A Corfu Herbalist

A Corfu Herbalist

Eleni Christoforatou has lived in Corfu for more than 20 years and her career path has been shaped by the island’s natural beauty. A graduate of both the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine and David Winston's Centre of Herbal Studies in the USA, Eleni has been making healing salves, syrups, and tinctures, giving classes on herbal medicine, and leading herbal walks for the past decade. We asked her to tell us more about her work.

 

ECT: What makes Corfu such a special place for herbs and wildflowers?

EC: Many things, but two important factors are the wide variety of different ecosystems on the island and the plentiful rain during the winter months.

Eleni Christafolou herablist Corfu
Eleni gathering herbs in Corfu

 

ECT: How did you first become interested in wild herbs and flowers?

EC: I always loved nature, but it had never crossed my mind to become an herbalist as there was no one in my family, or among my friends, with an interest in herbs. I first started noticing plants when I was a caretaker for the Important Bird Areas of Corfu. I was intrigued by the fact that while I could identify the birds easily, despite the fact they were constantly moving, I found it very difficult to identify the plants. Everything just looked green to me! I decided I needed to learn about plants too, so I studied very hard and gradually I learned to distinguish between the different plants.

A little while later, I volunteered to make a wildlife friendly garden with the kids at the local elementary school. I thought that aromatic plants would be the right choice because they could provide different learning experiences for the kids, as well as food and shelter for the local wildlife. They were also hardy enough to survive during the summer months when the school was closed. I asked a herbalist to help me choose the herbs for the garden and she became my first teacher. I had no idea at that time that, more than ten years later, herbs would still be my greatest love and passion, that I would study herbs in the United States and that I would devote my life to teaching and writing about herbal medicine. That carpet of green I encountered while I was a bird area caretaker has revealed an enormous variety of shapes, colours, names, stories, and experiences. Local plants are now friends, companions, and allies that I enjoy introducing to everyone who would like to meet them.

 

Corfu flowers valarian mullein
Valerian and Mullein growing wild
Corfu flowers violets hawthorn
Hawthorn in bloom & a basket violet flowers

 

ECT: If we came on a walk with you, what plants could we look forward to meeting?

EC: One favourite walk I do is along a broad path underneath the monastery on Mount Pantokrator. It has beautiful views and a great variety of herbs and wildflowers. Corfu's wild comfrey and fragrant violets grow under the shade of the tree canopy while hawthorn, laurel, strawberry trees, mullein, wood betony, sage, calendula, plantain, and a variety of orchids can all be found at the side of the path. There are also a great variety of wild greens (horta) that are traditionally used as food in Corfu. All these amazing plants will give me the opportunity to share their stories, talk about their medicinal properties, the traditional way people used them as food and medicine in Corfu, sustainable harvesting, and easy ways to incorporate their nutritional and healing properties in our everyday life.

ECT: And what about the views?

ECT: They are amazing! You can see the north part of Corfu and the islands of Erikousa, Othonoi, and Mathraki and, at the very end of the route, there are views of Albania and the east part over Ipsos and Barbati.

Corfu landscape
The path beneath the monastery on Mount Pantokrator

Corfu

The view towards Albania from the end of the path

Eleni is also the author of ‘Plants and People on the Island of Corfu' – an ongoing relationship.