Next time you go for a walk in the woods, you will look at trees and plants differently after reading our conversation with botanist Selvatica Cipriani, whom I recently met on a foraging excursion at Castello di Reschio in Umbria. Take her advice and you will simply live better.
IRMA: What is your personal philosophy on plants and herbs?
SELVATICA CIPRIANI: I perceive the whole plant kingdom as a place of great wisdom, and its beings as magnificent yet humble teachers, mentors and allies of humanity.
IRMA: How can we take advantage of foraging and why do you think so many people are drawn to plants, nature and the forest these days?
SELVATICA CIPRIANI: Through foraging we have the opportunity to leave the virtual world in which we live so much today and return to a dimension of reality in which we are naturally aligned with the circularity of time, as expressed in the seasons; we can relearn to live our lives at a much more harmonious pace, to connect deeply with the environment we are in, practising real presence in the moment. We could become more adaptable, more resilient, and we could gain real awareness of the environment, observing its strength and fragility in the face of epochal climate change. This is a great lesson and inspiration for us to navigate this era of uncertainty. It gives us a chance to develop empathy and respect for all aspects of nature and life.
IRMA: You mentioned that each person is drawn to a certain plant/tree. This has something to do with sensitivity. How can we sharpen this sensitivity and open our minds to the effect and power of plants?
SELVATICA CIPRIANI: When we get in touch with our natural environment, we feel attracted to a certain herb or tree, and yes, this has to do with our personal ability to be open to connect and receive the message that a plant inherently brings. In order for this ‘heart-to-earth’ communication to take place, we need to enter into a deep listening to our body through our senses, practising and refining our ability to sense, practising ‘bodyfullness’, letting the body feel, trusting what we feel and allowing the mind to play the role of silent witness. It is a wonderful practice that nourishes us and is healing in itself.
IRMA: If you were planning an effective private garden on a small scale, what plants would you include in it?
SELVATICA CIPRIANI: There are so many plants I would include that it is difficult to choose just a few. My personal choice would certainly be the grounding and relaxing lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and marjoram (Origanum majorana), the refreshing mint (Menta spp. ), the cleansing and nourishing nettle (Urtica dioica), the tonic rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), the healing costmary (Chrisantemum balsamita) and betony (Stachys officinalis), the digestive sweet vervain (Lippia citrodora) and the soothing mallow (Malva sylvestris).
IRMA: What herbs do you recommend for daily use if you live in Northern Europe? Can you name the top three and tell us what they have to offer?
SELVATICA CIPRIANI: As a daily herbal tea, I would recommend one of these herbs or a mixture of them: Ash Leaf (Fraxinus angustifolia) for its metabolic balancing properties, Yarrow Leaf and Flower (Achillea millefolium) for its circulatory benefits and Wild Strawberry Leaf (Fragaria vesca) for its antioxidant properties and cancer prevention. The former and the latter, which are particularly pleasant in taste, could be a nice and much healthier substitute for regular tea.
IRMA: You mentioned that nettle is one of the most powerful plants, you could even survive on nettle for many days. Tell us some of the positive aspects of this plant and how we can benefit from it.
SELVATICA CIPRIANI: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioca) is so rich in minerals, especially iron and magnesium, and vitamins such as provitamin A, B complex and K, that it is considered one of the best foods nature has to offer. It is a great blood purifier and therefore a great helper in chronic, metabolic and autoimmune diseases, rheumatism, gout and kidney stones. It also stimulates the digestive glands of the stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver and gall bladder. The leaves must be
harvested before the plant begins to flower.
IRMA: Which herbs are good to have in the kitchen during the coming winter months?
SELVATICA CIPRIANI: As culinary herbs, I would recommend all the wonderful plants of the Labiate family, such as sage, rosemary, mint, savory, marjoram, basil, which bring health and joy to our table, but as for winter illnesses such as colds, coughs and flu, I would make sure I always have a good quantity of thyme (Thymus vulgaris) to season food with, It is recommended as a stimulant and tonic for all organic weaknesses, especially of the nervous system, and therefore to combat depression, lack of energy and lethargy, and to bring the sun’s power to us in winter.