Maize according to Leonhart Fuchs

Another post in the intermittent series about the impact of the Columbian exchange in Germany. This is the entry on maize (Zea mays) in Leonhart Fuchs 1543 New Kreüterbuch:

Of Turkish Corn (Türckischem Korn)

Names: The present plant was also recently brought to us from Turkey, Asia, and Greece, which is why it is called Turkish corn (Türckisch korn). It has not been called anything other than Turcicum frumentum in Latin.

Turkish corn from Fuchs, courtesy of wikimedia commons

Its Kinds: There are four kinds of Turkish corn. One with brown grains, one with red (rotlechtem) ones, one with yellow ones, and one with white ones. They also differ in the ears (aehern) which, though they are all pointy, flower in various colours according to the colour of the grain they produce, one brown, the other red, and so forth. Otherwise they are identical to each other which is why we have incorporated them all into one painting and figure.

Its Appearance: Turkish corn produces very tall stalks or stems (helm oder stengel) which are round, thick, and brown towards the root, with many knots or nodes (knoepffen oder gewerben). The leaves are long, similar to those of reeds (scharpffen Ried oder Rhorblettern). It produces ears on the stalks, but these are pointy and entirely empty for they produce no seeds. They flower like rye, sometimes brown, sometimes red, sometimes white or yellow, according to the grain they produce. The grains are triangular and lie enclosed in large, round sheaths of grass that are shaggy (auszotteten) at the top and emerge from the sides of the stalks. These grains are also pressed close together and sometimes a sheath contains eight rows, sometimes ten, rarely more. The shaggy hair that grows on top of the grass sheaths has the same colour as the grain that is enclosed within. The root is comprised of many small hairs.

Place of Cultivation: As stated above, this grain was first brought to our country from Turkey. They thrive here, as they are now almost common and are counted in many gardens.

Season: Turkish corn must be sown in spring, mainly in April, but in our lands it only ripens in autumn.

Its Nature and Complexion: Turkish corn undoubtedly shares one nature and complexion with wheat, the reason for which we indicated in our Latin herbal.

Its Use and Effect: As Turkish corn has one nature with wheat, it also has the same effect. People make extraordinarily pretty white flour from this grain and then bake bread with it, which easily causes constipation. That is why, as it is said, this grain is not used for bread in Turkey except in times of dearth when no other kind of crop can be had. The juice of the leaves is said to be slightly cold, which is why many use it against bloody fluxes (rotlauff).

This is an interesting text for several reasons. First, maize (again, this is clearly Zea mays, a New World crop) is associated firmly with the Ottoman Empire. Fuchs is oblivious to its origin, a perspective he shares with many others. Maize is associated with Turkey in many European languages and its cultivation spread to Central Europe from the Ottoman realm, where it was adopted early. In Germany, it is still not fully accepted as food though it is widely grown as livestock feed and, lately, an energy crop. It is interesting to note that Fuchs considers it a common garden plant by 1543 and casually mentions bread produced from it causing constipation, and this may be the clue to its failure to gain a foothold. To Germans at the time, grain crops were predominantly bread crops. A cereal that produced bad bread was not really a worthwhile addition. It is an interesting but idle speculation whether it might have succeeded better had it been named ‘Turkish millet’, but the low status of porridge compared to bread suggests it might not have.

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