Thoughts about natureMake an old Slovenian cough medicine
Whenever I guide tourists around Slovenia they all notice one thing first – how green the country is. With pride I can say we have two things in abundance in our little country – water resources and forests. Probably two of the most cherished things in today’s world. We are truly lucky in that respect. Those two things are becoming more and more rare and I believe in the future they will be worth pure gold. When I travel around and away from Slovenia this are usually also the things I miss the most – the taste of real, pure water from the mountains that comes to me at home directly through our water pipes and the greenery that over here is literally following us on very step. We can talk about the water some other time, today we will talk about the forests. Because for us they are a magic land and a place Slovenians visit a lot during all seasons of the year. We like it for the health benefits, the walks through them are relaxing and rejuvenating, on numerous occasions they offer us gifts that we can take, as long as we are considerate, we go mushrooming, blueberry picking, searching for chestnuts and making syrups out of different plants that we find over there. Forests teach people to understand the beauty and as a world famous mountaineer and naturalist John Muir once quoted: “An into the forests I go, to loose my mind and find my soul!”
In European Union we are in third place with the amount of forests covering our landscape. Only behind Sweden and Finland. In our country 58,2 % of grounds are covered with forests and this is a number that was researched statistically in 2018 by the Institute of Forestry Slovenia. That means more than half of our country. The green is visible everywhere, if you go by car and if by any chance you are sitting on an airplane and flying over our country, this information will definitely be confirmed. Our forests are mixed – with deciduous and evergreen trees. When we talk about deciduous trees we have the largest amount of beech and oak trees, evergreen’s largest representative are spruces (picea abies) The latter is also one of the most common trees you will find in Slovenia. In the past it hasn’t been spread so widely, it used to grow only in the higher areas and in the cold mountain valleys, but during the 19th century they started massively planting it elsewhere in the country and today you can find it throughout the entire area, with the exception of very dry coastal parts and marshy lands of the Pannonia flats. Spruce usually grows up to 6 metres high, the needles usually pound your palms and this is how you can recognise the difference between a spruce and a fir tree. The largest spruce in Slovenia is 62 metres high and lies on the woody area in Pohorje, close to Maribor, second largest Slovenian city. In the past spruce was planted mostly because of the amazing quality of its wood that is very soft and elastic and is mostly used for making furniture, musical instruments, in construction and paper industry.
From the needles they produce a very healing essential oil that helps with blood circulation and helps with any dermal problems, it is the usual aromatherapy addition in massage salons and saunas, at home it can provide a beautiful aroma throughout the rooms.
A basket of freshly picked pine sprouts.
Slovenes go wildly to the forests in early May to get the new growth of the spruce and make healing syrups out of it. This is probably also one of the healthiest syrups you can produce by yourself at home and the one that all of us remember taking as a cough medicine whenever we were visiting our grandparents when we were little. This is also from whom I learned how to make it. Whenever you are picking the new growth there are a few things you need to take into consideration: it is always good to go into the woods after a few sunny days as the aroma develops better and the new growth is richer with essential oils, it is recommended to pick it up in the mornings and as far away from roads and people as possible, to get the least pollution on them. For picking you need a basket and time; it is a time consuming procedure and basket allows the new growth to still breathe and not being smooshed in the process, so the oils stay in. When you approach trees, try to get the endings from the sides and not all from the same branch, so in this way you are not hurting the tree too much. Try to go to as many trees as possible and be considerate. My grandparents always told me that when you go into nature take only as much as you need – greed only destroys what nature gives to us. And when you are in nature – don’t just take the gifts of it, but also breathe in the fresh air, listen to the birds singing, be thankful and be aware. The nicer attitude you will have in the nature towards it, the more fulfilling the experience will be for all involved.
Let's get started
Once you return home you will need only a sterilised glass jar with a lid and sugar. When you start layering new growth you start with a chunky layer of needles, add sugar and then again needles and sugar and so on till you fill up the jar.
Close the lid and from that point on only patience is needed: the glass jar needs to be put on a window shelf with access to sun rays for about 30-40 days, in that period your contents will turn into a syrupy-kind of product that you will need to drain trough cloth in order the get the cough medicine for the kids.
But since we are coming from the part of Slovenia where we love to re-use and re-cycle, you can return all of the drained material back into the glass jar, top the jar with a very good quality plum or pear schnapps (should be over 40% alcohol proof) and let it stay for a day or two. Then mix it up again, drain it through a cloth and put it into a bottle or even better on two or three ice cubes and give yourself a toast for a job well done. Medicinal powers of both syrups are very high: the syrup is helping against cough, disinfects breathing paths, helps against any asthmatic problems, has multiple vitamins inside and is good for overall immunity. The syrup for adults has similar benefits, but should be taken in moderation. Na zdravje!