Ever since I was a child blackberries have been one of my favourites, my parents and grandparents (on both sides) were big into gardening and farming in general. My father was a professional chef- and baker and was a huge nature lover. He had many prides when it came to his garden but perhaps his ‘kitchen garden’ was the one he enjoyed the most. He’d spend hours at end caring for his herbs and plants, skillfully pruning when needed and teaching my brother and me how to look after each and every plant and herb perfectly. Unfortunately my fingers aren’t half as green as my fathers were (he sadly and to my great despair, passed away, far too young in 2005) but the enormous love for nature (and wildlife in my case) and the possibilities to grow your own food or at least buy from local farmers is something I hold very dear to my heart. If my father and beloved grandparents taught me anything, then it is to get as close to the original source as possible when you cook. But also to take pride in knowing how to prepare, take care of your food – minimising waste products, and knowing how to make the most of what you have. Skills I treasure and find extremely helpful today, though my family is not vegetarians they were all big on eating (and cultivating) vegetables, root fruits, fruit and berries and as such it has always been a very natural part of my diet long before I became ‘somewhat of a vegetarian’ 20 years ago.
My parents used to grow blackberries on the gable side of our villa, it was allowed to grow rather wild and free all over the wall up to the windows on the second floor (about 6 meters up or so). I loved how our garden was one big snack bar, apple- and pear trees, black- and red currant bushes, gooseberries (another of my all time faves!), strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and many more. Our house was popular among my friends, not only because my dad could whip up most anything in a heartbeat but also because we were allowed to pick and snack on whatever we’d like from the garden. How fabulous is that not? As a side note, I actually never ate sweets as a child, it was simply not appealing to me. I don’t mean to say that I never tried sweets because I did, but it was never high up my agenda when it came to snacks that I thoroughly enjoyed to eat. I don’t eat sweets these days either, but I do however eat a bit of chocolate and some ice cream every now and then. But for most part its fruit and berries that I enjoy, a tradition I am happy to continue but one that I also want to maintain for health reasons. Additionally, even as an adult I tend to get super-excited when I’m out in the forest and discover berries or wild herbs, theres just something beautiful about the free gifts that nature so lovingly brings forth.
However, in all this happy I feel compelled to tell you all a little anecdote about when things go somewhat wrong due to growing up in a family where you are taught to enjoy nature and what it provides. As a small introduction I may have to tell you that it wasn’t only fruit, berries and vegetables that my father was encouraging my brother and I to eat. He also promoted edible flowers such as tagetes, marigolds, violas, lilacs – if you have not tried lilacs I highly recommend it, fabulous! I have a hilarious photo of myself as a 2 year old sat on the green grass close to the flowerbed happily munching away on yummy tagetes (it was my favourite back then apparently). I had a rather early start of enjoying the greenery I must say!
Anyway, back to the story, since it was natural to me to be able to eat most anything in our garden I thoroughly enjoyed inviting my friends to do the same. I felt like a star knowing all the different herbs and fruit growing in the garden, however, what I did not know at the time was that though it is not life-threatening to eat rhubarbs raw (the stalk) it is not recommended in big quantities. Another thing I didn’t know was that you should definitely not eat the leaf, as it contains oxalic acid which makes it toxic. So imagine the slight panic in my dads face when he came out into the garden to find my best friend and I happily gobbling away on raw rhubarbs and possibly the green leaves too. You cannot deny that the leaves looks perfectly fine to eat, beautifully green and all. But oh dear, I cannot even begin to imagine how awful it must’ve made my dad feel at that point. Nonetheless, a quick visit to the hospital and luckily an all clear stating that we were just fine, we could happily return back home.
But still, adequate knowledge of what we put into our bodies is powerful – and sometimes I suppose you have to learn through trial and error as the case with food allergies tend to be. However, when it comes to herbs and berries and in particular if you enjoy to indulge in what the forest provides, make sure that you know what you are doing. Educate yourself, and take pride in that knowledge and awareness. Because even though there are a lot of beautiful and inviting herbs- and berries growing in the forest, quite a few of them should not, for health reasons, be consumed! However the ones that you do know, by all means – indulge! I certainly do.