Herbal hitchhiking by Pigi Irene Ilia

The pine tree seems to listen, the fir tree to wait: and both without impatience–they give no thought to the little people beneath them devoured by their impatience and their curiosity.

 – Friedrich Nietzsche –

Photo of salves wraped in walnutshells by Eleni Christoforatou – corfuherbs.com

The car stopped at a resting point near the big highway, surrounded by pines. Me and Carina had just left my village in France and were heading towards Spain. Anna, my Spanish friend wanted a break from driving. Too much noise. I stood quietly close against a pine, reaching for its needles with my face, trying to wake up from the numbness of the road. Carina says its sharp, bitter smell releases our emotions. After 6 months of being surrounded mainly by oaks, it definitely felt awakening. I ate some resin like I always do, and felt ready to continue with our journey.

Carrying all of our belongings on our backs means I had to be very selective with my herbs. I chose to leave behind my purchased tinctures and carry only the ones I made. Little containers, small glass jars from ‘’bonne maman’s’’ jams and little bottles I had found in the brocantes came handy. Every little remedy is precious to me. A thyme tincture with eau de vie cassis combining in that way France and my village in Greece. Oregano dried by my grandma, for every usage. A half-finished wild carrot tincture for pregnancy scares (for the men along the way..) An usnea salve for wounds and a cold method tincture that’s still in the process, for immunity. As we move from place to place I see the tincture progressing and surviving with me the humidity and cold of the tent. Our bond with the plants is taking different forms as time passes.

Photo of usnea by Eleni Christoforatou – rodakasherbs.gr

Now, it’s more about the plants we meet along the way. How we let them enrich our experiences by simply noticing them. How we let them take care of our awareness. Wake our sensations. Hitchhiking the Pyrenees, from road to road, with our heavy backpacks, yet always stopping to smell the roses. Debating on their aromas. Every single one is different. Just like the plenty apples, figs, pears, or even persimmons that we forage. Each tree is connected to each place, growing and drinking out of different rivers, different rains just like we, people, are engaged in the environments we live in. Rapidly crossing continents can become ungrounding. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as tasting a ripe rosehip that melts like jelly to the tongue or chewing a fresh fennel seed. Walnuts, bitter almonds, a small bite of an olive as a bitter tonic, we are never alone, at each height and length we encounter different plants.

The body takes in the unknown land where it stands. Plants are always here to ground us. When I quickly wanted to clean my stinky breath before I kiss someone, I realized the wise walnut tree above our heads, grabbed and chewed a leaf as Greek people used to do in the past. When we got dizzy because of the temperature difference of the cold tent and the sauna house of our friends and a mint plant happened to stand by. When we chewed cinnamon and clove to prepare for the cold nights, or using licorice root to clean my teeth. When I was eating hawthorn berries sometimes instead of drinking water while we were sleeping in the forest, only to later read in my herbal school’s documents that this berry can actually have the opposite effect since it’s diuretic and it needs to be taken with adequate water ( I will never forget this info now).

Land to land, hand to hand, herbs are travelling too. I’m glad I can carry my usnea tincture from humid France to deserty Catalonia. I’m curious to notice the dry and thorny plants on top of the cliffs here in Aitona, where I am now. Somehow, an usnea oxymel I had randomly made and carried with me despite the heaviness, found a home in a friend in the Pyrenees who has damage of the gut lining for years now. She also really liked the taste of it. Some amanitas from a Greek forest are now in France, with a friend who’s self- discovering. God knows how they got there. The possibility of herbs spontaneously moving to the right places really intrigues me and reminds me of the fascinating saying that ‘’Earth has no sorrow that Earth can not heal’’. (John Muir)

Pigi Irene Ilia

Pigi is 21 years old and comes from a small village in Greece. She is interested in languages, poetry, plants and foraging.


A poem for you

By Dale Pendel


Though the gods have the power of speech
More often they choose a flower or plant;
Elder leaves pressed on a blotter,
Or spring buds emerging from a winter stem.

These messages they send –
So ordinary we often miss them:
An easy laughter and lightness,
Or legs casually crossed and touching.

The way a sertpentine dike blends seamlessly into bedrock
Or the way two possible lovers move,
Starting and stopping passing and pausing
On an April trail

The subtlest oracles are always the most obvious –
Seeing what is in front of us most difficult:
A butterfly hatching from a ruptured dream,
Or a splintered tree rooting in the soil where it fell –

That those we’ve left endure or falter
Does not mean that we must also –
The poison that bit us is also our medicine –
It is well to name things as they are.

Like that swampy Cree girl they called ‘Dries things out’
When they found her sitting by the stream,
A dragonfly on each palm,
All three drying together in the sun.

The gods’ whispers are never commands,
More like the place a steep trail has collapsed,
And sunlight offers the understory
A second chance.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our newsletter