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Ask Patrick About Scurvy

Posted by Patrick on November 06, 2013

ASK PATRICK IN PRODUCE:

Dear Patrick - It’s the year 1786, and I must circumnavigate the globe for Spain! Do you have any advice on how to avoid scurvy?
- Captain Malaspina, 1786


Advice

Dear Captain,

You see, for most of human history, people couldn’t just head on over to the co-op and pick up fresh produce- so some of the advice I’m about to give is 225 years too late for you.

Thankfully, your chief medical officer, Pedro González, understands the cure - if not the cause - for scurvy. It’s a cure that has been forgotten almost as many times as it has been discovered. Scurvy has been the scourge of mariners for time immemorial. The cause is a lack of vitamin C - which is found in abundance in all fresh fruits and vegetables. Since the body uses vitamin C to make collagen, and collagen holds the body together, a long-term deficiency of vitamin C is horrible indeed.

Dr. González believes that fresh citrus is especially potent for curing and preventing scurvy, and the universal assumption is that such foods are particularly rich in vitamin C. But there’s always something on the produce stand that’s a great source of vitamin C. Chilli peppers and bell peppers are particularly rich in the stuff, containing four times as much as a lemon or orange. Kiwi is another great fruit to check out if you’re looking to be ascorbic, and if you want to avoid the fruit and eat the veg, I can seriously recommend broccoli, or parsley.

But you experienced circumnavigators may realize that most of these fruits and vegetables are not going to last long enough to carry across the ocean. For those longer trips , you want to load up on fresh citrus. In your day, just like at the co-op, it’s all organic.

Even with hardy seasonal citrus, storing it is going to be tricky. While we have downright magical refrigeration technology, you’re not so lucky. You might convince Ship’s Chirurgeon González to stock up on some of our vitamin-C rich fermented vegetables.

What all my readers - from this and any century - need to know, is that all fresh fruits and vegetables are perfect, balanced sources of vitamin C. And if you want to go to sea, lemons, grapefruit, limes and oranges are just now coming on strong. It’s about to be the peak of the season.

So,  you’re in luck there. In fact, Alessandro Malaspina, using my magic ball, I foresee that you might make it through this whole thing without losing a single man to scurvy!