A TRADITION THAT MAKES US PROUD...



The Iris or Gladiolus (or even – and mistakenly - Giglio) as it is often called in Florence and the surrounding area, as well as being the flower which symbolizes the capital city of Tuscany and the hills surrounding it, has been known and appreciated since ancient times for the properties of its bulb (rhizome) when dried. In the medical field and especially in the cosmetics field the Gladiolus has been used for centuries to prepare compounds of various types: as a remedy for coughs, snake bites or depression, in the preparation of perfumes, face powders, soaps and colorants.


BOTANICAL

From a botanical point of view the Iris belongs to the family of Iridaceae (the same as the Crocus sativus or Saffron) while the Giglio (Lily) which in Florence is often used a synonym for the Iris or Gladiolus, belongs to the Liliaceae family. (Photo 1)



1- Iris flower.

Of the many varieties of Iris existing in nature or the result of hybrids, the most typical of these hills and the one most widely grown and picked for the properties mentioned, is the Iris pallida, of a pastel color, gently tending towards pinkish-purple.(Photo 2).



2- The rhizome of Iris

The rhizome of this variety of Iris is the richest in essence and has a delicate and persistent smell of violets, so much so as to also be known by the definition “violet roots”: the perfume cannot be detected in the fresh rhizome but only in those which have been “processed" (that is after removing the roots and cleaning) and dried. (Photo 3)


HISTORY


Production for commercial purposes began in the mid-nineteenth century and soon reached considerable quantities, thanks to the constant, high demand from French and northern European firms, until it fell drastically due to competition from synthetic products which performed the same function (or almost) but at a much lower cost.
The Gladiolus thus retained only its decorative function and the botanical interest of many enthusiastic farmers: recently however there has been renewed interest in the Gladiolus for the purposes it used to be famous for and which made it an important part of the Chianti economy.

Known of since ancient times and present in the area of Florence and Chianti since time immemorial, also called “the poor man’s orchid", dear to poets and story tellers it owes its name (Iris) to a Greek goddess: llride, the daughter of Taumante and Electra, to whom the Greeks attributed the phenomenon of the rainbow.
In Florence, in a stylized form and with the incorrect name of "giglio" (lily) it became the city’s symbol in medieval times: the white flower on a red background was, initially, the emblem of all of Florence, both Guelf and Ghibelline; from 1251 onwards, the Ghibellines (exiled from the city by the victorious enemy) continued to fight under the standard while the Guelfs, to distinguish themselves, inverted the colors and moved over to a red lily on a silver background, still in use today. (Photo 4)




The Iris or Gladiolus (or even – and mistakenly - Giglio) as it is often called in Florence and the surrounding area, as well as being the flower which symbolizes the capital city of Tuscany and the hills surrounding it, has been known and appreciated since ancient times for the properties of its bulb (rhizome) when dried. In the medical field and especially in the cosmetics field the Gladiolus has been used for centuries to prepare compounds of various types: as a remedy for coughs, snake bites or depression, in the preparation of perfumes, face powders, soaps and colorants.

BOTANICAL

From a botanical point of view the Iris belongs to the family of Iridaceae (the same as the Crocus sativus or Saffron) while the Giglio (Lily) which in Florence is often used a synonym for the Iris or Gladiolus, belongs to the Liliaceae family.(Photo 1).

1- Iris flower.

Of the many varieties of Iris existing in nature or the result of hybrids, the most typical of these hills and the one most widely grown and picked for the properties mentioned, is the Iris pallida, of a pastel color, gently tending towards pinkish-purple. (Photo 2).

2-The rhizome of Iris

The rhizome of this variety of Iris is the richest in essence and has a delicate and persistent smell of violets, so much so as to also be known by the definition “violet roots”: the perfume cannot be detected in the fresh rhizome but only in those which have been “processed" (that is after removing the roots and cleaning) and dried.(Photo 3)

Story


Production for commercial purposes began in the mid-nineteenth century and soon reached considerable quantities, thanks to the constant, high demand from French and northern European firms, until it fell drastically due to competition from synthetic products which performed the same function (or almost) but at a much lower cost.
The Gladiolus thus retained only its decorative function and the botanical interest of many enthusiastic farmers: recently however there has been renewed interest in the Gladiolus for the purposes it used to be famous for and which made it an important part of the Chianti economy.

Known of since ancient times and present in the area of Florence and Chianti since time immemorial, also called “the poor man’s orchid", dear to poets and story tellers it owes its name (Iris) to a Greek goddess: llride, the daughter of Taumante and Electra, to whom the Greeks attributed the phenomenon of the rainbow.
In Florence, in a stylized form and with the incorrect name of "giglio" (lily) it became the city’s symbol in medieval times: the white flower on a red background was, initially, the emblem of all of Florence, both Guelf and Ghibelline; from 1251 onwards, the Ghibellines (exiled from the city by the victorious enemy) continued to fight under the standard while the Guelfs, to distinguish themselves, inverted the colors and moved over to a red lily on a silver background, still in use today. (Photo 4)



4- Many centuries later, halfway through the nineteenth century, the first functional farming and processing of the gladiolus began: a far-sighted farmer in San Polo, an outlying village of Greve in Chianti, launched into an adventure that was to continue up to today.

Adriano Piazzesi and his son Attilio imagined the importance which the medicinal properties of the Gladiolus rhizome might have and especially its potential use in the preparation of perfumes. This was how a real industry got started, soon involving the sharecroppers of the San Polo valley, then Greve in Chianti followed by Pontassieve, Fiesole, Incisa in Val d’Arno and Bagno a Ripoli.

The new figure of the “sodaiolo” appeared (in Chianti the earth which has not yet been broken up is called “sodi” (hard ground), small land-owners or tenants of a plot of land who worked with the family in the brief periods of the year when the cultivation of the Gladiolus required it. Gladiolus farming had a significant effect on society since it contributed to ensure the subsistence not only of the sharecroppers but also of the families of the so-called “pigionali”, hired workers and artisans inhabiting the area.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the annual dry product reached up to 15,000 quintals (from a farmed area of approximately 600 hectares) and most of this was exported to France (the city of Grasse alone imported hundreds of quintals of rhizomes used mainly as fixing agents for perfumes) but Germany, United States, Switzerland and England also imported it.

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La lavorazione tradizionale

La coltivazione del Giaggiolo ben si integra con le altre coltivazioni tipiche delle colline del Chianti (vite e olivo) poiché ad essa vengono destinate le “prode” (estremità) dei campi terrazzati oppure le cosiddette “piagge” (appezzamenti boschivi), i “galestri” e gli “alberesi” (Photo 5).

Da tutta una serie di ritagli di terreno altrimenti non sfruttabili il Giaggiolo (come anche la vite) dà un prodotto estremamente pregiato, tanto più se coltivato in terreno magro, arido e sassoso. Non si utilizzano concimi o fertilizzanti per la coltivazione, poiché si otterrebbe un effetto negativo: soltanto sole, vento, pioggia e galestro. (Photo 6)

In autunno si piantano le “barbatelle” messe da parte all’epoca della raccolta (Photo 7).

Due brevi sarchiature si rendono necessarie in aprile e settembre per liberare le piantine dalle erbacce (Photo 8).

Dopo tre anni (il tempo occorrente affinché i rizomi crescano grossi e compatti), fra luglio e agosto, finalmente avviene la raccolta (Photo 9).

La raccolta inizia al mattino presto: alle prime luci dell’alba la zappa libera le radici del Giaggiolo che vengono poi ripulite dalle barbe o “sbarbucciate” (Photo 10).

I rizomi vengono poi gettati a rinvenire in grosse conche piene d’acqua, ulteriormente puliti e poi affidati alle “mondatrici”, che già alla fine della mattinata iniziano un’ulteriore fase di lavorazione che consiste nel liberare, con il roncolo a manico fisso, le radici del Giaggiolo dalla buccia e dagli “occhi” (residui delle barbe). Le mani esperte, abili e veloci di donne, uomini e ragazzi lavorano fra una chiacchiera e l’altra mentre le stuoie esposte al sole si riempiono di radici di Giaggiolo per l’ultima operazione, l’essiccazione (Photo 11 e 12).