BROOMS AND BROOMCORN
The origin of broomcorn is unclear. A type of sorghum plant known as "Sorghum vulgare", it looks much like ordinary sweet corn but does not produce "ears" of corn. Long "straws" grown above the bamboo-like stalk are topped by a tassel containing seeds. Sorghum apparently originated in central Africa and was carried to countries bordering the Mediterranean. Over the years since the Dark Ages, long "straws" of Sorghum were used for making brooms and brushes. This likely continued over the generations until broomcorn evolved.
Ben Franklin is generally given credit for introducing broomcorn to America. Thomas Jefferson noted that broomcorn was grown in Virginia as early as 1781. At first a curiosity or garden crop for making homemade brooms, it soon became an important economic crop. In 1797, Levi Dickinson grew a half-acre of broomcorn near Hadley, Mass. By 1850, 770,000 brooms and 76,000 brushes were manufactured in 41 factories in the Hadley area.
It is usually agreed that brooms introduced to America were originally round. One traditional theory states retired sail-makers, having the basic skills, opened broom-making shops in the New England area. The Shaker community takes credit for flattening the broom. The plaiting (weave) on these brooms, made from the broomcorn stalk, probably either originated from the Shakers or African American slaves. As folklore has it, both of these cultures living in austere conditions, developed plaiting to increase the durability and the beauty of the broom.
It's best to hang your broom up when not in use, preferably in a dry place such as the porch awning or garage wall. This keeps the fibers dry, straight and sturdy. It won't hurt to get the broom wet or even to dip it into sudsy water, then cold rinse water annually. It's important to dry out the broom as prolonged dampness in a broom may cause mildew to form (a mild bleach solution will remove mildew if this happens). If your broom is wet it's best to let it dry in direct sunlight or in a heated environment until dry. The wood handle can be treated with lemon oil occasionally to keep it in good shape. You can also put your broom out in the sun to make sure it dries out. Broom Corn is a natural fiber please take good care of it.