Walking in the Pyrenees awakened the herbalist in me. It started with my husband who noticed some thyme (Thymus nervosus) between the rocks. The scent of the crushed thyme between my fingers triggered the biologist in me. From then on I started to show even more interest in nature around me. And it slowed us down even more. Not only did we stop to take photographs, we started to identify plants as well.
At a certain point, quite high up, close to 2000m, I discovered chives (Allium schoenoprasum) next tot the path, some already in bloom. I picked one of the purple flowers, what a taste explosion! The aromas were a lot stronger than from the chives in my garden. It is a known fact that plants grow slower on higher altitudes and therefore develop stronger aroma’s.
I also found chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium), with its wonderful delicate, slightly aniseedy, or liquorice, flavour.
I became fixated on finding edible plants. I imagined a salad made from young common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), leaves of ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata), red clover (Trifolium pratense), white nettle (Lamium album), leaves and flowers of chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium), ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea), of course wild thyme (Thymus nervosus) and chives (Allium schoenoprasum) and some flowers of the dog-rose (rosa canina) to decorate.
You can make some tea with the rose-hip (rosa canina).
Have a dessert of wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca)
If you have a little cooker, pick young nettle leaves (Urtica dioica) and cook them in water of the mountain streams, add some chives and thyme and have the best soup ever!
In August you can pick wild blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), European blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca) topped some wild thyme (Thymus nervosus) for a forest fruit salad.
In autumn the beech gives us beechnuts as a snack.
I came across some medicinal herbs: common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is astringent and can staunch the flow of blood from wounds and St. John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a well known anti-depressant. (the yellow flowers of St. John’s-wort make your fingers red when you squash them between your fingers)
Some advice before you start putting everything in your mouth next time you make a walk… It is usually forbidden to forage plants from nature reserves, these places are set up to protect plant species. You can pick a leave, flower or berry to taste, but you can’t just go collecting plants to make dinner, and you can certainly not uproot whole plants to put in your garden. Nature reserves are not a place to get free garden plants…
If you are in an area where foraging is allowed, make sure you can identify the plants correctly. Many plants have a kind of twin plant that looks very similar but that is not fit for consumption or sometimes even poisonous. The wild chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) can easily be confused with the slightly poisonous rough chervil (Chaerophyllum temulum). Do not pick any endangered plant species.
Don’t be greedy, so never collect more than you strictly need, and never take all the plants. After harvesting an area give the plants plenty of time to recover before returning to the same patch. Be very careful when it comes to harvesting roots. Remember that often harvesting roots means the death of the plant, so before you start digging ask yourself if this plant is really plentiful and if it can sustain a harvest of its roots. If in doubt, don’t collect.
Never pick in places that are subject to pollution, roadsides, industry or heavy spraying of farm chemicals.
Never leave any litter behind.
In spring many flowers come in bloom and create wonderful flower meadows in the Pyrenees. Sometimes a while mountainside turns golden yellow when its covered with the little yellow flowers of Echinospartum (Echinospartum horridum).
We found many beautiful orchids and flowering plants.
Broad-leaved Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza majalis subsp. alpestris):
Heath spotted-orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata)
Pyrenean Lily (Lilium pyrenaicum )
English Iris (Iris Latifolia)
Pyrenean Bellflower (campanula Scheuchzeri)
Great Yellow Gentian – Gentiana Lutea
Silver thistle (Carlina acaulis)
Clammy Columbine (Aquilagia viscosa Gouan)
Blue sow thistles ( Cicerbita plumieri)
Cobweb house-leek (Sempervivum arachnoideum)
Geranium (Geranium cinereum)
Bladder campion (Silene vulgaris)
White asphodel (Asphodelus albus)
Purple foxglove, (Digitalis purpurea) (poisonous plant)
Great masterwort (Astrantia)
And some other flowers which I couldn’t identify…