Monday, April 21, 2014

Maltese Flora - Part II - Berwieq

Branched Asphodel - Berwieq - Asphodelus aestivus

The Lotos-Eaters - Alfred Tennyson

Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil,
Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine and oil;
Till they perish and they suffer—some, ’tis whisper’d—down in hell
Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,
Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel. 

This plant has one of the earliest recorded histories of any species. It has been given a detailed description in Opera et Dies in the 8th century B. C. Homer knew the plant as well. in The Odyssey Homer describes it as covering the great meadow, the haunt of the dead.

It was planted on graves, and is often connected with Persephone. In Greek mythology Persephone, also called Kore is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter. She is the Queen of the Underworld. Homer describes her as the formidable, venerable majestic queen of the underworld, who carries into effect the curses of men upon the souls of the dead.

The roots were eaten by the poorer Greeks; hence such food was thought good enough for the shades. The asphodel was also supposed to be a remedy for poisonous snake-bites and a specific against sorcery.

Greeks and Romans used different parts of the plant in the treatment of several diseases, but in modern medicine, the Asphodel does not seem to be used any longer. The tuberous root, gathered at the end of its first year, is said to be acrid, antispasmodic, and diuretic.

The asphodel though has many other uses other then medicinal. In Italy the leaves are used to wrap burrata, an Italian cheese. The leaves and the cheese last about the same time, three or four days, and thus fresh leaves are a sign of a fresh cheese, while dried out leaves indicate that the cheese is past its prime. 

In Sardinia, honey produced from bees who have fed on the plant is highly favored for its delicate taste. In Puglia, the unopened buds of the plant are collected, blanched in boiling water and preserved in olive-oil. This is used as a condiment. In some areas of Sardinia, the stems are used to weave baskets used in bread-making. At one time, these were an indispensable part of the trousseau of a bride-to-be and women in Elizabethan Lancashire used it as a yellow hair dye.

In Mallorca, shoemakers find the pulverized plant’s dried tuber rhizomes useful for making a strong glue when mixed with cold water. The same glue is also used in the process of bookbinding.

The Asphodel fibre is furthermore used in the making of cord for seat coverings of chairs and stools.
Parts of the plant are edible as well. The root is rich in starch. Dried and boiled in water it yields a mucilaginous matter which can be mixed with grain to make a nutritious bread.

Since time immemorial this plant was connected with the dead and the underworld. That's ironic as when I was walking through fields of asphodel what the plant was expressing to me was resilience and strength through adversity. To me The Asphodel does not signify death : 

It signifies Resurrection and Spiritual Awakening. 

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