What do you see, hear and smell, when you think about a city? Close your eyes for a couple of minutes and try to answer these questions. For me, a city is a space that smells like car exhaust and full of noise and dust, surrounded by tall buildings and wide roads going through it. Unfortunately, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities and the urban population are constantly growing (1).
I was lucky enough to get the chance to see a city in a different way by putting the edible city glasses on my eyes during the edible city “Essbare Stadt” walking tour during the Tropentag conference (2019) in Kassel, Germany. I just realized how nature makes its way through the concrete and how much we are detached from nature and seeing it as an external entity to our beings.
This is reflected in how much we are able to identify plants and herbs and use them in our daily lives. I learned from the guide that some of the flowers that grow on the edge of the street or pavements are useful for human health. For instance, I am sure that most of us have seen this beautiful bluish flower (see picture below) on the edge of the road, especially in Europe. This flower is called Chicory (Cichorium intybus), its leaves and roots are edible.
You can add the leaves to your salad. Bake and ground the roots, then use as a coffee substitute
I was really curious and wanted to know more about this flower, so I went and searched. I found that it has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and sedative properties due to that it is used for wound healing and for the relief of mild digestive disorders. Moreover, it is used as forage plants for poultry and animals (2).
If you are interested and wanted to know more about wild edible plants or even medicinal herbs, you just need to type these keywords into a search engine or Facebook and you will get lots of information, international and local groups who have similar interests.
Edible cities can be considered an innovative nature-based solution, which helps urban residents to reshape their relationship with food, seeing it as a basic human needs rather than a commodity by offering free organically produced food to urban residents and offering a space where people from different ethnicities and generations can meet and learn from each other, this enhances social cohesion (3).
For me, this is a way of practising urban agroecology, which is a type of urban agriculture that goes beyond food production to promote knowledge exchange, and sharing, healthy diets and livelihoods; enhancing solidarity and empowering marginalized groups and on top of that, taking into consideration the integration of various elements of the agro-ecosystem (4). This can help communities to have more control over the food system and provide themselves with more ecologically sustainable food and reducing dependence on big businesses corporation, this is known as achieving a state of food sovereignty (5).
In the mid of the current climate and natural crisis that we are living now and the spread of a pandemic disease (COVID-19), I would say nothing can be taken for granted and achieving a state of food sovereignty at household or a national level seems important to reach, so communities and countries can cope with challenges and be self-sufficient when all the trade and borders are shut down.
So let’s increase and support the productive and nature-preserving urban landscapes around and within our cities and go back to nature and live in harmony.
Own photos were taken in September 2019 in Kassel, Germany
2) Muhammad Saeed, Mohamed E. Abd El-Hack, Mahmoud Alagawany, Muhammad A. Arain, Muhammad Arif, Muhammad A. Mirza, Muhammad Naveed, Sun Chao, Muhammad Sarwar, Maryam Sayab and Kuldeep Dhama, 2017. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) Herb: Chemical Composition, Pharmacology, Nutritional and Healthical Applications.International Journal of Pharmacology, 13: 351-360.
3) Artmann, M., Sartison, K., Vavra, J. 2020. The role of edible cities supporting sustainability transformation-A conceptual multi-dimensional framework testes on a case study in Germany, Journal of Cleaner Production (255);
4) Van Dyck, B., Maughan, N., Vankeerberghen, A., & Visser, M. 2017, November. Why we need urban agroecology. Urban Agriculture Magazine, 33, pp 5-6