Natural remedies are part of the island’s ancient tradition. Everyone knows the story of the family from Nuchis, near Tempio, in Gallura, which has the recipe for a miraculous ointment that heals severe burns. The big pharmaceutical companies have offered them dizzying figures to get their hands on it, but the family refuse to give in, and continue to heal people without asking for anything in return.
So this is the start of a little overview of the main Sardinian herbs used in cosmetics and herbalism and some of their therapeutic properties.
Helichrysum (in Sardinian Erva or Scova di Santa Maria) is perhaps the most beneficial plant of all. To the French, who are great buyers of Sardinian helichrysum (Chanel being one example), it is quite simply “l’immortelle”. It is antioxidant, detoxifying, conditioning, anti-inflammatory and soothing for allergic reactions. The essential oil is miraculous when used on hematomas and also has powerful healing, mucolytic, expectorant and analgesic properties. Helichrysum is used to make face serums and creams for mature, dry and damaged skins. It is considered excellent at preventing sun spots, wrinkles, stretchmarks, and protecting the skin against UV rays, which is why it is appears on the ingredient list of so many sun creams. The ancient Egyptians even mixed it with honey as an antidote to snake bites.
Mastic is known locally as stincu, listincu and chessa (in gallurese) just for starters. The mastic tree’s small red berries, branches, leaves and resin are all used – very much in the same way as many of the other shrubs in the Mediterranean brush. Mastic is a sort of miracle plant: conditioning, healing, insect-repellent and antioxidant. It also soothes muscular and joint aches and pains. It is rejuvenating, hydrating and antibacterial. Mastic berry oil is very much a Sardinian speciality as it has been made on the island for thousands of years. It is rich in omega 3, 6 and 9, and has powerful healing properties. It can also be used in cooking to add flavour to meat, roasts and fish or as a condiment for raw salads. Mastic berry oil has long been used instead of olive oil in Sardinian cooking because of the fact that its distinctive, heady flavour goes so well with food of all kinds and is, as a result, also a favourite with gourmet chefs. It is also miraculous in easing ulcers and all kinds of stomach upsets. Mastic berry oil became hugely popular after Dan Buettner revealed in National Geographic that it was one of the essential components of the diets of Sardinian’s famous centenarians. Cosmetic products containing mastic essential oil, which is extracted from the branches and leaves of the tree, is excellent for treating wrinkles and for soothing skin that’s been exposed to wind and sun. When cut, the trunk of the mastic tree yields a clear, sweet resin known simply as mastic which was once chewed as a breath freshener and to strengthen the gums. The most precious mastic of all came from the Greek island of Chios which the Genoese were trading in by the 14th century.
Of the juniper bush (in Sardinian Ghinìperu, Nìbaru or Nìbanu), the berries, young shoots and wood are all used to make essential oils with powerful curative properties. Made into creams, oils, soaps and other products, juniper acts as an extraordinary tonic for the skin, combatting spots, blemishes, oiliness and stretch marks. Juniper-based products are ideal for use after sport too. The essential oil is also used in inhalations to help with coughs while Juniper herbal infusions (when parts of the plant are infused in oil for a long period of time) are an excellent anti-inflammatory and analgesic. It can be used as a natural remedy for headaches and all kinds of joint pain. Lastly, the distillate made from juniper is widely used with tonic water to raise the spirits and also taken neat as an aid to digestion. Or at least that was the claim made by the Dutch pharmacist said to have invented gin in the 18th century.
Wild lavender, medicinal lavender, the genuine article, is known by the poetic name of Archimissa in Sardinian. It is a sweet herb with an incredibly gentle, subtle and natural effect on the psyche. Relaxing and fragrant, it is a digestive and a carminative. Conditioning, sedative, insect-repellent, calming, sedative, pain-relieving, and soothing, lavender is used in cosmetics and in herbal medicine. Its essential oil is highly effective in dealing with stress, anxiety, insomnia and mild depression. Insect repellent and healing, lavender essential oil fights fungal and other infections, and relieves rheumatic and joint pain. It is also useful for back pain, neck stiffness, headaches (particularly tension-related), sprains and bruising. As with all essential oils, excessive use can cause reactions. Lavender is an exceptionally good addition to creams and oils too as it combats spots and dandruff, stimulates hair growth and circulation in general. It is also hydrating, purifying and improves the elasticity of the skin. Last but not least, it is a good natural anti-wrinkle aid.
The leaves and berries of the myrtle tree (Murta in Sardinian) are used for their fragrance and astringent and anti-insect properties. Myrtle essential oil is widely used in cosmetics because of its balancing action on sensitive and blemished skin. It also often appears as an ingredient in toothpastes, and thanks to its skin balancing properties, is excellent as an active ingredient in shampoos and conditioners. The myrtle bush is unmistakeable as its bright green leaves dotted with dark berries make it one of the most spectacular sights of the Mediterranean autumn. Acqua Angelica, a distilled water containing myrtle, was in use in Europe by the 16th century as an astringent face and body skin tonic. Myrtle liqueur is deemed by many to be a very effective remedy for doubt or confusion. 🙂