Ever since reading ‘The Moneyless Man’ that was recommended to me by Kimberly’s brother Darrell, I have wanted to learn more about foraging for food in the forest or roadside. It wasn’t until I was volunteering at the Awakened Life Project in Portugal, where they serve wild greens as the salad at every meal, that I started to learn about it.
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Raquel, a permanent resident at the project, took me around the land at Awakened Life Project and showed me a few of the greens that we can eat raw. Together, we picked enough salad for the fourteen guests for lunch and dinner that day. Getting enough greens for that many people takes almost an hour of foraging which is not as easy as buying lettuce from the market. Each of the wild greens have different nutrients and minerals that can supplement our diet and help us to meet our daily requirements.
During our time at the project, there happened to be a course on at the Awakened Forest Project nearby. Awakened Forest Project is one of many new communities that have been started by previous residents of the Awakened Life Project. I joined in for a one day introduction into foraging for wild greens. I learned that hunter gatherers ate these wild greens as a staple diet, and later on when humans started basic agriculture, we still supplemented our diets with them. Over time however, this skill has largely been forgotten and replaced with chemically grown greens that we see on the supermarket shelves today which are much more convenient and cheaper to grow and harvest.
We learned that different wild greens and flowers thrive in various parts of the year and at different climates meaning that there is a variety available all year round for us to eat. It’s just knowing which ones to eat and when. Our instructor Laura is very passionate about foraging and said that it is a lifelong journey of learning about what you can and can’t eat, and I am now definitely inspired to keep learning. I am continuing to learn from other people and am always noticing the greens Laura showed us around Portugal and England. Who knew that you can eat weeds from your local park!
The wild greens and flowers which you may call weeds are part of nature’s succession of plants. Some have deep roots which bring up minerals from the subsoil into their leaves. These greens are then highly nutritious for us. The reason for this may be due to the natural succession of plant life from barren land to more fertile woodland. If the wild greens die or shed their leaves, they decompose in that very same spot and release minerals back into the soil for the micro-organisms to eat which will then feed the next succession of plants. This is the reason that you may not find the same wild greens in the same spot, year after year.
The Awakened Forest Project is set on a steep hill and has a refurbished ruin, with land going down to a valley floor and a wonderful stream running through with the sounds of a waterfall all around. All of their furniture and the buildings are made and constructed by Laura’s husband Marco using timber from their very own forest. He uses wood straight after it has been cut down, called ‘Green Woodworking’. This area is predominantly a pine forest, a cash timber crop that the Portuguese planted before they discovered eucalyptus, a more profitable faster growing tree that causes even more damage to the environment than pine. A big part of the project is to manage this woodland and over time remove the pine trees and leave the native slow growing trees such as chestnut in its place. So not only do they get free timber and fire wood, it is used in a sustainable way to revert the land back to native trees which allows for more biodiversity and less fire risk.
I was extremely inspired on this course and during my stay at Awakened Life Project, and hope to continue my learning with them in the future.