Saturday, the 16th of September, saw The American University of Rome's graduate students embark on a sustainable food exploration along the ancient Appian Way leading to the picturesque landscapes near Giulianello in Lazio.

The students congregated at a modest gate overlooking the serene Lago di Giulianello crater lake with the gentle morning breeze as their companion. Here, they were introduced to Iseno, an expert in the area's edible biodiversity, with roots tracing back to the cicoriare community - a community that sustained itself by gathering, eating, and ultimately selling chicory during times of scarcity following the Second World War. Iseno is an encyclopedic expert on the local edible biodiversity. As we heard stories of how crucial wild plants have been to the survival and thriving of this local community, we set off on our foraging journey around the peaceful crater lake.

Moments into the journey, the excitement was palpable when wild asparagus was discovered (a delicacy best enjoyed in frittatas or tuna pasta). The wild asparagus plants here are managed sustainably by local gatherers who leave some plants in the ground each year to ensure the long-term supply.  Other species required a keener eye; Iseno burst out of the bush with enthusiasm having finally found sambuco, whose beautiful, singular flower is typically eaten deep-fried in both sweet and savory dishes.


The students' exploration was more than a mere foraging quest; it was a journey through time, unraveling the culinary and social histories rooted in the region. The group encountered an array of flora, from the familiar blackberries to the elusive cardogna, termed by Iseno as the "queen of wild plants." We were reminded there is so much more to a cuisine than what you find in a restaurant or a supermarket. As Iseno made clear, the Mediterranean diet is bigger than a trendy diet or a food pyramid; it is a culture, a survival strategy, a creative exploit, and a historical artifact.

Post foraging, a hearty meal awaited at a quaint farmhouse on the lake's edge. Delicacies like courgette soup, penne al sugo, and ciambellini al vino biscuits graced the table, each bite enriched by local treasures, including the award-winning Gaeta olive oil and Iseno's homemade wine.

Rejuvenated and enlightened, the graduates returned to Rome, enriched by their profound connection to the land, its history, and the vibrant culinary tapestry of Italy.

This article and the accompanying photography are the work of graduate student Carlotta Cramer