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Herbs, remedies and women who wandered the world

Popular wisdom takes place when there is a connection between vital needs and the resources offered by nature. At the turn of the 19th to 20th century, in the valley of Tuixent and la Vansa, where the Pedraforca opens totally to a string of isolated and lost villages, the trementinaires (or turpentine women or peddlers) will turn all their knowledge into a unique occupation. These were brave and wise women, who made small miracles with the herbs they came across every day. In 1982, Sofia d'Ossera, with her husband (a man!, an exceptional case), made a last trip to sell oils and remedies they extracted from the medicinal herbs of the valley. It would be the last episode of a trade that was destined to disappear.

The significant fall in population suffered by this valley in mid-nineteenth century will force people to reinvent themselves. Men left their home for some months to work as day labourers, carpenters or miners, while the women went to work as wet nurses. In this context, however, many women decided to take advantage of their knowledge of medicinal plants to invent a new profession; the trementinaires. From pine trees, for example, they extracted the resin and distilled it to make turpentine, used as a painkiller, for headaches and sprains as well as to cure spider or scorpion stings. Other remedies they made with juniper oil, lizard oil, white snake or viper, or black tobacco. With all sorts of herbs, flowers, mushroom, bark and roots, the trementinaires made a wide variety of macerated oils, syrups, ointments and infusions.

These jobs involved the whole family, and when the remedies were ready, the women left their houses accompanied by a young apprentice, to travel around the country. They travelled once or twice a year, normally in winter, because this was when they had less work at home and could be away for a few days or up to four months, travelling up to 600 kilometres. The trementinaires and their apprentices stopped in farmhouses and small villages, staying in private houses to save money. As time passed, it got more and more difficult to find apprentices, as the cities offered better-paid jobs. The oral transmission of knowledge broke down, and this profession that had enabled the women of the valley of Tuixent and La Vansa travel the world died out. The name trementinaires was given outside the valley; they used to call themselves "women who went around the world".

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