picture by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
In the hills that connect the Algarve with Alentejo, you will find great biodiversity. Everywhere you see sobreiros (cork oaks), azinheiras (holm oaks), eucalyptus, medronheiros (strawberry trees), wild herbs such as rosemary, mint and lavender and heather. The Esteva (sometimes called xara) can also be found there in large numbers. In the spring, nature puts on a remarkable show here, transforming hills into a festival of colors and scents, in which the Esteva plays a leading role.
The "Esteva" (Cistus ladanifer, gum rock rose or cistus rose) covers the mountains and valleys in spring with millions of beautiful, sweet-smelling white flowers. The flower itself is delicate and beautiful, but the evergreen it grows on is tough and shaggy with sticky branches and leaves. It is a plant from the rock rose family (Cistaceae) that grows in dry, rocky places where nothing else wants to grow and can grow up to 2 meters high. The sticky resin is labdanum, a highly aromatic resin. This resin protects the plant from the harsh and dry climate and it also inhibits the growth of competing plants in its environment. Because of this last characteristic you often find entire hills overgrown with Esteva.
Esteva grows on acidic, non-calcareous soils, made of shale, granite and quartz. It is a very fast-growing pioneer plant that is a good biological indicator of soil degradation due to, for example, overgrazing or constant fires, as it is one of the first plants to appear in the space where oaks once grew.
In the past, charcoal was extracted from the root of the Esteva, which is extremely hard and woody. This wood was also traditionally used to fire bread ovens. It is still wood to start a hot fire with. In moist soil it is not so difficult to pry the plants root and all out of the soil. Because this plant is full of resin and oil, it's best to make sure it doesn't grow within at least 50 meters of your home and other buildings.
Esteva essential oils are known for their antiseptic, astringent, antiviral, toning, purifying and restorative properties. They also boost the immune system and are used in aromatherapy to combat stress.
Labdanum used to be used in analgesic patches, to treat hernias, rheumatism, ulcers and gastritis. It has also been attributed with sedative properties and it is used in herbal medicine to treat respiratory problems (cough and bronchitis).
Labdanum and Esteva essential oils are also used in perfumery, they are used in perfumes, soaps and detergents, as well as in cosmetics and beauty treatment products, which act as a tissue regenerator to slow down skin aging and fight acne.
Posted by Marianne Hoesen.