Butterbur and birch sap, or how now I go out into the field.

Written by: Mala Pachla

As I was one day traveling on a train run by the Małopolska regional railway, I noticed an advertising slogan on the reverse of the ticket, which read: "I am from Lesser Poland, I go out into the field". Cool, right? I have always appreciated local patriotism. As many of you probably know, people from Małopolska (or Lesser Poland) say that they go out into the field to denote that they are going outside, while in general in other parts of Poland they say they go out into the courtyard. Let’s not get into the intricacies of linguistics or compare regional dialects here. I'm not an expert so I shouldn’t step into these foreign territories. The truth, however, is that since I moved to the countryside, the language I use daily has not only changed a tad but has also incorporated new words that I have never heard before. As a result, I become familiar with concepts that I want to explore linguistically as well as get to know them almost face to face.

Thus, as I go outside the house, outdoor or into the above-mentioned field… (which would truthfully have been justified for me, since in front of my house there’s an actual field, whereas the people of Kraków claim they "go out into the field" even though their urban dwellings are nowhere near a field) I study nature closely, every plant, herb or weed. Whatever you want to call it. Because spring is upon us as I write this, from the moment it awakens I can peek at nettle leaves still in their infancy, the emerging dandelion rosettes, and a few steps further I can admire the buxom beauty of ground-ivy sprouting up from the soil, I learn to distinguish between butterbur and burdock, I appreciate the beauty and properties of such miracles as the golden saxifrage and as I am spurred by spring endorphins, I even commit mischief, I cheekily snag a thing the locals call ‘oskoła’ and you may know it as birch sap.

I bet right now you are asking Uncle Google to check what are these last few natural wonders I just wrote about. Well, a few months ago I had no knowledge of these things myself and I dare say that our great-grandmothers used these names every day. I am extremely pleased that today I can also gradually delve into the beauty of these names and colors of nature, even though most of this enormous knowledge still remains shrouded in mystery. I am happy that instead of going to a run-of-the-mill pharmacy, I am looking for pharmacy in nature and I am learning how to replace pharmaceuticals known from commercials with coltsfoot or dog rose fruit, collected by myself in such beautiful circumstances of nature.

Am I lucky? Sure, that's because I live far away from the city and so close to forests and meadows. But, but… nature is a commodity available to everyone. I know a woman who lives in the city but spends her every free moment in the great outdoors, with her nose in herbs, collecting them, and then preparing miraculous potions with them, things you have not dreamed of. She makes natural soaps, shampoos, creams, macerates and decoctions. But you can start with ordinary herbal teas. Appreciate their taste and the fact that they were collected with your own hands. Impress your friends at social gatherings by serving them things born of nature, things that never came close to a store shelf, things you prepared with your heart, not to mention their exquisite names such as burnet or ground elder. I recommend, I encourage and I keep my fingers crossed.

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