#69 / The simple medicines by nature

#69 / The simple medicines by nature - Marco Moreo Milano

PADOVA, from natural medicine to street food

That’s right, today we’re talking about natural medicine and healing flora: plants that cure us simply and naturally.

In the past, it was the only kind of medicine available, and many of those species are still here, on show at the Botanical Garden of Padua, today’s stop on our tour of Italy’s greenery.

I didn’t know it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s something I’ve just discovered, reading the reasoning of the UNESCO Committee: “the original of all botanical gardens throughout the world, it represents the birth of science. A place that has made a profound contribution to the development of many modern scientific disciplines such as botany, medicine, chemistry and pharmacy”. The original? The birth of science? WOW!

Indeed, this garden was founded in 1545 with the specific purpose of cultivating medicinal plants: the “simple” medicines offered to us directly by nature, which students at the time had to be able to recognise. That’s why it’s also known as the Giardino dei semplici, or Garden of the Simple! I don’t know much about natural medicine, but that experience with the agave was enlightening, miraculous. 😉

Over time, the garden has grown. Today it is home to some 6,000 species – not just medicinal, but also the bounty of collectors and trades with the East in nearby Venice. 

6,000 species seems like a few too many for one day, so let’s focus on the exotic plants – I always enjoy seeing life forms from such distant places rediscovering their habitat thousands of miles away.

And these plants are certainly doing fine! There’s ginkgo biloba, which improves cognitive function and memory. Magnolia, a perfect anti-inflammatory, just like acacia. The potato, an excellent antioxidant. Jasmine, an ally against coughs and respiratory problems in general. And the sunflower, whose seeds lower blood sugar and high blood pressure... Lilac, besides having beautiful flowers, works great against rheumatism and inflammation in general. Persian cyclamen is a natural antidepressant. And we’ll finish with rhubarb, an excellent digestion aid... All in all, it really does feel like being in a pharmacy! 

Speaking of digestion... I wouldn’t mind going back to my good old habits: ending today’s tour with a tasty snack. Let’s head over to a little fish stall – they call it a folparo here – and order the Paduan street food par excellence: folpetti, aka moscardini, little molluscs boiled and tossed with tomato sauce. Be wary of calling them octopus (polipetti) though: around here people turn their nose up at you for that*, but they really do look like little octopuses – most importantly, now you know what they are. They’re delicious, in any case!

And if we need any help, we can always count on rhubarb...  

Lots of love, ciao!