Essences from Alpine Plants
of the Aosta Valley are an amazing source of natural ingredients
The high mountains surrounding our Alpine distillery form an extraordinary laboratory where herbs, rhizomes, berries, cereals, flowers and fruits have been grown over the centuries in the fresh mountain air.
Monks and master distillers used them to make their precious infusions, spirits and liqueurs.
Since time immemorial the inhabitants of the magnificent Aosta Valley in the heart of the Alps have selected the finest plant essences and transformed them into unique alpine spirits.
Italian torrentem Alpine floribus Praetoria
Juniper is common in the Aosta Valley from the valley floor up to an altitude of 2,400 m. It thrives in arid soil, fallow ground and on slopes exposed to the sun at medium altitude. It’s a shrub that can grow up to 2 m in height and even higher in optimal conditions. Juniper berries are pale green and turn dark blue when mature. The leaves have diuretic properties and can be gathered from spring to autumn. The fruits are balsamic, sudorific and antispetic. They are used to make gin and zénévra, a berry purée, which is cooked for a long time, and was used the traditional pharmacopeia.
The gentian is a medicinal plant which was cultivated during the Middle Ages. The root is generally used to make liqueurs and is one of the ingredients in several amaro (digestif) recipes. The Ferret Valley is a natural habitat for gentian and gentianella. The Cogne Valley is home to the yellow gentian. The gentian is common throughout the Aosta Valley between 1,400 and 2,900 m. It grows in Alpine pastures, preferably on acidic soil. A perennial, it flowers in June and July.
The elder is a plant with many therapeutic properties and has been used in medicine since ancient times. The parts of the plant most commonly used are the flowers, the berries, the leaves and the bark. Much of the plant is toxic owing to the presence of cyanide and various alkaloids, but when the dark blue berries are cooked or macerated to make jam, the cyanogenic compounds in the berries disappear completely.
Mallow has always been important because of its therapeutic properties. This plant with its pink or lilac flowers is highly nutritious and is well-known for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.
The Alpine rose--not to be confused with the dog rose, whose petals are a much paler pink--grows in the Aosta Valley up to an altitude of 2,100 m. This woody shrub grows to a height of 120 cm and flowers in the months of June or July, depending on the altitude. The flowers are either red or deep pink. The fruit, which matures in the autumn, is a small red berry.
Scots pine buds
The Scots Pine is an evergreen conifer. It grows in mountainous regions all over Italy, up to a height of 2,000 m. It is only one of the more than 100 species belonging to the genus Pinus. The buds, which are collected in spring, contain an oil and a glucoside, called piceina, which gives it balsamic properties, but it also has anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic and diuretic properties. An infusion of the buds is very useful for treating respiratory problems on account of its antiseptic and expectorant properties.
or Glacier wormwood
This plant belongs to the genus Artemisia and has a characteristic aroma. It grows in the Aosta Valley, even above 2,400 m. Above the vegetation line, you will often find this strongly aromatic plant growing in gravel or sand. A perennial plant, it grows to a height of between 5 cm and 15 cm and flowers from June to September. Now cultivated, in the past, it was gathered by the locals, who used it to flavour grappa or make a liqueur called Genepy. In fact Genepy has been awarded IGP status.
The essential oil of the spruce is obtained from its needles. The oil has analgesic, balsamic, diuretic, deodorant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacteric, expectorant and anti-hypertensive properties. For this reason, it is regarded as a precious ingredient by both the pharmacological and cosmetics industries.
The rhododendron is common throughout the Aosta Valley from an altitude of 1,200 m up to the vegetation line. Great swathes of this plant line the path that leads to the village of Salassi. This evergreen plant flowers in June or July depending on the altitude. Its red flowers grow in clusters at the end of the branches. The plant grows to a height of one metre.
This small perennial Alpine plant has white flowers and doesn’t grow very high. It belongs to the Rosaceae family. The leaves have astringent and digestive properties. The locals often used it to make herbal teas and decoctions to treat various kinds of inflammation. Its natural habitat is limestone, either fine, dry gravel or consolidated debris, but also rocks and stony pasture. It usually grows at an altitude of between 1,500 m and 2,500 m.
The aphrodisiac properties of savory have been famed since ancient times. In fact, once upon a time, it was forbidden for monks to plant savory in their gardens in case they fell into temptation. Nowadays, savory is used to make herbal teas and as a diuretic. It’s also a natural remedy for worms and other problems of the intestine. But it is still referred to as the ‘herb of love’. Savory grows in the wild in warm temperate areas and can also be grown in domestic gardens. There are two types: a cultivated variety known as annual savory or the herb of St Julius, and a mountain variety, which will withstand very low temperatures.
The dandelion has a whole host of medicinal properties. It’s used as a stimulant for the liver, as a diuretic and to purify the blood. It is common in the Aosta Valley where it grows not only in the meadows on the valley floor but also all the way up to the Alpine pastures, where the flowers are a joy to see. If gathered in spring, the leaves are excellent in salad, and are traditionally eaten with boiled eggs and seasoned with walnut oil. A similar plant, Taraxacum alpinum, manages to survive in stony ground and on screes at an altitude of between 1,500 m and 2,800 m.
Simple leaved milfoil
Achillea erba-rotta moschata is one of the best-known plants in the local liqueur industry. A precious aromatic plant, it plays a vital role in the making of many bitter aperitifs and digestifs, in liqueurs of Alpine herbs, medicinal tonics and especially genepy. Its pleasantly bitter, aromatic taste stimulates the secretion of gastric juices and, therefore the appetite. It aids digestion and has a beneficial effect on problems arising from bad digestion, such as bad breath, stomach ache and flatulence. It is also used to improve the flavour of herbal teas and decoctions.
Everyone knows that, traditionally, absinthe is very bitter and there is a widespread belief that beverages containing absinthe are toxic. This is not true!! Its essential oil contains a substance called thujone, which can have serious consequences if taken in high doses. However, if taken moderately, drinks made with absinthe can be used perfectly safely and effectively. Absinthe is widely used for its aromatic, bitter taste, both in alcoholic drinks and the soft drinks industry. The pharmaceutical industry uses it to flavour its products. Absinthe stimulates the appetite and aids digestion by stimulating the stomach and the liver. It’s also used as an antiseptic.
St Benedict’s thistle
St Benedict’s thistle is often used to make vermouths and bitter digestifs on account of its bitter, tonic and digestive properties. In herbal medicine the plant has properties that stimulate the appetite, aid digestion, improve diuresis and cleanse the whole organism.
Hyssop belongs to the Lamiaceae family and has always been used to combat infections of the respiratory tract. It is about 60 cm high, has a woody, hairy stem, purple-blue flowers and is very attractive to bees. Hyssop oil has many therapeutic properties. Benedictine monks introduced hyssop to Europe in the 10th century and used it to make liqueurs. At Verrayes in the Aosta Valley, another member of the Lamiaceae family is the local type of thyme, called serieula, grows up to an altitude of 1,600 m. This thyme has twice the amount of thymol and phenol normally found in other ecotypes of thyme found in the Mediterranean. It grows in dry, sunny places between rocks and in gravel beds.