Ferula Communis (Latin)
Giant Fennel (English)
This month we enjoy the Narthikas, whose power - given to him from the greek nature - makes me refer to him as the ‘big protector’. He has big leaves coming from ground level but additional leaves protrude from the lobes beneath each branch positioned in the axels of the stem which act as water reservoirs.
These plants can be found all over Greece, Turkey, Yugoslavia and Albania and can grow amazingly tall - I have seen them 4metres high on the island of Crete. The sight of them standing beneath the blue sky I find truly fascinating and even when I first saw them in 1992 I could not believe that a plant of this size could exist - but it is here for all to see. If you walk in the mountains you find them growing by the dozen, sometimes standing together like a big family.
The Ferula Communis is a robust herbaceous perennial, commonly found in lime stone on dry hillsides, 2-5 metres high, it flowers from March until May. Their very thick, hollow stem is often branched and the soft, bright green, feathery leaves are divided many times into thread-like lobes. The leaves die down in summer and reappear in the autumn. The flowering stem has many large yellow umbels. The elliptical shaped fruit, 3-5cms in size, is flattened with thin side rings.
Historically, the dried pith was used as tinder, and because it smoulders very slowly within the stem, it could be carried from one place to another. This explains why it is said that Prometheus, when bringing to earth the fire stolen from heaven, did so ‘in a Ferula’. (Hesiod) Bacchus, God of wine, recommended that his votaries should carry the light stems rather than wooden sticks, so that if they brawled whilst under the wine’s influence they would not injure one another.
Now, I would like to tell you of its ancient medical or homeopathic powers. The bulb of the plant was boiled in wine to treat eye cataracts. Wounds and ulcers were treated with a compress using an extract from the plant and the seeds were used in treating lung complaints. It was also used by vets as a cure for influenza in horses. The Narthikas was believed to give protection from witches and evil spirits and was placed in beds to keep them free of fleas and other pests. Children made flutes from the hollow stem. So, not only did this wonderful plant give the possibility of protection from ill-health and evil spirits, but also the chance to make music too.
Readers - go for a walk during March and look for the lovely giant Narthikas and admire his beauty as we look forward to Spring.