Hikers’ herbs

I went hiking a few weeks ago, leaving the protection of the city in Spain for the very first time.  The father of a friend of mine organized a nature photography hike for the town.  You can see his HD nature videos on youtube (here is one of the more serene examples and here one of the more disturbing). But now, I have seen the sierra, and it was worth it.

Spiky and poky, but totally worth it.  It seems that everywhere is a plant waiting to taste your blood, but just as a way of saying hey, hi!  Then you realize how beautiful everything is, in a dusky, muted green and vibrant deep blues.  The sierra is completely opposite in composition and color of the Pacific Northwest.  There is more dusty brown, the pines are shaped more like lollipops that Christmas trees, and the trees are sparse and solitary.  Without the horde-like nature of Northwest evergreens and it’s shockingly dark, saturated colors, ‘nature’ feels a lot more open and arid.  There is a lot more shrubbery and scrub, and the scent is completely different, lacking the resin and scent of heavy moisture I’m more accustomed to.

But then you catch a whiff of what I think is one of the more surprising gifts of the sierra: wild herbs.

This is rosemary, growing wild, very contentedly.  I had actually never seen rosemary flowers before and truthfully didn’t know they existed.  The rosemary here keeps in character with the sierra – it is more spiky and adapted to a dry climate.  The slight fuzziness of northern rosemary is gone – the leaves are more like pine needles than ever, but lacking the resiny strength that description implies. Wild Spanish rosemary is more subtle and more spiky than what I’ve seen before.

Where wild rosemary was more subtly scented, the wild thyme we found was exactly the opposite.  The fresh, assertive scent made me want to take a cutting then go home and cook some cream based pasta.  I still wish I had.  The thyme was also more prickly, to deter animals from taking advantage of its sparse water content, but it was intensely aromatic and better smelling than any other thyme I’ve come across, fresh or dry.

And of course, this wouldn’t be Spain without olive trees.  There were mini wild orchards of the things scattered all around, waiting to ripen and feed the birds, of which I know no names. I felt a little dumb hiking around here – all the plants and animals were new to me, and I couldn’t name them in English or Spanish.  So really, finding rosemary and thyme were like reassuring friends popping out of nowhere to make me feel more welcome.  There were other interesting culinary finds – one woman found watercress in a stream, another man was classifying different mushrooms into tasty and poisonous, and there was a little yellow flower that if you bit into the base of its stem tasted exactly like vinegar.  I cannot tell you anything about these things.

But I can show you some more pictures of how beautiful rosemary can be.


1 Response to “Hikers’ herbs”

  1. 1 Susan Allison February 5, 2011 at 12:11 am

    Liked the photos and descriptions of local flora and how it differs from ours here in the Pac NW. You are keeping your eyes and ears (and nose) open to nature!

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Hey, I'm Desa. I've been bouncing between the Pacific Northwest and Sevilla, Spain in the last few years and from tiny apartment to tiny apartment. I cook mainly for one, which means some potentially boring meals, but here I'll be sharing the food that excites me. Feel free to offer suggestions, commiseration, or desires. And thanks for coming by!


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