Herbs and wild flow­ers play a big part in the Mediter­ranean diet, says Carol Drinkwa­ter

France - - Contents -

Our colum­nist ex­plores the health-giv­ing ben­e­fits of her local Provence plants.

We are all fa­mil­iar with the Mediter­ranean diet, and the ben­e­fits of con­sum­ing fresh sea fish, lo­cally grown fruits and vegeta­bles, and reap­ing the good­ness from the cal­cium sources of un­pro­cessed goats’ and sheep’s cheeses. Then there is fine wine and olive oil, of course. This healthy and de­li­cious way of eat­ing is no longer a se­cret and sev­eral doc­u­men­tary films have con­cen­trated on vil­lage com­mu­ni­ties around the Mediter­ranean where the res­i­dents live into their nineties and a sur­pris­ing num­ber sur­vive to be cen­te­nar­i­ans.

What is less well known is the con­sump­tion of wild flow­ers and herbs from the shores and hill­sides around the Mediter­ranean. When we first moved to our run­down olive farm in the Alpes-mar­itimes, be­fore our land was fenced in, it had be­come over the decades a beauty spot for lo­cals who vis­ited at the week­ends to col­lect mush­rooms and en­joy pic­nics. On sev­eral oc­ca­sions, I was sur­prised when I opened our bed­room win­dows to find groups of women bent low, for­ag­ing in the tall grasses, or a lone man with dog, hes­sian sack and knife. He was col­lect­ing dan­de­lion leaves for sal­ads and soups. I later dis­cov­ered he took them to the fresh food mar­ket in Cannes to sell from his stall. I love the con­cept of food for free. I do not mean that I pop into the su­per­mar­ket and help my­self to good­ies, stuff them into my hand­bag and then sneak out. No, I mean na­ture’s gifts, those that are over­looked in the gran­der scale of pro­duc­tion. Ev­ery sea­son prom­ises them.

This was the start­ing point for my 17-month jour­ney round the shores of the Mediter­ranean in search of the history of the hum­ble olive. Who first picked these small fruits, bit into one, found it bit­ter and then dis­cov­ered that it could be used to mirac­u­lous ef­fect by ex­tract­ing its juice? Six thou­sand years later, we con­tinue to ben­e­fit from the olive tree’s bounty. Its leaves, when dried and steeped as a ti­sane, are an ex­cel­lent treat­ment against high blood pres­sure. Its green-golden oil is a pro­tec­tion against both breast and prostate can­cers.

In­land of us, in the high hills of the lower Alps, lies the maquis (scrub­land), where you will find holm and cork oaks. In the same ge­o­graph­i­cal re­gion you can dis­cover the magic of the gar­rigue. In the Provençal di­alect, it is known as gar­riga. This as­tound­ing land­scape of aro­matic shrubs and low-ly­ing plants grows out of the lime­stone moun­tain­sides, fre­quently in semi-arid con­di­tions.

The gar­rigue ex­ists not only in France, but else­where around the Mediter­ranean and is a sump­tu­ous source of food and well­be­ing. Take a trip and hike the gar­rigue in spring or autumn when mil­lions of flow­ers of ev­ery hue are in blos­som. Breathe deep and in­hale the glo­ri­ous per­fumes em­a­nat­ing from the plants. These are the es­sen­tial oils con­tained in many of the wild herbs.

A sprig of un­cul­ti­vated laven­der used to flavour sal­ads can also be pressed to make ice cream and laven­der-scented crème brûlée, which, if you have never tasted it, is to die for. We reg­u­larly sprin­kle our dishes with dried flow­ers col­lected from the hill­sides: rosy gar­lic, rose­mary, corn­flower, thyme, and gor­geous pur­ple sage flow­ers which we use for roasts. We have blue bor­age petals that taste like cu­cum­ber, and fen­nel to en­hance fish dishes.

The sticky-brown lab­danum resin from the Cis­tus plant, a del­i­cately beau­ti­ful rock rose, has been a gift to herbal medicine and per­fume-mak­ers for mil­len­nia. It strength­ens the im­mune sys­tem, fights bac­te­ria and eases panic at­tacks.

Alpes-mar­itimes hosts 2,700 species of plants. Imag­ine. I need to write a book to ap­plaud the gifts on our doorstep. The Al­ter­na­tive Mediter­ranean Diet. Na­ture, as al­ways, is feed­ing and heal­ing us.

Carol Drinkwa­ter is the best-sell­ing au­thor of The Olive Farm se­ries. Her lat­est work is The Lost Girl, a novel set in post-war Provence and mod­ern-day Paris. Con­tact Carol at car­oldrinkwa­

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.