In Anniviers, people’s lives were ruled by the growth of grass, and obviously by their animals’ lifecycles. The mayen where they spend a few weeks a year, is the intermediary stage between the village and high mountain pastures. The cattle can graze on the upland before going up to the high pastures in June, or after coming down in September. Nature is generous and the presence of animals benefits nitrogen loving plants such as nettle, wild spinach, dandelion or monk's-rhubarb, also called Alpine dock, and referred to as “les lapés” in the local dialect.
Here is what Cécile and Hélène L. from Sierre recount.
“We used to call them ” les lâpés” or big ears. They had a pink stem. When we were at the mayen, there was no vegetable garden, so mother used “Les lapés” to make jam. I remember that my brother used to ask for some even as a grown man. Mother would make it from time to time. We loved eating this jam with freshly churned butter, it was such a treat!” .
Related to monk’s rhubarb, another plant that can be used in the kitchen is wild spinach, easily recognizable by its leaves that look like a goose’s foot and are floury to the touch.
Dinner at the mayen :
Wild spinach, potatoes, onions, cheese, milk, flour. Chop the wild
spinach and stir fry in oil with chopped onions. Add potatoes, cooked
and cubed, some cheese, milk and a pinch of flour. Season to taste and
simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. (Recipe courtesy
of Jeanne Z. from St-Jean).
The pharmacy is not to be found in the village but in the mountain.
The mayen is situated at just the right altitude to find masterwort
(Peucedanum ostruthium), which was considered a universal remedy in Val
d’Anniviers. For instance, an oinment made with its leaves could be
applied to an animal’s infected hooves and the smoke from its dry roots
was used to perfume houses in addition to protecting inhabitants from
colds and influenza. The masterwort is referred to as the “agro” by Anniviards who have many a wonderful story to tell about all the ailments it can cure.
And now, those of you who are game and keen on adventure can try picking a nettle leaf with your thumb and index finger. The trick is to pull away from the stem with a pinching action to avoid getting stung. Then, roll the leaf up in a ball in the same direction as the hairs are growing, crush it and eat it just as it is, and let mother nature be your inspiration.
Caution : you should only eat plants that you can identify with absolute certainty!
Text : Sabine Muster-Brüschweiler, ethnobotaniste