The Myrtle (Myrtus communis)

•June 15, 2010 • 2 Comments

The Myrtle (Latin: Myrtus communis, Catalan: Murta, Castellano: Arrayán) is also called True Myrtle. It is a prominent tree or shrub in Mediterranean woodlands where it flowers at the beginning of Summer. The white flowers, green leaves and blue berries are all very fragrant. The myrtle berry fruit is edible. Leaves can be used in the making of colognes or skin tonics. In France, an aromatic water is distilled from leaves and flowers. Leaves, berries and twigs can be employed in the flavouring of food and wines, and the leaves are said to make a good tea. The Myrtle berry (sometimes called Sweet Myrtle) can be distilled into a pleasant liqueur. The wood of the Myrtle tree is hard and is used for furniture making, in the automobile design and for art sculptures.

The Myrtle is emblematic to the Mediterranean culture. The plant occupies a prominent place in the writings of Hippocrates, Pliny, Dioscorides, Galen, and the Arabian writers. It was considered as one of the symbols of Venus and also, of Jupiter. The Myrtle was known as a symbol of love and immortality. The plant was the emblem of honour and authority in ancient Greece, where it was used as the wreaths of the Olympian victors. In the Jewish religion, the Myrtle was used in nuptial ceremonies. Kabbalists use Myrtle sprigs to draw down its harmonizing power as the week is initiated. Islamic tradition has it that the plant was amongst the pure things carried out from the Garden of Eden by Adam.

The Myrtle was used extensively in the olden days and was considered an all-important plant. The plant was used in traditional medicine and in many herbal remedies, as an astringent, an antiseptic, a decongestant and a vulnerary. The fresh, clear aroma of its oil is excellent at clearing the airways, and as it is considered safe for young and old alike, it has many uses for the working aromatherapist. It has recently been revived as a remedy for relaxation of parts with mucous and other profluvia. For internal use, an infusion should be diluted, and even then it is unpleasant to take. A much stronger infusion of the bark may be prepared. An infusion is valuable as a topical agent in catarrhal conjunctivitis, pharyngitis, and bronchitis. Anyone who has ever used it to improve a respiratory condition will sing its praises and never overlook it again.

The Common Asphodel (Asphodelus aestivus)

•June 6, 2010 • 1 Comment

The Common Asphodel (Asphodelus aestivus) is a rather beautiful wildflower. It is delightful, pleasing and subtle . This plant is very prolific in the Balearic Isles and it is flowering right now. This plant has one of the earliest recorded histories of any species, having been given a detailed description in Opera et Dies in the 8th century B. C. Good old Homer knew the plant as well. In his Odyssey, the flower is subject of an eulogy: ‘The heroes of Elysium, as living in a meadow covered with Asphodel’.

And the Asphodel is useful as well; bees just love the flower’s nectar and find it  useful for making delicious wildflower honey. Mallorcan shoemakers find the pulverized plant’s dried tuber rhizomes useful for making a strong glue when mixed with cold water. The same glue is also used in the process of bookbinding. The Asphodel fibre is furthermore used in the making of cord for seat coverings of chairs and stools.

Parts of the plant are edible as well. The root is rich in starch. Dried and boiled in water it yields a mucilaginous matter which can be mixed with grain to make a nutritious bread. Boiling destroys the acrid principle in the tubers, rendering them quite pleasant to eat. The flowering stalk can be eaten when cooked and the seeds can be eaten when roasted.

Greeks and Romans used different parts of the plant in the treatment of several diseases, but in modern medicine, the Asphodel does not seem to be used any longer. The tuberous root, gathered at the end of its first year, is said to be acrid, antispasmodic, and diuretic.

The Sage-Leafed Rock Rose (Cistus salviifolius)

•April 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Sage-Leafed Rock Rose (Cistus salviifolius) is also known as Sage-leafed Cistus, White Rock Rose or Salvia Cistus. This plant is an extremely variable species. It is not unlike the Montpelier Rock Rose that I have reported upon earlier, but this one has a larger flower and its leaves are not sticky. In fact, its leaves resemble those of a sage bush, even though they do not share its flavour nor are they edible. The plant grows in Mediterranean woodlands and Garrigas as one finds them in Mallorca. The flower has a pleasant, if subtle, smell and is said to be used for the production of perfume. Its flower is simply pretty and seems particularly popular with the Mallorcan bees.

The plant is also used in herbal medicine.

The Mediterranean Daisy (Bellis sylvestris)

•February 21, 2010 • 1 Comment

I saw a lovely field full of the Mediterranean Daisy (Bellis sylvestris) yesterday. Its name in Castellano is Bellorita which is probably quite suitable. In Catalan the plant is called Margalida, Margalideta, Margaridoia or Primavera (Spring), again more than fitting considering that we are only 28 days or four weeks away from the official first day of Spring. In the Balearics, the daisy’s seeds are probably carried around in the soil by insects such as ants.

The little gem of a flower is thought to have its name daisy by way of a corruption of day’s eye, because the whole head closes at night and opens again in the morning.

The plant is not poisonous. In fact, its leaves are edible. They are mild and agreeable and can be used in salads.

Daisies are a popular domestic remedy with a wide range of applications. They are a traditional wound herb and are also said to be especially useful in treating delicate and listless children. The herb is said to be mildly anodyne, antispasmodic, anti-tussive, demulcent, digestive, emollient, expectorant, laxative, ophthalmic, purgative and tonic. The fresh or dried flowering heads are normally used. An infusion is used in the treatment of catarrh, rheumatism, arthritis, liver and kidney disorders, as a blood purifier etc. The Daisy was an ingredient of an ointment much used in the fourteenth century for wounds, gout and fevers. A strong decoction of the roots has been recommended for the treatment of scorbutic complaints and eczema, though it needs to be taken for some time before its effect becomes obvious. A mild decoction may ease complaints of the respiratory tract, rheumatic pains and painful or heavy menstruation. 

The plant, harvested when in flower, is used as a homeopathic remedy. Its use is especially indicated in the treatment of bruising etc.

Recent research has been looking at the possibility of using the plant in HIV therapy.

The Fava Bean (Vicia faba)

•February 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Flowering fields of the Fava Bean (Broad Bean, Vicia faba) are widespread in Mallorca at this very moment. I rather think of the pale purple colour of the fava flower almost as equally exquisite as the more popular almond blossom. I would encourage you to have a stroll in the Mallorcan countryside anytime soon, almost anywhere on the island where some agriculture is still being maintained, to see the delicate Vicia faba flower for yourself. You could then aim to come back to the same field in, let’s say, six to eight weeks time to try one of the young and tender beans fresh off their pod. The young leaves of the plant can also be eaten either raw or cooked like spinach but I would not want to encourage you to pilfer from a field that is not your own.

The Fava Bean is popular in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. They are eaten raw when very young, cooked in soups and many other dishes, and made into fava brittle (like peanut brittle) as a sweet substitute. I have seen the fresh young beans in some markets in Egypt and Tunisia when in season, but not here in Mallorca. Here, fava beans are usually sold in their dry condition.

The feeding value of the Fava Bean is high, and is considered in some areas to be superior to field peas or other legumes. The Vicia faba bean is rich in protein and provides moderate amounts of iron and vitamins B1 and B2.

As a folk medicine, Vicia faba can be used as diuretic, expectorant, or tonic. It is also said, that the bean helps dissolve stones in the bladder and kidney. Fava Beans possibly have a medicinal benefit in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease, but I do not want to jump the gun here. Seek professional advice from better qualified sources.

Membrillos (Cydonia oblonga)

•November 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

membrillo

Late Autumn is the time when membrillos (quince, Cydonia oblonga) are reaching their final state of ripeness. The quince (Catalan: codonyer) is a marginal fruit in Mallorca and a bit of an old-fashioned fruit elsewhere, and is often neglected. This was not always the case. Some people say that it was the quince and not the apple that Eve used to seduce Adam with in the garden of Eden. Also, apparently it was not an apple but a quince that Paris awarded to Aphrodite in Greek mythology. In ancient times, the quince was a ritual offering at weddings. Often, a Greek bride would nibble a quince to perfume her kiss before entering the bridal chamber “in order that the first greeting may not be disagreeable nor unpleasant”. In Croatia, a quince tree is often planted as a symbol of fertility, love and life when a baby is born.

The quince tree belongs to the Roseaceae family. The plant has a delicate pink and white flower, rather beautiful in my opinion. The tree is often used as a rootstock for the grafting of pears.

Quince_flowers

In the olden days, Mallorcan señoras placed membrillos between the linen in the drawers to give their cloths or sheets some of the aromatic fragrance that this fruit possesses. Mallorcan shops still sell Dulce de Membrillo (called Carne de Membrillo in South America), sold in squares or blocks. At home the dulce is then cut into thin slices and spread over toasted bread or sandwiches, plain or with cheese such as manchego, often served for breakfast or as a snack. It is also often used as a filling for pastries.

The fruit is similar to the apple and the pear in all but taste; it is hard and acidy when raw. When cooked with sugar it turns into a pale pinkish sort of colour and makes for a delicious jam or jelly. It is also valued as a flavouring to be added to cooked apples or pears. People in Porreres (Mallorca) aparently made an alcoholic spirit from it not all that long ago. In some parts of France and Switzerland, a liqueur de coing is made from quince, drunk as a digestif.

quince_tree

Quinces have long been used as a herbal medicine, as an infusion to treat sore throat, diarrhoea and haemorrhage of the bowel. It is effective against inflammation of the mucous membranes, intestines and stomach. They are also used in the cosmetic industry and for medicinal cosmetics. Long used in Chinese medicine, the stembark is used as an astringent for ulcers, and the fruits are used for their antivinous, astringent, carminative and peptic qualities. The seeds, soaked or boiled in water, release the mucilage from the seed coat and make a jelly-like consistency, which has been used for sore throats and eye lotions. The water used for boiling the fruit was beneficial in the healing of burns.

The quince is an excellent source of Vitamin C.

Hierbaluisa (Lippia triphylla)

•October 24, 2009 • 4 Comments

hierba_luisa

There is a wonder herb in Mallorca that you should get to know. The plant is called Hierbaluisa in Castellano, or Marialluïsa in Catalan; you may know it already under its English name, Lemon Verbena (Lippia triphylla).

Lemon Verbena was brought to Europe by Spanish explorers in the 17th century from Argentina and Chile. There it was grown for its fabulous lemony oil that was used in perfume and beverages until cheaper Lemon Grass oil replaced it. Lippia triphylla is named after Maria Louisa the princess of Parma and wife of King Carlos IV King of Spain, and because it has whorls of three (tri) leaves (phylla).

Nowadays a largely undervalued medicinal herb, Lemon Verbena contains a strong lemon-scented essential oil that has calming and digestive qualities. The plant has a gentle sedative action and a reputation for soothing abdominal discomfort. It has a mildly tonic effect upon the nervous system and helps to lift the spirits and counter depression. The leaves and the flowering tops are antispasmodic, febrifuge, sedative and stomachic. An infusion made from the leaves has a deliciously refreshing lemon flavour and is used mainly in treating digestive disorders such as flatulence, indigestion and acidity. The herb is also useful as a stimulant for treating lethargy or depression whilst it is also used to treat feverish colds. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy in the treatment of nervous and digestive problems and also for acne, boils and cysts.

DSCN3865

Other indications are said to be digestive disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety, sleeplessness (insomnia), asthma, cold, gas (flatulence), colic, diarrhea, indigestion, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, skin conditions, and constipation. Some caution is advisable though, since prolonged use or large internal doses supposedly can cause gastric irritation.

lippia

The plant is a wonderful addition to your garden thanks to its lovely, fresh smells.