Extractions and Distractions – A Survival Guide For Aromatic Living in Lockdown – Part 1

By sharing excerpts from her journal, plant alchemist Ildiko Berecz would like to offer some highlights of the past year of how life went on during the pandemic with almost a whole year of lockdown on the Mediterranean Island of Crete in Greece. It is highly emphasised that the journal is not a panacea for pandemic, neither complete nor unbiased, yet focuses on the bright side of a dark year with aromatic and medicinal plants.

The article was originally written for and published in the issue 2021/2 of Aromatika Magazin, an online publication to support holistic living, the practice and professional education of aromatherapy, phytotherapy, naturopathy and related subjects. My special thanks and gratitude goes to Gergely Hollódi, editor-in-chief of this beautifully constructed aromatherapy periodical, and for his always encouraging support. Hope you would enjoy this post here. The original copy of the electronic magazine is available for download  from the website of Aromatika Magazin.

 

Due to the complexity of the situation and the lengthy nature of even trying to give a somewhat realistic description of official regulations and life conditions in general, it is not the subject of this article to inform, analyse, measure and make conclusions and comparisons on the challenges and hardships individuals had to face in their respective locations and life circumstances. The information and experiences collected herewith comes with the purpose to ignite, enlighten and inspire the readers by the magic of living and working closely with Nature and how it can facilitate keeping faith and hope even in extremely difficult times. Allowing the knowledge and familiarity of aromatic and medicinal plants back into our everyday lives brings with it a positive reciprocal influence and a symbiotic way of thinking and feeling, which not only enhances our current lives, but offers better prospects for the future of all living beings.

Introduction to A magical Year of Aromatics

I carry two decades of experience in substantial conscious life-changing practices from my own journey on Planet Earth, along with being such a catalyst in other peoples’ lives through my various personal aspects as an aromatic adventurer, holistic therapist, consultant, mentor, author, photographer, forager, distiller and plant alchemist. Living in Crete in the past 8 years I have further developed my skills of (re)using whatever is possible and transform one into the next. Alchemy is my life in various matters, from simple cooking to aromatic distillations, from activating the physical body of living beings to touching human souls. However, the observations are not part of a scientific experiment. They are born from the marriage of the art and science of creating and using plant medicine, and combines cognitive skills with intuitive gifts.

Extractions from The Journal of An Alchemist

March 15th, 2020
(Alarming news from the world, 10 days before lockdown starts in Greece)
Enjoying garden works with the late afternoon sun in the company of beautiful plants, vibrant colours, fresh air, good vibes, cats mating, a little sweat, some nettle stings, dirty hands… what else could you wish for? If the trouble of the world wasn’t enough, a few bags of extra shit may just come around… excuse me, but what if that was a well maintained horse manure? In such a case, shit may bring you happiness! Indeed, when a lot of shit happens, Nature is the place to be. Calming, grounding, healing and just carries the seeds of hope.

March 20th, 2020
There used to be a beautiful line-up of eucalyptus trees along the road between our village and the next. It’s been heartbreaking to see most of them been drastically cut back during the past year, and now one another eliminated completely. My witnessing lens happened to capture the grotesque nature of things. Why? First of all, a big bunch of medicinal plants got laid down on the ground right next to the rubbish bins. And… ironically, it just happens to be outside of a pharmacy. In times when countries are locking down, when a viral disease attacks the lungs of the population. As we know, Eucalyptus carries some great qualities that people need right now – it is antibacterial, a great antiseptic for our respiratory system and anti-inflammatory!

March 30th, 2020
After eight days of quietly complying with the new rules, and I did it with the highest possible rigour as a good old perfectionist could do… today I let myself go for a little walk nearby the house in the village, applying the official paper “EXTRAORDINARY MOVEMENT PERMIT” being completed as required. With the relevant code B6 for short commute, near my home, for individual physical activity. Indeed the walk was extraordinary with spotting Iris and Wild clary, inhaling the sweet freshness of citrus flowers, recently trimmed olive trees. Traces of goat drops mixed with the smell of Roses, colours of Borage blues next to old whites of Calla Lilies. Oh, and that covered corner of old village walls where blooming Jasmine extends her ever-mesmerising scented blanket. Where would we be without plants, scents & colours?

April 7th, 2020
It’s grey and rainy here on Crete today, and I thought it is time to make one of my classic drinks again. Perfect for boosting your mood and immunity. It is a pity to throw away the skin when you eat or juice oranges and lemons. They include what eventually transforms into a beloved essential oil once the rind cold-pressed or distilled. So, don’t just waste them! Provided you have a blender, it’s an easy recipe. You slice the citrus – an orange, a lemon, or both of them together, as I did today. Throwing in a pinch of cinnamon powder is nice, too. Once blended as creamy as possible, you may add honey as to taste. In my original recipe I used to add the same amount of honey in volume as it is the mashed fruit. That was for therapeutic reasons at the time. Now I use just a small amount of honey, or sometimes non at all. The thick paste is a wonderful base for lemonades and deserts. PS: My lemons are from my garden and oranges from a friend, they are obviously not treated with chemicals. When I used to live in the city, I threw the fruits into boiling water for about a few seconds to one minute, then rubbed them all around with a clean sponge, a cloth or something to remove unwanted stuff from the peel.

April 16th, 2020
Have you ever seen how flowers are closing down at the end of a day? During my walks in the last few days I started to keep coming back to a glade I recently discovered. A wonderful spot with a carpet of chamomile flowers (Matricaria recutita) and a magnificent view on the valley as far as the White Mountains. I yearned for nothing else but laying there, slowly inhaling the familiar calming scent, listening to the rustle of nature in the wind. Birds singing coupled with all those countryside sounds. Just whatever you would imagine in a recorded atmospheric nature meditation. Occasionally I sit up, slowly gazing around to please my insatiate eyes for these idyllic visuals. Almost an hour passed, and I started to realise something is changing. The white petals of the chamomiles began to close, one after the other. Unnoticeably, as of course I had no chance of seeing any one of them actually moving. Constantly fixing my gaze did not help to catch them in the act, yet they did, flowerhead after flowerhead, fooling me around by playing ‘catch me if you can…’ As very often when we are in the middle of a subtle change, we don’t really see things are happening, while they do…

April 17th, 2020
My famous village Rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) is now blossoming in the garden! Yes, the beautiful plant that offers herself for me distilling gentleness and delicacy into a wonderful aromatic well-rounded hydrolat! Meanwhile, more works in the garden, and I also planted the first tomato seedlings. A courtesy of my neighbour, who also gifted me a bag of snails that he had collected in his garden two weeks ago and since then… he had been feeding them with pasta as a cleansing procedure before the snails get ready to cook… Excuse my French blood!

April 19th, 2020
What a discovery, by full surprise, a large field of White Irises (Iris albicans) at the edge of our village! The values behind the Sanskrit word Satchitananda came to me, that carries the meaning of existence, consciousness, truth and bliss. These Irises exhibit strength erect on the rocks, yet spreading the light of purity as standing in their beauty, proclaiming creative power. Isn’t it through the love of flowers where we find enormous help, connection and inspiration on our path of finding and becoming one with our true self?

April 27th, 2020
Wild carrot, aka Daucus carota is the queen of mandala flowers. She is also called Queen Anne’s lace with an ever changing variety of sacred geometries. On today’s walk I captured a few faces of hers, to bring the infinite beauty of these versatile umbels into the wider world. Here on Crete, Wild carrot plants tend to grow as tall as 1.5 meters! And later in the summer, they develop their seeds and the flowers transform themselves into a new stage where the flower-heads close in order to protect their valuable seeds. Those seeds, which are the carriers of the aromatic compounds, may be distilled for their precious essential oil and hydrolat that is used in aromatherapy. And also, a tincture is used as herbal medicine.

May 4th, 2020
I love citruses as they are so down-to-earth fruits, and also, they beautifully exhibit the subtle layers how individually unique they are within the same context. Citruses are the cheerleaders when it comes to uplift our mood! Yes, a lemon would do it in a refreshing way, a mandarin comes playing with you as a child, orange is pure sunshine bringing joy, and grapefruit…? Well, even if it may taste slightly bitter, its bitterness – as in the world of plants – often tends to help you clean up what’s burdening… If you are sensitive to energies and you may have been experiencing some heaviness, it’s just the right time for some grapefruits delivering optimism, positivity, and more easy-going attunement.

May 9th, 2020
Celebrating with Yarrow as the flower clusters of this beautiful medicinal plant emerge in the light and being embraced by the friendly clouds on the clear blue Cretan sky. That incidentally corresponds to the image of the Yarrow card (Ace of Wands) in my herbal tarot deck. So, here is a short excerpt from her message for us today: ‘The life-force of the Spirit is fully acknowledged, The shafts of light are the inner illumination that one can experience. It is time for revelation and enlightenment. Be willing to face the truth, whatever it may be. The card also represents triumph and success of an endeavor or project. All one needs to do to be assured of success is to learn the power of consistency in endeavor, to pace oneself accordingly, and to follow an enterprise through to completion.’

May 10th, 2020
Some herbaceous plants that look the most average and somewhat delicate are yet carrying the strongest and most empowering qualities. Nettles, Patchouli, Mint and Lemon balm are such green friends form me. Family-wise, they are not all together, Nettles belong to the Urticaceae, while the other three species are in the Lamiaceae family, however the later also commonly called the “mint” or “deadnettle” family… I am so very keen to meet Patchouli one day (we all need dreams to carry us on, don’t we?), but I am so blessed to have Nettles, Mint and Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) around me in Crete, in the here and now. Yesterday I was doing a bit of harvest from the latter, the very first from the garden of my care-taking. I am so very proud, for the continuously developing little land, and all the aromatic medicine I can create from there. I was making tincture of Lemon balm earlier today, and going to be sipping freshly brewed Lemon balm tea before going to bed.

May 13th, 2020
Honeysuckle in Crete can often be found planted in villages, just as Jasmine climbing on fences, and is incredibly sweet and fragrant. I am fortunate that this heart-opening plant grows in my neighbour’s garden, and generously reaching over both side of the fence so I can kind of say she belongs to me too! This species is called Lonciera etrusca, and I’ve learned there was a German naturalist called Adam Lonitzer in the 16th century who must have been passionate about this beauty. Hence, we have a name after him. According to The Mother teaching us about the spiritual significance of flowers, Honeysuckle symbolises the constant remembrance of The Divine, and I find it profoundly beautiful.

May 15th, 2020
Honeysuckle continued. So what’s in a name? As in a shadow work, you don’t just go around pretending everything is just love and light, but indeed go and discover, and learn what to do with the unwanted parts. From a spiritual perspective Honeysuckle, as a reminder of our Divine nature, is also here to bring us in the Present moment instead of grieving what could have been done differently in the past (if that is a matter, check out for Honeysuckle flowers essence from the Bach remedies). I started to have a closer look at the word itself, and a little smile scrolled down my face. May be a bit sarcastic as an approach, but sucking our honey has indeed a shadow part and could bring in some revelations. How many of us have to deal with our loose boundaries? How often is there a feeling so that matter needs to be addressed? Perhaps you generously allowed others to delightfully kept coming in for your valuables… Not an easy thing to change, but not impossible either. A very substantial element of being more true to yourself, speaking out your truth more boldly, and most of all, align with the call of your heart. As always, for the highest good of all!

May 15th, 2020
Hydrosols, known as hydrolats or aromatic waters started to get more recognition again in recent years, and the expression of distilling for hydrosol has arrived in circulation. It refers to where the distiller puts his/her focus, and also, helps to inform the world out there that there are two surpassing entities in this ceremonial process. It’s ok to get excited about essential oils, as we all do, however, important to acknowledge the subtle rising energy and role offered by the beautiful nature of aromatic waters. The two travel intertwined, and are like yin and yang, come together and apart. Today’s distilling of sweet marjoram brought me to this metaphorical discovery, whereas distillers rising all over the world help the process of the awakened feminine and masculine to surface, balance, heal and reunite. The two qualities within each of us, and in society… Therefore, I believe we artisan distillers are doing way more than distilling for essential oil or hydrosol. We are making this change happen by starting with ourselves, and with bringing goodness to our communities holistically. What a journey for all of us!

May 30th, 2020
Aloe vera was one of the plants that I have always had in my gardens. Somehow, they never managed to blossom, even though many of them have passed the 3 years that is what I learnt is usually needed for blossoming. They are very adaptive plants to various circumstances, but perhaps the many moves I have made during the past 7 years on Crete somehow confused them. Maybe they would surprise me one day! Meanwhile, these aloes are still prolific, and I keep gifting new babies to people. This plant is not a Cretan endemic at all, but cultivated widely due to its wonderful properties used in cosmetics, food and pharmaceuticals. I love using Aloe vera in all sorts of ways both as a healthy ingredient in smoothies when I get hold of a mature leaf usually from friends, or in my creams in using both the amazing light texture and the calming, healing and nourishing properties of the prepared gel.

June 11th, 2020
How much proof do we need for our connectedness? Plant healers are there to balance what may have gone wrong in our human relations. And reflections from our human fellows also come with a reminder function to see ourselves better from outside and harmonise impulses with our inner feeling and knowing. I’ve been making a beautiful Borage flower essence two months ago, and now it feels right to share that with you. Why? I simply believe we all need that support, collectively. Borage (Borago officialis) is one of the key plant allies for me this year and I will continue working with its various forms from the subtle to the more physical. For now, let me give you a key through the Flower Essence Society in California: Borage, as a flower essence, is for heavy heartedness and lack of confidence when facing challenges. The remedy is said to bring courage to the taker, providing a condition of “buoyancy of the soul”. Borage is said to bring “lightness and ebullience to the soul, filling it with optimism and enthusiasm.”

June 15th, 2020
Harvesting Immortelle (Helichrysum italicum subsp. italicum) with my friend Manolis on his farm of blossoming energy. Manolis planted some of these gorgeous Everlasting plants slightly over 3 years ago. They are growing on the mild mountainous slopes here on West Crete. That’s a fabulous location and is a botanical garden in itself with an amazing biodiversity of olive orchards, citruses, fruit trees, aromatic herbs, medicinal plants, as well as vegetables. We have many things in common with Manolis around our passion about plants, including education and photography, as a tool of capturing beauty and offering genuine aromatic and botanical experiences to the world. Maintaining a huge land with clear methods is beyond words, and offering the possibility to have a look into this work and its results is the ‘top of the iceberg’ kind of part of the show. Learning to see things from various angles and discovering new perspectives is part of the Path living life more fully, wholeheartedly, and courageously. And I have a question for you today: Provided you were given a chance, would you live your life differently? What if I say the only one who can offer you this chance is Yourself?

June 25th, 2020
My new term is Social Media Distancing, and I have been in a little practice to use my time differently. While I love sharing my musings, and very grateful for people’s great receptivity and feedbacks, it has more implications… I have been working both in my physical and virtual garden, and several new blossoms are coming out now. It is a beautiful rebirthing process that is taking place every single time when I complete another chapter of my aromatic adventure series for Aromatika Magazine. Each and every piece holds years of experience, and long days of pulling them together writing in alignment of current influences. Such a rewarding process in the efforts of giving birth to an educational piece of enjoyable and encouraging literature. Did you know that sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) as a plant is so fully aromatic from tips to toe? Even the most dry, leafless, thinned out woody stems are a perfume on its own sake! There is more to it in my new-born article titled ‘Marjoram: Reclaim Your Calm, Regain Your Strength!

July 5th, 2020
It’s been a while now for us taking poses, sort of, while it’s been a year that went by the fullest in many ways, the fast & the furious. Feels like yesterday when we did the very first Thyme (Thymus capitatus) harvest with my dear friends, with great visions for this beautiful land they had taken into ownership… Hardly a year passed since then, and with a much drier weather now, we started harvesting wild thyme earlier. The temperature is around 33 Celsius, and we are ready for another day of fieldwork! That’s about it for what we call a weekend pose.

July 13th, 2020
This past week has been incredibly alive and feels very random jumping on and off the time line as if multidimensional living was just around the corner. Let me share this quote from the wonderful Valerie Ann Worwood to speak for me as how I feel these times around: ‘The Melissa personality is bubbly, fizzy, full of energy and usually delightful, with a multitude of interests and activities’. So, yes, although it was not really planned (was beyond any hopes, to be more correct), but finally found the time and opportunity to make this distillation happen. After all to be so lucky that my friend Christina had just enough Melissa (Melissa officinalis) in her garden to fill my distiller! On a totally crazy day, both of us running up and down, but we made it to the harvest and we just got to save the day!

July 26th, 2020
6 years ago I met an amazing man, because of my love and dedication for aromatherapy I was in search for Cistus. As our Paths crossed with Dimitris Nyktaris – shepherd, driver and enthusiast for fragrances and natural cosmetics -, a whole adventurous story was born. Parts of it were written in my aromatic articles, parts of it were more subtle than that, and on the road I have naturally become a sustainability ambassador for Cistus creticus and the revival of the age old traditions of that historical plant. In Dimitris’ village there is a lot of nostalgia around the past values, and my purpose is to gently and respectfully promote the lost knowledge. To handle with care, as it deserves, through personal experiences and letting people develop a certain sensitivity and deeper understanding. I wish I had more support in my efforts, but Nature taught me there is no rush, ups and downs are part of the process, just as often seeds need time to germinate. On our last visit to Dimitri in Sisses we had a brilliant team of dreamers and doers, and so our Cistus Story continues to live and develop!

PS: If you are on a journey of self-discovery, healing and empowerment and feel the call of the magical power of the plant world, you may want to check out what else I have for offer on my signature website as a Holistic Guide to Life. With love, Ildiko

References:

Tierra M., Cantin C. (1993). The Spirit of Herbs: A Guide to the Herbal Tarot, U.S. Games Systems, 2014

The Mother (1988). Flowers: Their Spiritual Significance, Lotus Press

http://www.flowersociety.org/three_borage.htm
Last accessed on June 11th, 2020

Worwood V. A. (1995). The Fragrant Mind, Bantam Books, 1997

Hollódi G., Ashley E. (2019). Tongue of the Trees. Aroma Botanica. The Secret Healer.

Rose M. J. (2012). The Book of Lost Fragrances, Atria Paperback, 2013

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