I TESTED AND LOVED | I wanted to write this article a couple of weeks ago, but something else would always get in the way. Fortunately, the topic is still relevant today, so I hope some you may be inspired by my recent discovery of Herbae, an urban aromatic herbs garden, part of the Chant des Cailles Farm in Watermael-Boitsfort in Brussels. The most diverse series of herbs are grown there, from the most common to the most forgotten, like wormwood, horsetail or ground elder. Anja and Anouk run the place with passion. Anja has a doctorate in plants ecology and is certified in traditional Chinese herbalism. She sees plants as a precious help for both physical and emotional healing. Anouk discovered wild plants through cooking, and loves preparing and sharing new seasonal recipes during cooking workshops. It’s possible to purchase or subscribe to a weekly selection of seasonal herbs and edible flowers from May to September.
I took part in their « Wild Food Walk » activity in English. Basically, it’s a 2-hour walk from the Rouge-Cloître to the Sonian Forest during which Anja shows us how to recognize wild edible plants such as hawthorn, elderflowers, wild garlic, or ground ivy. All those plants have medicinal properties that the ordinary person has long forgotten. How to prepare them also seems to be lost knowledge, except for Anja. Going to this walk reminded me that men have suffered from illnesses at all times, and used to cure them with plants and roots, until modern medicine developed pills and drugs. I’m not saying modern medicine is bad. In some cases, it’s really needed for healing. But the general use of drugs made us forget what mankind has learned over thousands of years. It’s much easier to take a pill than to go foraging, looking for a wild plant that resembles so many others, take out its roots and turn it to a remedy.
Another thing also bothers me: the big pharma industry is a business driven by profits. The more people are sick, the higher the profits. An awareness-raising campaign from Médecins du Monde France designed to expose the exaggerated high price of drugs was even banned in France due to lobbying from the pharmaceutical industry, which is among the biggest advertisement clients (1) (2). It’s not in the industry’s interest that people start learning about health prevention through a healthy diet and medicinal plants. In fact, the more ignorant we are, the more we tend to indulge in excess and pleasure, while taking a pill once in a while when we’re not completely fine. But believe me, dear readers, having a healthy lifestyle and eating habits does not mean eating only lettuce and cucumber. It can be very yummy, tasty, and satisfying, provided you know a little bit about cooking and nutrition. And it’s really not rocket science, you know. Proportion is key. According to the American nutrition programme MyPlate, half your plate should be fruits and vegetables, and the other half should be a big quarter of grains, and a smaller quarter of vegetal or animal proteins. I even think these basic principles should be mandatory in primary school. Today, some kids don’t event know what’s celery, leek or a bell pepper, and mostly eat fries and nuggets. And overweight, obesity and diabetes percentages just keep rising.
Anyway, I really enjoyed walking from the Rouge-Cloître to the Sonian Forest, even if it was cold, cloudy and windy! But you should be more lucky now with the summer approaching. The next walk will be on Tuesday 21st June evening from 7.30 to 9.30 pm in English, and on Tuesday 28th June in French. But that’s not all. The second module of their training “Au fil des saisons” (going through the seasons) is about identifying wild and medicinal plants, and will take place on Sunday 19th June from 10 to 12.30 am! This could be very inspiring for me and help me invent some new recipes!
During the walk, we were spoiled with a snack made of water infused with elderflowers, some bread, cream cheese mixed with wild plants, plantain pesto, and wild edible flowers.
And when you’re used to living in an urban area, you’re easily amazed by bucolic landscapes and scenes, such as this female duck walking with her ducklings, or this lush green swamp, probably a typical scene when Brussels was still Brosella… Let’s get back to nature my friends, for our greater good!
La Ferme du Chant des Cailles: http://www.chantdescailles.be