Someone just handed me a flower. I’m entirely sure whether it’s just to show me or for me to eat it. He’s looking at me expectantly. Still hesitating, I put the flower in my mouth. There’s an initial bitter taste which quickly evolves to a sweet one as I continue chewing, leaving a hot and spicy aftertaste. “Çok güzel,” I tell him. Very nice. He smiles. “İlaç yok,” he keeps repeating, that is to say, there are no added pesticides or any other chemical: it’s all natural. He’s a farmer from a small village and often goes foraging for wild edible plants with his family.
Foraging forms part of the traditions of village life here in Cyprus. I don’t have the exact numbers but more than 25% of wild plants here are edible, which is quite a lot for such a small country. We joined the farmer and his family, including his 10-year-old grandson who was probably the best at spotting wild asparagus – what we were initially after. We weren’t extremely prepared for some intense foraging, most of us having dressed up to go to the English Market later on during the day rather than gallivanting in an open field picking wild plants.
We ended up not going to the English Market. Instead we spent all morning crouching over spiky bushes for some prized asparagus. He also showed us some other plants which they usually use in their traditional cuisine: ‘egg grass’ which unsurprisingly they cook with eggs. It was quite funny when we asked him if the egg grass could be cooked without eggs. It took him a second to process that one.
We came back home with more greens and herbs that we could possibly eat – or so we thought. We did end up eating all of them, thanks to culinary talents of some volunteers here.
Foraging was quite a new experience for me. Other than the wild raspberries and guavas we used to get in the forest in Mauritius, we are not really used to anything that doesn’t come from the bazaar or the supermarket. I vaguely remember us going to pick watercress at a river – or was it a stream? – when I was little but gone are those times. We’re rather eat GMO’s which are at arm’s reach rather than go out and look for chemical-free veggies.