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Curry (Helichrysum italicum)

The Helichrysum italicum is a perennial plant belonging to the family of the Asteraceae commonly known as curry. It is a spontaneous species typical of the Mediterranean. It is a plant known and used since ancient times, thanks to its multiple medicinal properties. Its flowers, with their characteristic golden yellow color, have always been a symbol of eternity and are directly related to the cult of the sun.

A rather curious peculiarity of its flowers is that once collected they are kept in good condition for a long time, which sometimes gives the feeling that they will never dry out. Nowadays, in addition to its medicinal uses, it is an important ingredient in the preparation of various dishes.

Origin and habitat

It is a very widespread plant throughout southern Europe, its presence is very common in Italy. It grows in the coastal areas of the Mediterranean, in rocky spaces and underdeveloped soils, up to 800 meters above sea level. However and in the Tuscan archipelago, the garrigue of this plant is common to see at an altitude of approximately 400 meters.

Features of the Helichrysum italicum

The Helichrysum italicum is a perennial herbaceous plant with twisted woody stem, it is a small species that can measure from 30 to 50 centimeters in height. Its branches are also arched and ascending and are wrapped in smooth hairs that fall off on contact.

It has dense, linear, lanceolate, elongated and thin leaves, with a grayish-green hue with silver reflections and an attractive fragrance. Its flowers are mostly tubular, soft yellow, grouped in conical heads, with a number of flowers ranging from 12 to 23 per head in which the males predominate.

The heads are united in dense corymbs of 25 to 35 inflorescences. The bracts are yellow and turn brown. Flowering occurs in summer. Its fruits are shiny, cylindrical and white in color, they show an elongated oval shape with a corrugated surface due to the presence of small tubers. In its upper part a set of simple hairs is inserted.

Culture

The Helichrysum italicum is typical of places with direct solar exposure. If you are in a harsh climate place, you need to make a blanket with leaves, bark remnants or other organic elements. This species grows best in a temperate climate like the one in the Mediterranean. In relation to the fertilization of the plant, it requires a mixture of approximately 15 grams of fertilizer diluted in a decaliter of water.

You should water moderately to prevent the water from stagnating, which can be harmful to the plant. If it is planted directly in the ground, you should only apply irrigation to young specimens or also to those that have had to endure long droughts to maintain the necessary humidity. As for pruning, this is not essential, it is enough if you remove the inflorescences that are colorless, deteriorated or dry, to allow a prosperous development of the whole plant.

In relation to the distances that must exist between the plants, it varies according to the destination of the product: for the use of its flowers, the hedges are 70 centimeters between rows, keeping a distance of 30 centimeters in the row, ensuring a density of more or less 5 copies per square meter. Now for the production of oils, the density increases with distances of 50 centimeters between the rows and 20 in the row, with a density of 10 copies per square meter.

If the object of the plant’s cultivation are its inflorescences, then you must manually collect the branches that have the flower heads, this procedure must be carried out at the beginning of flowering and then you proceed to dry the flowers in a properly protected environment. from the sun’s rays, dry and with good air circulation. Now, if the intention is to take advantage of the oil, you must collect the entire plant, except for its roots. This should be done whenever flowering occurs.

The helichrysum italicum is propagated by seed and cuttings, the latter procedure is especially used because direct culture is characteristic for the strong heterogeneity of seedlings, since these can germinate at various times. The cuttings are rooted at the end of the summer season in a substrate, mainly with a sub-alkaline pH with good drainage, prepared with sand, peat and soil. In this way and at the beginning of spring, the plants will be ready to be manipulated and transplanted directly into the field.

Applications

The fresh leaves of the plant give off an attractive fragrance that can be obtained by rubbing them between your fingers. However, in gastronomy, its dried leaves are used for their bitter taste. During the spring, its branches and flowers are grouped together and put to dry. Once the desired drying is obtained, they are preserved in glass jars to be used as a condiment for cereals, vegetables, eggs and meats.

Those who use it to prepare the chicken, insert a sprig of Helichrysum under the skin of the baked bird, which will absorb the taste and delicately season the meat. You can also add its chopped leaves in tortillas and other dishes, which will make them delicious delicacies on the palate of diners. It is a plant widely used in herbal medicine, thanks to its medicinal properties. Among others, it is antiallergic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and expectorant.

Due to its decongestant and protective effect, it is used as an important ingredient in the preparation of drugs to relieve irritated skin, afflicted with inflammatory processes, sunburns and diseases such as herpes, psoriasis and eczema.

Its leaves are used as an astringent, sedative and for the treatment of edema. It works by reducing pain and inflammatory processes caused by the dilation of the arteries, so it is also used in cases of hemorrhoids, arthritis and other rheumatic conditions.

Diseases and pests

During cultivation you must pay attention to protecting the plant from attacks by various types of pests or the appearance of possible diseases that are detrimental to the growth and life of the plant. One of the factors that you should pay more attention to is irrigation and soil conditions. If you do not keep irrigation and soil moisture under control, the roots of the plant could rot, damaging it and leading to its death.

With regard to insects, you must take care of the plant from the attack of aphids and fungi such as Verticillium. The aphids feed on the sap of the foliage and their infestation causes the desiccation of the plant. For its elimination, you must use specific products for this type of parasite. While Verticillium, which is an ascomycete-type fungus, attacks the interior of Helichrysum, this parasite causes the entire plant to dry out.

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