Be it a chunk of pork falling neatly off a knuckle bone, a flat piece of veal covered in golden breadcrumbs, or a platter of cooked and cured cold cuts; for most people, German food = meat. This stereotype exists of course for a reason (thank you, Bavarian beerhalls), but though there may be pigs aplenty being processed in Germany each year (59.4 million in 2016), there’s been a steady decrease over the last decade in the amount of pork the Germans consume.
Today, more than 10% of Germans avoid eating meat and other animal products, and the number of people turning to veganism is on the rise. Germany’s capital is repeatedly rated as one of the best cities in the world for travelling vegans, if not the vegan capital of the world (which is hardly surprising, given that 80,000 of Berlin’s 3.5 million inhabitants follow a vegan diet), and more vegan food and drinks products were launched in Germany in 2016 than anywhere else in the world.
An increasing number of vegans in Germany adhere to a raw food diet, either partially, or altogether. Raw vegans exclude from their diet not just those products that come from animal origins, but any food cooked above 45 degrees celsius. I’ve been unable to find any precise statistics online, but raw veganism appears to be a steadily growing trend here, with raw vegan communities sprouting online and gathering across the country for various vegan events, from friendly local potlucks to sizeable annual festivals.
Christine Volm, botanist, wild plant expert and raw vegan of 12 years, organises some such events herself. Having studied horticultural science at the Technical University near Munich and taught at the Institute of Botany, Christine now lives in Sindelfingen, 15km south west of Stuttgart, working as a consultant for nutrition, specialising in raw food and wild plants, and regularly foraging for the wild plants that make up a large part of her diet. She’s published three (cook)books on raw veganism, and now offers foraging tours and seminars in the area in which she lives. I was invited to join her in Sindelfingen on one of her foraging expeditions.
I met Christine (and a group of other bloggers) in the peaceful courtyard of Sindelfingen’s 900-year-old Martinskirche (St Martin’s Church). Following a short introduction to her approach to food and nutrition – Christine turned to raw veganism to try to improve a number of health issues, and found that many of her symptoms were alleviated by omitting animal products and cooked foods from her diet – we got straight down to searching for edibles in the undergrowth, starting with the neat, bright green lawn beneath our feet.
Scouring the grass for edible leaves and flowers, Christine explained their individual health and nutritional benefits, and described how best to prepare them (mostly: salad, tea, pesto, spreads and smoothies). We were guided – amongst others – towards to the faintly bitter yarrow (good for toothache), mild-tasting chickweed (sorts out bowel problems), and entirely flavourless prunella (also known as “heal all”, said to relieve everything from headaches to genital herpes), which each member of our small group happily folded into our mouths and chewed in total blind faith.
Moving on from the church, we walked a short distance to some of Sindelfingen’s very pretty green spaces to hunt for more food. Over the course of the following three hours, we were instructed in locating and sampling around 22 edible wild plants and berries, some with very strong flavours, some without, but all abound with nutritional benefits.
My favourites were those with a bit of a kick to them. I loved the garlicky (and anti-bacterial) Alliaria petiolata, known in English as garlic mustard and in German as Knoblauchsrauke, and Allium vineale – onion grass or Weinbergslauch – which we found growing in the shade amongst the fallen leaves of an old tree (I know nothing of old trees: it was the one that had dropped the yellow leaves below).
I also fell for the succulent leaves of Sedum telephium (below), which has a plethora of English names including witch’s moneybags or frog’s-stomach, and is known in German as Rote Fetthenne. Not only were its (inedible) mauve flowers quite striking on what was turning into a very grey November day, but its leaves were juicy and crunchy, and I’m not embarrassed to admit that I went back for more.
And what would a wild plant foraging expedition be without a large patch of nettles, chock full of protein, magnesium, Kalium, iron, Sicilian and vitamins A, C and E? Christine showed us how to pick and eat them carefully, raw, to avoid getting stung: pinch a leaf firmly between thumb and index finger, pull it off its stalk, and then use the same thumb and finger to stroke firmly upwards, several times over, and flatten the stinging hairs. You can then roll the leaf right up and eat it as it. (In theory. Guess who was the only one left biting a red, bumpy thumb?)
Following our very brisk walk around Sindelfingen, we returned to the church with a bag of foraged wild plants for a briefing on how to prep them for raw consumption. Christine provided homemade raw vegan chocolates, produced a very sharp lemonade out of whole lemons (peel and all), and blended up an abundance of nettle smoothies.
The foraging expedition was a really fascinating way to spend a morning. Having learned how to search for food in places I’d never even think to look – you know, just in the grass where I was standing – I’m inspired to do a spot more foraging myself, if not at least just to show off my newfound knowledge to my in-laws. Committed (but responsible) omnivore that I am, I’ll not be turning to raw veganism just yet, but at least I know I’ll do alright for food if I ever get lost in the woods.