Did you ever wonder about the history of edible plants? I grew up with a garden that contained Rhubarb. My mom always told me, “Don’t eat the leaves. Only the stalks are good.” How did she know this? My guess is that her mom told her the same thing, and her mom’s mom told her mom, and so on backwards through time… to what?

Well, it would seem we would have to conclude that at some point the world was a blank slate and our ancestors were hungry. They either drew straws, flipped a Drachma, or picked that gullible cousin, Grug, to take a bite out of the various plants around them. “Here, Grug. Try this little red phallic thing growing in this wildebeest dung. Looks delicious.” After several hours of observation, if Grug was still alive they added a new item to the menu. If Grug was dead, for generations to come parents would tell their kids, “Don’t eat the leaf of that plant. Grug ate the stalk and he was fine. But when he ate the leaf he spewed green slime and turned inside out.” Of course if Grug was alive, but suddenly standing upright, speaking a new language, and seeing God…they might have discovered hallucinogenic mushrooms. But that’s another article.

Isn’t it amazing the variety of edible plants we now have? Think of all the poor, gullible cousins who sacrificed their lives so that we would know what we could and couldn’t eat – which brings us to the grape. The grape was one of those discoveries that must have been cause for celebration. It’s pretty, it’s sweet, it’s juicy… and it doesn’t kill you! We probably stopped trying other plants for a while once we discovered the grape… why risk death when you’ve got something so yummy and safe already?

So here it is… an end-all, be-all scrumptiously perfect edible plant and what do we do? We jump up and down on it, mash it into a big mushy pulp, and then let it rot. So I ask you, from an evolutionary standpoint, does that make any sense at all? I can see why some might point to divine intervention in the case of the invention of wine. I mean we couldn’t even legitimately ask of the inventor, “What was he drinking?”

Whatever the happy accident that caused it, wine has been around since before recorded history. It’s first mention was around 5400 BC in Sumeria. Back then it was socially acceptable to be drunk. Heck, the gods went around smashed most of the time. It was almost a sign of being godly. In the Epic of Gilgamesh the gods had a being whose sole purpose was to make wine for them – Siduri, the Woman of the Vine. In the Hebrew Bible, the first thing Noah did when he got off the ark was plant a vineyard, make wine, and get plastered. What would you do if you just spent a year on a boat with thousands of animals and ancient plumbing? Jesus was a big fan of wine too. His first miracle in fact resulted from his having forgotten to bring a gift to his cousin’s wedding, so he made up for it by turning the water into wine at the reception.

What about recent history? Read A Brief History of Wine, Part 2.