Thursday, 30 July 2015

Herbal Trip to Iceland

I could not be more fortunate than having my first trip to Iceland in the company of my colleague Lára Jónasdóttir and her husband Tim Morrissey who is a geologist. The warm hospitality of Augusta and Jonas (Lara’s parents) framed all of the herbal and landscape outings along with the welcome of their friends and herbal colleagues along our travels.

The wild flowers were in abundance, the Blue Lagoon of hot springs and mud packs were great fun, natural geysers and a trip to meet the Director of Floral and Horticultural studies brought me to the unsuspected vision of bananas growing in Iceland.
The herbs of Iceland are both familiar and strange. Familiar because many of the same herbs are common in Ireland but the herbs are adapted to the long cold winters and short summers with long light-filled days. So the seasons are condensed. I was not prepared for the profusion of wild flowers and herbs.

The Silver Birch is much more aromatic and full of flavour and is in fact used to flavour soft cheeses. Traditional indications for the Silver Birch are similar  between our two countries for arthritis and inflammation.

Our cleavers , Galium aperine (photo to the left) are not found in Iceland, these are known as Robin Run the Hedge or Sticky Willy Back at home and are traditionally used for encouraging lymph flow. Here in Iceland they use a closely related herb called Lady’s Bedstraw ,Galium verum (photo to the right) for the same indications.

Rhodiola rosea does grow wild here and is much loved by the sheep, hence it is hard to find. I did see it growing in the Botanic Gardens in Reykjavík. This is a lovely place to visit, if only for the wonderful café.

Geum Urban
Emerging Beech
There are not many herbalists practising herbal medicine in Iceland, but they create a big impact:

Anna Rósa Róbertsdóttir has written a beautiful fully illustrated book on Icelandic medicinal herbs. She includes both the traditional therapeutics and scientific information. She has a clinical practice and a best selling range of creams available in pharmacies and health food shops throughout Iceland. She makes many of the medicines she uses in clinical practice.

Kolbrún Björnsdóttir also makes many medicines, she has a beautiful herbal dispensary in Reykjavík and dispenses mainly powders and capsules alongside her clinical practice. She has written a beautiful herbal nutrition book.
I am inspired to make more of the herbal riches that grow on our own doorstop. 

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