This past week we have been visiting our favourite aunt in Southern France, and have decided to report on some of the beautiful plants, which we’ve been observing during our frequent walks through the Provence. We hope that our readers will tolerate this geographical detour in our blog and trust that you will find something of interest here – otherwise you are welcome to leave us angry comments ;)
Although the Provence is often associated with lavender, any wanderer who ventures into the uncultivated countryside will likely first cross paths with thyme (Thymus vulgaris). The small, herbaceous plant is visually unassuming but very dominant in the olfactory landscape of the Mediterranean maquis. Thyme is fundamental to much of the cuisine of Southern Europe, but it also has a long history of medicinal use – among other things – as an antiseptic and antifungal remedy.
Blue Stonecrop (Sedum reflexum) is another common plant which thrives in the dry climate and poor, rocky soil of Southern France. Like most other Sedum plants, in addition to being visually captivating, Blue Stonecrop is also edible. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads and sandwiches or cooked in soups and have a pleasant, but slightly astringent taste. Sedum plants are also used as sturdy, drought-resistant plants in ornamental landscaping as well as in green roof architecture (for example in New York).
Wild asparagus (Asparagus acutifolius) is a native plant of the Mediterranean Basin. Unlike the wild asparagus of Euell Gibbons, this plant needs no stalking as it grows bountifully just about everywhere in the Provence. In the spring, the young shoots of the plant are considered a delicacy worthy only of serious gourmands since the taste is considered particularly intense. In Italy, the parboiled young shoots are sautéed with onions to make delicious frittata or used as a main ingredient in mouth-watering risotto.
Terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus) is a small tree typical of the gentle slopes of the Provence and the Mediterranean region. The resin from the tree has been used since antiquity as a source of turpentine, hence its other common name, turpentine tree. Throughout the southeastern Mediterranean, terebinth fruits and young shoots have been used as flavouring in bread making, brandy and other culinary adventures (see for example this article on the use of terebinth in Crete). Unfortunately, all of the terebinth trees that we saw during our explorations of the Provence were diseased: a gall-inducing aphid preys on this particular species of Pistacia tree throughout the Mediterranean.