The last curandera


She lives in Piano, a kind of natural drainage clay and flat that was once planted with red apples and yellow limoncelle, dotted with swamps that teemed with frogs: is located between the volcanic pit of Vatoliere and houses of Testaccio, the farm- sailor village who is resting here and there on the heights overlooking the Bay of Maronti.
But her origins are even more hilly: Buonopane, that is the high zone, as they called the Greeks who founded their first colony on the island in the western Mediterranean.

On the map of the island these places are on the southern sloping of Mount Epomeo, the island’s summit with its wild mountain ridges.
It is not so important, however, the details of the place names. The center of attention is all for her: Sisina Di Costanzo. At the age of 84, last February, but she doesn’t show it, she is petite and lively, strong and peppery. For me she is a pocket lioness with an infinite love for humanity and social justice. She has great vitality that is contagious, because it is simple, practical and aware. And, above all, feminine. From an anthropological point of view, her experience is exemplary.
Sisina, mother of seven children, has learned from his maternal grandfather Francesco (who, in turn, had a French mother), to care for sicknesses of others using medicines that nature can offer. A Nature here is volcanically wonderful an amazing Sisina is the last curandera of Ischia. And with the crucial help of Lella Baldino to whom she has deep affection; and Maria Assunta Calise with Paola Morgera, wrote a booklet, a very useful handbook entitled «Un’artista in erba, i rimedi naturali di Sisina>>. It almost seems to evoke, but on the side of the arboreal universe, the great book on the sources and the waters written by Giulio Iasolino in 1588: "Dè Rimedi Naturali che sono nell'isola di Pithecusa hoggi detta Ischia". Forty pages full of tips and instructions for use, historical and mythical reference, published by the Garden Club chaired by Nunzia Mattera Sena, with the financial support of Pietro Russo, president of Ascom Confcommercio, and embellished by the loving picture by Miria Di Costanzo, which are also supplied to these pages. Just one of these images, that of Borage, Borago officinalis, known in the different local dialects as Burracce or Borrace, attracts me so much to the complexity and uniqueness of the color variations.

A clear sign of the healing potential of the plant. Sisina says, through transcription curated by Lella Baldino: «The Borage is used for liver and, in general, to purify the body. To use the flowers must first be dried. The previous evening of use you takes a little bit and put it to soak in warm water in a glass.  In the morning, on an empty stomach, you drink the contents. The operation must be repeated for 15 days». Borage is present in the “Salvagioia Soup”, which is prepared with a precise list, like in a real potion of diuretic and digestive herbs, we now call detox, to which are added beans. The properties of herbs, leaves, berries and roots especially allows Sisina to be a unique and special Ischian woman of land- mother earth generating and regenerating - really precious. When she was child learned to recognize and use the extraordinary treasure of island biodiversity, with the intent to prevent illness and cure diseases or injuries of bodies, following the familiar examples and inheriting a culture of nature that comes from very away. A culture that has materialized in the constant willingness to help others. Lella Baldino writes: "The maternal grandfhater Francesco Di Meglio had studied in France, he came to Ischia where lived relatives and met his future wife, who was only 15 years old, falls in love and get married soon after in Buonopane. This grandfather has a beautiful library, is a rich man of culture who has traveled the world, knows the language and translates, as was customary then, the letters that arrived by the migrate to another country for people who could neither read nor write, including the mayor of the time. To him Sisina owes the knowledge of herbs and their uses: the grandfather was translating for her in dialect names of those herbs that he had already known to have lived in other countries .... ».
This is how it started. Today there is always a full pot of herbs and roots that bubbles on the fire, at Sisina’s house. She, now, is a real encyclopedia of anecdotes, traditions, beautiful and touching stories that amaze with passion and competence and celebrate all the living; and the greenery as ancient heritage and above all healthy, to protect actively.Thus, the Barbasso is the ereva marvassa that detoxified the liver. What about Euphorbia, also known as cecaocchi? It is used to “remove the leeks”. Here’s how: «Take a sprig of euphorbia, break and put a latex drop on a leek in the morning (paying attention not to have contact with the eyes because it’s stinging); and one in the evening for four or five days. After the treatment, after a few days, the leek falls off». Without leaving any traces on the skin. The Euphorbia is also ‘u’ ntutemegghie word - perhaps means «helps you better»- that has its meaning at dawn of the Latin civilization which has civilized Mount Epomeo. Here, with the mountain a little sacred to protection, the great family of Sisina Di Costanzo cultivated wheat Carusella from which the manufactures of Lacco Ameno got the straw, bags and hats. Craftsmanship, which was exported. It is also producing another variety of wheat. Then the barley, which has unfortunately lost the practices. «Mount Epomeo - says Sisina - at that time was the barley land». The memories fanning. Intimate, exciting.
The Sisina narrative is a glorification of essences, a virtue I have in some way already celebrated in my book «Mille orti in mezzo al mare».
The barley of life
«In 1957 there was the Asian fever. I was pregnant and nearly nine months pregnant. I had a very high fever and my son was born first, premature. He was born black, cyanotic. The director of the Maternity told me: “Madam I’m sorry but this baby has to die”. I took the baby home. I called Biagio Buono, doctor who came to see me and told me: “There’s nothing to do, unfortunately. He breathes, but ...”. I also warned the pastor. In the night, instead of sleeping, but I got up and went to get the barley. Not the toasted barley, that cool. I boiled it: per every liter of water must remain a quarter. So I took a little of honey, mixed it with this liquid, and prepared what people did then for newborns, the pupatella: with a little of gauze and, inside, a soft bread I tied it. I wanted to put on his tongue. But he had the tongue under the palate ... Then, slowly, slowly I tore the tongue from under the palate. And drop by drop I started dropping that infusion in the mouth, and the baby instead of dying, slowly, slowly began to take it. Always drop by drop, one after the other, and so throughout the night. And, little by little, I saw that he moved and was awake. In the morning opened his eyes and began to move with ease: he was not dead, he was alive! The doctor came, and said: “My God, he’s not dead! Then this baby is a gift!”. And he went to take a special milk, because he had not the strength to suck ... and in any case I had no milk. So I prepared the bottle and always drop by drop, the baby recovered. In the meantime, had already arrived Don Ubaldo Conte, who had baptized right away, since he had to die. These things my son has now discovered as an adult. It was dead. With the Asian fever. Actually, no».
Thanks to the barley of life.
Mixed with love.


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Info on Ischia island

  • Surface: 46 Kmq
  • Hight: 789 mt
  • Lat.: 40° 44',82 N
  • Long.: 13° 56',58 E
  • Periplus: 18 miglia
  • Coasts: 51.2 Km
  • Cities: 6
  • Inhabitants: 58.029


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