The secrets of wild Valais herbs

The Region Dents du Midi lies in the heart of Chablais in Valais. The area on the border with France has its own laws. Here, nature rules. If you are physically fit, you can look forward to fantastic views of mountain ranges with peaks over 3,000m high and an exceptional array of outdoor activities. The diversity of the hiking trails and wild herbs is remarkable.

Dances with herbs

Anyone who wants to become part of nature rather than simply passively observing it should hook up with Guillaume Besson. The ethnobotanist leads wild herb hikes in the Region Dents du Midi in Valais. He opens participants’ eyes in various respects and enables them to feel the full power of nature.

A sense of adventure and a love of nature and the plants that grow in the Dents du Midi region: Guillaume Besson is the Valais ethnobotanist. He is familiar with the wild herbs and their uses, both culinary and medicinal. He offers herb hikes in the region to share his secrets with others. At the end, the participants prepare and sample the wild herbs they found during the hike.

Dances with herbs

Guillaume Besson explaining to his guests the different plants found in the forest. Valais, Switzerland.

A moment that will endure. On a ridge above Champéry, Guillaume Besson is explaining the special characteristics of juniper to his group of three hikers when he suddenly breaks off and points skywards. Giant birds are circling overhead. Majestically and silently, three griffon vultures soar above the hikers’ heads. Not a word is spoken. Everyone is captivated by the moment and at one with nature. And that’s precisely what Guillaume Besson’s herb hikes are all about: accepting of surprises and open-minded about all facets of nature. Afterwards, he focuses on the juniper again, telling them that it is a universal remedy for all ailments caused by a lack of heat. The dried berries can boost your mood and make you feel more awake. Besson and his herb hiking group next encounter a plant known locally as the “Empress”, so-called because it is very highly prized among senior citizens in Valais. The plant helps with arthritis.

Guillaume Besson’s excursions are always little adventures. You won’t find yourself constantly looking at the ground. Besides the plants, he also talks about the characteristic features of the Dents du Midi region. The group makes a stop a little way below the Croix-de-Culet."What I find special here is this plateau, this vastness and then this steep rock face. I don’t know anything that compares to it." Guillaume BessonBy rock face he means the Dents du Midi mountain range, this three-kilometre-long mountain chain with seven peaks of almost the same height. It is the trademark of this region.

You can reach this beautiful landscape from various cities in just a few hours. For example, take the train to Champéry, a chalet village that is one of the oldest tourist resorts in Switzerland. From here, the legendary red and white gondolas carry visitors up to the Croix-de-Culet. The area is part of the Portes du Soleil – the world’s largest cross-border winter sports area between Switzerland and France.

The magnificent village of Champery with its flowers, chalets and ski lifts in the background. Valais, Switzerland.

Guillaume Besson’s hike takes participants both up and down, across verdant meadows with constant encounters with wonderful views and interesting wild herbs. The group encounters hogweed, yarrow and willowherb. The latter is blooming on these summer days, drawing a purple veil over the Alpine meadows.

There is an impressive demonstration of this later in the day when preparing dinner at Plein Ciel. The hotel is located high up the mountain in an old gondola and chairlift station. The group prepares a variety of herb pestos. There is cheese seasoned with caraway, accompanied by a glass of gentian wine made from local gentians. The willowherb serves as edible decoration and an eye-catcher par excellence. The evening sun bathes the terrace of the Hotel Plein Ciel in a golden light. In this atmosphere, the foraged food tastes even better as the group rounds off the day.

However, they meet up again on the terrace late in the evening. An impressive starry sky has built up over the Dents du Midi. The spectacle is accompanied by absolute silence. The experience with Guillaume Besson offers several moments that pack a punch. He so loves what he does because it brings people together. He wants to show through his work that our nature has everything to offer, from either a medicinal or a culinary perspective. The only thing is, no-one knows how to prepare plants any more.

Source: Photo rights: © Switzerland Tourism

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