Things I learnt while foraging

A year ago in June, I met Siobhán O’Callaghan, founder of Primitivkollektiv, who’s since become a good friend of mine. Back then Siobhan gathered a group of plant enthusiasts, and together we took a trip to an abandoned castle. There, the air thick with the heat of summer, beetles and bugs abound, we set out to forage. I with my eyes, ears and camera. An eager student. My companions with their knowledge of edible plants, growing in the wild. Little did I realise then, the deep and lasting impression this sunny day would have on me.

Dhamsmuhlen SchlossForaging in BrandenburgDhamsmuhlen Schloss
Foraging in the countryside near Berlin

Moving amongst the trees, the search for sustenance steered our footfalls. As I learnt the names of the plants we collected, I was learning too, a new language. One of communion. Between myself and my environment. Deeper into the woodland I went. Deeper into a new way of being. A shift took place. A feeling that I did not know how to bring to words. But I could feel it take shape. And it was exhilarating.

Dhamsmuhlen SchlossForaging in the countryside near Berlin

How exciting, I thought, that my immediate landscape, could provide me with nearly instant nourishment. It seemed effortless and required little work. Nature, was simply providing. Like gifts to us without the need to till and work the land – something which I have come to learn has devastating effects on our soil anyway. 

BrandenburgCountryside near BerlinBrandenburg countryside
Countryside near Berlin

My misgiving of our current ways of doing things–like monocultures, agriculture, importing foodstuffs–grew stronger. I wondered then, whether our efforts towards domestication, in fact drove us away from our environments. As if trying to control it, taming it, bending it to our will, we changed ourselves more than we changed her. Banishing ourselves, once again, from the garden of Eden. Our mother. Our home. Into the devastating world of “progress”. The kingdom of the ego. Of strife. 

Our landscapes have become a resource for us to exploit. To take from, instead of the friendship it should to be; where both give and take with care and attention. A symbiotic relationship instead of the parasites we seem to have turned ourselves into. 

Dhamsmuhlen Schloss
Foraging in Berlin

I say these harsh words because foraging too, is now causing harm in places. Beautiful pristine environments are destroyed by newcomers who fail to listen to the earth. But perhaps you cannot directly blame people who have yet to learn the language of our mother. I know I haven’t. I’m trying now to do so. 

Foraging in the countryside near BerlinDhamsmuhlen SchlossDhamsmuhlen Schloss

But let’s go back to that pleasant afternoon amongst the trees. Picking plantain and nettles. Yes – the weeds we find in the nooks and crannies of our streets. Still, in our every attempt to cultivate our landscape, the earth finds ways to provide. Whether we want her to or not. Through the tarmac and mortar, coltsfoot and dandelion still show up. Tough and relentless. Jam packed with sustenance. Superfoods, right on our doorstep.

Foraging in BerlinForaging at Dhamsmuhlen Schloss
Brandenburg countryside

But off course, here in the forgotten world of schloss Dhamsmuhlen, they were bountiful. Happy and healthy companions, perhaps more so because the area is mostly abandoned. Plenty of space for elderberries and shepherds purse to run wild. 

I learnt that day out foraging, that if I could find a way to listen, mother earth would teach me things. Showing me how to take care of myself and in turn, of her. 

Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers

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