Any walk you do in Mallorca, even if's just around the outskirts of town, will provide you with an abundance of plant goodness. Amber Bardon lets you in on (some of) her secrets …
What is herbal medicine? What does it mean when people talk about the power of herbs? Why are they good for us? What is it all about? Is it like homeopathy?
These are some of the questions that people ask me when I say I’m a herbalist, so let me fill you in.
- For me, being a herbalist is about understanding plants and people and using this knowledge to treat illness and dis-ease in people.
- It’s not about dispensing medicines bought from a shop, its personal, its growing a plant, caring for it, harvesting it when it’s at its most powerful and converting it into a medicine that can be used to heal.
- It's knowing where that plant grows and when it's flourishing and respecting it, and the same for the person you are treating. You look at the whole person, not just their symptoms, it’s about empathy and holistic medicine, and you use the plants that you have come to know and love.
- Being a herbalist, is a labour of love.
I was brought up in a beautiful house in the mountains near Andratx and my childhood was enriched with trees, plants and flowers, hence why I became a herbalist and now I want to share some of my knowledge with you, so you can learn some of the secrets nature has to offer.
Any walk you do in Mallorca, whether it is climbing Puig den Masanella or just walking around the outskirts of town, will provide you with an abundance of plant goodness. It could just be a handful of fennel to go in your salad or maybe some thyme to make a nice tea, it doesn’t matter what it is, what's important is that you will always find a plant that you can bring home and help make nature a part of your daily life.
Right now spring is coming in fast and plants are making their way up through the earth or bringing out their new set of leaves and providing us with what are known as some fantastic spring tonic herbs. So, when next time you’re out in the countryside look out for the following little gems:
Pellitory of the Wall #
There is a great plant, that is luscious and green and whose velvety leaves can stick to your clothing to make beautiful and crazy patterns (for the kids, if the adults are feeling too proper) and which lives in the crooks and crannies of old shady walls. It is Pellitory of the wall (Parietaria diffusa & spp) (Parietaria) and this plant has been used for many centuries as a gentle tonic for the kidneys and urinary system. It has a soothing, demulcent and diuretic action which when taken as a tea can help ease cystitis, pyelitis and oedema.
All you have to do is take a little bunch, make sure you gather it from a place where dogs don’t frequent and don’t take all the plant, just what you need as its important to respect the plant and its habitat (we are not the only ones here). When you get home, boil up the kettle, roughly chop the pellitory and once the kettle has boiled pour it over the plant. Leave it steep for about 10 minutes, strain and then drink. It tastes like greenness and can be sweetened with honey, or add a slice of lemon.
Ribwort Plantain #
There is another plant that also grows happily along paths and grassy lands, and this one is called Plantago lanceolata or Ribwort Plantain (Llanten). It has long lance-shaped leaves and the flower is more of a catkin looking thing a top of a long stem. It is the leaves that are commonly used in herbal medicine, and although its cousin, Plantago major, is generally the preferred plant of use, this family member is of equal value and much easier to find here on Mallorca.
The fresh leaves made into a tea, in the same way as mentioned above, and can be used to heal an irritable bowel and haemorrhoids, as well as soothe a cough. If you crush the fresh leaves and apply them to the skin, it can give you instant relief from insect bites or help cure a cut or wound, which makes it a very useful herbal first aid plant.
Wild Marigolds #
Wild marigolds can be seen all over the fields at the moment, these aren't the big yellow flowers that will be around a little later this month but the small orange flowers, no bigger than your thumbnail – a smaller version of Calendula officinalis. The best thing to do is to try and pick the flowers round the middle of the day. That's when they’ve had a good few hours in the sun, soaking up all that energy. They can go straight into making a lovely infusion, or you can use the bright orange petals in your salad to add some colour. Medicinally, you can make a sun-infused oil to be used to put on skin conditions from eczema to burns.
It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) (Romero), which covers most of Mallorca with its fragrant stems and beautiful violet blue flowers and is in bloom at the moment. This is a fantastic culinary and medicinal herb, it goes well with lamb, chicken, sprinkled over oven-cooked potatoes or any roasted veg really. Another suggestion is to make a Rosemary infused olive oil, by adding a small sprig of the herb to your oil dispenser, this takes pa amb oli to another level. Medicinally rosemary is used to improve circulation and at as a rubefacient, which makes it ideal for muscle pain and neuralgia.
It has also been shown to help relieve depression and improve cognition, especially in its essential oil form. So you can gather up some Rosemary on a walk or buy some essential oil, but better still get some in a pot and have it at your full disposal any time of the day.
So, the next time you are out and about in the countryside, try to keep your eyes peeled for some of the local flora, many of which are endemic to the islands and get to know what Mallorca's plants have to offer.
By Amber Bardon
21 March, 2019