Before Madam Curie, there was Eva Ekeblad. As far as prominent female scientists in the world’s history are concerned, Eva Ekeblad is one of the grand old ones, a true titan of her time. Even if you went ‘who?’ after reading the name, you have most likely enjoyed her great contribution to humanity i.e. finding a novel way to get you sloshed, while keeping your stomach full. A true visionary, Eva Ekebald was the first person to use potatoes to make flour and alcohol. This was during the eighteenth century, a time where potatoes weren’t even considered fit for eating. Eva Ekeblad’s 1746 discovery allowed Sweden to use scarce grains like wheat and barley for food and this led to a drastic decrease in the number of famines in the country.
The Swedish scientist, agronomist, countess and salon hostess Eva Ekeblad (née De la Gardie) was born on July 10th, 1724 in Stockholm to politician and salonist Hedvig Catharina Lilje and statesman count Magnus Julius De la Gardie. At the age of 16, Eva Ekeblad married count Claes Claesson Ekeblad. She went on to have six daughters and one son with him. Eva Ekeblad’s wedding presents included the Mariedal Castle and Lindholmen Castle in Västergötland from her father. These two estates were in addition to the Stola Manor estate and a house in Stockholm that her husband owned.
Eva Ekeblad’s husband was usually away on business purposes and as a result, the management responsibility of the three estates fell on her shoulders. She carried out these duties very well. She supervised the bailiffs and presided at the country-assemblies of the estates’ parishes. Eva Ekeblad was renowned for her fair treatment of the peasant class. She regularly protected peasants from abuse at the hands of the bailiffs and they rewarded her with their unfailing obedience. Eva Ekeblad was well known as a temperamental and imposing personality who did not hesitate to punish all kinds of wrongdoings which happened as a result of conflicts with local dignitaries. Eva Ekeblad also enjoyed a leading role in the local aristocracy. In the words of the wife of the Spanish ambassador de Marquis de Puentefuerte, Eva Ekeblad was “one of few aristocratic ladies whose honour was considered untainted”.
Among all her achievements in life, Eva Ekeblad’s most enduring (and perhaps immortal) one was what she did in 1746. She wrote to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences after discovering the method to make flour and alcohol out of potatoes. Even though potatoes had been introduced in Sweden over 80 years ago, they hadn’t become a part of the diet for the Swedish masses and were only grown in greenhouses to serve the aristocratic elites. As a result of Eva Ekeblad’s remarkable discovery, potato didn’t just turn into a staple food for the people of Sweden, it also freed up breweries from their dependence on barley, wheat and rye for making alcohol. As a result, these scarce but immensely valuable grains could be used for making bread instead of brewing alcohol. The drop in Sweden’s famine rate was a direct result of Eva Ekeblad’s discovery. Not only did her discovery make Northern Europe less hungry, it also made it more drunk, as alcohol consumption also spiked all over that part of the continent. More Northern Europeans managed to eat, drink and be merry as a result.
Two years after her discovery, Eva Ekeblad was accepted to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. She was the first ever woman to be given that honour. However, the rules of that time resulted her in never participating in any Academy meetings and by 1751, her membership was reduced to an honorary role rather than a full-time one since women weren’t allowed full-time membership at that time.
Aside from her discovery of making alcohol and flour with potato, Eva Ekeblad also discovered how to bleach cotton yarns and textiles using soap. She also discovered a way to replace dangerous cosmetics chemicals with potato flour. On top of all that, Eva Ekeblad was also the unofficial brand ambassador for potatoes as she used potato flowers as hair ornaments.On May 15th, 1786, after making key contributions in the field of agronomy, Eva Ekeblad died at the age on 61 in Lidköping, Sweden. Her discoveries didn’t just help prevent millions of famine related deaths, they also changed the way the world ate and drank (and still does). Whether you like grabbing a spud or a Bud (or both), you have Eva Ekeblad to thank for that. Aside from her own achievements, it’s also important to not forget about her famous sister-in-law, countess and courtier Catherine Charlotte de La Gardie. She was the driving force behind the popularization of small pox vaccination in Sweden and she is also the person who put a complete stop to the dreaded witch trials in the country.