A herbalist's dream

The occasional caballero on horseback graces our hills, heels down, sombrero perched, preparing his seat for the local horse fair. Other local customs include a snail festival; for one weekend in May the villagers of Riogordo cook them up in several different ways and offer them to interested gourmets.

chamomile big bundle

The herb circle is at its peak with giant bushes of chamomile, verdant mints, lemon balm, verbena, stevia and many others. We use them fresh and dried in both the restaurant and spa kitchens.

chamomile

We cut the long chamomile stems to allow more new growth at the base of the plant. The stems are bundled up and taken to the drying room to hang upside down.

rose geranium

The perfumed rose geranium is an amazingly soothing plant with a very powerful scent. We harvest the leaves and distil them with spring water to produce the hydrosol. The essential oil is a true womanly oil and only minute amounts are needed for its benefits to go a very long way.

St John's wort

This is St John's wort, not so easy to find as it can come and go quickly but it pops up in the same places each year and we gather a little to macerate in our olive oil. After several weeks it turns brown and has a uniquely wonderful smell which radiates healing. It is particularly effective when rubbed onto the skin to aid muscle aches and pains.

peach blossom

The soft fruit trees usually bloom in May, we have peaches, apricots and paraguyas - a flat white peach with a sweet, delicately fragrant flesh that makes them totally addictive. They pair very nicely with basil (we have a particularly robust, peppery type here), the mild white Spanish onion and fennel.

This is the time of year when you can see lots of wandering goats, mostly mothers with their tiny, tumbling kids scampering down the banks, climbing the bushes and getting stuck as they try to reach the furthest branch. The goat man's whistle and the distant jingling of bells tell you that they're around.

These are the bee hives that sit in small groups all over this region, usually tucked away somewhere quiet. The bee men are part of a cooperative and each area produces a different honey depending which flowers the bees have been pollinating. In this area there is rosemary, thyme, mountain (all flowers), orange blossom, eucalyptus and avocado. To the north there are chestnut forests where the bees produce a very intense dark chestnut honey.

wasp nest

This beautiful sculptural wasp nest is embedded into a yucca plant spear. These are one of the few plants (the other being the Agave americana or Century plant) that can survive the summer regardless. The plants have very different structures; the Century's heavy duty armour conceals quite a fleshy leaf, the Yucca's as thin as a blade. The Century has white tubers that root close to the surface forcing the young shoots up, the yucca has a mass of thin but very tough hair roots radiating wide and new sprouts grow straight from their thick palm like stem.

May is the month of yellow wild flowers, bees and olive pollen.

It is also a month of constant upkeep. Plants rise by the hour and the pollen dusts everything.