Before the onset of medicine, previous to hospitals, clinics, and even doctors, each town, village, and hamlet had its very own wise woman. This person assisted difficult births, set bones and provided a number of herbal remedies for certain ailments.
Herbs, it is known, are very beneficial for a high number of bodily functions, and since these are mostly derived from plants and flowers found in the wild, they’re also quite cheap as well.
Nowadays, herbal remedies are making a comeback, however they were always in use within the kitchen, as their tangy flavour and tasty overtones tend to add a richness and texture to a number of recipes. Many homes even tend to sport what is known as a kitchen garden – a small patio of fresh plants and flowers that produce herbs, which can be plucked for cooking.
There are a number of wild herbs that are indigenous to the Maltese Islands. Perhaps the most well-known and common of these is thyme (sagħtar). Found in rocky, arid places such as stone steppes, garigue land (xagħri), the coast, and within valleys, this plant flowers between May and August, and is protected by law. Characterised by its tangy fragrance, the shrubs may grow up to a height of 50cm, and it’s well known for attracting butterflies and bees. During its flowering, its many low branches are usually clustered with small pinkish blossoms. Thyme can be used to complement a number of recipes and sauces, and can also be drunk as a herbal tea. Studies have shown that thyme lowers blood pressure, boosts the immune system, and can be used as a cough remedy.
Fennel (Bużbież) is another well-known Maltese herb which grows fervently in the wild. It grows on dry soils around the coast, is a perennial herb and has yellow flowers and feathery leaves. Strange as it may sound, fennel belongs to the carrot family. It’s highly aromatic and is used in a number of Maltese recipes, most notably in the famous patata l-forn. Fennel is known to be rich in Vitamin C, fibre and potassium, reducing inflammation and cholesterol levels, as well as aiding bowel movement.
Rosemary (Klin) is also a plant indigenous to the Maltese Islands, although it’s quite rare in the wild nowadays. It usually grows within rocky valleys. Rosemary is an evergreen herb, with small pink or purple flowers. It is used as flavouring for red meat, and is rich in Vitamin B and Vitamin A. It is known to be an antioxidant, being also antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and a natural remedy for headaches and colds.
Sage (Salvja) is another well-known herb indigenous to our islands. It flourishes in rich soil, roadsides and valley sides, and flowers from October to June. It’s been known and used as a medicinal herb from Ancient Egyptian time, when it was used as a remedy for coughs, the cleaning of ulcers and sores, rheumatism and excessive menstrual bleeding, among others. This perennial shrub sports blue to purple flowers, and can grow up to 2ft in height.
Another wild flower which can also be used in food is the white wall rocket (ġarġir abjad). This plant, belonging to the cabbage family, is adorned with four-petaled flowers, and is annual, meaning that it dies down after seed production. Although the leaves are also known to have diuretic properties, it’s not usually used medically.
Image source: Floravascular
The Star-of-Bethlehem (ħalib it-tajr il-kbir/ħarjet iċ-ċawla), which produces fragrant white flowers with six petals, flowers from late April through May. It favours dry habitats and, apart from being very beautiful, is well known for the medicinal use of its bulbs, which contain chemicals known to be of use in treatments required for congestive heart failure. A tisane of boiled flowers is also used in such flower herbal remedies as the renowned Bach remedies, as it is said to induce a state of mental peace, calm dreams, and be a good treatment for shock.
Image source: Herberowe