1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gram

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GRAM, or Chick-pea, called also Egyptian pea, or Bengal gram (from Port. grão, formerly gram, Lat. granum, Hindi Chanā, Bengali Chholā, Ital. cece, Span. garbanzo), the Cicer arietinum of Linnaeus, so named from the resemblance of its seed to a ram’s head. It is a member of the natural order Leguminosae, largely cultivated as a pulse-food in the south of Europe, Egypt and western Asia as far as India, but is not known undoubtedly wild. The plant is an annual herb with flexuose branches, and alternately arranged pinnately compound leaves, with small, oval, serrated leaflets and small eared stipules. The flowers are borne singly in the leaf-axils on a stalk about half the length of the leaf and jointed and bent in the middle; the corolla is blue-purple. The inflated pod, 1 to 11/2 in. long, contains two roundish seeds. It was cultivated by the Greeks in Homer’s time under the name erebinthos, and is also referred to by Dioscorides as krios from the resemblance of the pea to the head of a ram. The Romans called it cicer, from which is derived the modern names given to it in the south of Europe. Names, more or less allied to one another, are in vogue among the peoples of the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea, Armenia and Persia, and there is a Sanskrit name and several others analogous or different in modern Indian languages. The plant has been cultivated in Egypt from the beginning of the Christian era, but there is no proof that it was known to the ancient Egyptians. Alphonse de Candolle (Origin of Cultivated Plants, p. 325) suggests that the plant originally grew wild in the countries to the south of the Caucasus and to the north of Persia. “The western Aryans (Pelasgians, Hellenes) perhaps introduced the plant into southern Europe, where, however, there is some probability that it was also indigenous. The western Aryans carried it to India.” Gram is largely cultivated in the East, where the seeds are eaten raw or cooked in various ways, both in their ripe and unripe condition, and when roasted and ground subserve the same purposes as ordinary flour. In Europe the seeds are used as an ingredient in soups. They contain, in 100 parts without husks, nitrogenous substances 22.7, fat 3.76, starch 63.18, mineral matters 2.6 parts, with water (Forbes Watson, quoted in Parkes’s Hygiene). The liquid which exudes from the glandular hairs clothing the leaves and stems of the plant, more especially during the cold season when the seeds ripen, contains a notable proportion of oxalic acid. In Mysore the dew containing it is collected by means of cloths spread on the plant over night, and is used in domestic medicine. The steam of water in which the fresh plant is immersed is in the Deccan resorted to by the Portuguese for the treatment of dysmenorrhoea. The seed of Phaseolus Mungo, or green gram (Hind. and Beng. moong), a form of which plant with black seeds (P. Max of Roxburgh) is termed black gram, is an important article of diet among the labouring classes in India. The meal is an excellent substitute for soap, and is stated by Elliot to be an invariable concomitant of the Hindu bath. A variety, var. radiatus (P. Roxburghii, W. and Arn., or P. radiatus, Roxb.) (vern. urid, māshkalāi), also known as green gram, is perhaps the most esteemed of the leguminous plants of India, where the meal of its seed enters into the composition of the more delicate cakes and dishes. Horse gram, Dolichos biflorus (vern. kulthi), which supplies in Madras the place of the chick-pea, affords seed which, when boiled, is extensively employed as a food for horses and cattle in South India, where also it is eaten in curries.

See W. Elliot, “On the Farinaceous Grains and the various kinds of Pulses used in Southern India,” Edin. New Phil. Journ. xvi. (1862) 16 sq.; H. Drury, The Useful Plants of India (1873); U. C. Dutt, Materia Medica of the Hindus (Calcutta, 1877); G. Watt, Dictionary of the Economic Products of India (1890).