Canary Islands medicinal herbs found in Tenerife
Wild herbs of Tenerife
Tenerife is a wonderful place in the Canary Islands for anyone interested in botany or herbalism because there is an incredible wealth of medicinal herbs that grow wild on the island. There are endemic species like the Canary Island Sowthistles (Sonchus spp.) and the Houseleeks (Aeonium spp.), as well as those that have been introduced and have colonised Tenerife, such as the Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus).
The Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) or Cardo Mariano as it is called in Spanish, is a common sight and is difficult to confuse with any other plant with its large spiked leaves that are veined and marbled in creamy white and its showy and eqaully prickly flower heads of rose-purple or white.
Milk Thistle can be found growing on waste ground and along roadsides and is especially common in the north of the island.
Milk Thistle can be taken as an infusion of leaves or seeds and is recommended as a tonic for the liver and to help detoxify the body. Milk Thistle has been used as a treatment for various other ailments including depression, coughs, travel sickness, piles, varicose veins, and also to aid poor circulation.
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Fennel and St John's Wort
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is known as Hinojo in Spanish, and this useful and well-known herb is found in many places in Tenerife growing on rough ground, grassy places and along roadsides. It is unmistakeable with its strong aniseed aroma and taste.
Fennel seeds make an excellent and popular herbal tea, and they can also be used a spice to add flavour in curries and other dishes.
Fennel has been used in herbal medicine to treat angina and high blood pressure. It is also recommended as a remedy for bad breath and as a slimming aid. It has been employed against cases of asthma and bronchitis and has been utilised for its antiseptic properties, as well as being utilised as an antiviral herb.
Canary Saint John’s Wort (Hypericum canariense) is difficult to miss with its bright golden-yellow flowers, and just like the commonly used species it is recommended to treat depression. The St John’s Wort species found on Tenerife can be used for nervous problems as well. Its leaves and flowers contain the active ingredient hypericin and the herb is usually taken as an infusion.
Orobal (Withania aristata), or Oroval, is a very important herb of the Canary Islands. It grows as a bush or small tree and bears small greenish bell-shaped flowers, which are followed by berries, which become an orange-yellow colour as they ripen.
Orobal grows on waste ground, along roadsides and in ravines of Tenerife and is also known as Canary Island Ginseng because it has so many uses in herbal medicine.
The leaves, bark and berries of Orobal are a remedy for high blood pressure. The herb is a treatment for rheumatism and for insomnia. It has analgesic properties and can even be used as an aphrodisiac.Orobal is a relative of the popular herb Ashvaganda (Withania somnifera).
Tenerife has its own wild Canary Island Sage (Salvia canariensis), which grows into a large bush and is found on waste ground and scrubland. It has tonic and antideptic properties and is a remedy against tonsilitis, fevers and gum problems. Canary Island Sage leaves can be used in the form of a herbal tea.
Canary Island Sorrel (Rumex lunaria) is a common plant that grows on mountain slopes, wasteground and scrubland and is quick to colonise new ground. It grows as a bush and has shiny leaves.
Canary Island Sorrel is used in herbal medicine to treat many conditions but because it contains oxalic acid in its foliage it should not be used by people who suffer from arthritis and gout because it can make these conditions worse.
Canary Island Lavender (Lavendula canariensis) is a common plant on rocky ground. It forms large clumps and is a pretty plant with its pale lilac-purple flowers and its feathery leaves.
The Canary Lavender species found in Tenerife and the other Canary Islands is, however, not aromatic like the more widely known types, although it is nevertheless useful as a treatment for stomach ache. Canary Island Lavender can also be used to bring down fevers, to drive out internal parasites and as a disinfectant for applying to the skin.
The Dragon Tree (Dracaena draco) has been used in traditional herbal medicine in the Canary Islands too. The strange red resinous sap that flows out of its trunk if cut has been used to treat and prevent gum disease and for its astringent properties.
Canary Wormwood (Artemesia canariensis) is known as Incienso in Spanish. It is commonly found on dry rocky areas and waste ground in Tenerife where it often covers large areas of the land. Canary Wormwood has a greyish-green ferny foliage and a strong aroma if crushed. It has been used in herbal medicine to expel internal worms, and as an insecticide.
It is also recommended for the digestion, as an antiseptic, to stimulate the appetite and as a remedy for insomnia. Other species of Wormwood have been used to make the powerful alcoholic drink known as absinthe.
Other useful herbs found in Tenerife include the Tree Heather or Brezo (Erica arborea), Canary Island Mint or Menta Poleo (Bystropogon origanifolius) and the many Viper's Bugloss species (Echium).
There are very many more species of medicinal and culinary herbs found in Tenerife, both endemic and introduced species, as well as those cultivated in gardens.
A recommended reference book on the subject is Medicinal Plants of the Canary
Islands by David Bramwell. It is always wise to check with a botanist or herbalist to make sure of the identity of any wild plants you intend using but a book such as the one mentioned here is a good guide to general information.
Tenerife herbs links
- The Viper's Bugloss species or Tajinastes of Tenerife
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