Zante Flowers and Herbs
ZANTE: The breath taking beauty of Zante, Zakynthos has been a big inspiration for many philosophers- (philo means friend and sofia means wisdom, so the friends of wisdom!), historians, poets, writers, travellers, etc. Many intellectuals throughout history have honoured the island Zakynthos. Homer named it; Iliessa, which means forested, charming by Vergillius en Plinius, earth’s paradise by Tarie and Spon and, the most beautiful out of all the elyseose fields by Solomos….. We could carry on forever, but the one you will hear the most of while you are on holiday in Zante is, ‘fiore de levante’ from the Venetian occupiers. “The Flower Island of the east wind”. The Levante (the east wind) is something typical for Zante. It even brings a tiny little bird over from Africa’ the trigoni’ eaten as a delicicy. The nickname for this loved bird is ‘levantenaki’. The Keriotes, the villagers from Keri, were famous for the Vrogia, this was a halter made of horsetail hair, which gave the opportunity to the Keriotes to survive in the medieval times, because the rich Venetian rulers would pay them a good price when they caught the trigoni.
The Flower Island, Zakynthos, invites you all year round, to collect the most beautiful bouquet of all sorts of flowers. It starts in the spring with de rose coloured pasgalies-flowers who will announce the start of Easter. (pasga means Easter in Greek). The rose peonia, the flowers of the nymphs, and the very vain flower the narcissi.
Greek mythology; At his birth, the fortune-teller Teiresias had said a remarkable thing. Narcissus could grow old, if he would never ever look at his own reflection. He grew up to become an absolutely handsome man, who was admired by thousands of ladies, they simply could not take their eyes of him. Due to his arrogance, he never answered any of them.
Little Echo, (the nymph who was punished by Hera, because she always talked too much. Hera recreated her voice and Echo was only able to repeat the last syllables that were spoken to her) was rejected in such a harsh way by Narcissus, that her sorrows turned her heart into stone, and from then on she went hiding in the mountains. That was more then enough proof, and the gods decided to finally punish Narcissus. Artemis the goddess of hunting, made sure that Narcissus got thirsty after a long hunting session, and went to a stream for a bit of refreshment. At the moment he bent over and saw his own reflection in the water, Cupid shot an arrow in his heart and made Narkissos fall madly in love with his own reflection. He stayed there until he pinned away in his own misery. His last words, while he was still staring in the water, were ‘goodbye my love’ and that was also the answer of heartbroken Echo ‘goodbye my love’…
On the place where Narcissus died a beautiful flower sprung up, and so he gave his name to the flower and much later by Freud a notion/comprehension. Narcissi
Hyacinthus was a young prince out of the Spartan Empire, who was much loved by Apollo, the god of art, theatre, music, and light. They had a very strong bond of friendship. One day as they were playing around throwing the discus to one another, the Southern wind called Zephyrus got very jealous, and blew so hard that the discus went offside and hit Hyacinthus in the head and killed him instantly. Apollo run over to Hyacinthus, trying to help his dear friend, but it was too late, and while life was slipping out of the body of Hyacinthus, Apollo created a beautiful flower from the blood droplets of his wounded friend, to honour and remember him! In this way the hyacinth was created.
The autumn will be announced by little purple cyclamen’s, that you can find mostly next to the roads. The Zakynthians call them Koppelitza’s,, which means little girls.
The winter is a spectacle of different type of flowers, but also the blossoming almond tree in January is a pleasure for the eye.
The Herb garden of Zante;
Even though basil is a herb with a very special taste and aroma, it still does not take a place in Greek Cuisine. The Greeks see basil as a holy plant;
Basilikos means also belonging to the King. Greek history tells us, that when Christ got crucified, basil started to grow underneath the holy cross. The other story-legend tells us: There has been a large cross figure of basil in a big open field, that took the attention of Helena. (the mother of Constantine the Great, who gave his name to Constantinople, something the Greeks even today always will refer to, and never ever Istanbul) Helena got attracted by the mysterious looking cross, when she started digging in the ground, she found the holy cross. It was such a holy phenomenon that Helena from then onwards was declared to be a holy person. In the churches you will find a lot of basil around the 14 Sept. This is the day honouring the holy cross. The word Stavros means cross, so it’s also the name day for every man called Stavros and every woman called Stavroula. A name day is of much more importance to the Greeks than a birthday. (Only for the little ones they will also celebrate their birthday) Nearly everybody is named after his or her grandma/pa and they are mostly named after the holy saints. Lets say Nicos for instance- has his name-day on the 5 Dec and Maria on the 15 Aug. But what if you are not named after a saint? Then there will be the day of the no! Holy named! As you can see they have thought of everybody!
The peninsular Vassilikos, with the second largest mountain Skopos, (which means look out point or soldier on the watch, so in times of war this was an important area) is also named after the herb basil. There are also stories, which imply that maybe once upon a time, there used to be a kingdom on this part of Zante.
And if ever a Greek might want to give you a piece of basil, then that is a sign of friendship!
The name camomile, comes from the Greek Hamai, what means on the ground/earth and milo what means apple. If you look carefully at this herb, with it’s beautiful small white flowers it also looks and smells like a ground apple.
By Hippocratic (BC 460-377 the father of medical science) we find out that Camomile is very good for skin problems, toothache, and that its very good to relax with. They also call it the plant healers, because it benefits the other plants around them in their growing etc.
Fennel is famous as a cure for coughs, stomach-ache, and rheumatism. You also find it a lot in the Greek cuisine.
Greek mythology ; The brave titan Prometheus (the one who is forward thinking) had stolen a spark from the crown of sunbeams of Helios, the god of the sun. He put it in a fennel stem, so he could smuggle it of Mount Olympus to his beloved mortals. The gods were outraged, fire represented knowledge, they could not believe that Prometheus gravitated such a gift to humanity. Prometheus was chained to the karkarus. Every day a vulture would come visit Prometheus, to take his kidneys, which would grow back again in the night. In the end it was Hercules who saved him, and by this time the gods had calmed down, and allowed Prometheus to live on Mt. Olympus again.
The island Maratho-nissi used to be attached to Marathia, the area close to Keri in the southwest part of Zante.
Maratho comes from marathia (what is also translated into maratho-fennel) and nissi means island. Nowadays its better know as Turtle Island. Around 1500 the villagers were struck by fear. Every misty night they would hear a loud roaring voice coming from the island and they were all convinced that this came from a ghost. The Venetian rulers were a bit less superstitious and went out to catch ’the ghost’ on arrival at the island they found the ghost to be none other than a much sought after smuggler, and so the famous smuggler was put into jail.
As soon as you have visited the Mountains of Zakynthos and Cephalonia, you will understand the explanation of Oros-ganos ‘ the happiness of the mountains’. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, happiness and prosperity, gave this herb to us. That is why; it’s an old tradition, to crown a married couple with oregano. This is a symbol for love, happiness and prosperity. The first introduction with oregano for many visitors to Greece will be with the choriatiki salata (chorio is a village, so village salad) better known as Greek salad. The better tavernas will serve you a starter, the riganata, toasted bread dipped in olive oil with slices of tomatoes, sprinkles of feta cheese and a bit of oregano.(rigani).As a medicine it can disinfect wounds, and can work as a painkiller. As a tea, it will help to soothe the symptoms of colds.
The name of this marvellous herb comes from the Greek word Thumus that stands for courage. In antiquity, the Greek soldiers used to bathe in thyme to give them courage in battle. It was used a lot in times of war because it has a strong antiseptic use for wounds. Nowadays it’s mostly known as an ingredient for cough syrup. In antiquity, the Pretza cheese, which is made with thyme, was a delicacy. Thyme denoted graceful elegance ‘ to smell of thyme’ was an expression of praise applied to those whose style was admirable. Bees have a strong nose for medicated herbs. On Zante,zakynthos you have a great opportunity to buy good local thyme honey! ( meli-thimarisio).
The name of this elegant herb comes from Greek Dendro=tree and livanon =incense. Rosemary is considered to be a holy herb and essential oil. Many folksongs attribute deep mystery to its healing properties. In Greek churches the twigs and incense is used at holy ceremonies. Rosemary was also used as an exorcism to drive out the bad spirits of houses etc.
Rosemary can work in a remarkable way for strengthening our memory. In the old days people would give a wreath of rosemary to their beloved ones who would go on a journey for a long time, not to be forgotten. Rosemary has been used traditionally as a universal healing herb and it was a chief ingredient in medicines made by the alchemist and early scientists. Praised for its curative benefits, in treating liver, heart, brain and eye disorders. Through the ages Rosemary has been used to celebrate life and to attract benevolent outcomes. No feast was ever complete without Rosemary.
Myrrh gets its name from Myrrha the daughter of Thesis, king of Syria. A Greek myth says that Myrrha was forced by Aphrodite to commit incest with her father. To save Myrrha from being killed by her father the gods transformed her into the myrrh tree. Hearing a child crying within the tree, some passer-by delivered her baby Adonis, who was later the escort of Aphrodite. The sap from which myrrh is derived is said to be the tears of the transformed Myrrha.
Myrrh is highly praised as an antibiotic and disinfectant and was one of the famous gifts of the three-kings/wise men for baby Jesus.
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