This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Hordeum vulgare, or Common Barley, affords a grain chiefly used in Great Britain for brewing, and distilling, but which possesses dietetic, and medicinal virtues of importance. We fatten our swine on this cereal made into meal, which is, however, less nourishing than wheaten flour, and is apt to purge when eaten in bread. The chemical constituents of Barley are starch, gluten, albumin, oil, and hordeic acid. From the earliest times it has been employed to prepare drinks for the sick, whether in feverish disorders, or as a soothing decoction for sore lining membranes of the chest, and the bladder. Barley is especially rich in iron, and phosphoric acid. Barley bread, always of close texture, was exclusively used in England as late as the time of Charles the First, though, because of its deficiency in gluten, it cannot be made light of itself; if mixed with wheaten flour its combination answers very well, and the bread becomes palatable. Throughout Cumberland in the seventeenth century wheaten bread was an indulgence only allowed about Christmas time, even among the principal families.
If an ounce of gum arabic be dissolved in a pint of a hot decoction of Barley, this makes a most soothing drink to allay irritation of the bladder, and of the urinary passages. Honey may be added beneficially to the decoction for bronchial coughs. Barley bread (or porridge) is apt to purge; but such was in ancient times the bread of the Egyptians, likewise of the Jews in the days of our Saviour, as we learn from the miracle wrought with respect to the lad's five barley loaves, (and two fishes). For Barley soup, put a quarter of a cup of well-washed Barley, with a bayleaf, and a small blade of mace, into a pint and a half of cold water, and boil slowly for three hours. Take out the bayleaf, and mace; then add a small onion (sliced fine), with two French carrots (cut in dice), and cook these until tender; next add a pint of milk, a good tablespoonful of butter, with salt and pepper to taste; let it come to the boil, then remove it from the fire, and stir into it the yolk of one egg, perhaps beaten with two tablespoonfuls of cream.
Sixty or seventy years ago the breakfast of Cornish apprentice lads on a farm was invariably "sky-blue and sinkers."Into a three-legged crock fixed over a brisk fire of furze, and turf, was poured a quantity of water. While this was coming to the boil some Barley-flour was mixed in a basin with scalded milk, and the same was emptied into the water in the crock, and allowed to boil for a minute or two. Next it was poured into basins containing sops of Barley bread. These sops sank to the bottom, nothing being visible but the liquid mess, sky-blue in colour, and therefore called in its entirety "sky-blue and sinkers," being eaten with an iron spoon. As the price of wheat was in those days nearly double that of Barley, wheaten bread was a delicacy which the working classes could but rarely afford themselves: their ordinary bread, and their pasties, were made of Barley-flour. These pasties consisted of a crust mixed without fat, or butter, and containing either potatoes, or a few pieces of turnip; a bit of rusty bacon being considered a luxury.
By the ancients a thick, turbid drink was made with Barley, and known as Orgeat. This became adopted by the French, who extended the name to "Ptisana,"and subsequently to other vegetable decoctions made for invalids. Thus it has happened that the name Orgeat has slipped away from Barley, and become attached to preparations of sweet almonds.
Formerly likewise, the confectioner's Barley sugar (nowadays simply sugar boiled until it becomes brittle, and candied) was boiled in a decoction of Barley, and hence 'its name. In The Complete Angler (1653) Piscator bids the Hostess of an "honest alehouse "give to his brother Peter, and to Venator, "some of her best Barley wine, the good liquor that our honest forefathers did use to drink of, - the drink which preserved their health, and made them live so long, and to do so many good deeds".
Barley-water for the sick room is a valuable demulcent drink, though containing but little nutriment; it should be made from the pure farina of fine Scotch Barley, which is better than Pearl Barley for the purpose. Or, take two ounces of Pearl Barley washed clean with cold water; put this into half a pint of boiling water, and let it boil for five minutes; pour off the water, and then add to the Barley two quarts of boiling water; boil it to two pints, and strain; the same is plain, simple Barley-water. Figs (sliced), raisins (stoned), and liquorice (cut up) are sometimes added further.