Boiling Oil


| July 2001



FC_V3_I12_Jul_2001_05-1.jpg

Bob Day, right, fastens the clips on the kettles

You've probably never heard of Fry's vermifuge. It hasn't been around for a good many years, but, once, it was a worm treatment. Its main ingredient was worm weed oil, produced from the seeds that grow on worm weed plants. There aren't any bulk growers of worm weed plants in the U.S. these days because modern chemicals have replaced the oil in medicines.

In fact, there never was much worm weed grown in the U.S., as far anyone can tell, but, for some unknown reason, a worm weed industry came into being in Westminster, Md. (in 1860), triggering the growth of a cash crop on small family farms in Carroll and Frederick counties.

'Worm seed oil is similar to olive oil,' said Bob Day, who lives on the Day family farm in southern Frederick County. 'It's a basic worm medicine used for animals. It was also used to protect calves' ears from being licked by other calves. Its official name is chenopodium. You plant the seeds in hot beds in early March in sheltered places. You sprinkle straw on them and then transplant them in May or early June. The plant blooms in late August. It's about 3 to 4 feet tall and looks like a big tumbleweed.'

Bob's farm has been in the Day family for more than 200 years, with a history that dates back to land grants issued by Lord Baltimore in the late 18th century. A hundred years later the family started growing worm weed along with their tobacco crops.

'Back then the hot beds were dug in the woods,' Bob said. 'They used horses and harrows to roll the beds. It was a cash crop that went with tobacco. Tobacco is harvested in August. Worm seed is harvested the last week in September through November. It was a way of life.'

In 1970, the Day family rebuilt their worm weed still from used equipment to accommodate the crop, so Bob Day speaks from experience when he describes the harvesting and distilling processes.