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Oil from wormseed plants a cash crop for Carroll County farmers [Eagle Archive]

This Tuesday's topic for the monthly Box Lunch Talk presented by the Historical Society of Carroll County will be the history of the production of wormseed in Carroll County.

The presenters for the Aug. 12 session will be state Sen. Larry Haines and Edwin Magin, two of a dwindling number of farmers who were actively engaged in raising, harvesting and distilling wormseed.

"Larry Haines discusses the intensive work, done by hand, to grow the crop," according to the society, "And Edwin Magin explains the distilling process that produced the oil."

According to an August, 2004, article in the Carroll County Times by Carrie Ann Knauer, Magin's family "ran one of the biggest wormseed oil stills in Carroll County… It was tough work, Magin said… The plants were carried by wagon to the still where they were loaded into kettles…

"An oil furnace warmed the kettles, and the wormseed was steamed for 30 minutes to make the seeds excrete their oil… An acre of wormseed plants could yield between 45 and 65 pounds of oil, Magin said. The most he remembers receiving for the oil was $11.50 per pound…"

According to the Historical Society, "Carroll County farmers began growing wormseed … around 1840."

A December 1951 Extension Service Fact Sheet on wormseed reported, "The production of American wormseed for oil began in Carroll County, near Westminster… By 1870 approximately 50 acres were grown…1913 indicated 200 acres …. and in 1924, 600 acres."

According to my previous research for articles in July 2006 and February 2014, other historical accounts report that wormseed may have been grown in Carroll County by the middle of the 1700s, to treat worms, especially for children. That use may have been part of the origin of the traditional hesitancy in children to take their medicine, as wormseed oil is foul smelling and unpleasant.

"The only important use of this oil has been as a remedy to destroy internal worms," noted the 1951 Fact Sheet. "Historical records indicate that American Indians were acquainted with properties of this plant... First official recognition of wormseed oil for medicinal purposes came (in) the first United States Pharmacopoeia, published in 1820."

According to Haines in a February, 2006 interview, a farmer would begin starter plants around March 1 then transplant them the middle of June. The plant grows about two to three feet tall. It has a greenish flower in July and September that produces a small round green fruit that contains a small black seed, which is harvested in late September.

That small black seed may as well have been black gold for generations of Carroll countians. The Nov. 27, 1925, issue of the Democratic Advocate reported that Carroll's wormseed oil was sold throughout the world.

The wormseed presentation will be at noon, Aug. 12, at Grace Lutheran Church, 21 Carroll Street in Westminster. Enter the building through Entrance 2, on Kemper Avenue. Bring a lunch. The Historical Society provides beverages and dessert. Admission is $5 for members and $10 for non-members

For information, contact the Historical Society at 410-848-6494 or Info@HSCCmd.org or go to http://www.hsccmd.org..

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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