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David Watson Hood, visual artist.
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Potato catriona: Solanum tuberosum L. cv. Catriona. Breeder: A. Findlay, Auchtermuchty, Scotland. Potato, potatoes, Buntàta, Tatties, Totties, Spuds (by association with spud: a narrow bladed long handled digging implement).


Potato catriona, flowersThe tattie has been both a curse and a blessing in the history of Scotland as it has to Ireland. Many individuals have been thankful for its productivity, but that very productivity allowed many to be dispossessed of their land. Landlords calculated that a cheap supply of labour (for kelp burning etc.) could be maintained on ever smaller holdings, with fertility maintained by the, seriously miss-named, 'lazy bed' system. The result was the poor became dependent on a single intensive staple crop with the consequence of the so called potato famines 1847 to 1857 the mortality was not as high in Scotland as it was in Ireland, for several reasons including less mono-crop dependency, but it was still a major contributory cause of the clearances as well as of economic migration.

When it first came to Europe many viewed the plant with grave suspicion as it was so obviously related to some of the most notoriously poisonous species. In 1748 the French Parliament had actually forbidden the cultivation of the potato believing amongst other things that it caused leprosy. After the apothecary Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737-1813), who had been fed potatoes as a P.O.W. of the Prussians, campaigned on its behalf the Paris Faculty of Medicine declared potatoes edible in 1772. However there was still a widespread objection to it as food and Parmentier began a very modern style of P.R. campaign with a series of publicity stunts for which he remains famous. French acceptance was probably finally achieved after failed harvests in 1785 and the siege of the first Paris commune in 1795, on both occasions the tattie saved many from starvation. To avoid disappointment in restaurants, remember the classic dish called "parmentier" is basically like 'shepherd's pie' or 'stovies' and 'Potage Parmentier' is 'leek and tattie soup'.

In my own little world the day of the year when the first new-potatoes are dug is definitely a red letter day. Usually by then we have succumbed and bought a couple of pounds of 'Jerseys' from the shop and inevitably been hugely disappointed. The degrading of our food by commerce shows most clearly in the most humble and ubiquitous of products. The domesticated potato has literally thousands of varieties, although the shopper in the average supermarket could be forgiven for not realising this. It often seems to me that the differences between one variety of potato and another vastly exceed the difference in taste between different varieties of wine grape yet we are often much better informed about them.

All potato tubers contain toxic glycoalkaloids mostly solanine and chaconine (< 5 mg/100 g of tuber fresh weight) pre- or post-harvest stress factors can cause a rapid increase in these toxic glycoalkaloids which have insecticidal and fungicidal properties. The levels also vary according to variety and growing conditions and are more concentrated in the skin and outer layer of the tuber. Our main protection against them is that they taste bitter.
There have been many reported cases of human poisonings (sometimes fatal) due to the ingestion of greened (the green itself is harmless chlorophyll but indicates the tuber has been stressed by light exposure) or otherwise damaged potatoes. Based on limited human data, an intake of 3-6 mg TGA/kg bw is considered a potentially lethal dose for humans, and >1 to 3 mg TGA/kg bw is considered a toxic dose for humans. Children may be more sensitive than adults. That said my grandmother had a positive addiction to green potatoes (she left them on the window sill to 'ripen') she was 95 when she died. One of her fortune telling traveller acquaintances had predicted she would live to 96 so perhaps they did shorten her life.

The European Cultivated Potato Database is the result of a five year collaboration between participants in 8 European Union countries and 5 East European Countries. The participants included national gene banks, research institutes, private breeders and NGOs.

Non-medical uses of potatoes
The tubers are still a major staple of most peoples' diet. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the worldwide production of potatoes in 2005 was 322 million metric tons which makes it the fifth highest production crop in the world. A close relative of the nightshades like all the Solanum species most parts the potato plant are toxic including the tubers if green or sprouting, deaths have occurred.

The tubers are a source of starch that is used in sizing cotton and to make industrial alcohol etc. It also has many other uses in industry. Ripe potato juice is an excellent cleaner of silks, cottons and woollens. The water in which potatoes have been boiled can be used to clean silver and to restore a shine to furniture. Emollient and cleansing face masks are made from potatoes; these are used to treat hard, greasy and wrinkled skins. The potato is a good source of biomass. When boiled with weak sulphuric acid, potato starch is changed into glucose and this can then be fermented into alcohol.
Catriona in particular: Is a floury potato good for tattie scones.

Medicinal uses of potatoes
Antibacterial, Antifungal, Antiphlogistic, Antispasmodic, Cardiotonic, Hypotensive, Poultice.
Definitons of medical actions

Potatoes have a number of medicinal virtues. A juice made from the tubers, when taken in moderation, can be helpful in the treatment of peptic ulcers, bringing relief from pain and acidity. Excessive doses of potato juice can be toxic - do not drink the juice of more than one large potato per day. A poultice has been made from boiling potatoes in water. This is applied as hot as can be borne to rheumatic joints, swellings, skin rashes, haemorrhoids etc. Peeled but uncooked potatoes have been pounded in a mortar and then applied cold as a soothing plaster to burns and scalds. Potato skins are used in India to treat swollen gums and to heal burns. The tubers contain very small quantities of atropine alkaloids. One property of these alkaloids is the reduction of digestive secretions, including acids produced in the stomach. The root and leaf diffusates of growing potato plants possess cardiotonic activity. Dried ethanol extracts of above-ground parts of the plant show marked hypotensive and myotropic action and a spasmolytic and soothing effect on intestinal musculature. Ethanol extracts of the leaves have antifungal properties, active against Phytophthora infestans (the cause of potato late blight). The leaves, seeds, and tuber extracts show antimicrobial activity against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. The leaves are antispasmodic.

Sources:
Plants For A Future, www.pfaf.org/index.html
The European Cultivated Potato Database, it is searchable at http://www.europotato.org/menu.php it has information on 4,120 cultivated varieties. The database for related Solanum species (wild and primitive species). Is downloadable as a Access file from http://www.genebank.nl/research/eupotato/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoine-Augustin_Parmentier
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potato
SOLANINE AND CHACONINE First draft prepared by Dr T. Kuiper-Goodman and Dr P.S. Nawrot, Bureau of Chemical Safety, Health and Welfare Canada http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v30je19.htm

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