Into the wild

FleursSauvages1-R0000204-webWhere knowledge, curiosity and a sense of responsibility may have saved lives in the Auvergne garden of Eden.

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A lover of the natural beauty of my home mountains, I purchased the March/April edition of the French magazine ‘En Auvergne’ on 13th March, as soon as I saw its cover page. There was a report about wild flowers growing in the region, including edible ones. Whether I would learn a lot or not, I would give it a go. Pictures looked nice too.

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March / April 2014 edition of the ‘En Auvergne’ magazine, taken off the shelves after a potentially harmful mistake was discovered. Photos 22nd March, Aurillac, France.

I was eager to read about these edible flowers but when I started in the evening I noticed something strange. The flowers on the photo page 29 were not looking like “digitales pourpres” (foxglove in English), the toxic plant we were told about when we were children, but rather like an other flower I had forgotten the name of.

I found the name two pages later: “épilobe en épi” (= fireweed), written below the picture of a magnificent foxglove. Now I was sure something was wrong: the image captions had been inverted.

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Page 31 of the magazine: photo of a deadly “digitale pourpre” wrongly captioned “épilobe en épi”.

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The “digitales pourpres” caption of the “épilobes en épis” photo, page 29.

This little inversion would have had no consequences if one of the plants wasn’t potentially deadly while the other is attractively edible.

Indeed in the magazine, the authors describe the eating qualities of the “épilobe en épi” in these words: “this plant gives tasty young shoots which can be cooked like asparagus, leaves which are delicious in a salad and flowers which, once dried, make a soft and pleasant herbal tea.”

Well, everything in the “digitale pourpre” or foxglove is toxic, and 100 g of fresh leaves are said to be enough to kill a human being…

Sense of responsibility… and quick action

I wrote to the Editor first thing in the morning on March 14th. I was probably not the only person to flag the issue. They replied in the afternoon to say that they had decided to take the magazine off the shelves, write to their subscribers and publish an erratum in the April / May issue, which will be released before foxgloves start to grow.

This may have saved lives indeed, and surely some disappointing experiences of eating wild flowers. Congratulations to the magazine team.

Wild is wild

I have always thought that we should encourage gardening rather than foraging, for a number of reasons.

One reason is that we know what we plant in our gardens. Is it easy for the casual observer to recognise the edible from the poisonous in the wild? Some of the poisonous plants shouldn’t even be touched.

So we should probably just contemplate this natural beauty with our eyes and leave the picking to the specialists. It is surely safer.

Having said that, it would be a shame if people were perceiving wilderness as hostile and for instance avoided smelling flowers or lying down around them during a nice spring or summer afternoon in the heavenly wild garden that the Auvergne is.

I hope, and have no doubt, that the “En Auvergne” editorial team will find the words in their communication about their unfortunate editing mistake, and in later issues of the magazine, to enable their audiences to enjoy to the full the beautiful – and not that wild – mountains of this region at the heart of France.

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