We watched the wild flowers grow on the mountain and plains of Lebanon. The flowers grew, as did we. As years passed we grew apart. The flowers left to wither, we both planted timid seeds. New soil in different weather, somehow we both found our way back home. As winter passes by, I watch them bloom with power, only to be detached from the earth they grew strong from.
A’kkoub (Gundelia or tumbleweed) is a genus of plants in the sunflower family. A low-growing thistle-like plant, which flowers and dries out in summer, its seeds flying in the wind to propagate, it is native to Lebanon and neighboring countries. It is collected for food from February till the end of March when the heads are still compact and have not developed into flowers. Some Bible scholars think that the tumbleweed of Psalm 83: 13 (“Make them like tumble-weed galgal, O my God, like chaff before the wind”) is none else then A’kkoub.
For centuries, foragers have been seeking the tender A’kkoub shoot for its mild artichoke taste, to cook with meat, chickpeas, or yogurt, and sauté them with onions. It was also used for medicinal purposes, containing antioxidants known as anti-inflammatory. Like all wild edible plants it also provides greater amounts of minerals than cultivated greens. The use of this plant is probably quite ancient, dating back to more then 2000 years old.
In March A’kkoub plants are cut at the base and the prickles removed. It is usually harvested in the early morning a group of women of a given village. The disarmed plants are relished as a delicacy. The plant becomes progressively drier over the summer, it leaves yellowing and growing spikes. Before dying, it detaches from the root to be pushed around by the wind and disperse its seeds for the following year’s harvest.
Gundelia tournefortii garnered media attention in 1998 when its pollen grains were found in abundance on the Shroud of Turin. Serving as a claim in establishing its provenance, it has been suggested that this spiny plant was used for the “crown of thorns” worn by Jesus.
There is much fuss around this highly prized wild green; first because finding it or at least finding someone to collect it from mountainsides was not an easy task, second it requires labor intensive cleaning, which involved ridding it of its thorns whilst getting your fingers pricked in the process. After this whole labour intensive process you could cook it. All this, created a kind of mystique as people would rave and call it a delicacy.
This modest weed cooked could become a scrumptious meal fit for a feast. Before the fashion of foraging food around the world took craze, Lebanese women in villages were walking through the plains picking this wonderful nature’s gift.