Monday, May 19, 2008

Trees in the Mediterranean

Trees possess an intrinsic power that is independent of any legend, myth or spiritual tradition. In many cases, however, those who live in large urban environments are fairly oblivious to that power, and may not even have much contact with Nature, except in a very controlled setting.

Throughout the Mediterranean, I found myself enchanted by the sight of trees that are not commonly found in the North.

Sad to say, I had no opportunity to pause even for a moment to view the incredible umbrella pines near Vesuvius properly. The 'pinus pinea', otherwise known as the 'umbrella pine' or Mediterranean stone pine, dotted the countryside near Naples and Pompeii but as I was not on foot, I had to be content with a passing glimpse.

The stone pine is a central element in human history, actually. It may have been the first pine used by humanity for food and other resources. Nuts, wood, firewood, resins, bark, honey as well as the kernels have been utilised since the dawn of mankind.

From an interesting book about non-timber forests in the Mediterranean:

'In addition to its nutritional value, stone pine nuts have been considered as an aphrodisiac all around the Mediterranean since ancient times. The Roman poet Ovid (born in the 1st century BC) in his Ars amatoria - The Art of Love , a poem that challenged the serious moral reform efforts of Augustus, provides a list of aphrodisiacs including 'the nuts that the sharp-leafed pine brings forth.' The Greek physician Galenos, of the 2nd century AD, suggests that a mixture of pine seeds, honey and almonds taken before bedtime for three consecutive evenings can increase sexual potency. Apicius, a Roman celebrity who loved good food and his recipes (such as walnut stuffed dormouse) were used up to the Middle Ages, recommends a mixture of pine nuts, cooked onions, white mustard and pepper to achieve the same thing. Finally, the Arab Perfumed Garden referring to Galenos' writings advises that in order to achieve sexual vigour a man should eat 20 almonds and 100 pine nuts accompanied by a glassful of thick honey for three nights before bedtime.

From ancient to contemporary times, the timber of the stone pine has been used only occasionally, as the trees are normally preserved for their value as a food source.

In Messina, my attention was caught by a tree growing behind bars in the city itself. I expect it may be quite an ordinary species of tree but there was something about its form, almost as though imprisoned in a cage, that brought it to my notice. It had the look of a tree that one might find in an illustration from a fairytale.

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