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7 Canary Islands herbs could be grown as cash crops for Tenerife farmers

Updated on December 13, 2013

Idea for a new business in Tenerife - grow Canary Island herbs

Tenerife farmers have had a lot of problems over the years with drought being a problem that can cause crops to fail. Many farmers have lost their grape and potato crops in the past or the harvest has been poor so they have decided to give up.

Younger members of farming families have 0ften sought their fortunes elsewhere on the island or left it. Both these factors have resulted in a lot of abandoned farmland. There are miles and miles of it, and untended and with no water apart from the seasonal rains it becomes dry scrub-land.

However, there are a number of herbs that are endemic that do very well on such land. They are able to cope with the natural conditions but with an additional help from farmers that could weed and water them they would do even better again.

I have had the idea that abandoned farmland could be used to grow these herbs which could be sold on to manufacturers of herbal supplements or packaged and marketed as Canary Island herbs that could be sold I health stores and via other outlets.

The Canary Islands label would help sell them and they could be grown organically which would help too.

Instead of trying to grow crops that need a lot of water and attention why not make use of a natural resource that is already there by growing more endemic herbs and selling them? These herbs could become a new cash crop for the island farmers.

Orobal with flowers
Orobal with flowers | Source

Oroval or Orobal

Oroval (Withania aristata) has been described as the “Canary Islands ginseng which gives a clue to its wide range of herbal properties. It is an anaesthetic and painkiller, has sedative properties so is good for insomnia, is a diuretic and general tonic. It is said to be anti-carcinogenic and even to be an aphrodisiac.

Oroval can be steeped in red wine for three months to make a medicinal wine that is a traditional tonic that can help treat arthritis.

The bark, leaves and fruit of the oroval are harvested and the plant grows into a large bush or even a small tree and it is one of the best-known Canary Island herbs. It grows easily from seed and thrives in dry and barren ground.

Incienso | Source

Incienso the Canary Wormwood

Incienso is the Spanish name for the Canary wormwood (Artemesia canariensis) and it is an apt name because it is a very aromatic plant that has a smell a bit like incense.

Incienso often colonises abandoned farmland and grows all over waste ground. It thrives in dry and rocky ground.

It has a large number of uses in traditional folk medicine. It is good for the digestion and as an appetite stimulant, it helps as a remedy for depression, it is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory can be used externally to treat sprains and swellings, and it is an insecticide and a vermifuge.

Incienso can be put into herb pillows and used to treat insomnia.

Incienso contains thujone which is the main substance that gives the drink absinth its ‘kick.’ Other species of wormwood are obviously grown and harvested to sell on to the companies that make this potent alcoholic drink. Could a new Canary Island absinth be researched and produced?

Menta poleo (Bystropogon origanifolius)
Menta poleo (Bystropogon origanifolius) | Source

Canary Island mint

Canary Island mint (Bystropogon origanifolius) is known as “menta poleo” and is used to make a traditional herbal tea. Although it looks nothing like the commonly used types of mint and is in a totally different genus, the Canary Island mint has the same minty aroma and taste.

Canary Island mint is a valuable medicinal herb because it is used to treat coughs, cold and stomach ache. It has antispasmodic, antihistamine and expectorant properties and can be utilised as an inhalant.

Canary Island mint is often seen growing wild in large clumps on dry ground and hillsides. It is a perfect example of a Canary Islands endemic herb that does not need the water to do well.

Canary St John's Wort
Canary St John's Wort | Source

Canary Island St. John’s Wort

Tenerife and the Canary Island’s have their own endemic species of St John’s worts with the Canary Island St John’s wort (Hyprericum canariense) being the most abundant. It grows into large bushes and is much bigger that H.perforatum which is the species usually grown to be made into herbal supplements to treat depression and anxiety.

Like its cousin it contains hypericin the herbal substance that has anti-depressant properties. It has been traditionally used in Canary Island folk medicine to treat depressions and other problems.

Canary Island St John’s wort often grows on waste ground and on used farmland.

Lavandula canariensis
Lavandula canariensis | Source

Canary Lavender

There is a number of endemic lavender species found in the Canary Islands but the most common of these is the Canary lavender (Lavandula canariensis)

Canary lavender forms clumps or small bushes and gets covered in its flowering spikes of pretty purplish-blue flowers. It is not pleasantly scented or aromatic like the garden lavenders we are all used to but it has a number of medicinal properties.

As an infusion it can e used to treat stomach problems, to bring down a fever and to expel internal parasites. Canary lavender has relaxant properties and can be used to stuff herb pillows used to treat insomnia.

Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) | Source

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is very common in the north of Tenerife and in some parts of the south. It grows as a weed in large clumps along roadsides, on waste ground and on farmland.

At the same times as it is found like this it is an important herb in the commercial world of herbal supplements and tinctures. Go to any health stores and you will find milk thistle as a tincture, in tablets and in capsules. Obviously it is being grown on herb farms somewhere to supply the raw natural product for this.

Milk thistle is a showy plant that grows to over 1 metre in height and has glossy spiky leaves marbled in whitish-cream that contrasts against the green and give the plant its name.

It has magenta purple flowers that are also protected with spines, as are the stalks of the plant. A white-flowered variety can be seen on Tenerife as well as the normal form.

This is interesting because in Spanish the plant is called Cardo Mariano and the white markings on the leaves are said to be Mother Mary's milk. The Virgin Mary is the patron saint of Tenerife and all of the Canary Islands.

Milk thistle seeds are harvested to make tea bags and for use in manufacturing herbal supplements made from the herb.

Milk thistle is regarded as a herb that helps purify the body and is especially good for the liver. It has been used to treat travel sickness and depression. It is recommended to improve the circulation and is good for the digestion.

While it is expensive to buy in health shops it is going to waste all over the island where it grows.

The Benefits of Milk Thistle for a Super Healthy Liver

Canary Island sage (Salvia canariensis)
Canary Island sage (Salvia canariensis) | Source

Canary Island herbs poll

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Canary Island Sage

The Canary Islands have their very own endemic sage which in Spanish is known as "Salvia morisca" but botanists call the plant Salvia canariensis.

It forms large bushes and has aromatic foliage like so many other salvia species. The leaves are used in the form of an infusion in Canary Island folk medicine as a treatment for tonsillitis and to make a mouthwash. The herb has antibiotic, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Canary Island sage is happy growing on dry waste ground and abandoned farmland so is an ideal candidate for being a native herb that could be intentionally grown as a crop.

An untapped natural resource

Surely there must be an enterprising farmer or businessman somewhere on the island who would be interested in developing this idea into a working model and making money from a natural resource that is being neglected?

Where is Tenerife?


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    • Tenerife Islander profile image

      Steve Andrews 22 months ago from Tenerife

      Good luck with it! I no longer live on the island but am glad to hear that someone is doing something similar to my idea. I told people about what I had in mind but no one followed up on it.

    • Stefano Vecchi profile image

      Stefano Vecchi 22 months ago

      Hello i am planning to do something similar.... Stefano

    • profile image

      Vera 4 years ago

      Wow, this is amazing!

    • Tenerife Islander profile image

      Steve Andrews 4 years ago from Tenerife

      Thank you! I can but try getting my ideas out there!

    • profile image

      carolerichards 4 years ago

      What an excellent idea Steve, hope you can make it happen!

    • profile image

      maureen mc cleoud 4 years ago

      love reading your pages and always learning more about local plants also need more info on the pests that munch away at hibiscus plants and lemons leavin holes on the leaves thax in advance!!