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Collected Wisdom

A juicier cure for scurvy Add to ...

Arrr! Belay, me hearties, and welcome aboard the barquentine Collected Wisdom. And don't worry, our barque is worse than our bite. So load the cargo, hoist the mainsail and don't forget that crate of limes. We need them for our gin and tonic.

THE QUESTION: Amanda Van Schyndel of Simcoe, Ont., was telling her Grade 9 students about British sailors eating limes, or drinking lime juice, to prevent scurvy. "One bright young girl," she says, "asked me why they didn't just eat oranges as they would be much more tasty. I think oranges from Spain would have been as easy as limes to obtain," she says, so why did they use limes?

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THE ANSWER: It wasn't until the mid-18th century that the link between citrus fruits and the prevention of scurvy was established, says Geoff Wozniak of Brantford, Ont. "Even then, it was thought that the acidity was the contributing factor" as the isolation of vitamin C and its link to scurvy wasn't established until 1932.

Over now to Carla Hagstrom, who has been poring over an article titled The Clinical Definition of Scurvy and the Discovery of Vitamin C, by L.G. Wilson in the Journal of the History of Medicine, January, 1975.

She says the "lime juice" used to prevent and/or cure scurvy was actually lemon juice (although sometimes it was juice from the Mediterranean sweet lime) up to about 1860.

After that, the British navy started using the preserved juice of the West Indian sour lime that grew in its Caribbean colonies, but which contains "only between a quarter and a third of the antiscorbutic power of fresh lemons." Furthermore, "the preservation process destroyed just about all the lime's antiscorbutic vitamin. The navy also used an evaporated form of lemon juice, but the processing destroyed the vitamin C."

She adds: "James Lind wrote A Treatise of the Scurvy in 1753, in which he described how oranges were effective in curing scurvy, but the British navy didn't start distributing lemon juice until 1795."

Which brings us back to the original question: Why didn't they use oranges?

James Clark of Brockville, Ont., says oranges, being sweeter and having a have a thinner skin than limes, spoiled sooner. Also, "Catholic Spain was frequently at war with those vile Protestant English."

THE QUESTION: Why are lumber measurements all incorrect? asks G. Nicholson of Toronto. "For example, a piece of wood the hardware store bills as a 2-by-4 is actually more like 1.5 by 3.5 inches."

THE ANSWER: "The measurements are for unplaned lumber as it comes through the sawing process," writes Robert Lindsay of Peace River, Alta. "If you can find unplaned lumber, a 2-by-4 will be 2 inches by 4 inches." Planing the lumber smoothes its surfaces by removing a portion of the wood from each face of the board, he says, thus reducing the finished dimensions.

HELP WANTED

  • Does the Queen have to carry a passport when she travels? Pauline Rowe of Hamilton wants to know.
  • Rory Gilfillan, of Lakefield, Ont., wonders why, when he begins to fall asleep, he'll sometimes jerk suddenly and wake up.

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