This wonderful tree has done in less than a week what all the physicians of Louvain and Montpellier, using all the drugs of Alexandria, would not be able to accomplish in a year. — Jacques Cartier, Voyages au Canada.
In 1534, Jacques Carrier and his explorers discovered Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence. Unfortunately, the crew encountered bad weather, and large chunks of ice prevented Carrier and his crew from leaving the St. Lawrence Waterway in the winter of 1534. Their supply of food was dwindling, so they landed on the Quebec Peninsula to hunt and trap for food. While on board the ship, they survived mostly on salted meat and biscuits. There were no fresh fruits or vegetables to be had.
In December 1534, the explorers were struck by Scurvy, a loathsome disease caused by a severe deficiency of Vitamin C. At first, the victims experienced muscle weakness and pain, which gave way to total exhaustion. The skin turned sallow. Gums started to bleed and ulcerate, swell grotesquely and deteriorate, causing teeth to fall out. The breath became foul, the bones became brittle and the jawbone rotted. Hemorrhaging, apparent at first as large bruises in the muscles, spread to other tissues. This led to lung and kidney failure, followed by death. Scurvy had killed 25 of the 110-man crew, and more than 50 others were on their way. Only three sailors did not get ill. Most of the remainder were too weak to hunt or even dig graves for their departed comrades. With their remaining strength, they were only able to cover them with snow.
Cartier’s historian recorded,
“Some of them lost all their strength and could no longer stand on their feet. Their legs were swollen and their tendons deteriorated, becoming as black as coal. Others got reddish, purple spots on their skin. They began to suffer from halitosis (foul breath) and their gums were so rotten, they receded to the root of their teeth, where they almost fell out.”
The crew was desperate to find out what was slowly but surely killing them all one by one.
“That day Phillipe de Rougemont died…our captain allowed his body to be dissected in order to see if one way or another we could discover what the problem was. We found that his heart was white but rotten and it was surrounded by a liter of red water.”
Many of the crew members had died before Cartier and the surviving members met a Native American Indian who told them of a tea brewed from the bark and leaves of the Aneeda tree that could easily cure this deadly affliction. The tea should then be consumed with some of the liquid topically applied to swollen joints. Cartier immediately tried this remedy on two of his sailors and they improved so much within a week, that he gave the tea to all of them. Thanks to the Indian’s advice, Cartier and some of his crew survived.
Four hundred years later, in the early 1950’s, Professor Jacques Masquelier of the University of Bordeaux, France read a book by Cartier detailing the expedition. He found that the bark of the Canadian Aneeda tree contained bioflavonoids (plant enzymes) and the needles contained Vitamin C. The rejuvenating combination of the bioflavonoids and Vitamin C created a powerful antidote for Scurvy and was the reason that the remaining crew in the Cartier expedition recovered when this combination was administered to them.
Interestingly, Professor Masquelier discovered that the same bioflavonoids found in the Aneeda tree were more readily available in grape seeds; Masquelier termed the bioflavonoids oligomeric proanthocyanidins, or OPC. Today, grape seeds prevail as the most abundant supplier of OPC around the globe.