High on the list of my least favourite flowers, a parsley-like bloom is in the ascendency at the moment. I don’t know its name, but I call it ‘the Burr Machine’. It has large dirty-white flat umbels that open from a bunched mass. In the centre of each umbel is a tiny dark purple or near-black speck which at first sight appears to be a tiny insect but which closer examination reveals to be part of the flower. I suppose it attracts real insects. Once fertilised, the umbel bunches up again and each little flower forms a very sticky burr. You only have to merely brush against the plant to be covered with them (I swear they actually JUMP!), and it takes forever to pick them out of clothes and dog-coats, where if not removed they result in nasty clumps. We stay out of fields in the season of the Burr Machine.
Much better news is that the recent heavy rain (in July!) has provoked the growth of one of the very best of our wild greens. This is Purslane or Indian Cress, known in Greek as Glystrida or Andrakla.
Purslane shoots up during the summer after rain showers, and should be gathered before the flower buds form, after which it becomes unpleasantly acid in taste. Pluck the leaves off the stalks and serve as salad, on its own with salt and oil, or in a mixed summer salad. It has a reputation for reducing cholesterol levels and strengthening the heart, and is very popular in Crete as part of the island’s famous diet. It can also be cultivated as a garden vegetable, though most locals dismiss it as a weed.
One of the island’s most attractive trees has just come into flower.
This is the Chaste Tree, or Monk’s Pepper, both names given because the seeds have had since ancient times the reputation for curbing lust. Indeed, Pliny writes that the use of its stems and leaves in bedding would ‘cool the heat of lust’. Even the tree’s Latin name – Vitex agnus-castus – reflects its supposed abilities, since the ‘agnus’ part represents purity, as in Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. In Greek, it’s called ‘agni’; the seashore hamlet of Agni on the North West Coast is so named because a very large and ancient specimen grows in the yard of Taverna Agni – itself named not out of pretentiousness, but as a straight description. When flowering, the tree is covered with sprays of lavender, sweetly scented and attractive to butterflies.
At odds to the plant’s historical usage as an anaphrodisiac, the alternative-medicine Mayo Clinic reports that there is no evidence for its capacity to reduce sexual desire. However, extracts are increasingly being used in mainstream medicine, particularly in gynaecological ailments, and they are being tested for possible use as an insect repellant.
The tree, or shrub, makes a nice garden plant and if pruned to shape will grow very prettily, especially now in midsummer.
The grass bites back after I killed it off. My recent ‘Death of Grass’
blog seems to have prompted the Interoot to petition the Weather Gods into action, so they can prove me wrong. Very heavy and prolonged rain (in July!) has caused new grass to grow, and many patches of the Ropa Valley are sprouting a fuzz of green instead of this season’s usual beige. I blame it on Global Warming!