Surely there’s nothing more innocuous than a tomato, and yet until the mid-nineteenth century it was thought to be poisonous and too dangerous to grow in a garden. It’s fascinating to read in Victorian gardening literature how attitudes gradually changed. By the end of the century eating a tomato was thought to be as harmless as drinking a cup of tea.
Except that tea was, for a time, thought to be a dangerous drug. This quotation is from the medical journal, the Lancet, in 1872:
“Dr Aldridge has put forth a very sensible protest against the pernicious custom which rarely receives sufficient attention either from the medical profession or the public. He says that the women of the working classes make tea a principal article of diet instead of an occasional beverage; they drink it several times a day, and the result is a lamentable amount of sickness. This is no doubt the case, and as Dr Aldridge remarks, a portion of the reforming zeal which keeps up such a fierce and bitter agitation against intoxicating drinks might advantageously be diverted to the repression of this very serious evil of tea tippling among the poorer classes. Tea, in anything beyond moderate quantities, is as distinctly a narcotic poison as is opium or alcohol. It is capable of ruining the digestion, of enfeebling and disordering the heart’s action, and of generally shattering the nerves. … This is a form of animal indulgence which is as distinctly sensual, extravagant, and pernicious, as any beer-swilling or gin-drinking in the world.”
After finishing my fourth cup of tea of the morning, I now know why my nerves are shattered.