The alpine vegetation is somewhat incredible. The snow protects the seeds and roots for eight months, and when springtime comes along it brightens the meadows and precipices with vibrant colors. Nothing can obstruct the mountain flowers’ strength. But which ones will you encounter during your hikes?
Amongst the sparkling frost of the Matterhorn lives a mysterious creature: The White Lady. Her tears, similar to little crystal stars, shed for love and rolled down towards the valley until subsiding into the soft musk. Thus the Edelweiss was born. The velvety cover that protects it from losing an excessive amount of water symbolizes courage. It originated from the Himalayas, it is also called“the queen of the Alpine Vegetation”. It is often identified as the Alpine bow’s symbol.The extremely evocative name Achillea Millefolium, the scientific term for Yarrow, derives from the name Achilles. The warrior would heal the wounds of his brothers with this gentile plant, using it in great quantity during the Trojan War. The most common colors of this flower are: yellow, white, and rosy pink. The yarrow has truly remarkable healing, astringent and styptic properties.
This little mountain orchid spontaneously grows in the meadows. Since ancient times it was praised for its vanilla and chocolatey scent emanating from the plants smalls flowers. Legend says that the Nigritella has magical powers and can tell the future of young girls’ love life. Its roots, in fact, look like little hands: if intertwined the young woman would soon find a husband, but if this wouldn’t happen then abandonment and unhappiness became her fate However: today the Nigritella is a protected species! Do NOT pick it up!
The extremely evocative name Achillea Millefolium, the scientific term for Yarrow, derives from the name Achilles. The warrior would heal the wounds of his brothers with this gentile plant, using it in great quantity during the Trojan War. The most common colors of this flower are: yellow, white, and rosy pink. The yarrow has truly remarkable healing, astringent and styptic properties.
This little delicate but thick flower almost looks like a glass filled with divine wine. The bold color it wears, an intense blue, recalls the sky surrounding Aosta Valley. The gentian grows in the meadows and can be a faithful companion during high mountain hiking. It was very popular amongst the Romans and its popularity grew once its natural properties were discovered. It can heal intestinal discomfort and parasites. There illnesses are of a different era, today the gentian is renowned for liver and gallbladder detox. It is also very useful to fight abdominal pain, anemia, and strengthen the immune system. The gentian can be found not only as a plant, but also as a candy: very sour but strong taste bud and saliva stimulant.
Pan di marmotta
Here is another splendid flower that you’ll surely encounter during hikes.
It’s called Silene Acaulis or cushion pink, but we prefer calling it with its most popular name: Moss Campion. It’s soft bushy and colorfulness recall the shape of a pillow.
It grows only nearby precipices, gravels and rocky meadows and paths, and finally in open sunny spaces. Its name, Silene Acaulis, comes from the character Sileno, Bacchus’ corpulent companion, holding a chalice filled with wine, in fact that is exactly what the plant looks like. The moss campion could also look like a pillow of blossomed moss. Actually you should look at it as a tree’s foliage: its extremely long roots reach the deepest water sources. The roots are thick and resemble a tree trunk. The moss campion is a plant that constantly blossoms during the months of May through August.
You can find these everywhere along the paths of Valtournenche. These little plants produce dark and juicy blueberries during the month of August. Obviously smaller than what you’re used to seeing at your local greengrocer. These little mellow berries are rich of vitamins A, B and C. Their purple color comes from the myrtillin, a strong antioxidant capable to enhance our blood vessels’ elasticity, and to preserve our retinas. Eat plenty of blueberries if you have abdominal colic, cystitis, or various types of infections: you’ll notice a big improvement. In the mountain side these berries are used frequently to make jams and marmalades. If you’re nearby a lodge, take the opportunity to order an “Eat ‘n’ Drink” (Mangia & Bevi)…let us know your thoughts!
Bright and wood-like strings caress the slopes. Not grass but fescue. It’s also known as “Chamois Grass”. It’s called this was because it’s a type of evergreen that lives under the snow and can resist very cold temperatures. A lot of different types of fescue are used to make cheese in the mountain area because it grows in large quantities here. Scholars consider it a biological indicator of environment quality. This plant prefers drained surfaces and sunny areas, although it can also resist in shaded areas. It is a type of nutritious and tasty grass for wild and domestic animals. However: it is very slippery and if you go in it you could hurt yourself…so watch out!
Equiseto o Coda Cavallina
The name scientific derives from the Latin word for horse: Equum. This is because the shape of the puzzlegrass’s stem recalls an upside-down horse tail. In ancient times it was used to make soaps. The plant’s decoction has astringent and healing properties. To use it one must boil the puzzlegrass and use the “foam”, that comes out of it, as a cellular repair cream that can be gentle massaged pm stretchmarks, wrinkles, and sunburns. It is a type of natural healing cream. Puzzlegrass grows along water streams, and in humid and sunny areas. You can conserve it in a glass jar for a few weeks.
It comes from the same family line of the azaleas and camellias. Its flowers offer a spectacular mixture of colors from June to September It symbolizes elegance, beauty, and temperance. It was used in ancient times for magic spells to protect homes and loved ones. A sad legend ties itself with the flower’s colors however: a young man was walking around the meadows with his girlfriend, he wanted to pick a beautiful flower for her at the edge of a precipice, as he was trying to pick the flower up he put his foot in a bad position and tumbled down. His blood has tinted the Rhododendron’s buds forever.
What if we called it “Genepi”? Surely this name sounds more familiar. The white flowers of this small 20cm bush is infused and distilled to make the renowned liquor. Artemisia is used for this purpose, however the plant, mugwort, grows along the mountain precipice and it is a protected species. The people of Aosta Valley decided therefore to farm it. The Genepi has ancient origins (both liquor and the plant). It is known as a wild absinth and used as a digestive. The plant also has decongestive and toning properties. In fact, in the Middle Ages, mugwort was used to cure colds. It would also be harvested during the summer solstice and used to “cast away demons”. Another particularity is its name Artemisia, derived from the goddess of the hunt, woods and moon. She assisted women during labor and protected women with hormonal imbalances. The plant has so many medicinal properties, it would come natural to say: “a mugwort a day keeps the doctor away”.
What a scent! The juniper is a bush with needle-shaped leaves. It has the ability to adapt to any weather condition and soil type. It doesn’t need much water thus allowing it to grow on rocks and sandy terrains. Its leaves are needles and its branches are contorted. So contorted, in fact, that in Italian the saying goes “to get into a juniper” instead of “to get into hot water”, as the saying recalls the contorted and difficult manner the juniper’s branches are shaped. These same branches, according to folk culture, gave shelter to the Sacred Family, as it was fleeing from Egypt. Therefore, it is a plant of the Virgin Mary. Medicine has always used juniper and its essential oil to cure colds, to relax muscle tissue and to clear the urinary tract. The juniper wood is used to cook bread and smoke salt meats to give an intense aroma to the food. Utensils, however, are made to take away the odor of the food that are mixed with juniper. The juniper berries are very useful in the kitchen to sweeten dishes that use game, sauerkraut, polenta and fish as a base. And what if its distilled? Well…we present to you, gin! A toast to health!
If the mountain flowers’ bright colors catch our eyes and their resistance to foul weather fills us with admiration, the Aosta Valley has even more beauties to discover. Amongst these beauties there are numerous trees that are centuries old.
All around the Issogne Castle you can see Almond-trees which were planted 300 years ago. In Aosta, in front of the Saint Ours church, since 1480 a Lime-tree watches over the city and offers shelter to chaffinches and robins. The scent of its flowers is pushed by the wind to long distances.
At Pontey there’s a gigantic Walnut-tree with a 7-meter-wide trunk, while at Saint Denis resides an enormous Red Mulberry with a caved-in space at the center of the trunk big enough to seat 8 people around the table placed within it.