As far back as the 11th century seafarers were advised to take with them a supply of apples, peas, pomegranates, cucumbers, citrons, lemons, muscats and pickled vegetables (Watt, 1982). During the period 1740-1790, a great number of foods were recommended as supplements to the sailor's diet (see annex for the vitamin C content of some traditional antiscorbutics used in the 18th century). The benefits of lettuce and fresh vegetables were known, but these foods were too difficult to transport and store during long voyages. Onions were among the sources of vitamin C that sailors could take with them (Carpenter, 1986). Like other food sources, onions lose most of their vitamin C content when boiled, but in the 18th century sailors presumably ate them raw (Norris 1983). The Dutch were the first to recognize the antiscorbutic effect of oranges and lemons; they discovered it by accident after picking up cargoes of these fruits in Spain en route to Holland. Later, pinetops, scurvy grass, different cresses, coconuts, and guavas were also found to be effective antiscorbutics (Watt, 1982).
Berries were prized as being antiscorbutic in northern Europe, as were rose hips, which are a rich source of vitamin C. Potatoes played an important role as the major source of vitamin C in northern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially during the winter months when fruits and vegetables were not available. Potatoes are not as rich in vitamin C as some fruits and vegetables, but they were a cheap staple food eaten in quantity day after day. Even when cooked, a single serving can contribute 5-40 mg of vitamin C daily (Carpenter, 1986).