We’ve just got back from Corsica which is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Having previously stayed near Calvi in the Northwest and Porto Vecchio in the Southeast, this time we choose to spend a week just over the hills from Bastia on Cap Corse in the Northeast.
It’s not just the unspoilt hills and mountains and the mediterranean coast that are beautiful – it’s the smell of the island. Almost everywhere at any time you can catch the scents of the maquis, the shrubby aromatic plants that are the original inhabitants of Corsica. Juniper, lavender, myrtle, helichrysum, fennel, yarrow, nepeta, chicory and all their friends come to the party. The place is alive with plants and you can never forget it. There are quite a few small farms which cultivate organic plants to distill some of the best quality aromatherapy oils in the world – particularly helichrysum or Immortelle which is an outstanding oil for skin care and regeneration. And of course the Corsicans use herbs de maquis in every conceivable food preparation from sausages to biscuits to cheese – both feeding them to the sheep and goats and then wrapping the finished cheeses in them.
There were plenty of native plants growing near where we were staying so while I was there I took the opportunity to make some plant essences. These are not the same as the essential oils used in aromatherapy – for those you need a still, a license and industrial quantities of plant matter – plant essences are completely energetic or spiritual remedies. The best known are probably the Bach flower remedies but every plant has healing properties or “medicine” freely given to those who ask. The trick is not really in making the essence – that’s relatively simple – it is, as always, in knowing what it is that that particular plant has to offer you. The first two I made were white yarrow and santolina (santolina above). White yarrow is a spiritually protective plant and the properties of its flower essence are well documented but I haven’t yet done the research on santolina or cotton lavender.
The next two that I made were from two very different plants – the evergreen oak trees surrounding us and the white flowered creeping plant that was being used as a lawn for the property. Evergreen or holm oak (left) is also known as holly oak and I’m thinking that its properties may well have much to do with those of both holly and our own native oak, both being good heart plants – again more research to be done. But the plant that most surprised me was the carpet plant which I identified from the internet as phyla or lippia nodiflora (below). It’s a deceptively tough little plant of the verbena family – not native to Corsica – that hugs the ground and sends up masses of tiny white flowers with a purple centre – reminds me slightly of prunella vulgaris (another favourite). The bees were loving the flowers and, after I made the essence, I could see why. This tiny plant has an amazing vibration, giving a huge energy boost to those who are flagging. I’ll definitely be working a lot with this essence.
On a more conventional aromatherapy level I’m also inspired by our trip to try and create an essential oil blend that for me captures the headiness and healing properties of the maquis. Pine, lavender, juniper and fennel will definitely be in there, the difficulty will be what to leave out.