A few days ago I was trudging up the Margalla Hill trail above Saidpur Village, when I saw a group of young boys busy picking (what appeared to be) berries from some bushes. Glad to find an excuse for resting, I sat down on a rock to watch the scene and was immediately engulfed by nostalgic childhood memories.

Our home in Lahore was one of those colonial type bungalows surrounded by a large garden that one often found allotted to civil servants. The garden was a heaven sent gift for us, as it afforded unlimited options for activity. It was in this green world that we began ‘experiencing’ the wonders of the plant world in the real sense.

For example we discovered that the bitter leaves of what was probably a Gardenia hedge made an excellent fife type musical instrument, when rolled into a cylindrical shape. While our efforts to make music left a bitter after taste on the tongue, the white flowers became our make shift ‘lollipops’ as they produced ample quantities of sweet nectar which could be sucked out with little effort. I am sure this activity must have made us very unpopular with our resident bees and humming birds.

One fine day, while hiding amidst the branches of the fragrant Murraya tree during a game of hide and seek, we found that its ripe berry like fruit also had a sweet taste. From that day onwards this particular tree became one of our favorite haunts. I was told much later that these berries were inedible, but frequent forays into this tree and the fact that we must have ingested a considerable amount of its red fruit without any adverse effect puts the notion in doubt. I am nonetheless inserting a disclaimer here to emphasize that since a doubt was raised on the edibility of the ‘Murraya’ fruit, our experience must not be taken as incentive to taste the same.

Our ‘Murraya’ was overshadowed by a very old ‘Neem’ tree. Its leaves when strewed in storage boxes containing woolies, kept silver fish and other pests at bay, while its twigs became therapeutic tooth brushes. The fruit of the ‘Neem’ tree, when fully ripe dropped to the ground and was often munched on by us. We found that common garden snails tended to congregate under this tree and rightly or wrongly concluded that they did so in pursuit of these bitter-sweet berries.

The spring season saw colorful Nasturtiums blooming in flower pots. The leaves of this plant tasted like radish as did its seeds and were a favored snack with us. It was while browsing through salad recipes many years later that I found the leaves, flowers and seeds of the Nasturtium listed amongst the many ingredients of this exotic and healthy food.

The fragrant Sweet Pea was a favorite annual with my mother, who would cut and put profuse quantities of this multicolored flower into vases around the house. The plant produced pods containing green peas, which were edible. I am happy to report that my grandchildren are continuing with the tradition of snacking on the contents of fresh sweet pea pods.

A shout from the group foraging for berries brought me out of my reverie. My curiosity increased when I found the boys trying to dig out something from the slope bordering the track. One of these youngsters walked up to me with an onion like bulb and informed me triumphantly that he had discovered the ‘Meetha Gunda’ or Sweet Onion. Closer inspection revealed that this ‘onion’ was none other than a local variety of wild tulip that grows in the hills bordering Islamabad and on the banks of Rawal Lake, during winter and early spring. This small bulb is often harvested by young people from surrounding hamlets, who consider it a delicacy.

I walked down the trail, happy in the knowledge that the relationship between man and wild plants was alive and well. On reaching the car park, I looked back and thought I saw Mother Nature smiling benignly upon the world.

 The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City.  His forte is the study of History.