letter he had sent to Joseph Banks giving details about one of Scotland’s greatest botanical masters. Nooth reported uncheerfully that Francis Masson who was now living in Montreal “ was still in good health but out of humour with our long winters in Canada.”

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