Rediscovering Nature and Culture in the Apennines


An inspiring project linking the rejuvenation of the mountains and socio-economic regeneration has sprung up in Italy in the wake of the 2016-2017 earthquakes, which created a national disaster in Italy.

Le Erbe delle Sibilla (the herbs of Sibilla) project was created in June 2017 and is fully funded by the Earthquake Committee of Central Italy . It is designed to teach people how to forage sustainably and create new ways of eating while reconnecting with ancient traditions and custodianship of the natural environment.

Franca Poli, one of the founding members of the projects, explains:  

“It’s about identity. The project is designed to help people rediscover a shared identity connecting to culture, the history of mountains, and uses of wild plants.”

The project has two main aims, the first one was to invite 95 tourist structures to learn how to forage sustainably, and use wild plants in the kitchen. A specialist chief was brought in to teach the hospitality managers how to cook and prepare healthy dishes that are part of the ancient culinary tradition of the region.

The first session was devoted to marketing using the knowledge of Slow Food’s approach for wild herbs. Each class involves hands-on plant identification and has a session in the kitchen, learning how to appreciate the bountiful richness of wild plants, which mountain ancestors depended upon and cherished. The classes are held throughout the year and individuals are taught how to work with seasonal plant varieties.

The other aspect of the project involves teaching foraging to primary school students, in the foothills of the Apennines.

Fabrizia Corradini, counselor and promoter of projects in school, explained that teaching in schools is not only passing on the knowledge of wild plants for potential future uses, but also: “It creates a kind of cohesion, a knowledge that links people to each other, their culture and the biodiversity around them. It is a social fabric, one which joins people and nature.” This yearlong project is already changing how people interact with the environment.

One participant said:

“First I thought all these plants were weeds, invasive weeds. Now, instead I see that the plants are very good, good to eat.”

In the past decades, social and economic changes have caused the depopulation of mountain villages in the Apennines. As a result, traditional rural society and their way of life is being endangered. Foraging has been mentioned as being a part of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Convention on Biological Diversity. More than ever, we should look to mountains for the future.

Thus, more than ever we look to mountains for the future.

News by Tamara Griffiths

Photo by Chris Ford

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