On a recent visit to the Dalmatian coast, including the beautiful coastline cities of Split and Dubrovnik, I encountered at the local market bazaars vendors of the finest grade selling distilled lavender, rosemary oils and St. John’s wort oils.
Croatia is famous for having the finest grade lavender oils made through a careful distillation process The cheaper oils are made by macerating the lavender flowers in olive oil. Lavender, rosemary and St. John’s wort are indigenous to this region and the temperate Adriatic weather along with the mineral-rich rocky soil seem to be especially conducive to concentrating the fragrant volatile oils that make the finest quality lavender and rosemary.
While professional herbalists must study hundreds of herbs, folk herbalists, confined to a limited number of botanicals, tend to find multiple uses for these to treat a wide variety of conditions that are likely to occur in the regions where they grow.
Following are a few of the uses copied from a sheet distributed by a vendor in Dubrovnik. He mentioned that it took about a ton of lavender flowers to make a liter of lavender oil. As for the St. John’s wort oil, it is definitely made by macerating the freshly dried flowers in pure olive oil, thus producing the characteristic red St. John’s wort oil.
Lavender (Aetheroleum Lavandulae Hybride) Migraine and Headache: efficacious when rubbed into the skin of the forehead, temple, neck and behind the ears; Depression, Cardiac Pain: take 4-5 drops on a lump of sugar or in a teaspoonful of sugar on an empty stomach; Rheumatism: rub oil into painful areas; Baths: 20-30 drops in the bathtub (it has a soothing effect, is refreshing and affords relief from anxiety and tension); against mosquitoes and other insects: aromatize your body and premises overnight.
1. Lavender Blossom (Lavandulae Flos) Asthma: one large spoonful of blossom is used for one cup of tea. Pour two deciliters of boiling water over the blossoms. Inhale twice a day; Nervous Throbs of the Heart, Cramps in the Intestines, Hysteria: drink three cups of tea daily; pour two deciliters of boiling water on one teaspoonful of blossom and let it stand for 2-3 minutes; To Strengthen the Cerebral Nerves: pour boiling water over the blossoms, let it cool and wash your head with it; Prevention Against Moths: place bags containing lavender blossoms into wardrobes and closets.
Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) is a member of the mint family native to the Mediterranean region. The flowers are predominantly used. They contain a volatile oil (0.5 to 1%) that includes linalool, lavandulyl, acetate, borneol, camphor, limonene, cadinene, caryophyllene,etc. and coumarins. They are considered carminative, antispasmodic and anti-depressive. The oil has been found to have Central Nervous system depressant activity in mice. It is anti-microbial and of low toxicity. It is used in perfumery and as an insect repellant.
2. Rosemary Oil (Aetheroleum Rosmarini): Rheumatism: massage the diseased part of the body with the oil and cover it with a piece of cotton cloth; Diseases of the Stomach and Intestines (catarrh, cramps and similar pains): take 4 drops of oil on a lump of sugar or in a teaspoonful of sugar on an empty stomach; Hepatitis, Epilepsy, Hemorrhoids, Infections Diseases, Colds, Flu and Gout: take a few drops of oil in a tea; Bathing: put 20-30 drops into your bathtub (it helps heart action; Spice: a few drops improve the taste of many dishes.
Rosemary is in the mint family and is native to the Mediterranean region. It contains a volatile oil composed of borneol, camphene, camphor, cineole, limonene, linalool, isobutyl acetate, flavonoids, rosmarinic acid, diterpenes, ursolic and oleanolic acid and derivatives.
It is an anti-inflammatory, tonic astringent, diaphoretic, stomachic, nervine, anodyne and antiseptic. It can be used for headaches as described, and all disease of the head, including improving memory. The leaves and flowers can be made into a tea and used as a douche for trichomonas.
3. St. John’s wort (Hypericum Perforatum) has become one of the most celebrated herbs of our time for the treatment of mild depression. It actually has many other uses including antiviral, anti-inflammatory, astringent, sedative, anti-rheumatic. It can be used for the treatment of coughs and colds and even menopause. Topically it is applied as an oil or salve as a vulnerary for the treatment of wounds and injuries. Its special application is for the treatment of nerve pains for which it can be used either as an herb or in homeopathic dosage. In Croatia, St. John’s wort is used as a topical application for the relief of burns, including sunburns.
It derives its name from the fact that the plant tends to flower on St John’s Day, which occurs just before the summer solstice. This is also considered the ideal time to harvest the herb though it will continue to flower throughout the summer. It has a long history of folk use in talismans and amulets to protect against the “evil eye” or harmful psychic influences perpetrated by one’s enemies. When the bright yellow flowers are placed in water, oil or alcohol, the solution changes to a bright blood-like red which is particularly considered auspicious for protection and healing of both physical and psychic wounds.
According to Paracelsus (quoted from Mathew Wood’s, The Book of Herbal Wisdom, pub by North Atlantic Books) “The hypericum is almost a universal medicine,” he says. ‘The veins upon its leaves are a signatum, and being perforated they signify that this plant drives away all phantasmata existing in the sphere of man. The phantasmata produce spectra, in consequence of which a man may see and hear ghosts and spooks, and from these are induced disease by which men are induced to kill themselves, or to fall into epilepsy, madness, insanity, etc.”
Mathew Wood’s excellent herb book goes on to describe various other uses for hypericum (usually taken internally as a tea or tincture) derived from his own and various other sources making it, as Paracelsus suggests, a veritable panacea.
Homeopathically it is widely used for nerve trauma, inflammation of the nerves, with sharp shooting pains along the course of the nerves and pinched nerves associated which could also include collapsed disks of the spine. It has a special affinity for pains caused by blows or injuries to the coccyx. It can be used to prevent septicemia and puncture wounds. The usual homeopathic dose is hypericum 30X.
The oil or ointment can be applied to bed sores, bleeding wounds, burns, abrasions, injuries, boils, dry and wet eczemas and insect stings. It is effective as an antispasmodic for muscle cramps, stiffness, aches, overuse, sprains, bruises, sciatica, rheumatism, gout, neuralgia and poor circulation.
Of course its recent celebrated use for the treatment of mild depression is derived from its historical benefit for various types of nerve injuries.
From my book, The Way of Herbs (pub. By Pocket Books, 1998 edition) comes the following:
Energy and flavors: cool, bitter
Systems affected: liver and nervous system
Biochemical Constituents: Essential opil, hjypericin, flavonoids
— Take 10 to 30 drops of the tincture (5 to 1 extract) or simmer a tablespoon of the dried herb in a cup of boiling water. Take two or three cups daily.
How to Make St. John’s Wort Oil
Blend 1 1/2 cups dried St. John’s wort consisting mostly of flowers but with some leaves, with 2 cups of olive oil until it is a well-macerated mixture. Pour into a clear glass jar and cover. As the oil develops it changes bright red, if it does not, place it in the sun for a day or so. Keep the herb submerged in the oil and shake the jar vigorously every day for a period of two or three weeks. Strain by press-squeezing the oil through a cloth. Bottle and keep in a dark place for use.
This oil can be used to promote the healing of all types of wounds, injuries, burns and damaged nerves. Internally it can be taken to help heal gastro-intestinal ulcers.
St. John’s wort has created serious photosensitivity in animals that were previously found grazing on it in pastures. This contraindication has not been conclusively documented in humans, however, those who are taking it regularly for controlling depression might be especially careful in over exposure to the sun. One can expect no problem from its short-term (a few days to a week or so) use. Interestingly, the Croatians specifically indicate the use of St. John’s wort oil as a topical treatment for sunburn.
What of my trip to Croatia? It was taken as part of a concert tour with the Santa Cruz Chorale under the excellent artistic direction of maestro Paul Vorwerke. It included six concerts, which we gave over a period of two weeks of the sacred music of the great high renaissance Italian composer, Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). The first week included concerts in the area of Lake Como (Lecco), Mantua, Padua, Caorle, Venice, Split. The first week was in Northern Italy while the second week included a tour of the Dalmatian Coast on the way to the beautiful walled city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. Monteverdi, a contemporary of William Shakespeare, was the creator of opera and was regarded as the foremost composer of the time. His music invokes a wide range of emotions from human passion to spiritual ecstasy. Actually the choir has made a beautiful recording of the concert entitled Vespers for the Nativity of St John the Baptist which is available from the on-line store.
The most memorable concert was the performance at the beautiful Chiesa Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice where Monteverdi’s remains are interred in a small adjoining chapel dedicated to his memory. Singing Monteverdi’s glorious Magnificat in front of the colossal altar masterwork based on the Assumption of Mary by Titian, perhaps one of the greatest paintings in all of Venice, alone would have made the trip a worthwhile experience for me.
Another highlight was witnessing the panels depicting various scenes of the New Testament painted by the great Italian painter Giotto (1267-1337) at the Scrovegni chapel in Padua. Giotto was the first to go beyond the idealized depictions of the previous Greek and Byzantine artists to include the depiction of human emotions set in a rich landscape. In a sense, his work set the stage for the later masters such as Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Titian and others. For many of us witnessing Giotto’s paintings in this small chapel was an unforgettable and profound spiritual experience.
Our guide in Venice, an enthusiastic women in her early 40’s was full of praise for alternative medicine, including Traditional Chinese Medicine and homeopathy. She claimed it cured her of chronic fatigue and a kidney disease deemed incurable by conventional medicine. Unfortunately this seemed not to be of any compelling interest to the many scholarly professional scientists who were members of the Santa Cruz Chorale. The touring chorale, included 17 regular members and additional musicians and friends of the esteemed director Paul Vorwerk, brought the group up to 37 with an additional group of spouses. Highly respected individuals including an astrophysicist, a neurophysiologist, a couple of psychiatrists, computer programmers and others where part of the touring group. We listened with some concern, as our guide spoke of the sharply declining birth rate of Italians in Italy. This seemed to be the result of the high cost of having children (does this sound familiar in terms of the US?) and resulted in Northern Italy’s zero replacement birthrate, while Southern Italy is at 1 1/2 per capita. These figures which at first seem positive in terms of the world’s exploding population does present a possible crisis where poor minorities occupying those countries multiply at a far greater rate. Personally I’m not sure whether this is at all either good or bad, having no feelings of racial superiority, one can still feel some sentimental concern for the eclipse of any great culture or people.
To demonstrate how backward our own country is in terms of granting maternity leave, several other countries also allow for paid maternity leave. France allows a year’s maternity leave while even a relatively poorer country such as Croatia allows a six week paid maternity leave for its citizens. In France, this poses another problem as poorer residents as well as emigrants from other countries and minorities take advantage of the system by electing France as the country to go to have children. Then of course there are some of the Scandinavian countries that mandate and have state supported vacations for as much as six weeks yearly. This often includes free and paid vacations at state supported spas at beautiful Mediterranean coastal resorts.
The three day bus trip along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast was breathtaking to say the least. With its hundreds of offshore islands, inlets, small coastal villages, etc, it is perhaps one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. The trip culminated with a visit to the beautiful coastal city of Dubrovnik. The main attraction of Dubrovnik is its ancient walled city that juts out to the Adriatic Sea. Dubrovnik includes a medieval city, with various homes, shops, churches, monastery and a Rector’s palace. In the Franciscan Monastery one will find the 3rd oldest continually function pharmacy of Europe. We had several opportunities to visit offshore islands and swim in the pure, emerald green Adriatic sea which, considering the sweltering heat was both a sensuous experience and for many of us a necessity.
Though brief, I was able to derive from brief conversations the great tragedy of the recent war of liberation from Serbia that began in 1991 and recently ended in 1996. As a result there were many physical scars from direct shelling of the cities we visited. Much to the Serbian’s international embarrassment their shelling of the ancient city of Dubrovnik, declared by Unesco as a world treasure, did not invoke any sympathy to their cause. The spiritual and psychological damage of this and countless other wars of atrocities that have occurred throughout the Balkans seems to have no end. If you want to develop a background understanding of this integral part of the world, I recommend reading Balkan Ghosts by David Kaplan.
Those who question our involvement in conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo need to realize the strategic importance this area of the world has on continued peace in Europe and our involvement with NATO alliance formed after the second world war.
There are rivalries and hatreds that go back at least to the defeat of the Serbs by the Ottoman Turks in 1329. Ironically, all three being based on love of God and neighbor, the conflicts between the Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic religions also do not add any further stability or peace to the region.
Mutual Croatian and Serbian hate from the recent atrocities committed by both sides, the suffering and loss of homes, status and loved ones lingers everywhere. As with Hitler’s fueling the hatred of the Jews during WWII, former communist leaders, seeking to maintain power after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989, do so at the expense of the people by fueling age-old race hatred and rivalries. This includes Milosevic of Serbia and Tudjuman of Croatia.
I hope this helps to disseminate a bit more understanding of the various issues and conflicts involved concerning this incredibly beautiful part of the world. I know that Rosemary, Lavender and St. John’s wort are among the most popularly used of all botanicals. Perhaps each of us may, whenever we use these herbs, better appreciate their place of origin and send positive thoughts and prayers for the spiritual healing of this troubled area.