The Wayfarer (mnfaure) wrote,
The Wayfarer

Back into the wild with Black Bryony

I must admit to feeling a bit hemmed in here in Saint Jean de Luz. Yes, the ocean is just behind the next hill over; yes, Larrun and Les Trois Courrones/Peñas de Aya loom on the horizon, their green silhouettes beckoning; but living in town, surrounded by houses, apartments, kept to sidewalks by fences and walls and declarations of "Private Property"...well, my wildcrafting soul has been fluttering anxiously.

Until the other day, the other happy day, when I saw a couple walking alongside the road, both of them with a green bouquet in hand, scrutinizing the hedgerow as they ambled downhill to the beach. I was driving in the opposite direction, so I didn't get a good look at what they had, but my first thought was "wild asparagus!"

As soon as I could, I pulled off the road and took a look at a small, undeveloped plot of land. I saw a creeping plant, tendrils winding around grass stalks, weed skeletons, fallen branches, themselves, anything that would help in their quest toward the sun.  Ah ha!  The tips of those tendrils were what they were gathering. They did smell a bit like asparagus when I snapped them off, so I was convinced they were indeed some wild variety, not just escaped "cultivated" plants.  Chuffed with my discovery, I continued on my way and happened upon a tiny bit of woodland just beside the road. My lucky day indeed. An accessible wild haven in the midst of town!

I parked the car, and Soëlie and I went a-gathering...

A bouquet of Black Bryony

Even though I had a hunch as to what it was and had seen others gathering it, I didn't know for sure, so I photographed the shoots and leaves to help with identification.

Black Bryony climbing a tree Black Bryony leaves

A search of google images turned up some photos labeled wild asparagus that resembled what I had found, but I was unconvinced, especially after tasting some of the shoots and finding them extremely bitter. I sadly consigned my find to the trash, unwilling to test a greater amount because of said bitterness without a positive ID. At least I had found some wild onions, making me realize that yes, wildcrafting might yield me slim pickings here, but some pickings are better than none!
Wild onions

After several days of google fail, I finally told Julien of my problem, and he said, "Try googling réponchon.  What you are describing sounds like something we used to eat when I was kid."  Sure enough, he was right: (Translated from the French wikipedia article*) In the south of France, in the Occitan language, Black Bryony is called "reponchon" (pronounced "répountsou" or "ré(s)pountchou").

Black Bryony. OK. English name, easier research, right? No, not really. The English wikipedia entry isn't that helpful at all because it categorically dismisses the plant as toxic, whereas in France, the shoots are commonly eaten, granted even those used to eating réponchons serve them with boiled eggs or potatoes to cut their bitterness. Recipes of how to handle and cook them French.

Armed with my new knowledge and determined to give Black Bryony another chance, the wee Sprout and I went back out to the woods to gather a few more shoots. 
En agissant ensemble on agit vraiment

We also found lemon balm (the leaves pictured, not the flowers) 
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

and narrowleaf plantain (aka ribwort plantain, English plantain, buckhorn plantain...)

narrowleaf plantain well as dandelion leaves for salad.  Did you know that in France, there is a Society of Dandelion (Product) Tasters?  There is.  How about those costumes?

The Black Bryony was just fine in the egg salad I made with the Easter eggs, but it will never take the place of milkweed in my wildcrafting heart!
* Other colorful names for Black Bryony in French are: Devil's Grape, The Seal of Notre Dame, and battered women's herb, the last due to its bruise-healing properties.
Tags: pics: pays basque, saint-jean-de-luz, wildcrafting

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