I collected the plants sheep were eating as we made our way up the Drôme mountains in France. Knowing nothing about their appetites, I built up a flower menu during the walk. I also needed a way to communicate without the language barrier. These shepherds speak a French with a dialect, and with my grade 12 Canadian french, I needed all the help I could get. Asking shepherds what the plants were was a collective event, and as we rested at the top of the mountain, shepherds joined in filling in all the blanks. In doing so, they created a quick edible mapping of the landscape and account of shepherd expertise of the landscape. Not surprising for those so close to the ground and in tune with moving sheep to various pastures throughout the seasons.
Tips for using plants were noted. For example, gaillet is used in the cheese making process to help transform the milk into curds, and thyme for colds and rheuma.
More moments of beauty: the individual clusters on a brize plant are called bird’s hearts.
In very few cases the shepherd did not know what a plant was. It was often because I cut the plant incorrectly as an amateur, without for example, a flower.
A drawing by Fabien Candy of ADEM (Association Departementale d’Economie Montagnarde) explaining where plants grow in the Drôme mountains according to elevation.
Photo: Fabien Candy with a mushroom during our walk with the sheep.
Whilst naming the flowers, the shepherds brought out homemade sausage. Lucky me.