Holistic Culture: Berber Remedies In Morocco

When visiting Morocco, you have the opportunity to learn about ancient remedies and Berber apothecary by visiting a Berber pharmacy. The indigenous Berber people have been honing their herbal healing methods for centuries and even though modern medicine is widely available, Moroccans swear by these cures.

Many of the pharmacies located in the souks of cities such as Fez and Marrakech are run by families and the business is passed down through the generations. The pharmacy stocks the herbs and spices above as well as items such as weight loss tea blends, saffron to increase blood flow and calm nerves, cumin to aid in digestion and even “herbal Viagra.” To give you an idea of what to expect, here are some popular Berber remedies.

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is effective in reducing fevers, fighting bacteria, and breaking down phlegm, all while improving the immune system. One remedy for a sore throat is to sip on a mixture of warm water and cayenne pepper. If phlegm is more of the issue, gargle and spit out the water mixture instead of swallowing. For those who need a little sweetness, season tea with lemon or honey and add a teaspoon of cayenne.

%Gallery-162948%Nigella Sativa

Nigella sativa, or black cumin seeds, are another popular Moroccan folk remedy. As an anti-inflammatory, these seeds stimulate the immune system by increasing the white blood cell count during infection to help fight unwanted pathogens. Moroccans will wrap the seeds in a thin cloth and after rubbing the seeds together, inhale six to eight times to clear sinuses, dissolve headaches and combat snoring. When powdered, the seeds can be mixed with honey and taken with a spoon.

Argan Oil

To silence a cough, Moroccans will massage a mixture of Moroccan argan oil and olive oil onto the neck and wrap it with a scarf.

Green Tea With Mint Leaves

Green tea infused with fresh mint leaves is a popular drink in Morocco that cures sickness. This warm beverage soothes the throat while treating fever, nausea and indigestion. The combination of mint and green tea give the body extra antioxidants.


Medicinally, ginger is an anti-inflammatory that reduces phlegm, fights unwanted bacteria, enhances the immune system, reduces fever and relieves nausea. The oils from the root have soothing properties that ease digestion when the common cold makes it difficult to eat. Because some ginger can be spicy, ingesting it causes the body to warm, which helps against the beginnings of a cold and the chills.


Cumin is one of the most common spices used in Moroccan cooking and can be found in almost all types of tajines. Originally from India, cumin is easy to digest and has the ability to relieve pain and diarrhea. It is also known to be an appetite enhancer. Cumin is kept on most tables in Morocco, similar to how Americans keep salt and pepper readily available.


While saffron enhances any tajine and is used in some desserts and teas, it is also believed to increase appetite, aid digestion, calm nerves and increase blood flow. Saffron is indigenous to the town of Taliouine where local saffron cooperatives exist. Berber communities use the bright orange spice as a natural dye for clothes and carpets, in make-up and as a perfume for the body and hair. Luckily, a little bit of this spice goes a long way, as it is the most expensive spice on the market.

[Image above via jsemidey26; Gallery images via Shutterstock]

Marriage Traditions Of Morocco’s Berber Tribes

Every fall the indigenous Berber people of northern Morocco gather in the mountain village of Imilchil, about four hours from Fez, for the traditional Imilchil Marriage Festival. While the dates shift based on the lunar calendar, the three-day event will take place this year September 23 to 25.

At the Imilchil Marriage Festival, youths from different tribes get the opportunity to meet potential spouses. Hosted by the Ait Hdiddou tribe, families from neighboring villages and their children of marrying age will meet to socialize around traditional rituals including singing, storytelling and dancing. Twenty-five thousand people participate in the festival, which includes an engagement ceremony followed by up to 40 marriages that take place around the tomb of a patron saint.

The reason the Imilchil Marriage Festival came to be is an interesting but sad story. Two young lovers from enemy Berber tribes killed themselves after their families prevented them from marrying because inter-tribal marriage was forbidden. Following this tragedy, the families granted freedom of choice to their children to marry whom they choose.

If you’re interested in attending yourself, you can fly to Casablanca and take a connecting flight to Fez. From there, you’ll take a four-hour drive to Imilchil. Sarah Discoveries and Journey Beyond Travel also offer tours.

For a more visual idea of the festival, check out the video above.

Beneath The Almond Tree: A Moroccan Memory

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions,
and the roots spring up and make new trees.”
– Amelia Earhart

Roses aren’t supposed to let you down.

Neither are rose festivals, one of which had drawn my friend Liz and me to Morocco’s Valley of Roses this May. There wasn’t much written online about the festival, but what the guidebooks and websites lacked in details, my mind more than made up for in expectations.

Liz met me in Tangier’s Gare Tanger Ville station, where we bought tickets for our overnight train to Marrakech, stretched out our nearly 6-foot frames across pumpkin-colored leather couchettes, and woke to fields separated by prickly pear cacti, a lone figure picking handfuls of grass at dawn. We were in Marrakech long enough to catch a bus 300 kilometers east to Kelaat M’Gouna, what we assumed, or rather hoped, was a small village, its dusty air perhaps sweetened by the presence of roses.

The train had taken eleven hours, the bus would be six, but what propelled us, urging us ever forward, were our expectations of the festival, an annual celebration to mark the rose harvest each spring.

We carry so much with us when we travel, much more than the neatly (or not so neatly) folded items in our suitcases. But the most dangerous thing we bring, tucked in between regulation-size shampoo bottles and extra pairs of socks, is expectation. The moment we begin to envision a new place, to believe how it will be, is the moment that same place begins to fail us.

In the title poem from her collection, “Questions of Travel,” Elizabeth Bishop writes, “Think of the long trip home. Should we have stayed at home and thought of here? Where should we be today?… Oh, must we dream our dreams and have them, too?” Bishop perfectly captures the traveler’s dilemma: do we risk disappointment and failed expectations for the reality of somewhere different? Or would it not be better to leave our visions intact and live through imagination – not actual experience?

%Gallery-164206%Such questions hovered uneasily in my mind as we set out from our guesthouse the first day of the festival. Crowds led us to a large amphitheater whose ring of concrete seats stretched several rows up. By ten in the morning, it was packed with flocks of young men perched on the top row, Berber women in their layers of crushed velvet and sequined chiffon, and men in colorful turbans and long white robes. Ice cream sellers hung coolers from around their necks, calling out “Hemeem, hemeem” in high-pitched voices, the rose-flavored cream already dripping from children’s chins and dancing down their arms like drops of rain on a window.

But there was no pageant this year as we’d read there would be, which meant no rose queen would be chosen either; all the handicrafts in the local market read “Made in China”; and the only roses we had yet to find were tightly furled buds that had been pierced by a needle, strung together in the shape of a heart and then hawked to tourists. Even Kelaat M’Gouna was far from the village we’d expected, its streets as clogged with festivalgoers and as difficult to navigate as any other big city. Liz and I shifted from the amphitheater to the market and back again, both of us filling the space with chitchat, forever avoiding one word: disappointment.

“Let’s go for a walk,” Liz said. I suggested the city gate as a destination. We’d passed it on the bus ride in, two sets of imposing square pillars on either side of the road painted a bright blush pink, but I hadn’t been quick enough with my camera to get a shot of it. Now was my chance.

We left the festival behind, the tinny sounds of CD sellers’ portable stereos slowly evaporating, the sun nearing its zenith above our heads. To our left, just beyond the town limits, dry, ochre hills rose away from us, appearing almost lunar with barely a few shrubs to break up the striated stone. To our right flowed the M’Goun River, feeding a lush riverbed of wheat fields, groves of olive, fig and almond streets, and, finally, endless hedges of rose bushes. For the first time all day, our steps leading us ever closer to the gate, I felt a sense of purpose for being here.

And that’s when I saw her. It was her dress that caught my eye first – the shade of blue I’ve always loved to call pavonine, after a vocab word from the sixth grade: of or resembling the feathers of a peacock, as in coloring. Although she was sitting in the shade of a billowing almond tree, perhaps twenty feet below the road in the sunken riverbed, she still shimmered, a few stray rays of sunlight dancing off the silky fabric that enclosed her.

She waved, as did the woman sitting next to her, a wave that soon became a beckoning, come-hither kind of gesture.

“Do you think she means us?” I asked Liz.

“Who else could it be?”

Liz was off before I had time to think, exchanging road for scrubby hillside, leaping with her long legs over a crevice in the ground. Tentatively, I followed suit and raced to catch up with her, curious about where this unexpected invitation might lead. We bowed our heads slightly beneath the low-hanging branches of the almond tree and joined them. The woman who’d waved first, the woman in pavonine blue, was named Hazo; the other was Arkaya, who was mysteriously introduced as Hazo’s grandmother’s sister, despite how close in age they appeared. They motioned for us to sit beside them on a few tattered blankets.

With her back resting against the tree, Arkaya sliced chunks of turnips, cauliflower, potatoes and onions onto her lap; Hazo sat across from us, bringing a metal pot to boil on a single gas burner and slipping in shards of sugar as large and pointed as daggers. She poured tea for all of us, teaching Liz and me how to say it in Berber – até – but no matter how it was pronounced, tea had never tasted so sweet.

For the rest of the afternoon, we hardly moved from their sides. Their sons came later, as did Hazo’s husband, a civil servant in a village 100 kilometers away. There were more introductions, more glasses of tea and more Berber lessons. Emklee for lunch, harlti for auntie, and – my favorite – zuin. Beautiful. We tried to leave before lunch, hesitant to overstay our welcome, but the idea was quickly dismissed. After the vegetables had simmered long enough with thick pieces of lamb, the air fragrant with saffron, they were served in a single bowl in the middle of the blanket. Arkaya ripped bread into pieces, and we circled around the food, our shoulders pressing together.

Tch, tch!” Hazo said. Eat, eat!

“Eat the meat!” her husband insisted, chiding us when we drifted too far from the dish.

I lost track of how many times I said zuin about the meal.

When the last drop of juice had been soaked into bread, the blankets were cleared and Hazo and Arkaya lay down. Arkaya rested her head on Hazo’s bent knees, and then motioned for me to do the same on hers. My eyes were closed and the breeze was soft, but I found comfort in more than our human nap chain; I was filled with the warmth of their kindness, with a hospitality I hadn’t expected. I wondered when I would learn not to let my expectations get the best of me – and when I would remember that the most cherished memories from a place are so often the ones we didn’t know to expect. We said goodbye, and Liz and I once again began making our way to the city gate.

Roses aren’t supposed to let you down. And beneath an almond tree one afternoon in the Valley of Roses, they didn’t.

Candace Rose Rardon is a travel writer, photographer, and sketch artist with a passion for documenting the world. She recently completed a Masters in Travel Writing from London’s Kingston University and is currently living in India. Visit her website at http://www.candaceroserardon.com/. “Beneath the Almond Tree: A Moroccan Memory” won First Prize in the 2012 Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference writing competition.

First Gay Cruise To Visit Casablanca Turned Away

Currently sailing on what was promoted as “the first gay cruise to visit Casablanca,” gay and lesbian passengers on a chartered cruise were turned away by Moroccan authorities over the weekend. The Problem? Morocco’s Islamic religion and the laws of the North African country punish homosexuality.

Holland America Line’s 2106-passenger Nieuw Amsterdam was chartered by RSVP Vacations for a seven-night, round-trip Mediterranean sailing to Barcelona that began June 29 and will end July 6.

The RSVP website highlights each stop on the itinerary, saying “we’ll be the first gay cruise to visit Casablanca, Morocco’s most famous coastal city,” inviting those on the special sailing to “bargain in the New Media markets, explore the Hassan Mosque, or head over to magical Marrakech.”

RSVP Vacations specializes in organizing tourist trips for gay and lesbian travelers. As FoxNews confirmed, on Saturday, RSVP’s agent in the port of Casablanca reported, “the authorities have cancelled the scheduled July 1 visit despite having previously confirmed it.”

Scheduled during the call in Casablanca was a visit to the Hassan II Mosque (pictured) and to several traditional marketplaces in the city.

After the stop in Casablanca, the ship was scheduled to sail to Cadiz, also in southern Spain, and then to continue on to Ibiza in the Balearic Islands, then to the eastern Spanish city of Valencia before ending in Barcelona.

Sunday, the ship docked in the southern Spanish port of Malaga after Moroccan authorities prohibited it from making its scheduled port of call in Casablanca.

[Flickr photo by Alex E. Proimos]

Photo Of The Day: Chefchaouen Street

In this narrow blue-hued alleyway in the Moroccan town of Chefchaouen, a woman rests. Flickr user Mark Fischer captured this quiet, everyday moment during a recent visit to the town, a former fortress whose blue buildings, distinct architecture and proximity to Tangiers make it a popular tourist destination.

Does your favorite travel portrait belong here? Upload your travel shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.