March 19, 2016


The mountains around Ain Zahlta
I went on an edible plant fieldtrip this Saturday in the mountains around Ain Zhalta.  It’s an AUB project, which aims at ‘Promoting the use of wild edible plants to improve dietary diversity in Lebanon as a first step, and to improve collaboration and outreach activities in the region and slow down the simplification of diets. (…) the region is blessed with great biodiversity and the population has access to potentially many edible wild plants that could be easily harvested and used. The harvesting and use of these wild plants is, however, on the decline due to the eroding knowledge and environmental degradation.’ Source. There is a study on it too.
You could eat this one, but no idea what it was
The idea was that we’d stroll through the fields with a couple of ladies from the ‘day’a’ (the village), and as they’d tell us on about the names of plants and point out what was edible and not, we’d be gathering our lunch old-fashioned style. It’s the trend now, I understood;  Back to nature, pick your own food from the land, fresh and without preservatives or pesticides.
In Holland you eat what is available in the supermarket. In Lebanon, a lot of the herbs and vegetables are seasonal and not cultivated; it depends on local gatherers to bring them to the farmers market, and you cannot find them in the supermarket, or if you do, not all the time. There is something to be said for these indigenous specialties. I am not much of a vegetable-like person, but when it is gathered in the wild, it has a bit of an exotic touch to it.
I did find a tortoise
I am, for example, a fan of aqoub, a plant related to the thistle family, which taste mildly of asparagus, and – as far as I know – only grows in the upper regions of the mountains, so I have to wait for someone to go to Tripoli, where Bedouin ladies gather them in the fields, to place an order. It cannot get healthier than that.
So I thought this fieldtrip might enlighten me on more varieties, since I do so much hiking, I might as well gather my salad while hiking. But from what I saw, pretty much everything is edible. They were digging left and right, pulling out roots and shoots and cutting leaves, it all had exotic names (which were slightly lost on me),  and it can all be used in the salad or as a side dish, or cooked and served with nothing at all.
I thought this an odd looking clump of trees
I am afraid it was a bit lost on me.  I am obviously not a botanic star. The names are in Arabic, and do not mean much to me. Everything looked like dandelion to me, or a variety of it. Except for the grass.
All the greenery looked alike, while some was to be boiled, others steamed, and some eaten raw. I will never forget a potato dish my mother in-law once sent me. I put it in the oven, and baked it nice and crisp. The next day she asked my how the potato salad was. Oh. It was a salad?
And here's an interesting rock formation.

I was a lot better at finding fossils and turtles. I did learn something about turtles (starting with the fact that they’re actually called tortoises) from a biologist who was also into wild herbs. Turtles are much older than dinosaurs, which is clear from their rather old-fashioned design; a shell and plated legs. They are one of the oldest living species in the world and pre-date the dinosaurs some 100 million years.
In Lebanon we only have one kind of turtle, the Mediterranean Spur Thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca). They’re reasonably common, but do suffer from loss of habitat. They can get quite old in captivity, it seems
Here's that tortoise again.
In the end I decided to focus on the wild leek. At least this plant looks distinctly different from other plants, and I understand leek. I was going to make leek soup.
A good hour later, I had tramped all over the fields, and gathered a total of two minuscule stalks. It was clear that my life as a gatherer would be a short and hungry one. In the end I was better at gathering leeks from fellow-wild-plant-aficionados than from the land.
My own harvest
And with a total of 7 miniscule leeks (they were not much more successful at it than I), I eventually baked a wild leek omelet. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice pix and adventure.