Wild flowers of the Camino – Mary Howell

Last Monday, the gardening club was delighted to hear Mary Howell, one of our members talk about the Wild Flowers of the Camino.

The Way of St James, or “El Camino de Santiago is the name given to any of the ancient pilgrim routes across Europe, which take you to the Shrine of the apostle St James, located in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Northwest Spain

Mary explained to us how important the Way of St James was to pilgrims of the middle ages.

It is reputed that in the Middle Ages there were up to 10,000 souls a day on a pilgrimage, so monasteries and hospitals sprang up all along the routes. Mary showed us images of the plants that were now growing wild – and postulated that perhaps, as so many of them were medicinal plants that they were escapees from the now abandoned gardens that were tended by the monks. As the pilgrim routes spread across Europe, it is easy to imagine how plants and knowledge were swopped along the way.

Mary then talked about the plants that she saw growing wild on her route, and the medicinal properties of them: – I enjoyed her description of the uses for fennel

“Fennel was administered to dry out the poison of snakes, scorpions, mad dogs and harmful herbs, as well as ear worms”

Compostela translates as field of stars, and I was swayed with the romance of walking the pilgrim route, awash with wild flowers and medicinal plants. However, then Mary showed us a picture of her walking with what seemed to me to be a huge rucksack …  I remembered my arthritic hips and decided to simply enjoying the concept of “El Camino de Santiago”.