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April 11, 2020

April 10, 1633: Bananas Went on Display in Thomas Johnson's Shop in London, It Was the First Time the Fruit Was Seen

The British today love bananas: annual per capita consumption is 12kg, which equates to two bananas per person per week. We spend more on bananas than on any other item from supermarket shelves. Yet until refrigerated ships were available they were little known in this country, their wide commercialization dating from the early 20th century.

England got its first glimpse of the banana when herbalist, botanist and merchant Thomas Johnson displayed a bunch in his shop in Holborn, in the City of London, on April 10, 1633. He included a woodcut of a large bunch of the fruit in his 1633 edition of John Gerard ’s The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes. It is believed that Johnson’s bananas came from Bermuda, though how they managed to reach this country in a fit state for display is not known.

Johnson was an interesting figure, highly esteemed as a herbalist and physician, who died as a result of wounds he received during the siege of Basing House during the Civil War .

Thomas Johnson’s illustration of his banana plant from The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes.

Page 1516 of the Johnson edition of The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes.

A recent find by archaeologists excavating a pit in London makes in intriguing addendum to Johnson’s commercializing of the banana. A banana skin, dated at about 1500 was unearthed, tossed into what seems to have been a fish pond. The date probably means it came from West Africa, as the plant was only being introduced into the Caribbean at that time.

(via Information Britain)


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