The Kindness of Plants
Plaça de Sencelles
The Kindness of Plants
Ever since the beginning, human beings have always shared life with plants, and these have kindly and selflessly covered our needs. Plants offer us food, medicines and materials to make utensils, fabrics and construction, they have participated in ceremonies and rituals, they have also fed our imagination. And it must not be forgotten that human life depends on the plant world.
This walk aims to reconnect us with plants that are part of our history, our culture, and those that have accompanied us ever since the beginning of time, and have made our subsistence possible and are part of our roots.
Amongst the vegetation of our environment, a handful of plants stand out for their popular usage as remedies for the most common illnesses.
The common mallow (Malva spp.) with the softness of its leaves and flowers has relieved both cold and constipation, since they help us with their emollient properties. The pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) present near torrents facilitates heavy digestion and intestinal disorders. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is used when we feel discouraged and have a lack of joy. This plant with yellow flowers that blooms at the beginning of summer can help us. It not only has antidepressant effects, but also helps heal wounds. Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) can sooth shoe chafing by using its leaves as a poultice. And when we have lost our voice or our throat is bothering us, chewing on a tender shoot of blackberry (Rubus ulmifolius) without spikes can help us clear our voice.
The Symbolism of Plants
Plants have always fed our imagination; many of them have participated in ceremonies and rituals as we shall see. The Mediterranean hackberry (Celtis australis) is famous for being a protective tree, and in the case of our islands it is believed to protect against lightning, which is why it has traditionally been planted next to estates and farms. Another plant popularly known as a healing plant is St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) that collected during the night of St. John, increases its magical qualities. The cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) is a tree that has had funerary connotations since ancient times. Considered a symbol of mourning since Roman times, it has traditionally been planted in cemeteries, as a symbol of the union between Heaven and Earth. The lentiscle (Pistacia lentiscus) is also a tree linked to the symbol of death, since its branches have been used to make funeral wreaths. A plant with more festive connotations is myrtle (Myrtus communis), used in the Corpus Christi festivity to cover the streets through which the procession passes, scenting the event with its peculiar perfume.
Melliferous Plants and Trees
There are plants and trees with flowers that attract a large number of insects, for example the carob tree (Ceratonia slicua), borage (Borago officinalis) or the laurel tree (Laurus nobilis) are plants from which bees can produce honey. Also the plants of the rosaceae family attract bees such as the blackberry (Rubus ulmifolius), the hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), acerola (Crataegus azarolus) or plum trees (Prunus domestica).
With their flowers, honey plants offer food to bees, either in the form of pollen, nectar or propolis. In return, the bees help pollination, and therefore the reproduction of plants. It is a relationship in which everyone wins; the plants, the bees and the sweet tooth.
Plants and Trees for Fuel
To light our houses, warm ourselves or cook food, we have always needed wood and plants for fuel.
We have not only used firewood as fuel to burn or make charcoal, but also plants in the form of oil to light our lamps. This is the case of the oil obtained from the mastic bush, the fruits of the (Pistacia lentiscus), which are processed in the same way as is done with olive oil (Olea europaea), can be used for lighting. The wood that has been mostly used as fuel is the oak (Quercus ilex), due to its high density and high calorific value, but also pine (Pinus Halepensis), wild olives (Olea europaea var. sylvestris), carob trees
(Ceratonia siliqua) or almond trees (Prunus dulcis). Reeds from the rounded bulrush (Scirpus holoschoenus) have also been used to make wicks, when impregnated with sulfur were used as combustion wicks.
Humans with their ingenuity have been able to manufacture a large number of tools from natural elements that were within their reach, and plants have also been a main source of materials for this.
With the compact and flexible Mediterranean hackberry (Celtis australis) a large number of tools have been made from this tough pliable wood, such as gaiatos (walking canes) or cattle collars, pitchforks and shovels used for threshing, wooden hoops for wine barrels, and many more tools. Stems of the asphodel´s branches (Asphodelus ramosus) were used to make small mats to lay figs for drying, in order to preserve them for a longer time. With the cane (Arundo donax) that grows in humid areas and slopes of torrents, fences have been made, but also, musical instruments such as the traditional flabiols (wooden flutes), spinning pieces for spinning wheels, or these long canes have simply been used to collect carob beans and almonds or for tomato plant tutoring. Other plants have offered us fibers to make fabrics, such as nettles (Urtica urens) and pigments to dye them, such as the roots of the wild madder (Rubia peregrina), which dyes red tones, or the skin of the pomegranate and the bark of the tree (Punica granatum) that was used for both dyeing and tanning animal hides.
Many of the wild plants that grow in the nearby fields have met our nutritional needs, when the pantry was found empty.
From some plants we have taken advantage of their roots, as is the case of chicory (Cichorium intybus) when roasted and crushed has been consumed as a substitute for coffee. Of other plants, the leaves have been used to flavor dishes as with fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), or nettle (Urtica urens) to cook broths and creams, borage (Borago officinalis) and leek (Allium ampeloprasum). We have also eaten stems or tender shoots such as asparagus, which grow from the rhizomes of a very common vine, the asparagus (Asparagus acutifolius). Capers (Capparis spinosa) are flowers before they open, are pickled to accompany a typical pan amb oli (bread with oil) and traditional dishes such as lengua con alcaparras (tongue with capers). Tasty jams are cooked with fruits like the prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica), or liquors made from blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), while with seeds of white mustard (Sinapsis dawn), sauces are made for accompanying dishes.
There are many plants that have been planted for their beauty to dress up our gardens or even planted to decorate as cut or dried flowers. Trees such as the laurel (Laurus nobilis), the cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) or the acerola (Crataegus azarolus) or bushes that have also served as fences such as the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) or the hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). Also vines, the clamp (Clematis vitalba), the fragrant virgin’s bower (Clematis flammula) or the wild rose (Rosa sempervirens) have always adorned fences and walls.