Aromatic Adventures on Crete
Written by: Ildiko Berecz
I started using essential oils in my early twenties, that was in the 1990s. As perhaps like many of us, I would start with lavender and citrus oils in an oil burner to create a relaxing environment in my apartment, enjoying fresh lemon breeze, or creating a warm and cheerful atmosphere with sweet orange at winter time. I thoroughly enjoyed the ambiance around the rooms and was indulged by the magic surrounding me and my companion. With a professional book in hand, I was guided into the use of essential oils to support my well-being in various ways.
It took me another 20 years to realise my true passion about the many layers of aromatherapy, including some really challenging health issues that lead me to go deeper, learn more and transform my life into a fully and holistically aromatic adventure.
The major turning point was in spring 2009, when by the guidance of a knowledgeable naturopath and holistic healer in Hungary where I lived, I was introduced into a whole new level and complexity of working with aromatic medicine, carefully selected herbs, high-quality essential oils, carrier oils and their applications. In the autumn of the same year my healer advised me to travel to Crete island in Greece, and I ended up spending 2 weeks there as part of my healing journey. I returned home fully recharged with lots of new experiences, culinary delights of the healthy Mediterranean diet, and a different perspective due to the slow-paced local lifestyle.
Needless to say, I also got richer through a few small bottles of genuine essential oils. What you would find on Crete are some classics, to me at least, such as Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), Myrtle (Myrtus communis), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) as well as exciting unique varieties of local plants such as Dittany (Origanum dictamnus L.), Eucalyptus Red River Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), Greek Lavender (Lavandula stoechas), Greek Sage types (Salvia triloba, syn. S. fruticosa and S. pomifera), Wild Thyme (Thymus capitatus), only to mention a few of them. Back then, I thought I had discovered a real aromatic gold mine, and little did I know that there was so much more to come. I became a returning visitor in the consecutive years, and guided by the desire to start and create a new life(style) I eventually moved to Crete in 2013.
Life is abundant on the wonderful lands of Crete. If your memories of Crete recall Zorba, Zeus and the barren mountains, you might be just as close and very far indeed from the truth about decently describing the birthplace of the Gods as it deserves. The four seasons in Crete merges into two almost, while changes of the landscape are tangible day by day. There is plenty to explore if one is adventurous and fuelled by curiosity.
Eagle eyes would notice the wonders hidden amongst the mountain rocks in various shares from white to purplish, bluish or mallow colours of splendid wild oregano, thyme, savoury and sage growing are all around. A sophisticated nose would also smell them blind from their extremely high carvacrol or 1.8-cineol content. Beaches and mountains are near and the combination of this landscape is breathtaking.
Unnoticeably you run into this manifold shrubby plant called Rock Rose (Cistus creticus L.), sweet smelling in the heat of summer, with hairy leaves and crumpled petals, pink to purple flowers. The plant, sometimes referred to as Cistus incanus, is extremely rich in polyphenols, supports the immune system and has many other healing properties. The resin collected from the furry leaves is one of the most sought-after components of the perfume industry. The island is also home to winter savory (Satureja thymbra), and the Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist Dioskourides from the first century AD described its characteristics and uses as similar to thyme. It is remarkably antiseptic, antibacterial, excellent in infectious or fungal (skin) disease treatments. It stimulates the immune system, and worth highlighting its positive effects on the digestive and urinary system amongst its diverse uses.
As I said, moving to Crete was just the beginning of a beautiful friendship, love and abundance in living an aromatic life. In the previous many years I worked a lot, endless office hours, and when life threw me too many balls, I started playing a different game which was not an easy one, but with the right perspective, it was an exciting series of shifts.Every time I managed to make a difficult decision and get through it, I was rewarded by an incredible amount of energy, as well as new doors and opportunities opening up. Shortly after my move to Crete, I started to get in touch with other people working in the fields of herbs and aromatherapy. Fields, literally. I met an English couple – once IT professionals – who had moved to Crete and ended up growing lavender on their organic farm surrounded by wildlife and olive orchards. I soon become an aromatic assistant to Gill Leonard, the Lavender Lady helping her on the fields and in gorgeous tasks of bottling their phenomenal oils. In probably one of the smallest remote mountain villages I meet Janina Sorensen, the Berlin-born Danish herbalist and aromatherapist, and her partner Babis Psaroudakis, a polymath and world adventurer born in Crete. Their ethical wildcrafting and artisanal distilling of aromatic plants goes back as far as 1994, and the essence of their expertise comes into the vials labelled as Wild Herbs of Crete. Beyond having these incredible people as my aromatic soul family, their supporting presence and the times I spent with them enthusiastically offering myself to help around with their activities, my own spirit evolved, flying freely, engaging more deeply with my very own Path.
From early on I documented my experiences that turned out to be very inspirational to others out there in the world. In the local community I became well known for my aromatic passion and for always smelling very nice. Due to the many very lonely years in trusting aromatherapy as a significant factor in my own healing, I had previously kind of gave up on offering my services to others. So now, people usually had to pull me and push me out of my shell with their various requests. Same way, becoming a lomi-lomi massage therapist was initially an act of self-care on the holistic feminine path, with no intention of becoming an actual practitioner. However, it did happen, and I ended up developing my own method combined with aromatherapy.
The magic of Crete gave me wings, and through trying and learning several aspect of rural life, going with the seasons, getting my hands dirty, harvesting fruits, picking herbs, making olive soaps, even sheep shearing, at some point I found myself having my own copper still and doing my own distillations harvesting in the wild and bonding with local organic farmers.
Over the years, I have now distilled more than 25 different types of plants, mostly for hydrosol, but also gaining some essential oils here and there. Such a beautiful journey to engage more closely with plants and nature, develop delicate senses and sensitivity, cultivate true respect for the cycles of life, understand the collective and individual responsibility, see where true values lie, and experience the many aspects of a holistic approach to life. While it is not for everyone to get so much out of their comfort zones and do drastic changes in life, going beyond the mesmerizing essential oil bottles and tending towards a humble openness for plant wisdom and life-long learning is certainly a fulfilling way to go in search of a meaningful, happy and healthy life.
To learn more about Ildiko and her work, please visit: Essential Reflections.