Herbs of Tenerife
The island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands can be likened to a herb garden on a really immense scale and what works well in nature will work well for us too. Indeed, it has many wild species of its own such has the Canary Lavender (Lavendula canariensis), which is often found on the desert areas here and there is also a species of Sage (Salvia canariensis).
Travel around; especially in the northern parts, and along roadsides you are sure to see masses of Fennel (Foeniculum vugare) with its feathery foliage, sweet smell of aniseed when crushed, and umbels of yellowish flowers. This is a herb that will do very well in the garden and grows readily from seed. Fennel tea is very popular and on sale as teabags in many supermarkets and it is also good for the digestion.
Traditional garden favourites like Mint (Mentha spp), Chives (Allium schoenoprasum),
Sage (Salvia officinalis), Thyme (Thymus spp.) and Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) all flourish in the Tenerife garden, and Mint may actually do too well, and so it is wise to limit its underground growth by some form of container.
Most culinary herbs like these are also cultivated in the Mediterranean area and, like there, they appreciate the sunlight and warmth, which boost the essential oils they contain, giving an excellent flavour and aroma. Indeed, one of the joys of the herb garden is the delightful scent that the plants produce and many such as Lavender are grown for this purpose.
The wild form will thrive if cultivated, although it is scentless, and so will the forms, which we are more accustomed to, and which are far more highly perfumed. Lavender plants are often available at garden centers or can be started from cuttings. The wild form will self-seed.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum), which in the UK is usually grown as a pot plant, can be grown outside and will produce very aromatic foliage. This is the herb used to make pesto sauce and it is very useful in the kitchen.
The variety Dark Opal has attractive purple foliage too. Basil is a herb that is best started from seed and this and many other herbs are generally available at gardening centres.
One of the many delights to be gained from herb gardening is having a plant you have grown yourself and is fresh and waiting for you to use it. Coriander, which is wonderful in curries, is very easy to grow in a pot or in the ground. Just scatter the seed and they will usually take providing you water well. Some herbs are more often thought of as flowers.
The Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) and the Marigold (Calendula officinalis) are 2 good examples and both will do well in Tenerife, although both need a lot of water. The Nasturtium can be seen growing wild along roadsides in the North of the island and provides a great display in spring with its pretty orange, yellow or red flowers and round shield-shaped leaves. It can be used to add colour and a hot peppery flavour to salads and the seeds can be pickled as a substitute for capers.Nasturtiums have a high Vitamin C content and used to be used for preventing scurvy.
Marigolds can be added, as petals to salads too and the dried flowers of the plant can be ingredients in a fragrant pot-pourri. As a medicinal herb it has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties and has been used as an ointment for skin problems.
Herb gardening can be for the creatively minded gardener, who may wish to designate an area specifically for this and arrange plants according to colour and form. Tall herbs like Fennel grow best at the back of a border and some like Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and Thyme can be used as ground cover plants.
The use of herbs on Tenerife is following in the footsteps and traditions of the original Guanche islanders, who were skilled in their knowledge of herbalism. Many of the wild flowers and trees that grow here they both used as food items and for medicine.
A medicinal herb that does well and is very attractive to look at with its spiky large leaves marbled with creamy white and flower heads of rosy purple is the Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum). This thistle is excellent taken as a tea of the seeds as a tonic and purifier of the liver. It is also known as the Marian Thistle, and this seems very apt because the Virgin Mary is Patroness of the island. It’s a herb that comes with divine blessing!
Footnote: First published in Living Tenerife, 2005
Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.
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