May 19, 2020
Dafne Viaggi

What’s in a name: a howthron by any other name would be a good omen anyway

Liguria is a region of surprising variety. Underlined like a rainbow between the Maritime Alps, the northern Apennines and the sea, it is dotted with promontories and furrowed by countless valleys, separated by often imposing reliefs, to be so close to the coast.

The geographical characteristics make it clear how difficult it was to move from one valley to another, before the construction of the railway, which today runs along its entire length, from the border with France to that with Tuscany.
If the trade by sea and by land, often on the back of a mule, has ensured regular contacts and exchanges, not only of goods but also of customs, among the populations, there is much evidence of a very long cultural isolation.
There are clear evidences in the dialectal forms, above all as regards the names given to the plants in common use.
An example is found in hawthorn, a widely spread shrub, which in Liguria was known by 25 different names.
Today it can be easily spotted along the many paths that go up the hills from the sea to the ridges with breathtaking views. In the well-kept countryside, it is often present in the form of a hedge. Vigorous and sturdy, with young branches with thorns, it forms, in fact, very intricate barriers, practically impenetrable to animals.
The snow-white flowers bloom in late April / May and give off a delicate perfume. As the days go by, the anthers of the flowers tend to red and, all of a sudden, the plant, at a glance, looks pink from white. One more reason to hike the same path several times on the same vacation!
Blooming flowers are also used as capers, but it is almost a pity not to watch them bloom.
An excellent infusion is also made with flowers (one coffee spoon of flowers per cup of boiling water).
From the berries, of a beautiful intense red in autumn, excellent jams and jellies can be obtained. The wood, of the highest quality, remains shiny after processing and was used to cut out kitchen ladles.
In popular tradition, this beautiful plant symbolizes hope and is offered to wish good luck.
Similarly, the Greeks used flowering branches for wedding processions, a wish for happiness and prosperity, the Celts considered it the fairy tree and a magic remedy against any negativity, the Romans had consecrated it to the goddess Flora … almost as in the fate of this plant, if not in name, geographical distances and imperviousness have counted nothing.
Perhaps the fruit of its carefree grace, as Marcel Proust wrote: “Higher up, their corollas opened here and there with a careless grace, still holding so casually, like a last and vaporous adornment, the bouquets of stamens, delicate as gossamer, which clouded them entirely”.


Written by Mirjam Knoop (Dafne Viaggi)

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