A group of students from Kolymvari Junior High School visited the Orthodox Academy of Crete in our village to interview the French professor of botany Jacques Zaffran, as part of their project work regarding herbs and employment.

Jacques Zaffran's main studies were in Biology, as he said. In 1964, having graduated from the University of Algiers, he was asked by the University of Marseilles to do his doctoral research in Crete. He thought " Why not? Crete is a beautiful place". He dedicated himself to the study of Cretan herbs. Since 2004 he has been permanently living in Crete, in the nearby village of Kontomari. 

It was the first time that our students interviewed a scientist, so they prepared some very interesting questions and without realizing, they went into a deeper and deeper friendly conversation, having, in this way, the opportunity to practise their English.

The students asked professor Zaffran about the most important skill a botanist should have. "To go to the fields.", he replied. "The most difficult thing is working in the mountains and having to walk many kilometres to pick plants.", he said. One of the problems that he faced during his career was when he first came to Crete; "Language was a big problem. Also, I had to find a mule to carry a tent and food for me. I stayed in the mountain for a week, then went to the village for two days and back again. This happened for four years."

- "Why should we care about herbs?" - "Because we can't live without them. They are the most important reserve of oxygen."

Students asked professor Zaffran about the most common and also the rarest herbs in Crete. Malotira, i.e. Cretan mountain tea, is the most common. Malotira is the Cretan herb than he suggests teenagers should drink instead of coffee or regular tea. As for the rarest, there are quite many, such as the Cretan Bellflower. He said that there are some species that have been registered but he himself hasn't ever seen. They become rarer and rarer and they can now only be found on the top of the mountains that people cannot reach.

Climate change is one of the challenges that the profession of a botanist faces in the 21st century, according to Jacques Zaffran. Environmental Engineer Antonis Kalogerakis, serving as Head of the OAC's Institute of Theology & Ecology who coordinated our visit, further explained that overgrazing, fires and air pollution are the most serious threats for herbs nowadays.

After the interview, students had the chance to visit the Museum of Cretan Herbs, also named Herbarium Jacques Zaffran as it contains herbs that the professor has collected. Among others, students asked him about the preservation methods of dry herbs as old as 50 years. "Every two years we take them out of the showcases, put them in the fridge for one week to kill any living organisms and then we put them back for display."

As for the herbs that appear in the Bible, he told the students that they are also very common in Crete because the climate in Israel is the same as the Mediterranean one.

What made us feel really proud was his remark that Crete has more endemic species than the whole France. Can you imagine?

- "Now that you are 83, what is that you can't do and makes you feel sad?" - "I can't go to the mountains anymore, that makes me sad."

Extracting deep knowledge from an expert is an added value to this Erasmus+ project which makes our students' mission ... possible!

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