The culinary garden: Canary balm

Canary balm is one of the rarest herbs, found only in the laurel forests of the Canary Islands. It is a perennial herb that grows in the fresh open or closed spaces of the forest. Reaching a height of 1.50m and a ‘wingspan’ of 1m, its leaves are trifoliate, slightly toothed, light green and slightly glossy. The Flowers, that appear in august, are pink and gather in bunches. The oddest thing about the plant is the aroma of honey and lemon, from my own observation, and woody musk or camphor and lemon balm, according to other sources. It belongs to the large family of Lamiaceae and in the Canary Islands is known by the names of Algaritope, Garitopa, Niota and note. The English give the misnomer of Balm-of-Gilead, which is actually the resin that exudes from the Mecca balsam fir (Commiphora opobalsamum gileadensis or C.), the opobalsam or balsam of Mecca, a tree native to the South Arabia.

The Algaritofe is a plant that does not support temperatures below -7 ° C, but it will adapt to all types of rich soil, that are sandy (light), medium (slimy) or heavy (clay), preferably that drain well. Soil pH can be acidic, neutral or basic, and it will grow in both sun and partial shade. Too much water causes the plant perish. It is an excellent plant for the herb garden and spreads both by seeds and by herbaceous cuttings during the growing period. The leaves make a delicious tea called “Canary tea” by foreigners. It is a traditional medicinal plant in the Canary Islands for the following properties: antidepressant, digestive aid, relaxant, expectorant, analgesic and for healing colds and flus. It is an excellent decongestant for colds and chest problems. An essential oil is extracted from the leaves and buds. The leaves are dried to give them a musky smell of wood to potpourris.

François-Luc Gauthier, aromaticultor

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