J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, January 22, 2023

Four Million Pounds of Leaves

At the Regency Explorer, Anna M. Thane shared information about a problem I hadn’t consider: counterfeit tea.

That doesn’t mean the labrador and other herbal infusions that Whig leaders like Dr. Thomas Young promoted as a substitute for tea during the boycott 250 years ago.

Rather, this problem was leaves of other plants sold as genuine tea in Britain. According to Thane:
A government report states in 1783 that the quantity of fictitious tea made from sloe and ash-tree leaves sums up to more than four million pounds (compare to the whole quantity of genuine tea sold by the East India Company: about 6 million pounds per year).
For consumers the problem wasn’t just not getting the tea (and caffeine) they expected. Turning sloe and ash-tree leaves into something that looked like black tea started with boiling them with verdigris, which was poisonous. For green tea, the leaves would be colored with the same substance. Also, sloe was known as a purgative.

In 1820 a chemist named Frederick Accum published A Treatise on Adulterations of Food, and Culinary Poisons in London describing the tricks of making counterfeit tea and also the ways of testing the leaves one had bought to make sure they were genuine.

Check out the Regency Explorer for that vital information. Seems like it might be especially useful for a mystery novelist.

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