In the days of Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century, there lived a famous Englishman called Sir Walter Raleigh. He was a gentleman of good birth and a favourite with the great queen. He was a scholar, a poet, and a writer, a brave soldier and a daring sailor, and a great adventurer. He sailed to the New World, which we call America, and had many adventures there. He did two useful things he brought back from America two plants which became very popular with Europeans. One was tobacco, and the other was the potato. Before his time the potato was unknown in Europe; but it is now one of the commonest foods, not only in Europe but all over the world. Raleigh first planted potatoes in Ireland, and the potato became to the Irish what wheat is to the Punjabis, and rice is to the Bengali and Madrasi, – their chief food.
Potato plants grow best in light, well-drained soil well dug up, and well manured. The potato plant grows low on the ground. It bears pretty white flowers, and its fruit is a small red berry. But it is not the fruit we eat, but the thick roots. In fact, the fruit of the potato is poisonous; although the fruit of another plant of the potato family, the tomato, is a portion of very good food. Another plant of the same family, the Deadly Nightshade, from which a medicine called belladonna is made, bears blackberries which are a deadly poison.
However, there is nothing poisonous about the roots of the potato. When properly boiled or roasted they form a wholesome food. Europeans always eat potatoes as a vegetable at their dinners and lunches.
Men have cultivated the potato plant and made very different kinds; so that potatoes now are very different, in size, flavour, and goodness as food, from the small wild potato that Sir Walter Raleigh first brought to England.