Roman antibiotics

Also from Tangled Bank comes news of a study looking at the evidence for various infectious diseases from the skeletons of people killed at Herculaneum by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Among the diseases was brucellosis, evidence for which was also gleaned from the carbonized cheeses found at the site. Herculaneum was apparently famous for its goat cheeses, which seem, however, to have been badly infected. Which is all amazing enough. But one of the commenters on the article points to another paper which adds a twist to the story.

It seems the inhabitants of Herculaneum, despite their brucellosis and tuberculosis, were relatively free of non-specific bone inflammations. And that may be because:

Pomegranates and figs, consumed by the population, were mainly dried and invariably contaminated by Streptomyces, a bacterium that produces natural tetracycline, an antibiotic.

Is there similar evidence from contemporary populations of the protection conferred by natural antibiotics?

The Ojibwa and wild rice

Smithsonian Magazine has a short article, photos and a video online about a Native American tribe called the Ojibwa, who live in northern Minnesota, and their close connection with wild rice, “manoomin,” or Zizania aquatica. We talked about this before. Ricing is central to the Ojibwa’s founding story, and also a welcome source of income (unemployment is at 50%):

The White Earth Land Recovery Project, run by political activist and tribe member Winona LaDuke, was started 18 years ago to preserve the harvest and boost the tribe’s share of the proceeds. It operates a mill on the reservation and markets Native Harvest wild rice to specialty stores around the country (and through Ojibwa wild rice is one of only five U.S. products supported by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, an international organization based in Italy that aims to preserve traditional or artisan foods.

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A famous Italian lentil

I spent the weekend in the Abruzzo region of Italy, which is kind of in the middle of the peninsula, both north-south and east-west. L’Aquila, the seat of the provincial government, is a couple of hours’ drive east of Rome. One of the places we visited was Santo Stefano di Sessanio, which is actually in the Gran Sasso National Park. It’s a pleasant enough medieval village, very well restored, though it has a whiff of Disneyland about it these days, especially in the summer.

Anyway, one of the many interesting things about this place is that it is famous for a particular kind of lentil — very small, tasty and apparently not needing to be soaked before cooking. And expensive. I don’t think the Lenticchia di Santo Stefano (photo below) has been protected like France’s Puy lentil, though.


Incidentally, I came across that last link purely by coincidence today. I was going to talk about the Santo Stefano lentil anyway, but then a Google alert sent me to a posting in the Cookthink blog which mentions an article in The New Yorker about the place where I work, and refers back to the earlier piece about lentils.