13 Mar Flowers, fruits and plants to discover in Sardinia
The geographical diversification and mild Mediterran clime of Sardinia led to the development of a wide variety of local flora. Scientists state that with roughly 2700 native plant species¹ Sardinia is the second region with the highest number of species in Italy. Over the centuries, the inhabitants of the island have been discovering the properties of the local wild plants and have elaborated different ways of their use in the everyday life. Some are used in the traditional cuisine, as condiments or ingredients of dishes, others as natural medicaments used in the folk medicine to cure or prevent various diseases. Many plants were also attributed magical properties, like the one of the buck’s-horn plantain (in Sardianian “èrva e musca”). The pastors used to collect the herb during the night of Saint John’s Eve and keep it with them as a talisman which protects their sheep from a parasite².
Some of the well-known wild herbs and flowers which can be found in Sardinia are:
1. Strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo
The strawberry tree is a shrub which can grow up to 10 meters of height. The fruits of the plant are used to produce marmelade, considered a real Sardinian delicacy. Another important product is the bittersweet honey, appreciated for its salutary properties. Thanks to its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory characteristics, the strawberry tree is also frequently used in the traditional medicine, especially in the cures of the urinary system and liver.
2. Wild lavender, Lavandula Stoechas L.
Wild lavender is a very common plant in Sardinia, which grows all over the island, up to the height of 1,000 meters above the sea level. It blooms between January and June. The special properties of lavender have been appreciated already by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who used to add the aromatic herb to their baths. Nowadays, the plant is commonly utilized in gastronomy, medicine and beauty industry. One of the best-known lavender culinary products in Sardinia is the monofloral honey. Moreover, lavender is frequently used in the Sardinian kitchen as a condiment, whereas the infusion of its flowers is drunk to relieve nervous and respiratory system problems. Thanks to the relaxing characteristics of the herb and its beautiful smell, lavender essential oil is utilized in aromatherapy and cosmetic industry.
Picture author: Alessio Saba, Source: http://www.sardegnadigitallibrary.it/index.php?xsl=2436&s=17&v=9&c=4461&id=532471
3. Wild fennel, Foeniculum vulgare Mill
Known in Sardinia as Frenugheddu, wild fennel is a herb collected between October and November. The plant is frequently used both in gastronomy and as a natural medical product. In the Sardinian cuisine, the herb constitues an ingredient of numerous typical dishes, sauces, liquors, sweets, etc. Thanks to its beneficial properties for the respiratory, digestive and urinary system, the wild fennel has been used since centuries in the folk medicine.
4. Helichrysum, Helichrysum italicum G. Don
Plant gathered in the first half of July, easily recognized thanks to its little yellow florets. In some areas of Sardinia, the herb is used in the preparation of meat – the tufts of the plant are used to burn the hair that remains after removal of birds’ feathers or bristles of the pig, which gives to the meat a special aroma². Helichrysum is also used to produce a special liquor. Its anti-inflammatory properties are well known in the Sardinian folk medicine; it is recommended to cure burns, insect bites and burnings, as well as to treat psoriasis and eczema.
5. Borage, Borago officinalis L
Easily recognized thanks to its blue flowers, borage is a wild herb gathered from March to September. The herb is used as an ingredient of typical dishes, especially in salads, raviolis and soups. Borage has also numerous healing properties and is used to lower the fever, reduce cough, as well as a diuretic and emollient.
6. Perforate St John’s-wort, Hypericum perforatum
Known in Sardinia as Erba di San Giovanni, the herb is a shrub with yellow flowers, which blooms in June and July. Thanks to its wide curative properties, the plant was called in the past “scacciadiavoli” (swatting devils), as it was considered a cure for every illness. Perforate St John’s-wort was used to treat depression, insomnia, infections of the respiratory system and gastrointestinal mucous membranes. It has strong antibacterial and antiviral properties. In gastronomy, St-John’s-wort is used in salads and as an ingredient of grappa.
Nowadays, there are numerous events organized all over the island which aim at spreading knowledge about the local plants and flowers. One of them is the festival called “Festival delle erbe spontanee” which since more than 30 years takes place in the city of Ussaramanna. The festival, organized in collaboration with local associations and recently also with the botanical garden in Cagliari, consists in a series of educational lectures, workshops and activities which promote the natural flora treasures of the island.
7. Festival delle Erbe Spontanee https://www.facebook.com/festivalerbeussaramanna/