Irene Manfrini, forager and herbalist

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“Foraging and going looking for herbs connects me with nature. What is more, the thing that is very important for me is to foster other people’s reconnection with nature.” For Irene, walking and going foraging for wild herbs lies at the heart of everything. She doesn't want to make new things because there is enough already. “For me it is very important how we perceive weeds: usually the weed that comes up between the concrete, that weed in the city, is probably edible and very nutritious, and it's there because it should be there, and it's us that put the concrete there,” she continues.

Name of Craft in the local language
Zeliščarstvo
Type of Craft
Harvesting and foraging, recognizing herbs, simple uses that can be culinary, medicinal, or cosmetic in nature; workshops
Knowledge Holder
Irene Manfrini
Location, Website
Rovereto, Vallagarina, Trentino, Italy
Contact
irene.manfrini@gmail.com, 0039 3498021005
Type of Business
Newly founded
Year of Establishment
October 2020
Successors
More-than-human community

Workshop and sales space
Local meadows and forests in Vallagarina, Leno riverside, different nearby valleys, Comun’Orto, La Foresta community space
Materials
Wild herbs, oils, butters, local beeswax and local olive oil
Technology / Tools / Machines
Basket, small knife, dryer, extractor, mortar and pestle
Techniques / Processes
Drying, infusing (water and oil), soaping, fermenting, cooking
Members / Employees
La Foresta community, Comunità Frizzante community, Comun’Orto community; Chiara Mura, Carlo Bettinelli, Carmen Miranda Gonzalez (active in La Foresta in Comun’Orto), Bianca Elzenbaumer, Fabio Franz, Paulina Mimberg, local communities
Apprentices
Workshop participants, community members
Education of the Craftsperson
Herbalism, art

Best-selling product
Ointments, infused oils, balms, syrups, juices, jams, fizzy drinks (sodas) with Comunità Frizzante, herbal teas, do-it-together processes of preparing fizzy drinks and soaps
Average time of production
2–3 hours per workshop, 24h in sum; for fizzy drinks, 1–2 days per bottling per month
Average price per item
3 EUR / bottle

Irene Manfrini was born in Rovereto where she lived until she was 19. Walking the path through art and graphic design studies, diverse roads took her to travelling. “So that's what I did. And I was travelling in England and Scotland for one year. I did a lot of volunteering, woofing, which is volunteering on organic farms and permaculture projects”, she says passionately unveiling the story that brought her step by step back to northern Italy. Dwelling across southern Italy everything was new for her. That's where she started to learn the practice of gardening properly. “I was 20 and I fell in love with nature and what nature can give us.” The experiences moulded her perspective of being-in-the-world and gave her new eyes. Already in high school she was interested in natural cosmetics, making her own deodorants, infused oils, and body butters. Her first mentor was her mother, who was already at home in that craft. Upon returning from abroad her passion for herbalism grew strongly. Three years ago, Irene returned to Rovereto and joined the La Foresta community. With La Foresta they “try to give the space back to the community in a way that can be sustainable, both for the environment and for the people, and that the projects that happen are in collaboration with other parallel realities existing in Rovereto.” Being part of the creative community gave her a new opportunity to engage with and discover her birthplace anew. When asked about the products, she underlines that she doesn’t want to make a brand out of herself. She wants to empower people to make their own things.

While harvesting and foraging takes place in the valleys, meadows, and woods around Rovereto, the use and transformation of herbs takes place in the La Foresta community space. Located as it is in an active train station, La Foresta benefits from the station as a place of encounters, a vibrant city of flows where new ideas are conceived. Irene uses the place to transform herbs into soaps, oils, and do-it-together cooking. La Foresta has a kitchen and two big rooms – one is the event room, with the other dedicated to co-working. Beside this there is also a little bit of space outside.

Another outer space where workshops take place is Comun’Orto, a communal vegetable garden that was born a few years ago and was supposed to help immigrants learn to work with the land. Slowly, it was transformed into what is now a communal garden and that forms part of the exterior space of a school. There are groups that take care of the actual garden, but everybody can use it for growing their own vegetables.

She also collaborates with Comunità Frizzante, both holding workshops and producing fizzy drinks with them. They aspire to produce quality beverages that reflect the resources and the bonds between the locals. The Alchemist workshop with Comunità Frizzante is her favourite one. It is a space, “where we just bring all the syrups and juices that we made and we taste them, mix them together, and decide about the taste of the drink of that area.”

Irene holds different workshops about basic, natural cosmetics. She prepares ointments and soaps, which she really enjoys making. It’s a process that is a little bit more chemical, but in a way everything is chemistry, “another part of life, really”. During the summer she forages for different herbs and prepares infused oils, which are used for making creams. In the process she uses beeswax, which is not vegan, but “the idea is to use local ingredients,” she adds.

When preparing the fizzy drinks with Comunità Frizzante the process follows the protocol wheel. It starts with mapping, picking, and continues on with alchemising and labelling, and concludes with bottling. The whole process is participatory oriented. All workshops from the very beginning of the mapping of the territory – where they go and talk a lot with the elderly to find out where they can find the plants in different seasons, to the picking and transforming are done together. They do the bottling of the actual product one or two days a month in the laboratory of a social cooperative. It’s a full day, morning to evening work. In the last phase they sell it and reinvest the money in the community.

The red line that connects all the processes, both Irene’s and those from communities she is active in, is the participatory, do-it-together practice itself. This process can be perceived as a product, but one that aims, instead of being only sold, to empower the local community and their connection to the valley. The soaps and ointments are “only” the medium for such a process.

The final products of Comunità Frizzante at the moment are three drinks.

One is a cola, Ciacola, which is based on an open-source recipe that their partners Cube Cola in Bristol came up with. There are also three “sister” colas: BADcola and CubeCola in the UK, and the ZegaCola in Mexico, made from the same recipe. The second drink is Abbracciata, which is an orange drink made from the oranges that they save from the local bakery, the Panificio Moderno. A local bakery buys the oranges to candy the skin of the orange “and we take the pulp of the orange, make the juice and produce the Abbracciata.” With this they follow the circular economy. And then there is MostOH!, which is made from elderflower and local grapes.

Written by Denis Maraž