Celebrate the culture of agriculture & share skills (Growing! Cooking! Eating!)

One of the things I like to do when traveling is to take advantage of the herbs, flowers, and fruits I find growing there. I took a lot of rose-petal baths and gave myself many a blackberry facial while traveling in Wales, for example. I even stole a few sprigs of Bronze Age chamomile from a hill fort exhibition in Cardigan to make sun-infused oil at my B & B.

Well, I've just spent two weeks in Tuscany. I couldn't BELIEVE the profusion of flowers, herbs, fruits and stuff they have there! They've even got tobacco plantations. Serious heaven.

Geraniums, olive tree, wood with lichen

My WHOLE family (yes) stayed at a villa near Radda in Chianti (straw-wrapped bottles!) with a vineyard, olive trees, everything. Highlights included:

  • dad getting into two accidents on the first day, one on the way out of the rental place and the second as we were pulling into a parking lot in Volpaia. The entire TOWN stopped what they were doing and came out on the sidewalks to gape at the crazy Americans;
  • mum falling off a sidewalk, spraining her ankle and injuring her hip on our second day; 
  • me getting into an argument with a shopkeeper on our seventh afternoon;
  • subsequent screaming fight with my sister on our seventh evening; 
  • other sister SNAPPING her arm on our, like, ninth day and having to be taken off in an ambulance. Silver lining: she reported that all hospital personnel were shockingly good looking. The x-ray is beyond description; 
  • Other, unexpectedly silver lining: I ended up taking care of TWO three-year-olds (my broken-armed sister's son and my own son) for the rest of the trip (which was actually quite awesome and much more peaceful than you might imagine). 

The boys in the vineyard making nice.

Eating doughnuts at a sidewalk cafe in Radda. You can just glimpse the glorious red leather handbag I had just purchased.

Pirates of the Mediterranean

Tuscany was MAGNIFICENT! It looked like a friggin painting. Everywhere you looked was a PROFUSION of green and flowers. Sorry, but I MUST USE CAPS TO TALK ABOUT THIS PLACE! The very first thing I noticed when we drove from the airport to the villa (in a weird, huge, boxy, bus thing my father rented that everyone hated but I loved (probably because I can't drive a stick and never had to navigate it down those insane roads followed by a line of angry, honking Tuscans)) was the smell. Just driving down the road you were overwhelmed by this unbelievable floral, herbal scent. 

Wildflowers on the road to Radda

That first night we drove up to Volpaia for dinner. Volpaia is a wicked old village with winding streets that are lined with lavender, olive groves, roses, rosemary bushes, jasmine, and lemon trees. It's impossible to describe the smell and the feeling of being surrounded by all that beauty. There is something intriguing and mysteriously beautiful a about the mingling of old architecture with a wild profusion of flowers and green. 

Every day I walked from the villa to the nearest town (Radda) just to take pictures and gush over all the stuff growing there. Here's what I found:


Huge Rosmarinus oficinalis bushes

Wild anise Pimpinella anisum

Wild fennel Foeniculum vulgare

Fuzzy mint plants at the villa. Maybe apple mint? Mentha suaveolens.

Lavendula angustifolia EVERYWHERE!

Wild yellow chamomile Anthemis tinctoria. This is a member of the sunflower family, has some therapeutic uses and can also be used as a great yellow dye. GROWS EVERYWHERE!

Nigella damascena. Love in the Mist. Devil in a Bunch. These are hermaphroditic, feral plants! Seeds are used as a condiment (nutmeg-like flavor), but there is some controversy about its toxicity.

Nigella damascena fruits! Crazy pods!

According to Trek Nature:

Seeds (also called "seeds blessed"), reduced to powder, can be used to fight against sneezing. Their infusion or decoction in wine may be used for a variety of purposes (diuretic, tonic or stimulant). The solutions formed are dangerous and toxic, the ducts are poisonous, they should be used only under the supervision of specialists. Essential oil, rich in alkaloids (damascenine) can be obtained from the seeds.

Okay, they also had wild chives and sage, which I didn't photograph because I didn't realize what they were.


Olive grove

Amazingly sweet-smelling lemons and lemon blossoms.

Baby grapes and grape flowers!

Potted strawberries

Cherry trees EVERYWHERE!


Volpaia street covered with roses.

Roses, lavender, and olive tree

The sweetest smelling flower in the world:Trachelospermum jasminoides 'Tuscani.'

These grow everywhere. They're almost like hedges in a lot of places.

Potted geraniums

Potted roses

Orchis italica, Naked Man Orchid! Wild orchids!

More potted roses and geraniums

Potted sweet-smelling flowers just randomly placed among trees.

Last roses

Amazingly sweet-smelling tree flowers.


Fruiting star clover, Trifolium stellatum (Thanks, Torwen!)

Poppies everywhere Papaver rhoeas

Papaver rhoeas is not the same as Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy. But it has its own lore. According to Wikipedia:

In Persian literature, red poppies, especially red corn poppy flowers, are considered the flower of love. They are often called the eternal lover flower.

In classic and modern Persian poems, the poppy is a symbol of martyrs ([shahid]) and people who died for love (Persian: راه عشق). Many poems interchange 'poppy' and 'tulip' (Persian: لاله).

[I] was asking the wind in the field of tulips during the sunrise: whose martyrs are these bloody shrouded?

[The wind] replied: Hafez, me and you are not capable of this secret, sing about red wine and sweet lips.

And of course, the base note: Cypress trees everywhere. Cupressus sempervirens.

So I'm going to leave this here for now, seeing as I'm at work and probably should be working. Next time: some recipes using Tuscan ingredients!!!

Views: 208

Comment by Cornelia on June 20, 2012 at 2:50pm

What a wonderful, wonderful read. Thank you for sharing your story and all of these amazing pictures!! My husband and I honeymooned in Tuscany and I can just SMELL your pictures. I was so struck by the pride that everyone took in their little spaces. Flowers everywhere.

Re: Nigella. An Algerian chef friend recommends using Nigella seeds in his preserved lemon recipe. I love the flavor, but didn't know I was playing with a potential toxin. Very interesting! Thanks again.


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