Friday, 13 January 2012

Plants of Warmer Climes

I have just arrived home to Blighty on this beautiful crisp clear frosty morning of Friday the 13th, from the volcanic island of Fuertaventura. 

Part of the Canary Islands,  located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa, 100 km west of the border between Morocco and the Western Sahara . Fuertaventura is the second biggest of the Canaries with a relatively diverse landscape, although also the least densely populated.

The first settlers are believed to have arrived here from North Africa - the word Mahorero is still used today to describe the people of Fuertaventura and comes from the ancient word 'mahos' meaning a type of goatskin shoe worn by the original inhabitants.

Fuerteventura is the oldest island in the Canary Islands dating back 20 million years to a volcanic eruption from the Canary Hotspot. The majority of the island was created about 5 million years ago and since then has been eroded by wind and weather.

The climate on Fuerteventura is pleasant throughout the year. The island is also often referred to as the island of eternal spring. The sea adjusts the temperature making the hot Sahara winds blow away from the island. The island's name in English translates as 'strong fortune' or 'strong wind'

 I have had an amazing 3 weeks exploring this interesting place and discovering new plants in barren, water absent habitats. There has been no rain at all this year in the past the rainy season is from Nov- Feb but the last 7 years the rainfall has been getting less and less.  Now the old reservoirs are the greenest places on the island with mini forests growing!

There are many rare plants on the island that are on a endangered list –most impossible to find outside of the canary islands because of the incredible habitat.

One of the main exporters of Aloe Vera –the island host perfect conditions for this valueable plant medicine –

The name Aloe Vera or True Aloe probably stems from the Arabic word Alloeh meaning "Shining bitter substance". We still refer to "bitter aloes" describing the laxative drug still listed in thePharmacopoeias of today. This drug was made from the sap of the plant found under the hard green rind. It contains mainly aloin, chemically an anthraquinone, which has been known since ancient times to possess very powerful purgative action if used neat.

Aloe Vera has been used by mankind for several thousand years and over the centuries there have been many references to Aloe Vera in many cultures: from the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, as well as in the literature of the Indian and Chinese peoples. Several famous physicians such as Pliny the Elder, Dioscorides and Galen, the father of modern medicine, who first described how the circulation worked, all used Aloe Vera as part of their therapeutic armoury.

The true Aloe has been endowed with such marvellous properties that over the years around the world it has been given many wonderful names such as Burn Plant, Medicine Plant, Wand of Heaven and Plant of Life.
The first reference to Aloe Vera in English was a translation by John Goodyew in A.D. 1655 of Dioscorides' Medical treatise De materia Medica which he wrote in AD 70-90.

Traders first brought Aloe Vera to London in 1693 and by 1843 considerable amounts were being imported to be made up into medicines. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries it remained one of the main popular prescribed and over-the-counter medicines.

Aloe has a huge range of different actions perhaps most famously for skin inflammation and burns, ulcers, digestive disturbalnces …the list goes on and on –there is also research into anti tumour activity –

and blood sugar regulation so helpful in diabetes

I loved the farm we visited and have been taking the fresh aloe juice for the past 2 weeks and using the gel on my face and body –feeling clean inside out!

Another fab sighting was the Deaths-head which feeds on members of the Solanaceae, our favourite - Datura innoxia and Nicotiana glauca which are common weeds all over the inhabited parts of the island.

I love the Islands and am looking forward to one day returning to visit Gomera……..