The bald willow (photo: U. Galien, archive ZRSVN).

Because of its mine, Idrija was an irreplaceable part of the Austrian Empire. However, it was not until 1754 that it acquired a real doctor. This was Giovanni Antonio Scopoli, who was given a free apartment together with his new job, a good annual salary and additional funds for moving and furniture. He took care of the wounded and sick miners, their families and the population from the neighbouring places. He was fond of botany research in the Idrija region, in the highlands and later throughout the Carniola region. He also taught the mining students chemistry and metallurgy and stayed in Idrija for 16 years. Many plant and animal species are named after him, namely the henbane bell (Scopolia carniolica), Arabis scopoliana, Senecio scopolii, Scrophularia scopolii and the nursery web spider (Pisaura mirabilis). Many of them were also described and named for the first time by Scopoli – Moehringia ciliata Scop., the bald willow (Salix glabra Scop.), the bitter willow (Salix eleagnos Scop.), the Alpine willow (Salix alpina Scop.) and the thyme-leaved willow (Salix serpillifolia Scop.), the bellflower (Campanula cespitosa Scop.), the butterfly called the woodland brown (Lopinga achine Scop.), etc.

Scopoli was replaced by Balthasar Hacquet, who came to Idrija precisely because of the reputable, almost famous work by Scopoli. He learned the Slovenian language, treated mercury poisoning and took care of the obstetrics in Idrija. He really wished to climb the Triglav Mountain, which he succeeded after several attempts. He called Triglav “Terglou” and spread its name around the world in the names of the plants Crepis terglouensis Hacquet and Gentiana terglouensis Hacquet. Due to his great contribution to the development of natural science, botanists named Hacquetia epipactis and Pedicularis hacquetii after him.

Henbane bell (photo: U. Galien, archive ZRSVN).

Let us not forget the Idrija naturalist Henrik Freyer, who was born in Idrija and as a child followed Scopoli’s conversations with his father. Today, Freyer is best known for naming the plant Daphne blagayana Freyer and in museum circles for the tireless paleontological and preparatory work. In the Postojna Cave, he discovered a jawbone of a cave lion and in the Mokriška Cave, an entire skeleton of a cave bear, which is now on display in the Museum of Natural History in Ljubljana. He gave the human fish the name “olm” (“močeril”) and presented the world with aragonite hedgehogs (speleothem formations) from the Ravenska Cave.

Many plants and animals were first discovered and described on the Slovenian soil and therefore have a classical or type locality (locus typicus) in this area, but are also widespread elsewhere in Europe. The main reason for this are the favourable historical circumstances and a series of coincidences, while the researchers from Idrija also contributed a great deal.

The Latin name of the genus is derived from the name of the Greek goddess Iris, which appeared to humans in the form of a rainbow in the sky, and symbolized Zeus’ messenger. Juno, the main Roman goddess, and protector of women considered the iris a sacred plant. In ancient Roman medicine, its underground rhizome was used as an expectorant, which was valued for its anti-inflammatory effect and help relieving toothache. Rhizome extract was used in the form of hydromel, a mixture of honey and alcohol to clean mucous membranes and the gallbladder. However, because of the toxicity, special care is needed when using any part of it for medical purposes, especially the underground rhizome.

The Illyrian iris is slightly larger than other species; it has a branched rhizome that is firm and aromatic. After cutting, it should be dried in a shade, flax threaded and stored. As the plant ages, animals start to eat it, which enhances its odour. The rhizome has a calming and soothing effect that is ideal for coughing and catarrh ejection, and its extracts can be used in food, cosmetics, wine, and liquor production. In combination with vinegar, it helps with wildlife stings, gallbladder problems, spasms, hypothermia or shivering, and premature ejaculation. Drunk with white wine, it stimulates menstruation. The decoction is good for steam baths when having gynaecological problems, and if the extract is applied in the form of a suppository with honey, it acts abortively. If applied as a paste with vinegar and rose balm, it can help with headaches.

Theophrastus writes that there are no aromatic plants in Europe except iris, as all other aromatic plants grow in Asia. Of the irises, the best is the one that grows in Illyria; not on the coast, but inland, especially in the north. It requires no care other than drying the rhizome after it has been cleaned thoroughly. The appearance of the stem resembles the Asphodelus, although the iris has a shorter and harder stem. The extract from the rhizome was used as a flavour and for balm preparations.

Roman farmers used to tie three branches of bay laurel with a red ribbon to encourage an abundant harvest, especially wheat. Due to its antibacterial and fungicidal properties, the plant is resistant to pests and diseases, so the leaves were used as insect repellents and placed among the grain, beans and other products as pest control. They cultivated it as a high-quality noble plant and therefore laid a wreath made of bay laurel on the heads of poets, successful warlords, and emperors as a symbol of glory and victory. The Roman emperor Tiberius wore a laurel crown during storms, believing it would protect him from thunder.

Dioscorides used fresh bay leaves to soothe inflammation, bee and wasp stings. The finely ground black fruits, taken with honey or grape syrup prevented tuberculosis and rheumatism, and the juice obtained from the fruits, in combination with wine and rose balm, successfully resolved earache, tinnitus and other hearing problems. Theophrastus mentions that this evergreen shrub used to be cultivated and that its timber was used as a building material for house cladding.

The bright red fruit has always been a sign of fertility and wealth. In Roman times, it was called malum punicum, where malum means apple, and punicum refers to Carthage from where the plant was imported and planted in the territory of present-day Italy. However, the plant originated in Asia. Many Roman goddesses are painted or carved with a pomegranate fruit in their hand. Roman brides would braid a twig of this plant into the hair on their wedding day as a symbol of fertility and fortune. Pomegranate also has the mystical meaning of raising awareness throughout life and afterlife. In magic rituals, seeds were used to enhance the effect of magic, whether it was about healing or casting curses.

Dioscorides describes it as a succulent fruit, good for the stomach. The sweet fruit is not recommended for people with high temperature, it is a good diuretic, the tasteless one is a good astringent, and the one that tastes like wine has a mediocre effect. Sour pomegranate seeds, dried in the sun and served with supplements, stop diarrhoea and are good for steam bath treatment of dysentery and women who suffer from heavy menstrual bleeding. Juice made of boiled fruit mixed with honey is good for wounds of the oral cavity and genitals and for growths, ulcers, ear pain as well as nostril pain. The pomegranate flowers called cytinoi have an astringent effect, cause drying, and are good for healing bleeding wounds. The decoct of the flowers is used as a mouthwash for sensitive gums and periodontal disease and as a relief for intestinal hernias if used as a warm bandage. It is said that healthy people who eat the amount of three flowers will be relieved of eye inflammation for over a year. Drinking the decoct of the root will kill and remove intestinal parasites.

Theophrastus writes that pomegranate is a shrub that has only a few shallow roots, unlike the fig or oak. Many branches form a dense canopy and have narrow leaves. The flowers are red, the fruit is rich in fibres, and the seeds are arranged in the same peel. They can grow from springs that are a year old because weaker plants grow from the seeds themselves. It has been reported that sometimes the same plant that bears the sweet fruits can produce sour fruits after several years and vice versa. If the taste of the fruit changes from sour to sweet, it is considered a bad sign. The plantations were rich, and planted at distances of up to 9 feet.

Myrtle is considered a plant of good fortune so when the Romans set out to conquer a new colony, they would put a myrtle wreath on their heads. Pliny considered it very important for fertility and even named it Myrtus coniugalis since myrtle was used during wedding feasts as a sign of a good marriage and a happy joint life. There were feasts in honour of the goddess Venus of Myrtle, and the women who attended would embellish their hands, head, and ankles with myrtle, considering it an aphrodisiac that stimulates desire and provides more opportunities for encounters with the opposite sex. Lovers used to take twigs of myrtle for the summer solstice to pledge allegiance to each other, and a myrtle wreath called coniugalo adorned the bride at her wedding, symbolizing a desire for communion and company.

Dioscorides wrote that cultivated myrtle, which grows at higher altitudes, is medicinal, though its fruits are not very tasteful. The astringent fruits can be eaten raw or dried, helping those who cough up blood and have a bladder infection. The juice of freshly squeezed berries is good for the stomach, acts as a diuretic, and relieves of spider or scorpion bites if applied with wine. The decoction of the fruit is used for hair dying; when boiled with wine, it heals wounds on limbs, and applied as a bandage together with barley, helps with eye inflammation.

The wine obtained by pressing fruits and then boiled helps prevent nausea, cleans dandruff, scabs, and acne, stops hair loss and is also used for steam baths when treating gynaecological problems. The leaf decoction is used for steam baths as well; for strengthening joints and dyeing the hair black. The leaves themselves, finely ground and applied as a bandage with water, help with rheumatic pain, while in combination with peeled olives and rose and wine balm, they relieve other pains.

Theophrastus wrote that myrtle, if not watered too often, would bear much fruit. Cultured forms are evergreen, the leaves are narrow and numerous, and arranged in a certain order. The fruits give a viscous juice. The flower is located above the fruit just as in pomegranates. In general, there are many similarities to the pomegranate shrub. If the new spring, which sprouted after the appearance of the Arcturus star in the spring sky, blooms and produces fruit, most fruits will not mature fully. Regarding cultivation, it is said that myrtle needs to be well fertilized, watered and pruned so that its core does not become foamy and the development of diseases in the underground parts is prevented. As the tree ages, its branches should be cut off and the stem treated as if planted again. It is said that with this process, the tree will live long and become strong. They say it does not like to grow in a cold climate. Flowers of the myrtle that grows in Egypt have a particularly amazing scent. Still, Theophrastus wrote that all this should be explored more thoroughly.

Famous Romans were embellished with a twig or even an olive wreath. Along with figs and vines, the olive was considered one of the three holiest plants for the Romans, and it was these three trees that were planted in the Roman Forum. Pliny the Elder wrote that the first pressing of still green olives without breaking the kernels produces superior quality oil. Oil residues were used for lamps. The tradition of cold-pressing dates back to the Roman era and has continued to this day, and original oil presses such as those described by Pliny can still be found in many rural areas. The basis of Roman cuisine at that time was olive oil, and the Romans considered it very tasteless to use butter or lard that came from the Celts.

Dioscorides writes that olive oil, which is used for health purposes, is pressed from unshelled fruits, the so-called omphacinon. Fresh, non-acid but aromatic, fresh oil is mostly used in fat production. Due to its astringent properties, it is good for the stomach, it strengthens the gums and teeth if kept inside the mouth and is an antiperspirant. The oil that is brighter and older is better for softening preparations. Generally, all types of olive oil heat and soften the skin, protect the body from the cold, preparing it for activity.

It helps with digestion, so 1 cotyle (0.274 l) of oil drunk with an equal amount of barley or plain water acts as a purgative. A dose of 6 cyathoi (0.0456 l) of oil cooked with rue is useful for colic and cleansing of intestinal parasites. The same preparations can be used as an enema.

Theophrastus mentioned that the olive tree has narrow evergreen leaves with small flowers and that the stem has bulges called gongri. Cultured and wild olives have special wrinkles on their stem. The interesting thing about olives, linden, elm, and poplar is that the top of the leaves rotates after the summer solstice, so people at that time would recognize the event of solstice according to this change.

He also stated that the olive would not grow more than 300 stadiums (185 m) from the sea.

The Romans also called it oregano, or anthill, wild marjoram, and when dried, it was the basis of typical Roman culinary delicacies, mentioned by Apicius himself, from boiled duck, crab and egg mackerel fillets to piglets in wine sauce.

Oregano was added along with savory, thyme, mint savory, pine nuts, vinegar, pepper, and oil when goat cheese was prepared. For body care, a bath of an aromatic mixture consisting of oregano leaves, thyme, myrrh, lavender, and cinnamon was prepared.

Dioscorides wrote that the decoction prepared from oregano mixed with wine is a good relief for wildlife bites. For the very poisonous ones, it must be drunk with a mixture of honey and vinegar, and those who suffer from spasms, ruptures, and oedema, should eat a fig with the decoct. The dried herb relieves cough if taken in the form of pastilles with honey. The decoct can also be used in baths and helps with itching, wrinkles, and jaundice. Juice squeezed from a fresh herb heals a sore throat, especially tonsillitis. Combined with milk, it eases ear pain. If spilt on the floor, it successfully repels reptiles.

Theophrastus wrote that there are two types of oregano; the dark one that is sterile and the white that is fertile. It will take over thirty days for the new plant to sprout from the seed, and the plants that grow from older seeds will sprout faster. They can also reproduce from shoots when they are a little bit larger than the palm of a hand.

He stated that the wild oregano is much stronger in taste and odour than the cultivated one, and is widespread everywhere.

According to Ovid, rosemary is the first herb to sprout from the body of the dead Persian Princess Leucothoe that fell for Apollo’s charm, which is why her father killed her. When the first rays of the sun slowly began to shine on her dead body, she began to turn into a plant of intense scent, thin leaves, and pale purple-blue flowers. Hence the custom of the ancient Greeks and Romans to grow rosemary as a symbol of the immortality of the soul. Before myrtle, rosemary was used during weddings and to decorate wreaths during celebrations to honour the goddess of love. Rosemary twigs were used to sweep the floor before a magic ritual began to clear the area of any negativity, and the magician would keep a twig on his chest for protection. After the ritual, the twig was burned.

The Romans called rosemary rosmarinum, and Dioscorides describes it as a plant with thin twigs containing delicate, dense, narrow, oblong and thin leaves, white on the inside and pale green on the outside, with a very strong aroma. It can cure gallbladder problems if the plant is boiled in water and the decoction drunk before physical activity, and afterward, the person is to take a bath and drink wine. Also, the plant is mixed with analgesics and fats derived from the new wine.

The Latin name salvia comes from the verb salvare, meaning to save/rescue. There is a tale about the importance of such a name told by the Romans, who believed that drinking one cup of sage tea a day could cure all diseases. Sage has a long history of medical use and is an important ingredient in every home pharmacy, especially when one is suffering from digestive problems. Its antiseptic properties make it an excellent mouthwash; it can cure a sore throat and ulcers. If the leaves are applied to an aching tooth, it relieves the pain. The essential oil obtained from leaves is used in perfume production, hair shampoos, especially for dark hair and as a food flavour. A sage bandage was part of every Roman soldier’s obligatory piece of equipment.

Dioscorides mentioned that some call the sage elaphoboscon and others sphagnon. It is a very branched shrub, with square whitish stems and leaves that resemble those of a quince. However, sage leaves are longer, thinner and slightly coarse like a thick cloth, dense, whitish, very aromatic but of poor taste. It grows on uneven rocky habitats.

Drinking the decoction of leaves and twigs stimulates urination and menstruation, has an abortive effect, darkens the hair, is used for wounds, it purifies blood, cleanses malignant wounds and helps to relieve the pain caused by a stab wound. When the decoct is used with wine as a rinse liquid, it stops genital itching.

Along with iris, saffron, verbena, and mint, the white asphodel was one of the sacred plants of the goddess Junona, in whose honour women commemorated the Matronalia feast. The Romans also believed that after death, the soul of the deceased travelled to the underworld. If the deceased had been a sinner during their lifetime, they would fall into the abyss, and if they were neither good nor bad, they would come to the field of asphodels where they could feed on its edible bulbs forever. Because of this, the asphodel was considered a plant that protects the dead.

Folk medicine mentions that bulbs, rich in starch, were eaten cooked, baked or used in the form of flour. However, due to the toxic alkaloid of asphodelin, it is not recommended today.

According to Dioscorides, the white asphodel is well known to everyone, and the flower is called anthericon. The roots are underground, oblong, round, acorn-like, and spicy. Taken as a beverage it stimulates urination and menstruation, and 1 drachm (3,411 g) of root extract, taken with wine, heals coughs, spasms, and ruptures. When the amount the size of a vertebra is eaten, it makes people happier, and 3 drachms are given for the successful treatment of a snake bite. After that, the bite must be covered with a leaf, root and flower bandage combined with wine. Boiled root juice, combined with sweet old wine, peace, and saffron, is a healing balm for the eyes and is suitable for use when warmed up and without additives. With frankincense, honey, wine, and myrrh, it treats purulent ear infections, and the juice itself relieves toothache if inserted into the ear on the opposite side of the tooth. Ash obtained from the root, if applied directly, promotes hair growth where the hair has fallen off. Olive oil, which is cooked in recessed roots, helps with frostbite and burns when applied as a bandage. If drunk with wine, fruits, and flowers, it serves as the ultimate antidote to the centipede and scorpion bite and is an excellent purgative.

Theophrastus wrote that the white asphodel has a very high stem and that the fleshy root is used as a culinary delicacy. The plant produces many woody seeds, triangular and black, placed below the flower in a round chalice that opens in summer so the seeds fall out. The leaves that sprout directly from the root are long, narrow and somewhat flexible.

The peculiarity of this plant in comparison to others that have a smooth stem is that it is very narrow and has branches at the top.

The asphodel has many edible and tasty parts: the stem is eaten baked, the seeds toasted, and the crushed root with figs has a beneficial effect.

The traditional cultivation of cypress in cemeteries has its source in the fact that in Roman times, this species was dedicated to the god of the underworld, Pluto. Legend has it that the cross of Jesus was made of cypress wood and was often associated with death throughout history.

According to the writings of Dioscorides, drinking cypress needles with grape syrup and a bit of myrrh has a beneficial effect on incontinence and helps with difficulties while urinating. Those who cough up blood and suffer from dysentery, diarrhoea, and cough should drink the small, pale green fruits with wine. The fruit decoction has the same effect. Together with a chopped fig, it treats polyps in the nostrils. Boiled with vinegar, shredded with lupine and applied in the form of a bandage, it can cure intestinal hernia. If the small fruits are set on fire together with the leaves, they are believed to drive mosquitoes away. Crushed leaves applied over wounds help to heal and stop bleeding, and if used crushed with vinegar, they can dye hair. They cure eye inflammation if mixed with barley.

Theophrastus wrote that cypresses are trees that grow upright and tall and have shallow roots. It is a bicameral species where the male trees are more fruitful. The leaves are needle-like but fleshier than those of the fir and spruce. It reproduces from seeds and on Crete from the trunk. It does not like heavy watering or fertilizing.

The wood is used as a quality building material, which is why the door at the temple in Ephesus was built of cypress wood that lasted for 4 generations.

Fun Facts


Did you know that not all bears go into their dens in the winter? It all depends on the food supply in the autumn (when the bear accumulates fat) and in the winter (when there is markedly less food). If a bear is accustomed to food sources close to humans (composts, garbage cans, wild landfills, meat from the slaughter), it will not go into hibernation but will be visiting a village.



Did you know that the roots of a tree extend beyond its treetop? In the forest, the roots of the trees touch and intertwine, protecting the forest ground from slipping and erosion.



Did you know that bark beetles are polygamists? The male hollows out a cubbyhole in the spruce tree and invites the females into it. Usually, 2 or 3 respond. After fertilisation, they each dig their own tunnel away from the cubbyhole and lay eggs in the walls of the tunnel.



Did you know that not all flowers have colourful blossoms? Along the Ajdovski zid wall, in the Kobilji curek stream and in Lanišče, we may observe a flowering henbane bell in April, which has black-purple, brown blossoms. The plant is poisonous.



Did you know that newts and fire-bellied toads have warning colours only on their bellies? In case of danger, a fire-bellied toad throws itself on the back, arches its garish belly and plays dead. Predators think the animal is dead and bloated, thus inedible.



Did you know that unroofed caves are created because their ceilings become thinner and then collapse? One day this will happen to the Postojna Cave and it will look like a cave by the Roman wall in Vrhnika.