Ethnobotanical Exploration of the Cabriere Region of Spain
Last spring I spent a one week in a remote village in northern Spain in what is called the Cabriere region in Lyon. We stayed in the tiny village of Pozos, in a beautifully restored stone villa as guests of an internationally known chef, Esmeraldo Otueros, who was born and raised in Pozos, as part of a cooking and cultural experience through their business Esme Tours. There was little information on their website, and during our drive to the village, as the roads got narrower and narrower and finally became dirt, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. As soon as we arrived our fears instantly disappeared and changed to wonder.
View from the balcony deck at the lodge
The ‘lodge’ is a restored stone building, designed around a lovely courtyard, opening to a full kitchen with a wood cook stove as a central element. Our upstairs rooms were well appointed, the bathrooms modern and elegant, the heat from wood-fired radiant tile floors, and there was a deck with a fireplace for our exclusive use, and the view was amazing. And the food we helped to cook was incredible. I had a vague understanding of Spanish food but learned so much while I was there. We created and ate the most iconic foods of Spain and of our region.
During our stay we were visited by villagers who showed me the salves they are still making, their family herbal liqueurs, the wild greens they still harvest, the baskets their families made. We went out harvesting wild herbs, visited cellars full of last years harvests, and made amazing meals from ingredients grown and harvested in that land for millennia. And most remarkably for me each person was intent on sharing this knowledge, seeking a way to hold onto it and knew that we understood the importance.
We were brought to other ‘visiting villages’ who are part of the connected region of the Cabreira and saw tiny museums set up in an effort to keep the knowledge, with efforts to teach back the skills of their history. This is yet another culture on the edge of losing its cultural knowledge, yet it is held in recent, living memory. Below is an image of a tiny private museum in Pozos, wallpapered with herbarium pressings, mixed with artifacts.
The population of year round residents is down to a handful (one of the ‘year round residents’ is shown below), with a surge in August when village families come home for their annual visit to houses that have been in their families since beyond memory. A few are being restored, while many more are collapsing, beautifully. One of the villagers who return annually is an herbalist, a priest and a professor in Madrid, who spends his month at home dispensing herbal remedies. He is also the man who created the tiny museum and herbal pressing seen in the photo above. Esmeraldo has cousins, one of whom I met and another I will meet on my return visit who carries plant knowledge, and want to share it.
The village still operates as a community with shared forests for firewood and timber, garden plots at various elevations throughout the village lands for each family, and the stone terraces for agriculture are still intact though collapsing through neglect.
I’ve set up to go back in August of 2017. I hope to bring 1-3 people with me to help establish an ethnobotanical study as needed. I’m looking for former or current students of mine who have plant knowledge, and ideally speak some Spanish. Please let me know if you are interested!