Food heritage expert Zeinab Jeambey goes on a journey to meet rural women, from the four corners of Lebanon, and learn about different wild edible plants, their benefits and cooking methods.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines wild plants as “those that grow spontaneously in self-maintaining populations in natural or semi-natural ecosystems and can exist independently of direct human action.” Though not part of urban diets, many wild plants are edible and local communities consumed them for their health and medicinal qualities long before their nutritious, protective and therapeutic effects were proven by science. Several of these often-called famine foods proved to be important sources of high quality protein, essential amino acids and minerals. In low-socioeconomic communities, wild edible plants contribute to food security and nutrition.
In Lebanon, Wild Edible Plants (WEP) are regarded as valuable food within rural areas.
Known as sliq or sliqa in Arabic, traditional knowledge about these plants is often passed down through generations by word of mouth, with women being the main beholders of this wealth. Come spring, you can spot rural women in orchards and highlands collecting what Mother Nature has in store for them. But WEP are more than just food. They reflect the pride of rural residents in their land and hold the wisdom of their ancestors. Eaten raw, boiled or cooked, a whole culinary tradition has developed around them, all the while being used for their medicinal benefits, treating health problems ranging from skin irritations to anemia.
You can still find people knowledgeable in WEP in rural Lebanon. Nonetheless, this knowledge is dwindling because
of the lack of interest among younger generations and their detachment from nature. Jeambey meets some of the villagers still retaining this tradition. It’s a call for everyone to document knowledge about WEP in order to preserve this centenary heritage.
Hindbeh (chicory): Khadijeh Chahine, responsible for Al Ahd Coop in Buwayda, Hermel, is a wealth of knowledge
on local seeds and a fervent activist for the sustainable collection of WEP. Her Co-op specializes in selling local crops such as jurdi chickpeas and salamouni bulgur and flour.
Health and cooking tips of chicory: treats anemia and fights constipation. Eat it raw with a few olives or in a salad with green onions, pomegranate molasses and olive oil. Another alternative is to stir-fry with lots of onions and eat it with a squeeze of lemon.
Shoumar (fennel): Suraya and Sumaya Kaakour are adorable 75-year-old twin sisters from Baassir in Iqlim Al-Kharroub. They made sure everyone knew that they were on a mission to enrich our quest. As I accompanied them
and thanked them for their generosity, Sumaya told me “take pictures of us! This way, when we are gone, you will remember the two old ladies from Baassir who told you how important Wild Edible Plants are.”
Health and cooking tips of fennel: Fennel seed infusion alleviates bloating and stomach aches. Eat it boiled, strained and marinated with lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. Chop it with mint, parsley and onions and mix it with eggs and flour before frying into an omelet.
Khebbayzeh (mallow): Nabila Azzam, a passionate cook from Ein Zebde in West Bekaa, inherited her extensive
knowledge about plants from her mother. Although WEP are abundant from February until the end of April, Azzam collects a variety all year round. She is a host on the darb el karam food heritage trail. Join Azzam on a touristic activity collecting WEP and enjoy her WEP turnovers, baked on Saj.
Health and cooking tips of mallow: Mallow is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Stir-fry it in olive oil with onions, cilantro and chickpeas. Eat it with bread and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Qors aaneh (eryngo): May Kanaan is know as the “Queen of Saj” in her village Mrosti in the Shouf Mountains, May
Kanaan has the energy of a bumblebee. Owner of a mini-market, Kanaan has been baking Saj bread for over 20 years. In spring, Kanaan roams the highlands and collects wild oregano to make and sell her zaatar mix. She also gathers other edible plants to use as fillings for her turnovers and mana’ish. Full of energy and life, she is a host on darb el karam food heritage trail, and will make a joyful guide to follow on a day in the wild.
Health and cooking tips of eryngo: Eryngo is a potent anti-poisonous plant. It was often used to counteract the effect of snake and scorpion venom. Make an eryngo tabboule by substituting parsley for eryngo or simply pickle it.
This article was featured in Lebanon Traveler magazine .