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 will be joining her on one of these fascinating walks as part of our holiday to Corfu next spring – here's a taste of what’s in store.
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 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.
Valerian and Mullein growing wild
Hawthorn in bloom & a basket violet flowers
ECT: We’re coming on an herb walk with you next spring – what plants can we look forward to meeting?
EC: We will walk on a path on Mount Pantokrator with beautiful views and a great variety of herbs and wildflowers. Under the shade of the tree canopy, we will meet the wild comfrey of Corfu and fragrant violets. By the side of the path, we will see hawthorn, laurel, strawberry trees, mullein, wood betony, sage, calendula, plantain, and a variety of orchids. At the rocky slopes of the mountain, we have many chances to meet valerian in bloom. We will also meet 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: Can you tell us a bit about the landscape we will be walking through please?
EC: We will take a broad dirt road underneath the monastery on Mount Pantokrator. This area is a protected area and hunting is banned. The route is straight and flat the road is easy to walk on, with scattered stones at some places. (There are many paths branching off the main road which the locals use on the annual 6th August pilgrimage up to the monastery.) How far we go will depend on how much time we have - if we do a lot of talking, we won’t walk as far! - but we'll be able to see the north part of Corfu and the islands of Erikousa, Othonoi, and Mathraki. If we will get all the way to the end of the route, we will be able to see Albania and the east part over Ipsos and Barbati.
The path beneath the monastery on Mount Pantokrator
The view towards Albania from the end of the path
We will be walking with Eleni on day five of our Holiday to Corfu - the Garden Isle of Greece. Discover more and book your place here
Eleni is also the author of ‘Plants and People on the Island of Corfu' – an ongoing relationship.