Bosnia smells incredible. Although the burek restaurants and pekaras across the urban landscape can draw the noses of new tourists for kilometers, I prefer the sweet and delicate smell of Bosnia’s rural highlands. No, not the goats or cows. Skip over those, of course. I am talking about the abundant herbs, wildflowers, and orchards that dot the countryside. On my first trip to Lukomir, I was captivated by the small blossoming herbs clinging to gravel cliff sides and all of their medicinal qualities explained by the guides. The export of wild medicinal and aromatic herbs in BiH is becoming a serious agricultural commodity in recent years with consumers increasingly looking for “natural” cures to pains and illnesses.
It is difficult not to notice the flowery scents of the countryside, and if you are like me and forgot to bring your pen and paper on your last Green Visions trip, here are a few herbs you might have seen (or will soon see) during your treks across Bosnia.
Vrijesak. Calluna Vulgaris
Commonly known as heather, vrijesak is the most dominant plant in the shrub land habitats of Europe. The perennial herb is maintained by grazing or wildfire, and flowers in the late summer with mauve to white-colored buds. Traditionally, heather is known to be used as a medicinal tea for treatment of problems in the kidneys and urinary tract. Before the use of hops, the buds were used as flavorings in the brewing of heather-beer during the Middle-Ages as an ingredient in the gruit of the beer. It was also known to be used as a yellow dye during the processing of wool.
Majcina dusica. Thymus serpyllum
Commonly known as Wild thyme, majcina dusica is a purple flowering herb in the mint family. It typically has a very strong and sweet lemon scent. Thyme has an almost endless list of uses. The Egyptians used it for embalming, I gargle with it every morning in my Listerine, in the Middle Ages, it was said to give courage and bravery to knights heading into battle. Medicinally, oil of thyme was used to medicate bandages before the age of antibiotics, and is also found in herbal teas to help with the scratchiness of sore throats and bronchitis.
Nana. Mentha longifolia
Commonly known as horsemint, nana is one of 13-18 known species of mint. Found throughout the Balkans, mint is used for cooking and medicinal purposes throughout the region. It can popularly be found in teas and local rakija, and is known to help with stomach and chest pains.
Vranilovka. Origanum vulgare
Commonly known as oregano, vranilovka is in the genus of the mint family (Lamiaceae). Oregano is very popular and used for cooking and medicinal purposes worldwide. But lucky for us in the Balkans, it is native to southwestern Eurasia and the Mediterranean region. In Bosnian cooking, you can commonly find Oregano mixed into dishes such as djuvech (Bosnian vegetables and rice) and cufte (Bosnian meatballs).
Kantarion. Hypericum perforatum
Commonly known as St. John’s Wort, kantarion is a yellow flowering plant used as a medicinal herb for its anti-depression and anti-inflammatory properties. It is a highly invasive species, but native to many areas of Europe (including Bosnia). St. John’s Wort supposedly gets its name from the first century and early Christians naming it after John the Baptist, since its flowering and harvesting typically takes place on or before the saints birthday on the 24th of June. During the medieval period, it was hung over religious icons to ward off evil spirits in the home, and has been credited for centuries as being a “magic” herb with an abundance of medicinal properties.
St. John’s wort doth charm all witches away
If gathered at midnight on the saint’s holy day.
Any devils and witches have no power to harm
Those that gather the plant for a charm:
Rub the lintels and post with that red juicy flower
No thunder nor tempest will then have the power
To hurt or hinder your houses: and bind
Round your neck a charm of similar kind