WILD PLANTS IN THE CHOUF
MAYSSOUN HOLDS A WILD LEEK FORAGED NEAR HER HOUSE IN THE CHOUF MOUNTAINS
Mayssoun Nasreddine puts her phone in the back pocket of her jeans, grabs a kitchen knife and a bag, and walks out into a grassy field on the slopes of Kfar Qatra, a village in the Chouf mountains. The view stretches across the valley below to neighboring mountains in the distance.
“This is the best thing, to go out and forage.”
Mayssoun walks at a fast pace through the grass. She knows the land well – it is a place she has come to many times. As she walks through the field, her eyes scan for wild edible plants. Foraging, or tesleeq in Arabic, is practiced by many in the mountains, valleys, and coastal areas of Lebanon, including the Chouf region.
“Look, this is dardar. We used to love this as kids,” Mayssoun says, pointing to a plant with long, coarse leaves and reddish roots. “You eat the base of the plant. It is delicious and very healthy; it holds all the nutrition of the land.”
She takes the knife and cuts the plant at its base, leaving the roots to disappear among the grass. She then puts the dardar, known as star thistle in English, in the empty bag.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), describes wild plants as “those that grow spontaneously in self-maintaining populations in natural or semi-natural ecosystems” and that “can exist independently of direct human action.” According to the same organization, around one billion people in the world incorporate wild foods into their diet.
Indeed, plants that grow in the wild are at the core of diets around the world. This goes back to the origins of our species: some 13,000 years ago, all humans on our planet relied on hunting and gathering wild foods. When we started to develop the knowledge of planting and harvesting, the move to agriculture was not sudden. For long periods of history, we used mixed methods of cultivation and foraging. Many popular vegetables today – like artichoke or corn – were first foraged, then domesticated (and oftentimes, in the process, modified and transformed) by humans.
“THERE’S SOMETHING NEW EVERY MONTH”
Today, wild plants continue to provide additional, highly valued and appreciated elements to our diets. When mountain slopes and fields are in bloom, edible plants appear among the grass and bushes.
“We get the first qors anneh when it starts raining each year. Then, other plants follow. There’s something new every month,” Mayssoun says.