The Helichrysum 0 Comments

The Helichrysum

It is widespread in Sardinia in different varieties, where it is also called "L'Oro di Sardegna". It is in fact the scent and colour of Helichrysum (Elichrysum italicum) that welcomes visitors to the island in the summer period. Its name derives from two Greek words "helios" (= sun) and "chrysos" (= gold) and refers to the bright colour of its flowers shading the Sardinian coasts in Summer.

It is a perennial plant growing along the coast, in the rocky areas of the island and in the riverbeds from the sea to the hills. In Sardinia there are minor endemic species, very resistant to drought and to the wind, which pushes them to the ground, forming packed fragrant spots in the sunny and rocky coastal regions.

Sardinian folk medicine used helichrysum to treat bronchial forms, headaches, asthma and skin diseases. However, there were only a few women who were recognized as having the authority to use the herbs. Not exactly the Cogias of The Witches’ Village, but the Fitzas de sa Luna, daughters of the moon, also called The curanderas of Saint John (Saint John’s therapists), ante litteram pharmacists but also sanadoras (healers) of the soul.

Today the leaves and flowers, likewise when dried, are used for herbal teas, while a precious essential oil is also extracted from the flowers.

It is also used in cooking as it has a sweet and aromatic flavour, which serves to savour and flavour white meats, fish, vegetables, cheeses or desserts. Also, helichrysum cake is made, typical of Sardinia, which is prepared with flour, sugar, eggs, butter, yeast and finely chopped helichrysum flowers.

It is used in home hygiene, as a moth repellent and to efficiently keep away insects, to deodorise wardrobes and environments, spreading a pleasant clean scent. A still current custom is to add dried flowers inside pillows, to ease the breathing of those suffering from asthma and bronchitis. It is known as "camuciolo", because women of the past put it to macerate in cold water and then used the infusion to moisten the shirts to better iron and aromatise them.

Helichrysum is also present in legends, starting from the one that sees Helichrysa, a golden-haired nymph who lived in the woods, who one day, while picking flowers, saw a beautiful god and fell madly in love with him. But the god did not see her and continued on his way. Helichrysa searched for him throughout the world, without ever finding him. Consumed by pain, her body transformed into a plant with flowers as yellow as her hair. But the gods, taking pity on her, made her immortal: in fact, its flowers, even if picked, never wither. Thus, Helichrysa became the helichrysum, the plant of Love and Fortune. He who adorns himself with helichrysum is permeated with good fortune.”

In ancient times during the St. John eve, the night between June 23rd and 24th, Summer Solstice, girls of marriageable age chose the flowers of helichrysum, asphodel, broom, lavender, sage, lemon balm, mullein, mint, thyme and rosemary, because during this night the dew of St. John would wet the herbs which would thus acquire a special magical and pharmacological power to prepare St. John’s water. 

According to a peasant tradition called Litha, on St. John’s night women gathered around a walnut tree, which has always been a symbol of magic and mystery, to prepare the St. John’s saving water and the famous nocino, a dark brown liqueur made from unripe green walnuts. The men, instead, climbed the mountains to light bonfires to thank the sun, which reaches its highest point in the sky on the night of the Summer Solstice, for the gifts that the harvest will bring and for protecting them from atmospheric disasters. A hymn to the vital force of the sun that nourishes and regenerates Earth.

“Does helichrysum scent of Sardinia, or does Sardinia scent of helichrysum? I still don't know, but it's not important." (Beppe Severgnini)


Written by Daniela Toti

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