Alpine travels in Armenia (part three)
By: Kit Strange - 25/08/2011
Kit Strange from Kew's Alpine team continues her travels in Armenia, this time discovering food from the mountains.
In Armenia most people use the countryside as an extra larder. In many places, where farming is non-existent, people harvest mushrooms to sell by the side of the road to subsidise their income.
Collecting wild herbs (Image: Guy Moore)
They mainly sit by the one main-road, which goes through the whole of Armenia, and will sell the fresh mushrooms to people in passing cars and hungry lorry drivers. In the towns you can find little markets where people meet to sell and trade their herbs with each other.
Selling and trading wild and cultivated herbs and vegetables in an Armenian market
The plants they are selling are as diverse as the people selling them. You get all the usual vegetables, like radishes and onions, but soon you discover that there are more exotic herbs on the menu. Small tender shoots of polygonatum are for sale, in handy little bunches, which no-one who knows the plant in the UK would think of eating.
Mallow-like wild vegetable
Nice young leaves of a mallow-like plant were being sold, alongside large young shoots of Heracleum for pickling. Nothing it seems goes unnoticed in the countryside that might be of use. Allium paradoxum, which in this country is a pernicious weed, in Armenia they use extensively in cooking, thus controlling its rampant move across the countryside. Not a single herb which can be used medicinally is left untouched.
Left, Young shoots of Heracleum on sale, and right, Allium paradoxum
Thyme, for use as a tea, is also very popular and a complete mountain range has been named after it called the Urtz, which is situated in the middle of Armenia. Most of the herbs are cooked by first frying, and then adding to beaten egg, making a sort of vegetable scrambled egg. Other herbs are prepared with a salty brine, in which they are cured for a couple of months before being eaten as a compliment to meat and other vegetables. It seems that collecting herbs and vegetables in the hills is a family event; mum and daughter going out and collecting the herbs for their own use, and also teaching the new generation which ones are good to eat and what to do with them.
Wild medicinal herbs for sale
This is my last Armenian blog. The trip was sponsored by a travel scholarship from the Alpine Garden Society which sponsors several alpine related trips every year.
- Kit -
Several people contribute to the Alpine and Rock Garden Team blog. Richard Wilford is the Collections Manager in the Hardy Display Section at Kew. His responsibilities include all the areas where alpines are grown at Kew Gardens. The three team leaders, Joanne Everson, Graham Walters and Katie Price, each have their own particular parts of the Gardens to look after. Between them, these four experts have over 55 years experience of growing alpines.
Alpines at Kew Gardens are not only grown to create colourful and informative displays, they also play an important role in the research Kew carries out around plant naming, classification, biodiversity and conservation.
Mountains are found on every continent and each range has its own unique alpine flora, but these plants are under threat from climate change. As temperatures rise, alpines are forced higher and will eventually have nowhere to go. The alpine collections at Kew are studied to help us all understand the mountain flora better and make informed decisions about protecting its future.
"Probably the most beautiful glasshouse in the world is the Davies Alpine House at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew", John Hoyland, Gardens Illustrated, April 2011
Richard Wilford has written a book on alpines, 'Alpines from Mountain to Garden', published by Kew Publishing. You can buy it in the Kew shops or from Kewbooks.com.
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