I have been feeling a bit “under the weather” as we say here in the UK, since my return from Cyprus. It started with a sudden outbreak of cold sore eruptions ( herpes simplex) on my face starting with a mild cold but exacerbated by being exposed for several hours in the sun without shade, I suspect. Not in Cyprus but in sunny Sussex as our choir was rehearsing and then performing a concert in the middle of a field. The field was adjacent to a college so not in the middle of nowhere, just no trees. It was quite an experience as we were one of several choirs, many of them from local schools with a couple of adult choirs plus a few professional singers and a fabulous band, 500 plus people altogether. The outbreak on my face, mostly under and around my nose as well as around and on my eyelids, was very sore, my eyes itched and stung. I was wondering what I could apply that would be soothing as well as healing. I thought of Aloe Vera gel but that wouldn’t work for my eyes, maybe cucumber? Then I remembered a bottle of rosewater in my cupboard that my cousin Androula had distilled herself from her own roses in Treis Elies.
Roses are magical, the divine scent and delicate beauty have inspired poets uplifting the spirits and dazzling the senses, the heady perfume encapsulated as a perfume for eons. Roses have been used for centuries by women as a beauty treatment for the skin, rosewater is a fabulous face cleanser, cleansing the skin deeply. Rose petals sprinkled in the bath are the ultimate decadence or scattered on the bed and floor to give the ambiance of romance. But there is more to roses than just a pretty face, they have hidden depths and within those petals lie seriously effective healing properties which throughout history have been tried and tested but now have also been scientifically proven. They are antiviral, antibacterial, antidepressant and anti-inflammatory among other things. These were the properties that I accidentally stumbled upon. I was looking for something pure and soothing which it blissfully was with the added bonus of also being curative. With the help of the rosewater my eyes were soothed and my face healed without scars, just inhaling the perfume lifted my spirits.
I wanted to boost my immune system as I felt the outbreak had sapped my strength a little so I then turned to another Cypriot prize product namely carob syrup. On my recent trip I bought a very good quality carob syrup in Omodos which has a wonderfully rich liquorice flavour that I love . This also doesn’t just taste great but is rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium and phosphorus, as well as this I also started taking Sambucol which is an elderberry syrup, very rich in vitamin C with added zinc. So altogether I now smell divine and taste very fruity…….
At the weekend I went to join in the fun that was Med Fest at West Dean. It was the first time for this event and is a celebration of all that is Mediterranean. There was a lot of food of course and music. West Dean is very local to me and is shorthand for West Dean College and Gardens. A large Edwardian mansion converted into a college which runs not only foundation courses in restoration and tapestry but many short courses on all manner of arts and crafts in a beautiful setting nestling in the South Downs.
Med Fest was held in the grounds and in between the many delightful cookery demonstrations, there was a demonstration on how to make Turkish Delight. Who would have thought? The herbalist Steve Taylor, who gave the demonstration brought along a typical copper distiller which is used throughout homes in the Middle East to extract oils and essences from all manner of herbs and flowers by passing steam through them. So the steam teases out from the rose petals their essence miraculously and carries it through the droplets to end up as rosewater or orange blossom into orange water etc.etc.
He then produced some rosewater which was made earlier and gave us all a treat by spraying the cooling & calming liquid amongst the crowd. We all swooned…of course.
One of the many Greek myths around the creation of roses, Steve told us, is that Aphrodite or Venus, wept over the wounds her lover Adonis suffered and her tears mingled with his blood and created the red rose. This is where the connection between red roses and love stems, if you’ll excuse the pun. The best roses grow in high altitudes he told us, and the mountainous regions of Troodos area in Cyprus for example do indeed, yield very good roses. What has all this to do with Turkish Delight you might ask? well this little morsel of delight is made up simply by mixing a sugar syrup together with cornflour and water and adding rosewater. The little cubes of this refreshing sweet, which we were offered to us at the end of the demo. known in Cyprus as loukoumia, were the lightest and most delicious morsels I have ever tasted. These can often be offered at the end of a meal with coffee, the stickiness lines the oesophagus and the rosewater calms and soothes to aid digestion.
Now, when I get that sugar thermometer, I’m going to try making some of my own delight right here in my English kitchen.
The scent of the jasmine in my back garden this year is intense. I have never smelt it so strongly and I put it down to the wonderful spell of heat and sun we had in the spring which has just intensified the volatile oils.
One of my most pleasant memories of my first visit to Cyprus was the scent of the jasmine blossom on the evening breeze whilst walking back to my uncle’s house. In Cyprus because of the lack of moisture in the environment the concentration of volatile oils in plants is much higher than normal, up to 33%, which makes them a good source for making the essential oils.
My cousin Androula picks her roses regularly when they are in flower. She picks off the petals and scatters them on a tsestos to allow them to dry so she can use them either in a tea or sprinkled in the bath for a sensual, luxurious experience. This year for the first time she made her own rosewater for which you need a awful lot of rose petals and for this they are used whilst fresh. I am lucky enough to have a bottle and will use it sparingly to flavour my cooking.