Europlants in Marseille!

Between 22nd and 26th April Pistes Solidaires organized the 6th exchange of the Europlants project.

Europlants is a Grundtvig Learning Partnership with the goal to transfer the knowledge of the traditional use of plants from one generation to the other, while raising environmental consciousness and distributing information about sustainable development.

The 17 participants from Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Great Britain and the Czech Republic participated in a three day study visit in Provence.

The first day, 23rd April, the group was welcomed by The Walkers-Gatherers from Collectif Safi. A part of the GR 2013 path was explored and presented the opportunity to discover the cultural and social changes the northern district of Marseille went through in the past decades. The peculiarity of this urban/suburban path is that by discovering the paved streets and hidden pathways group was also able to discover the local flora and traces of history. Nature and more precisely the plants and flowers made a connection between the spaces visited and the participants.

The journey started at Sainte-Marthe-en-Provence’s trains station and finished at Saint-Joseph-le-Castellas’ train station. During the morning the group explored a different Marseille from what it is known to be, we walked among ancient residencies, ruins of old industries and paths surrounded by a diverse and rich vegetation. The Walkers-Gatherers gave a little booklet to the participants, in which they could gather the plants they observed and liked. Throughout the walk the group discovered different plants and their respective uses for instance rocket, sea beet, common rue, mint, mugwort, fennel, rosemary, and many more.

At lunch time The Walkers-Gatherers prepared a surprise from the collected plants – they prepared a snack! A delicious omelet with mint and oxalis, lollipops aromatized with common rue and fennel tea. With their batteries recharged the participants continued to discover the plants, new paths and places.

After observing the plants and flowers, discovering new paths and their histories, the participants were guided to a mysterious place where they took a rest. To appreciate the serenity of the site, the group practiced some stretching and relaxing exercises suggested by Zsofia from Pistes Solidaires’ team.

To end the day, The Walkers-Gatherers proposed a game: by thinking of all the information collected during the day, the group had to discover where they were standing in the time of this final game. Following some tips and thinking of the nearby fountain, a piece of tiled floor and columns, the question was easily answered! It was the ruins of an ancient residence, which by now is forgotten and overgrown by the vegetation.

The first day of the exchange took place in an atmosphere of constant learning and knowledge sharing. Alexandre and Estelle from the Walkers-Gatherers’ team were inspired by the experience, especially by the knowledge sharing and they will participate in the next Europlants exchange in the Czech Republic.

On April 24th, the participants went to Cosmos Kolej in the 15th district of Marseille, to do a dying workshop with plants, run by Viviane Cronier. To start the day, the group met with Dominique Reinosa who is responsible for the gardens and the terrestrial development of the association Cosmos Kolej, and she also participated in the Europlants’ exchange in Germany. She introduced the association Cosmos Kolej by presenting their territories and in particular their gardens and urban greening projects. Then the workshop started!

Viviane started the workshop with explaining the particularities and steps of the dying process and the characteristics of the plants and fabrics to be used. Firstly she showed how to get different colours by boiling dye plants. The participants were excitedly discovering that for instance, with Iris it is possible to obtain the green colour, with walnut’s leafs we obtain a light brown, with the saffron a yellow and with the peel of onion we obtain orange. Afterwards it was explained how to fix these natural colours: either with alum or ash or even with iron sulphate. The second dying technique was plants’ print on cotton. Explanations given, questions clarified, notes taken, hands to work! The participants explored the different techniques and also defined their project of dying t-shirts and bags. After a pleasant lunch break with the Cosmos Kolej’s team, the afternoon was dedicated to the conclusion of the projects.

The third and last day, the group paid a visit to the countryside of Provence and homage to lavender. The destination was the distillery Aroma’Plantes Distillery, a family farm, specialized in organic products produced from medicinal and aromatic plants. Upon arrival the group did a guided visit to the distillery of separated steam. In a noisy and rustic environment, characteristic of an operating distillery, they observed the process of transforming into essential oil and floral water. Afterwards, they visited the store where the products made in the distillery, the ‘’plantothèque’’, and all the plants grown on the farm or nearby are exposed. The different Lavender types and their uses were discovered, as well as other plants from the Provence area.

The most awaited moment of the day was the soap workshop that took place in the afternoon! Participants had fun learning how to make their own soap in the laboratory under the guidance of two chemists from Aroma’Plantes. Part of the afternoon was also dedicated to the farm in order to discover the culture of several aromatic and leguminous plants.

In every culture we eat plants, we dye with plants, we wash with plants and we use plants for our general well-being… in different ways, but we all use them! The aim of this project is to develop tools that will enable us to share the knowledge and to avoid the disappearance of this cultural heritage!

During these three days, the Europlants group sought to learn, share and develop knowledge of the various plants studied so then to share the obtained information back home.