Perfect Palace Plots
This story may have a rather mystical sounding tone – more Russian Fairy Tale than fact – but it is true! On a hot summer’s day, one could take some carcasses into a forest and leave them to rot, returning a few weeks later to see which have decomposed and which are still intact. Given the warm climate in Crimea you might think that the they would all be somewhat putrid after a few weeks of exposure to atmosphere, however pleasantly scented with pine and juniper that air is.
Wrong! Some of the carcasses were perfectly preserved and this site was where Tsar Alexander III chose to build his Massandra Palace . Presumably the carcasses were removed first and, perhaps, the Emperor was unaware of this slightly strange, but long standing Crimean building tradition. It seems unlikely that the 19th century workmen who selected these magical plots would have been aware that both pine and juniper contain high levels of Phytoncides. The word itself was not appear until 1928 when first used by Dr. Boris P Tokin of Leningrad University . However, they were following a very old tradition and the residents of Crimea were well aware that many of their forests and the trees growing within them contained medicinal properties.
Phytoncides – What does it mean?
The word Phytoncides literally means “exterminated by plant”. It refers to antimicrobial, volatile organic compounds that some plants emit to prevent rot, fungal invasion, or to prevent consumption by animals! Onion, garlic, together with a whole range of spices and trees, including oak, pine and juniper, both contain and exude these into the atmosphere around them. They work by simply preventing the growth of the attacking organism or contaminant. This is excellent protection for trees, but how does this affect our health? Well, apart from being a great way to keep meat fresh, in unfavourable conditions, or as an indicator as to where a new palace might be situated, the antiseptic and antimicrobial elements of these compounds have a range of extremely beneficial effects.
Pine contains a number of elements, including alpha-pinene, carene and mycrene. This latter is one of a group of substances known as terpenes, has strong analgesic and anti-inflammatory qualities. Pine is widely used in Japanese, Chinese and Russian traditional medicine. Juniper, also popular in these medical traditions, features widely, having been used in the Crimean region since the 18th century and probably before. Compared with pine, it has even more to recommend it.
Scientific research can back this up with some hard facts. Phytoncides released into the air by juniper are more intense than those found in pine forests. In a 1000sq metres of forest, juniper releases about 30kg of Phytoncides into the atmosphere, pine by contrast exuding only 5kg. The effect on our nervous system and lungs is startling. The Phytoncides are the trees’ natural defence against bacteria, but they also have a positive impact on the lungs simply through inhalation. A broad spectrum of bacteria that cause infections are killed and viruses are also affected. This is a simple, natural detoxification and one that is accessible for all.
Juniper trees grow all over the Crimean peninsula, thanks to the most favourable climate. The warm air, the natural sea minerals present in it, together with perfect atmospheric pressure all combine to make the Crimea not just a place to breathe, but a place to breathe in all the benefits of natural healing air. Traditionally the region has seen sanatorium Tuberculosis and was popularised during the latter years of the Tsars, because of the healing muds and the mysterious properties of the wonderful air. Recognised as hugely beneficial for health, Crimea became synonymous with healing – a reputation that lasted into the Soviet era, when the region became known as the Union ’s Health Spa.
Today, the Sanatorium and Health Spas remain and with an increasing understanding of the medical benefits of the heavily juniper-scented air, many of these can be found near the Relict Juniper Grove. Specially constructed pathways through this ancient juniper woodland allow those with respiratory diseases or stomach problems the opportunity to take advantage of this particularly miraculous natural cure. Patients report rapid improvements from a range of ailments, from chest infections to intestinal problems. The Phytoncides and the freshness of the air combining to combat bacteria and to increase appetites! Asthma, chronic obstructive bronchitis, pneumonia, TB, rhinitis and tonsillitis are all conditions which have been alleviated or improved by exposure to Crimea ’s rare atmosphere.
In addition, juniper is utilised in a range of different compounds for its analgesic and antiseptic qualities. By coincidence these aid the healing of wounds, reducing pain and thus assisting healthy recovery. Injuries due to surgery or accidents have all shown marked and rapidly improved healing thanks to these natural ingredients.
Relict Juniper Grove
Located in probably one of the most beautiful parts of the Crimean coast, is the resort village of Noviy Svet (the New World ). The Grove is part of a botanical reserve (of which there are many in Crimea ). There is a huge range of medicinal plants and rare species of both tree and animal. To get to the grove itself (known as Paradise Valley ) you wind your way through pathways and the rocky stairs constructed by the Tauris – the earliest known inhabitants of the peninsula. Herodotus wrote about these people in the 6th century BC and the steps are believed to be around three thousand years old. As you wind your way through these ancient pathways, the trees surrounding you are the ancient Junipers. Compared to the steps, these trees are youngsters, being only a thousand or so years old. However, at Cape Sarich , examples have been found of trees believed to be over four thousand years old – juniper never rots thanks to the abundant Phytoncides inherent within it and these ancient specimens demonstrate just how tenacious the species is!
Unsurprisingly the region around the grove has long been popular with visitors. The natural beauty of the area has attracted a large number of photographers, artists, poets and writers – Chekhov and Tolstoy both had homes nearby and like many others spent long and frequent holidays close to the home of the ancient junipers. Today, during summer, many people choose to camp in the area, as well as take advantage of the treatments available at the Health Spas and Sanatorium.