EP09: Foraging with Europe’s grand master

Crawling at 5mph it took me ages to drive up the dusty, pot-holed road that led into the depths of wildness where foraging grand master Francois Couplan lives hidden in the depths of Provence, France.

If there is one person who I would dearly love to learn more about wild edible plants, then Francois is the man! I never in a gazillion years thought that I would find myself being invited for an evening meal, and spend time with one of my heroes… And trust me, I really don’t do heroes usually, but sometimes you hear about someone, and just know somewhere, sometime you need to meet them.

Francois Couplan

In this podcast interview, I sit as the sun goes down with a man who has been living with plants on a daily basis for over 50 years! Aside from the indigenous plant teachers I have met on my travels around the world, Francois has a knowledge that goes way beyond anyone living “in the West” that I know.

So it was a real pleasure to do this interview, even if I do sound excitable… that’s because… I was!

For a man who was there in Paris 68, its a fascinating record of someone’s life so completely dedicated to teaching and inspiring everyone about the importance of paying attention to plants, and the benefits that gives you. I hope you enjoy it.

Show Notes

Books By Francois Couplan

About Francois Couplan

Francois is a pioneer in the study of edible wild plants of Europe. Over 40 years he has conducted an exhaustive survey documenting and recording their use as food. After living in the United States where he learned the edible uses from various Indian tribes, he then travelled throughout five continents in search of the traditional cultures that have enriched our planet. For the last 35 years he has been teaching in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan and Tonga. Francois works with top chefs to rediscover the forgotten flavours we once knew.


  1. An interesting conversation. It is especially notable that we all seem to have this ideal of a primal forest. We forget how many large herbivores were present on the Eurasian continent and in North America just a short time ago. Large herds of herbivores roamed habitats ranging from forest, to savanna and grasslands, and also swamp (wet woodland) as well as marshes (wetlands with few of no trees). There were many, many times more large herbivores roaming nearly every region of the world than there are today – even adding the domestic animals! Yet there was no ‘overgrazing’. The interaction of the plants, animals, and soil life created deep, fertile soils.

    Grasses sequester carbon FAR more efficiently than trees do – by pumping carbohydrates of particular kinds to ‘farm’ the kind of bacteria most beneficial to them, AND by the action of grazing animals that process the grasses through digestion and/or hoof action, returning the carbon and other nutrients to the soil surface, which provides shelter and food for the Soil Food Web – containing MILLIONS (or more!) microbes per teaspoon of live, healthy soil. Plus ‘macro’ organisms that we can see. Bacteria, protozoa, arthropods, nemadotes, insects, fungi…

    According to Dr. Elaine Ingham, soil microbiologist, there are at least 80,000 species of soil-dwelling organisms yet to be discovered, describes, and named. There presence was unsuspected before bits of their DNA were detected in soil samples —- simply because they would not grow in a petri dish!!!!!!! Soil life was not considered important, since it was assumed that synthetic chemical fertilizers was all we needed to grow food. Now we know food grown that way lacks the nutrients it needs to fully thrive, to resist pests and disease, and to provide our livestock and our bodies with the nutrition we need to thrive. This is because the chemicals and the plowing kill the soil life that makes the mineral elements and trace elements available to plants. The chemical fertilizers simply helped ‘mine’ the fertility built by the interaction of plants and the Soil Food Web, even the very bodies of those soil organisms. Now our industrially farmed agricultural fields are increasingly infertile, compacted leading to ‘drought’ conditions for crops even when there is enough rain, and malnourished plants that need ‘rescue chemistry’ to survive. Even macronutrient levels like protein in maize have dropped significantly in the past 50 yrs- from n approximate average of 12% to 8%, in many regions.

    No doubt there were deep forests, but we forget that they were dotted with meadows, and many areas were also savanna – which varies from open woodland with grasses, some shrubs, and broadleafed plants between the trees, to grassland dotted with the occasional tree. Savanna type habitats support the largest mass of mammals per hectare over any other type of habitat. Savanna, rather than deep forest, was likely the true home of humanity. This may explain the broad preference among us humans for ‘parkland’ – grasses that appear to be mown under trees, with clumps of shrubs and a gentle river or lake.

    It is well documented that when humans evolved from their earlier ancestors, there was a switch from a nearly all plant diet (chimps eat termites and other non-plant foods), to an animal-based diet. Particularly along shorelines and in cold climates, animal fat and protein were key to human survival. Today, survival experts know that humans can live without ANY carbohydrates, but they must have a little high-quality protein (almost always from an animal source and FAT to live for any length of time. This is not even debated, but established through experimentation and experience.

    Sadly, this is noit currently a popular idea. It is a bit silly to blame animals for ‘overgrazing’ – which is not the result of too many animals on a peice of land, but rather ANY NUMBER OF ANIMALS ON A PIECE OF LAND FOR TOO LONG A TIME. In other words, if we fence the land so herds can no longer migrate, we must move them across the land within our fences o restore the ecological relationship between the plants and animals which they co-evolved to have with each other. Then both thrive.

    And we need not feel guilty about our role as predators, thinning the surplus from the herds.

  2. I am wondering “WHY” there seems such a huge flow towards Vegan & Vegetarianism!
    Exploiting animals on the scale that we do,to the ever more present Intensive farming methods,it would seem we might be waking up to the fact,we eat,whilst the animals suffer at our hands.yet the likes of W.A.Price [Wise traditions]recommends grass fed.
    nutrient dense.hormone free,expensive,but worth the cost,if one can afford it,maybe reducing our consumption of meat to twice a week perhaps is the way to go


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