15 Jun 2017

Memories of foraging in Tuscany as a young girl, and a few words to remember my father-in-law.

Natural remedies, herbs and health in Tuscany

When I was a child, my great-grandmother used to take me out for walks in the village park. I have these memories of her showing me the plants you could use to stay healthy.  I remember the warm summer evening walks and the smell of the leaves of lesser calamint (nipitella in Italian) that she picked and handed over to me. In fact, she tried to stick them in my nose because they would keep worms away, she claimed. As if I was a puppy!!! But then, after all,  she was a girl of the 1920’s. Some kids might need the treatment back then!

In spring, we went out to look for violets. If you ate the first violets of the season, you would get no colds. They do taste good, but I have never had the courage to eat them in years. The idea of picking up a flower from a random patch of grass and put it in my mouth is not for me these days. Yet, it seemed like a perfectly acceptable thing to do back then.

In late spring, she would make me chew on the tender stems of pink wood sorrels, similar to shamrocks. They have a sour taste and apparently they help fortify your stomach and protect you from cough and rheumatism.

Nowadays, most of these “remedies” have been relegated to memories and popular wisdom. However, people are now starting to rediscover the value of wild herbs.

There are plenty of opportunities to learn about “foraging” in Tuscany. My grandmother used to spends her summer Saturday afternoons rummaging through the fields around my parents’ countryside house. She has troubles bending now but she still occasionally picks herbs that she boils for herself or uses for cooking some traditional dish. She loves wild Swiss chard (which I hate!). There are several companies offering foraging courses in the area, such as this one in Montalcino which offers an edible wild herb and flower picking course.  You can read about Alexandra’s experience with foraging on her blog (If I had to survive on foraging). I had a good laugh, but you will also find plenty of good recommendations.

If you are interested in foraging, consider staying at our vacation house in Tuscany near Siena, Casina di Rosa. We are happy to help our guests plan alternative activities in our area.


Talking about health, this month, I cannot but remember my father-in-law, David. He passed a few days ago after a long battle with cancer. I cannot not dedicate a few words to his memory on a blog called “at home in Tuscany”. English by birth, Canadian by choice, and Tuscan at heart. He and my mother-in-law ended up in a village near mine by chance over 20 years ago and decided to make it their home. They brought over part of their family (including the man who is now my husband), created a cultural center (Pari Center for New Learning) and over the years brought a number of interesting and highly educated people to the small village of Pari. And lots of new ideas.

David Peat was a physicist and a philosopher. He was interested in many things, including complexity, synchronicity, native american thought, and much more. He was one of the first to talk about Gentle Action, the idea that a small change in a community can bring about unexpected change at the global level. He believed that we are all unique, and yet all connected, just like the different components of a complex dynamic system. You can read about my interpretation of gentle action in tourism here: Gentle Action is the way to go.

His body is gone, but his heart, spirit and amazing mind are most certainly still in Pari, where his daughter (my sister-in-law Eleanor) and her beautiful children will continue his work. This is the biggest gift he gave me: family.

These were the words that his friend Gordon Shippey read at his funeral. They sum up perfectly what David did and who he was.

I have to be honest, this feels a little strange, almost like it was meant to be; before we left England, unaware of David’s condition, my son wanted to see one of David’s YouTube videos. I had many to choose from, so why did I pick the one where David was in front of Pari talking about death and renewal? Only for us to arrive as David passed away. No doubt David’s somewhere laughing at the obvious synchronicity of it all.

Each one of us makes ripples in our lives, most are imperceptible to us, but not David’s, no David honed his, making them more explicit and where possible more focused, in an effort to do what Bertrand Russell once asked of him, when he said; ‘Do something to help society’. And, so he did, not straight away, but over time, in 1989 David formulated the subtle non-local process that came to be known as ‘Gentle Action’. Then in 2000 he and Maureen set up the Pari Center, a place that has touched so many lives, in many different ways, creating more ripples, both directly and indirectly. In 2001, we caught the Gentle Action bug, one that helped to reconfigure and rebuild communities, that were previously torn apart; even today these subtle ripples persist, some explicitly, while others no doubt remain imperceptible to us.
There’s a lot of people out there who are oblivious as to where those ripples came from, nevertheless appreciate the help they have received, especially in these uncertain times. Gentle Action has the potential to go further, what clinched it for me was when David leaned over and said:

“If enough people moved the world by an inch, we could move it by miles!”

This is his legacy and ours, from humble beginnings we can make a difference, if our children are to have a future, then we must. We and the many people of our part of the world and beyond owe so much to Maureen, Eleanor, your family, friends, the people of Pari and above all to our friend F. David Peat.

Thank you, David, your legacy will live on, as will your essence, one that is enfolded in every one of us; between the instants of time, reborn from the unconditioned unground of a creative potential, that you David, just happened to tap into,

David will be dearly missed by myself, my husband and our children. We will do all we can to make sure his work and his vision are never forgotten.


Italy Blogging Roundtable

This is a post in a monthly series called The Italy Blogging Roundtable. Here you can find the posts of the other bloggers who participate in the roundtable. Our topic this month was “health”:

italy travel blog roundtable


  1. I love your funny take on foraging in the modern age. If picking from random patches of land, use amucchina to disinfect 🙂
    Condolences once again on your father in law who sounds like he was a most amazing person.

    • I have become too urbanized Alex! LOL thank you for your kind words. Hugs!

  2. Lana

    My friend recommended to read your blog. Cool and informative articles. I often travel around the world, so I always try to stay informed. Your photos and tips look awesome to me! Appreciate the article and kind words! Thank you very much!

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