Written by, Layla Kristy Feghali
I came here in Spring on purpose so that I could experience my plantcestors in their full bloom for a change! Yesterday, I convinced Claude (my friend and cousin who lives in the village), and ZouZou (village kin who is born and raised here his whole life), to finally take me for a long awaited plant walk up in the mountains and valleys of our village while the flowers are still in bloom. ZouZou is particularly knowledgable about plants, in that sensibility that most village raised folk have, having learned and known the remedies all their lives to some extent. We spent last night at Claude’s house discussing and planning. They informed me of all the ways that the nature they knew as kids has changed due to the village being increasingly built up and developed, the trash, over-harvesting, and other such factors. It made me really sad to hear about and really highlighted for me the importance of protecting the plantcestors, including many of the most common ones which are slowly diminishing alongside the others. I was inspired to turn my family’s village home into a native plant sanctuary of sorts, and to really take this mission on seriously. Sorta like a Noah’s ark of plantcestors 🙂 making sure that there are at least a couple of each of the native plants alive and flourishing in our garden somehow. I am gonna see how I can pull this off and start collecting & saving the seeds necessary and encouraging other locals to do so. I am inspired by and encouraged especially to contribute and collaborate with Vivien Sansour and the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library who I was blessed to find out about this past couple weeks, or perhaps to follow their vision and create a sister project in Lebanon somehow, especially in light of the recent bombing of the extensive seed library we had in Halab (aka. Aleppo) which was destroyed in the war of the past 5 years. Lots else to say about all this…
In any case, we woke up early to get onto the trail by 6am-ish while the sun was still low. The light in Lebanon has a particular quality to it, and the dawn is amazing. When I opened my eyes in bed, I could hear ALL the birds and bugs. It was a whole symphony of life outside! And when we hit the trail, it was a mosaic of gorgeous yellow Lizzen flowers and a million shades of green, white, and more. Lizzen is shown below for you. It is GORGEOUS, and it smells so amazingly sweet! Ukh. The fragrances & sounds of today’s walk are something I wish I could share with you all through here. Between the Lizen, the Tayoun, and the Sage, it was so delicious! I wanted to eat these flowers they were so beautiful. Below are some of the plants we saw with captions about what I learned about them today and names where they are available. I am still learning which plants are actually native here and which are invasive, so pardon me for not being able to post clearly regarding that. Also, if any of you have wisdom to share, please tune in! This is only a small percent of the plants we saw and their medicine…
Rock Rose aka. Cistus. Many of you may be familiar with this plant because of Bach’s famous flower essence remedies. He uses this lovely flower to treat terror and fear. It was growing everywhere, though it was strangely not as fragrant as I usually know it to be.
White Rock Rose (Cistus). ZouZou and Claude did not know this plantcestor’s name in Arabic, nor its local uses.
I don’t know the name of this friend, but I always see these sages growing in Oakland 🙂 and I like them. I had no idea they grew here in Lebanon too. ZouZou and Claude did not know their name.
This plant seems to be some kind of SWANA Madrone, with its red, gorgeous sensual bark! This tree is called 2atlab in Arabic, and is said to be a very valuable and expensive tree and one that is somewhat diminishing/hard to find. They said that if one cares for this tree or tends it in a particular way, it can grow nuts much like Fistou2 Halabi/ fresh Pistachios.
Bilen, a pokey ground plant whose seeds are boiled to treat hemorrhoids. I am fascinated & intrigued by its cellular like structure and patterns.
An unknown friend, a mint or sage of some kind <3.
A most popular plantcestor around here, Sage! I believe Salvia Triloba is the species name of this sage. It has many names here… 2as3ayn, Ouayseh, and my favorite name for it, Mariamiyeh (more commonly called by this name in Jordan and Palestine). ZouZou and Claude told me that as children, they would come back from their days in the woods COVERED in the smell of Ouayseh! It’s still abundant, but not nearly as much sadly. It is used for many things. Here in my village, its most common use is for digestive support, to bring warmth and heat to the stomach and body when its cold out, digestive ease, but also used for respiratory ailments. It is also commonly used in the region for uterine health and menstrual ease. The ethnobotanist I met this week told me that it earned its name Mariamiyeh because there was a woman whose son was very very sick. They could not find a cure for him. She had a dream/vision of the Virgin Mother Mary where she was told by her to go and pick some sage to give to him. She did so the next day and he healed.
Sage in bloom.
Sumac! Used commonly as a spice in the SWANA region. We love this tangy, astringent, delicious vibrant red herb. We use it in our famous Fattouch salad amongst other things. When someone has diarreah, we sprinkle it on our morning eggs for healing.
Hemblas, aka. Myrtle (Myrtus communis), one of my favorite SWANA plantcestors. I really associate my mom with this plant, because she loves it. The lovely SWANA herbalist grandmother, Juliette de Barcali Levy, said this plant is a healing plant said to house the Black Madona underneath it. It has many medicinal uses. ZouZou shared that village folk boil the leaves to make foot baths for folks who have stinky feet. The fruits are also quite tasty :).
Wild Hawthorne! Called by the name Z3arour here. People LOVE to eat the fruit of this plant here. I think it’s common uses as a cardiovascular tonic and blood pressure regulator are not known commonly in the village anymore sadly, though they are certainly health issues very common here.
Lizzen! ❤ this gorgeous yellow flower which smells SO sweet and grows all over Lebanon. It truly reminds me of Lebanon. ZouZou said that the villagers would pick these flowers on their long stems and create basket like trays out of them to dry figs on at the end of the season.
Close up of Lizzen’s amazing flowers.
Bakhour Mariam, translated as “the Incense of Mother Mary”. Claude said his mother used to plant this flower ALL over their house. Neither him nor ZouZou knew its medicinal use, but it’s name most certainly intrigued me.
Another shot of Bakhour Mariam.
An interesting flower none of us knew.
I read in some book that this is a toxic flower/plant for ingestion, but I don’t remember much more than that.
❤ LOTS of different umbilliferae flowers here.
This tree is called 2ari2cheh here, and ZouZou shared that the village folk used to roast the seeds for a tasty snack.
Gorgeous wild flower.
A close up…
A stunning sage of some kind! I think it’s some sort of Clary Sage (one of my favorites), but it’s fragrance wasn’t as strong as I am accustomed to so I am not sure.
A shot of it with it’s leaves.
LOTS of thistle type plantcestors here too, with lots of pokeyness. This one was gorgeous and all around the trail. Nobody knew about it but ZouZou recalled something in its name that relates to Jesus… Presumable, because of the crown of thorns.
A honeysuckle!??? Maybe! Yummy fragrant beautiful.
Here again with it’s leaves.
I see these interesting friends all over Lebanon too.
A wild orchid of some kind! There are hundreds of wild orchid varieties that grow in this small country, which is the most bio-diverse in the whole region as well as the smallest! Just amazing.
Shumar, can be eaten when its young and tender. Claude’s mother used to boil this plant to clean the kidneys.
Unknown pretty plantcestor.
Unknown.. also orchid like beauty.
My favorite, the red Mediterranean Poppies so characteristic of this region. ❤
3ari2 Bene, an edible wild plant that villagers like to munch on.
Pretty unknown wildflower.
ZouZou picking some Zoube3a for Claude to eat in a salad :). Zoube3a is Origanum Syriacum, commonly referred to as Zaatar by most, and used in the common spice blend of Zaatar, this is actually a type of Oregano though and Zaatar is technically a wild thyme with long dark green leaves and a much more pungent punch.
ZouZou caught this shot of a ladybug on the pokey Andoul plants that were literally everywhere. He said that village folks would plant these as barriers in areas they didn’t want their sheep to roam. They have yellow flowers and rue like leaves and thorns.
A yellow chamomile looking plant that grows EVERYWHERE!
❤ Love is abound, friends.
Village made wild flowers. Hehe. Me and Claude on the trail.
Can you guys see the cave in the mountain on the other side of the valley? I wanted to go there but the route they tried to take me on was too overgrown.
It is so important to know the plantcestors in our local environment. So while I was really excited to learn and see and experience the plant medicines of my ancestral lands just to connect and be with them, I also was looking forward to getting a lay of the land and building a sense of the medicines available and possible for me to care for myself and my relatives in the next 6 months of being here. I LOVE seeing the plants that I have been connecting to in their native environment, different varieties of sage and hawthorn and more. But there was one plantcestor who is especially dear to me who I KNOW grows in these parts and who I had my heart on reuniting with here in the homeland. ZouZou and my cousin kept talking about how it used to be everywhere, but we went the whole way up and down and I didn’t see it…. UNTIL!… the last few meters of our trip. I started calling the name of the plantcestor again, letting her know I had not forgotten her and wishing with my heart to see her. I told them I was sad we could never find her… is it possible that she really no longer has a place here where she used to thrive? Within MOMENTS of calling her name, ZouZou and Claude steps ahead of me as I admired where we were for the last moments of the walk, I looked down and DIRECTLY in the middle of the path, look who I found:
Rue! Known as Ruda in Spanish, and Fayjam or Fejmeh in Arabic. Fejmeh means something/someone whose smell is always getting stronger. The only thing that they knew about this plant was that it is very aromatic lol, and that Claude has an Ethiopian friend who likes to pick her teeth with its stems.
In bloom and gorgeous…
Abundant as ever, hamdillah <3.
During them teasing me for a while about how excited I was, ZouZou caught this shot of me admiring my Rue lol. I took a cutting I will propagate in my garden, inshallah.
RUE! Aka. Ruda Aka. Feyjam/Fejmeh. ❤ The plantcestor I was seeking! She found me. I started laughing out loud and singing Claude to come back. He was stunned to see that its true, there she in fact was, and we walked more steps forward to find her in great abundance all around us! We thought to ourselves, it is impossible that we did not see the Rue on the way up. Were we on the right path that we started on? HAHAHA! NO! WE WEREN’T! We took a minor unintentional detour just around the area that I started calling the plantcestors name at. I took it as a testament of my relationship with her, and the magic of the plantcestors who know us well. It touched my heart, and though they didn’t admit it, I am sure it left a slightest impression on ZouZou and Claude about just how responsive our plantcestral relations truly are <3. It is interesting too, because about 4 years ago I came to Lebanon with a similar desire to see this plant which I knew to grow in my dad’s village in the wild, but it was not the best season for it. Everywhere I looked in Lebanon and the region, I could not find her. I went home wondering where she was. Soon after returning to California, I made a visit to my Teta Renee’s house in the diaspora, and as I went into her back yard, low and behold! I found RUE! Lol. It was unexpected to me, as it’s not a plant my Teta typically worked with or had around in the past. I just was in awe of how family finds us wherever we travel homeward, in the diaspora or the motherland alike, that the ally that I was seeking was never too far from me after all. To this day, the Rue I tend is the one from my Teta Renee’s garden which she gifted me. Ancestral plants are the truth, y’all <3.
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