By: Emily Q Welch

Medicine as we know it today is a relatively new commodity in society. Over the counter medicines like “Pepto Bismol” or “Tylenol” were not necessarily a common household item, but that did not mean that the medical problems these medicines alleviate did not exist. Prior to this, people sought out remedies for a variety of diseases from the plants around them. One such cure-all product was ginger. The benefits of ginger were so well known and utilized that the product was further

Canton Ginger Tin

Rich’s Crystallized Canton Ginger Tin, tin and paint, L: 4.5in. x W: 2.75in. x D: 1in. The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, NY, F0346.1989, Photographed by Emily Q Welch.

commoditized into candy, as seen here with this tin marketed as containing “Rich’s Crystallized Canton Ginger”.

Ginger is a root that is native to Asian nations and has a long history both in Asian cuisine and medicine. One of the first notes of it in European nations comes out of Marco Polo’s journals from 1298.[1] Since then, people have continued to seek out ginger for its medical properties, but not necessarily from a pharmacist. Per an article published in July of 1951, “Rich’s crystallized Canton ginger [was] top grade, tender with a sharp ginger bite, packed in the famous yellow and black box, and [was] found at candy counters everywhere”.[2] This form of the ginger candy was made by soaking the product in a sugary syrup.[3] Ginger is proven to be a remedy for everything from nausea, to indigestion, to muscle soreness and menstrual cramps.[4] As far as medicine is concerned, this seems a much tastier alternative to many medicinal concoctions we consume today for the same physical discomforts. However, the uses of this candy went beyond medicinal purposes. It could and was used to add flavor to foods, as well as being consumed as a “sweetmeat” – enjoyed just as a candy and for no other reason.[5]

Today, we might associate this sort of candied ginger with an “Altoid”, the tins certainly look similar. But unlike “Rich’s Crystallized Canton Ginger”,


Image courtesy of

Altoid mints are not necessarily associated with more than freshening ones breath. Products like this candied ginger, which walk the line of medicine and candy are not as commonly found or consumed by the masses today. The two purposes are separated into two separate types of products: medicine and candy. This tin helps us to better understand a time when the two were not inherently different. A single product could help keep you healthy and entice your palate. What is novelty to us now, was both luxury and essential in the past.

[1] Clementine Paddleford, “Food Flashes,” Gourmet Magazine, July 1951, Accessed December 18, 2015,

[2] Ibid.

[3] U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Farmers’ Bulletins No. 276 – 300,” January 1, 1908, Accessed December 18, 2015,

GBS.PP7, 42.

[4] Joe Leech, “11 Proven Health Benefits of Ginger,” February 2015, Accessed December 18, 2015,

[5] Clementine Paddleford, “Food Flashes,” Gourmet Magazine.