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The joys of wild foraging

Museum, aromatic herb garden, and interpretation center: The Nature Center Maison Ternell at the edge of the High Fens is all of these at once. We participated in a workshop on 'wild plants' and went on a walk with an herbalist, Karin Laschet.

Text: Christiane Würtenberger Photos: Oliver Raatz

They grow in the meadow

They stand along the roadside. They simply settle in the garden. You know them, but you wouldn't necessarily think that they are edible, healthy, and mostly quite tasty – because in the cultivated herb spiral, these plants are not typically found: red clover blossoms, for example, delicate ground elder leaves, or wild marjoram. Karin Laschet wanders with her guests around the Nature Center Maison Ternell near Eupen, allowing them to touch, pick, and taste many delicate plants. She explains how to safely identify the herbs, their effects, and what they taste especially good with.

Haus Ternell is located in East Belgium, on the edge of the largest nature reserve in Belgium, the High Fens. In addition to a museum about the local flora and fauna, the large building made of colored sandstone also houses a restaurant with a café. The Nature Center, whose full name is "Haus Ternell Eupen, Center for Environmental Education and Sustainability," offers hikes and workshops for all age groups – Karin Laschet's wild herb course is one of the offerings there.

Respect for nature means never taking more than one truly needs.

Karin Laschet

Eating what we gather

I love spending time outdoors in nature, harvesting medicinal plants in good company," shares our herbalist and nutritionist specializing in whole foods. Along the way, the group discovers that ground elder has parsley-like flavors, and it's also very rich in vitamin C. They indulge in the fragrance of elderflower umbels, pick red campion flowers, and chew on clover leaves, which, as Karin Laschet points out, are rich in vitamin A. What does it taste like? "Um, it's new, it's different, tastes like clover leaves, I'd say," laughs one of the participants.

The High Fens are an exceptional habitat. During the last ice age, raised bogs formed on this 5,000-hectare plateau, reaching depths of up to ten meters in some places. The acidic soil, cold climate, and heavy precipitation that drench the plateau have fostered the development of flora not found elsewhere in the East Cantons. It's the realm of marsh gentian, a protected species, European twinflower, a rare specimen in Europe, and round-leaved sundew, a carnivorous plant. "The High Fens are a true biodiversity reservoir. Here, it's paradise," enthuses Karin. In the High Fens, there are only a few edible plants. So, Karin and her group resort to the large garden of Maison Ternell.

Enhancing dishes with herbs

Wild herbs contain many secondary plant compounds such as flavonoids and tannins, which can strengthen us. Plants need them to thrive in the wild," explains Karin Laschet as the guests stand in the kitchen late in the morning, processing the collected treasures: marjoram and clover blossoms, along with some feta, go into the herb quark; elderflowers in honey water are suitable. It doesn't always require a large amount of herbs. A bit of finely chopped ground elder or a handful of clover blossoms are often sufficient. In blossoms, insects are often hidden, so the harvest is spread out before processing for the lemonade, and the chopped ground elder tastes excellent in an herb butter that is eventually rolled into a chard leaf.

As everyone sits at the table and eats, Karin Laschet offers a few tips that are important when dealing with herbs: have respect for nature, only pick what you need and can use fresh. Do not harm or uproot the plant so it can continue to grow. "And it's best to spread the collected herbs at home first; then, small insects have a chance to escape into freedom," she says and slices from the self-baked whole grain bread

More Information

Educational trails set up over short distances will delight nature enthusiasts, covering a wide range of themes. Most of the trails are suitable for the whole family. The 'dream walks' in the East Cantons traverse breathtaking landscapes.

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