When you walk through the dalmatian village, a promenade by the sea or even the road of the crowded town, some specific essences of this area are dancing inside your nostrils. The main culprit for this is the sea, such as the alpine trees and the salty air.
Dalmatian herbs are part of the culture of history and gastronomy. In this blog read what dalmatian herb you may find along the way, which to put in the pot, and which to put in face cream.
Typical dalmatian scenery / Korčula island
Still, the biggest impact on ‘true Mediterranean’ aroma in our noses comes from the herbs. What kind of herbs and what can we do with it, once we picked them? Can we use aromatic herbs in recipes or cosmetics? Should we use it fresh or dried? Can you take it with you and give it as a souvenir to your Mum? Read this, and became a lover of Dalmatian plants.
Native plants in Croatia
Odours you won’t forget!
Dalmatian cuisine is one of the healthiest in the world, therefore Mediterranean Diet was inscribed as intangible UNESCO heritage back in 2013. At the heart of Dalmatian cuisine are the essential ingredients – Mediterranean - Dalmatian herbs.
So prevalent are herbs in the Dalmatian way of life that they appear in food, concocted from simple, but age-old recipes passed down by grandmothers, as well as in medicines, decorations, while some even have entire festivals dedicated to them. And they appear as very good drinks too!
But it is in the cuisine of Dalmatia where the Mediterranean herbs make their biggest mark.
Dalmatian food in love with herbs
Herbs such as lavender, basil, oregano, bay leaves, rosemary, sage and thyme grow in the Split and entire dalmatian region. And while back home, one might visit the supermarket to pick up your herbal requirement, here in Dalmatia, the traditional way is simply to pop out into the garden to pick the required number of leaves of the plant.
A guide of Dalmatian aromatic and medicinal herbs
How to recognize and use it
As the most spread natural herbs from the Dalmatia region, Rosemary as a cultural plant has been known long before Christ. You can find it anywhere - in city parks, around family houses, by the road, sea, in the gardens and kids playground. And yes, the most beautiful thing is that you can just go outside and grab a plant and come back home and put it in the bowl or a frying pan. You will recognize it as a bushy herb plant height up to 2m, made of many thick branches densely covered with leaves.
Its leaves are very narrow, thick and dark on the front and light on the back. It can be used for making rosemary-oil which helps to prevent and cure skin disease. It is also full of antioxidants and compounds that help keep us healthy. But, how to use rosemary and how much rosemary is safe to eat? Rosemary has a stimulating effect on the brain, it keeps us energized. In food, always put some in the oven when baking chicken or potatoes. Fish on the grill, too. In many houses, you will find it planted in small lovely pots, sometimes as a decoration but always as a spice.
In Dalmatia people say - The Olive is like a mother and a grape is like a wife! Olive can always be leftover, forgotten. And once you return, it will give you fruits. Olive waits for you. Grapes don’t. This ancient plant still is a very important part of dalmatian cuisine and culture. There is no home without olive oil, there is no island without olive oil production. You can eat fruits, no fresh though. How to use olive herb? Well, baking is the old, traditional way of releasing the bitter elements from olives. The baked olives are then kept in olive oil and aromatized with Mediterranean herbs, primarily rosemary, which is also the best way of enjoying them. Another old custom is being revived, this time among bakers: pieces of olive are mixed into bread dough, the result being deliciously piquant bread. You can use olive leaves for making some tea. Not only has olive leaf tea a great flavour, but also detoxifying and healing properties. Olive leaves are exceptionally rich in vitamins A, B, C and E, and will give your body an anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal boost. Great for colds, flu and infections.
A word ‘sage’ means wisdom, and it was also used to stimulate concentration, increase memory. Generally, it is derived from the word salvare, which means to save, to cure, because the ancient Romans used it to treat various diseases. Usually, sage is used as a spice in pasta, roasted innards and fattier dishes is an indispensable and important ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. There is a common use like grappa, and sometimes (though in a very small amount) - it can be used as a tea but just for gargling when some teeth problems you have. You might hear a question - “How much sage is too much?”. Yes, this herb may have toxic effects. To be on the safe side, limit sage tea consumption to 3–6 cups a day!
This is one more plant you can find everywhere in Croatia, especially in Dalmatia. If you go to take a walk by the sea, you can grab some. If you are planning to swim into the river, you can ensure some fennel for a tea once you come back home. Fennel has been a treasured culinary and medicinal herb for thousands of years. The Egyptians and the Chinese used it strictly for medicinal purposes and their lore was brought back to Europe by early traders. During the Middle Ages, it was believed to hold magical qualities and people hung fennel plants over their doors to drive away evil spirits. In addition to its kitchen contributions, planting fennel will attract beneficial insects to the garden and its leaves are a favourite with the caterpillars of the swallowtail butterfly.
All parts of the fennel plant are edible, from its tender leaves to its plump seeds. Fennel seeds benefits - have long been used to reduce intestinal gas, which is why many cooks add a few fennel seeds to the cooking water when cooking asparagus, cabbage, beans, and other gas-producing foods. When taken as a nutritional supplement, fennel capsules can reduce common symptoms of menopause. Because of its smooth taste, babies love it as a tea beverage or cooked for a meal.
To soften the flavour of the bulb, try braising, roasting, or grilling it. Fennel stalks can take the place of celery in soups and stews and can be used as a "bed" for roasted chicken and meats.
Except blowing this plant for some wishes, you can use it as well as a medicine. Fresh or dried dandelion herb it can be used as an appetite stimulant. The root of the dandelion is a story by itself. Who would say this rough and not so lovely plant can be so beneficial.
Dandelion was famous in Chinese and Native American medicine, and its root has long been used to treat stomach and liver conditions. Today, people believe it can aid in the treatment of acne, high cholesterol, heartburn, diabetes, and even cancer. Detox is another word for dandelion uses. Of the root, nannies make a tea, and tincture which you drink every morning. In the end, this lant may act as a mild laxative. Many ladies would be happy to hear that dandelion tea helps in weight loss!
Carob is mentioned in the Bible as food eaten by St. John the Baptist, and carob fruit is also called “St. John’s beard”. This could be an unusual souvenir, too - a liqueur or simply beans.
We talk here about the almost forgotten plant. Carob is important not only because of its use but for the visual impression of the carob tree, that fits in every dalmatian scenery. Almost any courtyard will greet you with a carob tree given that having one was always a good thing. His role is to be a source of food, even firewood, people use it to prepare beverages, liqueurs and desserts. An old dalmatian granny will say in the past the carob was actually substituting cocoa beans. Today we put it in cookies, cakes and grappa, and recently there is a new product - carob spread, which can be a great replacement for Nutella or other chocolate spread.
The entire pulpy and elongated pod is edible and has always managed to find a culinary use. It’s picked in October and November when it turns dark brown. The whole pod can be ground to make flour, which has a wide use. The seed used to be utilised as coffee supplement beverages, while they can also be eaten. Carob liqueur is also served with cakes.
No herbs - no lunch!
Dalmatian herbs as a liqueur
Perfect souvenir and toast!
Croatians make their beloved strong liqueur using all sorts of natural ingredients available to them, and many types of herb contribute to the unique Dalmatian flavours of the hard stuff. Rakija is one of the most popular drinks in Croatia! Sage rakija, for example, is very popular, while you will not find a more aromatic drop of the hard stuff than lavender rakija.
Aromatic herbs in brandy must mature for a minimum of 40 days
Dalmatian herbs on your plate
Sometimes, spices are more important than the main ingredient
Some herbs, such as basil, feature regularly in the simple salads of the region, such as tomato and basil salad, a fresh and flavoursome accompaniment to any lunch, while others are core ingredients in some of Dalmatia’s most traditional dishes. Dalmatia’s best-loved meat dish, the delicious slow-cooked pašticada with gnocchi, owes part of its unique flavours to the mandatory addition of bay leaves and thyme, for example, while a sprig or two of rosemary can always be found in the Dalmatian peka, a meat and octopus dish slow-cooked under an iron bell with potatoes and a variety of vegetables.
As with rosemary, parsley is an omnipresent ingredient in many Dalmatian dishes expect to find a little in anything from octopus salad and black risotto to the fish stew known as Gregada.
Dalmatain peka / Octopus
Some Mediterranean herbs (we can say Croatian flora) play in important part in seasoning food far beyond the borders of Dalmatia, such as Dalmatian sage, whose slightly bitter aroma and pungency is effective in the seasoning of meat, particularly poultry, veal and pork roasts, as well as being an excellent ingredient in the stuffing.
Simple freshness, aromatic herbs, traditional family recipes – three secrets of the magnificence of Dalmatian cuisine. And of course, all that as foreplay for the magnificent wine from this region.