Summer has arrived in Cyprus and for us herb folk this means we’re busy as bees! All Mediterranean herbs are at their peak now, ready for harvest. Oregano, thyme, marjoram and hyssop are all vying for our attention and the herb garden is awash with colour and fragrance. But nothing beats the intoxicating aroma and the lilac, blue and purple hues of lavender, which has just started to bloom now. Taking a stroll in the lavender lined gardens, brushing against the plants and releasing its aroma lifts the spirits and dispels all thoughts and worries of the day. Here you can just be, and enjoy the moment.
The climate in Cyprus is very suitable for growing the most fragrant of all 450 varieties of lavender, Lavandula Angustifolia. This variety has the most distinctive floral note and is considered the most valuable for use in perfumery, as well as the most therapeutic. Lavender is one of the most versatile herbs, with a long list of health benefits. It is best known as a relaxant for the nervous system, effective in stress-relief, anxiety, tension and headaches. It is also a powerful antiseptic, antibacterial, analgesic and expectorant, relieving coughs, colds and fever.
We can make a relaxing tea from the dried flower petals to benefit from its therapeutic properties. To make a lavender tea, simply put half a teaspoon of dried lavender flowers in your cup, pour boiling water onto it and let steep for 5 minutes. Then strain and drink. for sweetening you may add a teaspoon of honey or a pinch of stevia.
For external use the essential oil is a must have in every home. It is one of the few essential oils that can be used neat on the skin. To dispel a headache you simply rub one drop of it onto the temples for instant relief. Lavender oil is very helpful in acne. It gets rid of spots and blackheads without drying out the skin. It disinfects cuts, grazes, relieves itching from eczema and dermatitis, repels mosquitoes and heals burns. In fact, the father or modern
aromatherapy, French chemist and scholar René-Maurice Gattefossé discovered the fast healing power of lavender oil when he badly burned his hand in a laboratory experiment in 1910. He quickly poured lavender oil over his burns and was amazed how quickly his wounds healed, with very little scarring. Later, during the first World War he successfully treated wounded soldiers with it. Lavender’s uses are not restricted to tea and aromatherapy, the fresh or dried flowers can also be used in the kitchen! At the herb garden we make lavender cakes and cookies, refreshing ice tea and lemonade, even lavender ice cream and liqueur!
From the 10th until the 25th of June 2017 Cyherbia Botanical Park in Avgorou will host its 6th annual Lavender Festival. The park is home to the biggest lavender garden on the island and even boasts a lavender labyrinth! Celebrating the queen of all herbs, the gardens and tea room will be awash with purples and lilacs. Visitors can take part in the processing of lavender, witness the extraction of lavender essential oil, and taste the special lavender drinks and cookies mentioned above while relaxing in the cool shade of the tea room overlooking the gardens. A tranquil walk in the lavender meditation labyrinth is an experience not to be missed. Craft workshops and presentations will be held, and of course there will be a vast range of organic lavender products on display in the herb shop.
The Lavender Festival truly is a unique experience. For more information on the event program, as well as directions how to get there, please visit cyherbia.com or check their facebook page www.facebook.com/cyherbia.
Winter is coming, as George R.R. Martin tells us. Although winters are very mild in Cyprus, nevertheless it does get chilly in the evenings and if we’re lucky, we may even get some snow in Troodos and go skiing.
Winter is a time for retreating within. We see this in nature around us. Trees shed their leaves and their energy withdraws deep inside their roots. This is why herbalists harvest roots in October and November, just when this process starts and the roots of medicinal plants are at their energetic peak.
Some of my favourite herbal tea blends for winter include roots, bark and exotic spices. These blends are warming, soothing and comforting like a blanket. The aromas and flavours of spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, pepper and ginger promote good health and wellbeing and are a perfect healing beverage for coughs and colds. These spices are cultivated in the tropical and subtropical climates of India, Malaysia, Indonesia and surrounding countries in the Far East and were first brought to the West by the Dutch and Portugese at the end of the 16th century from their colonies. In fact, the Dutch built an entire empire out of the spice trade, chased away the Portugese from their strongholds in the Moluccas (Indonesia) and held a monopoly in the trade for nearly two centuries. During this time, spices such as black pepper and nutmeg were more valuable than gold.
All the aforementioned spices are very rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, therefore useful to build immunity, combat colds, reduce inflammation and generally promote overall health.
Nutmeg is a super-spice, packed with valuable nutrients. Always buy whole nutmeg and grind them in a pepper mill to get the most of their flavour and benefits.
Cinnamon helps to lower cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar levels and is both antibacterial and antifungal. It also enhances the mood and stimulates the brain.
Ginger is one of those spices no home should be without. Ginger tea is one of the best flu remedies, especially in combination with honey and some lemon juice. It is a great anti-inflammatory and therefore useful in rheumatic and arthritic pain, helps in nausea, stomach aches and digestive problems and improves the absorption of nutrients in the body.
Cloves are tiny flower buds but they are giants when it comes to natural health. They’re packed with antioxidants and are anti-fungal, antibacterial, antiseptic and analgesic.
Cardamom is a member of the ginger family. It is an excellent digestive aid, it fights gum disease and is useful in
Making tea from spices is a great way to boost your health and it tastes delicious too. These spices need to be crushed with a pestle and mortar, ginger root sliced – a couple of
slices will do- then boiled in water for about five minutes to get all the aromas out. Add a few chilli flakes or
peppercorns as well if you like. Strain and sweeten with honey. Enjoy your blanket in a cup!
As the days and nights turn colder even in Cyprus, we may find ourselves and our children coming down with the sniffles, there’s nothing like a warming cup of herbal tea to keep winter chills at bay. There are numerous wild herbs growing on the island to help us combat colds and many other common ailments too. These precious gifts of Nature help us to boost our immunity and keep us strong and healthy.
Traditionally in Cyprus one of the main herbs to turn to in winter is Sage (Salvia Officinalis). Sage has a pungent and bitter flavour, the endemic Cyprus sage of the mountains Salvia Fruticosa much more so than the cultivated Salvia Officinalis.
Sage is a powerful warming and drying herb, very helpful in clearing up phlegm and cattarh, is anti-microbial, decongestant and antiviral, making it a perfect remedy for colds with lots of phlegm.
Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris) is another local herb with powerful antiviral, expectorant and antimicrobial action. A tea made from the leaves gives immediate relief from
a persistent cough.
You can combine these herbs and make a soothing tea by putting one teaspoon of dried herbs per cup into a teapot, then pour boiling water over them and let the herbs infuse for ten minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey if you wish.
In order to combat dry, persistent coughs we need to turn to other green allies, such as peppermint, licorice root or marshmallow root. These herbs moisten the respiratory tract and soothe the dry irritation, and help to expel any mucus too. Roots and bark should be boiled in a saucepan with water for five to ten minutes in order to release their therapeutic properties. Then strain the herbs and enjoy your healing tea. Licorice root is very sweet of itself so you probably won’t want to add any honey or sugar.
The Cyprus countryside offers us various wild berries too, which are full of vitamins, especially vitamin C, antioxidants and flavonoids.
When we go on a hiking trip in the mountains we can find blackberries (Rubus Sanctus), elderberries (Sambucus Nigra) and rosehips (Rosa Canina) in great abundance. These are rich in compounds that disarm viruses and prevent them from taking over healthy cells. We can make a syrup from each of these and take a few teaspoonfuls daily to boost our immunity or to hasten our recovery from a cold. The taste and quality of homemade healthy syrups greatly surpasses any store-bought one and it is a pleasant and easy job to do at home.
Place one cup of fresh elderberries or rosehips and three cups of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer on medium-low for thirty minutes. Mash the berries to release any remaining juice. Strain the mixture into a glass bowl using a cheesecloth. When the liquid has cooled down to room temperature, gently stir in one cup of raw honey and mix thoroughly.
Enjoy the wonderful and delicious gifts of Nature in Cyprus!