It has been a long time since in the mountains every family had a grandfather who knew exactly where and when to harvest the finest herbs, those with the best healing properties, or simply the most good to exit the home stove or refined dishes in their own way, Thanks to a bit of stinging nettle or Buonenrico (the wild spinach). Because the ingredients, Once upon a time, you bought, li gave the nature. It was enough to follow the seasons, moods of climate and the Earth, and learn about the plants and the right places where to collect, from high altitude to uncultivated places, as the slopes, the crags, edges of rivers. Call them witches or Warlocks, call it art or simply farming activities: the collection of mountain herbs and medicinal plants is a craft as old as the world, which for some years has been experiencing a kind of rebirth, of rediscovery, back to enhancement of ancestral knowledge leading to forgotten flavours, primitives, simple, authentic genuine. And cheap too, since anyone can get hunting his favorite grass to cook dinner the evening. A bit like mushrooms.
But someone also gets a job. This is the case of Eleanor and Giovanni Cunaccia, the two brothers who hold Primitivizia, reality craft, Note to all Italy gourmet, where mountain herbs, Berry, resins and roots collected by Eleonora (passing whole days alone in the middle of the woods of the Brenta Dolomites), take home within a few hours, wash at source in the country (Clearing, in Val Rendena), prepared by Giovanni and planted in pots. The result are little gastronomic jewels as the erb's sauce or cream of radicchio dell'Orso.
Eleonora, How did his passion for mountain herbs?
I have always had a strong attraction to flowers and plants, for nature in General, so much so that 8 years I had also the fishing licence. Let's say that from my greatest passion is also my job.
Go to the Woods in solitude, sleep in shelters alone. Its not an easy job for a woman, or wrong?
I love nature and I like to be called a mountain woman, a nomad herb Harvester: I feel I have a very strong identity. I collect only what is spontaneous and wild nature of the Brenta Dolomites, and I am proud to do so ethically sustainable work, very respectful of the mountain and its resources.
When he began collecting?
Towards the end of March, in spring. It starts from the valley floor, where the snow melts before and so it is here that the first plant sprout, of dandelion and watercress. Every year, though, what you find is different: the collection is sensed, following the sun goes. After the Valley, I go into the Woods, where there are very few herbs, and then to June reached really intact habitats of mountain pastures, at an altitude of 1600-2000 m. Here are the products of nature of a purity and an immeasurable value energy. In the collect, for example, the Buonenrico, the nettle, the Burdock. Then I climb even higher, I push up on me 2200 m, where grows the radicchio dell'Orso, a plant that is found throughout the Alpine region, the edges of the avalanches, with the clearing of vegetation. At those altitudes in late may I collect the young cones of pine, I do to ferment in the Sun: the syrup is called mountain pine which released, before the advent of antibiotic, in popular belief was used as an expectorant. Today we use it instead for ice cream, the ricotta and all other forms of milk.
Once the herbs were a key ingredient for cooking pasture, today, Instead, cooking with herbs is a chic thing, of haute cuisine.
I'd say it's the cucina povera chic, back to prominence for economic needs. Ten herbs are enough to eat and 10 healing herbs for year-round to make healthy menu, captivating flavours, and make themselves useful for the Teas most common ailments.
As for mushrooms, for the herbs need knowledge to collect. Where you learn this "art"?
There are courses, made by experts, a bit throughout Italy, but of course there is still much to be done to spread this culture that at some point in history was lost. For an early smattering can also be useful and the volume that I cared personally for Trentino (http://issuu.com/alessio_p/docs/20081014_erbespontanee_190x265, ndr). The most important thing of herbs you know their not, the poisonous plant that resembles the good one. But if you can't go hunting for herbs, at least we have a vegetable garden ...
But as, She was not against things domesticated?
The garden is different, It is a culture and is part of the history of peoples. The garden today means a healthier life, better nutrition and lots of money saved! I think all public administrators should encourage this practice, providing common spaces. A Clearing, il mio paese, last year the flowerbed in front of the Church was replaced by a large educational garden, just to bring people to this tradition. Just a balcony to have their own flavors and some good and healthy vegetables.
Many chefs use his herbs for their dishes. But she, in her kitchen, as the uses?
In a thousand ways, but lately I like to use them for packing sandwiches which I would describe as "gourmet", facts, for example, with the brown bread, malga butter or mascarpone, the char, hop shoots and a bit of shredded Juniper. I also really like my version of hamburger, made with fresh meat, bread, Dandelion leaves or wild Silene (that raw pea sa), Sage blooms pratense, a malga cheese, some wild onions (There are 28 types of agliacei in Italy), and then the ketchup of rose hips, latest Primitivizia, only made with the berries of wild rose and worked with vinegar, Salt, sugar. Zero aromas, zero preservatives. Natural, like everything I do.
(This article was published on At The Table, may 2012)