Into the wild: Anya Lily
This week we caught up with Anya Lily, Nature enthusiast, knowledgable forager, creative outdoor-chef and founder of Meadowsweet Retreat. We learnt what goes on behind the scenes at her remote Italian retreat & how her passion for the natural world has inspired her to help others rediscover their wild side.
”I think it’s really important to try to take some time every day to just disconnect with technology and be in nature. Leave your phone at home or turn it off and go for a walk, spend some time in the garden or even just arrange some flowers in a vase.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself & Meadowsweet retreat so we can learn a little bit more about the ethos of MSR & the people behind it.
In 2021 my family became guardians of a 2000 hectare estate in Tuscany made up of forests, meadows, waterfalls, ancient orchards, olive groves and vineyards. The land had been organic for over 10 years and when we arrived we immediately started cultivating areas of gardens into permaculture designed vegetable gardens to enable our own self sufficiency whilst living there.
At the beginning of 2022, I decided to open the space with the help of my mother, sister and brother to host a group of friends for a foraging, singing and healing in nature retreat. As a family we all bring our own special flare to the retreats; my mum is in an intuitive herbalist and forager, my sister works with sound healing and plant medicine, my brother has dedicated his life to farming and I am a passionate plant-based chef and mixologist (ex Blue Hill at Stone Barns).
The first retreat was completely transformative, a week of being immersed into deep presence of nature, stillness and community made us realise we had something magical that we needed to share. Throughout the year we’ve hosted 7 more retreats, all centred around the pillar vision of connecting back to nature.
"At our retreats we are encouraging our guests to revert back to a natural, untamed state of being by learning about nature, foraging, permaculture and connecting with like minded community."
What's been your biggest learning so far with MSR?
Everything is in timing and pre-planning. Italy runs on the time schedule of “piano piano” aka “slowly slowly” and we live hours away from the nearest city so it’s really important for me to plan everything from farm help, deliveries and airport transfers way in advance. If anything breaks or runs out during a retreat, it’s near impossible to have a quick fix. It does mean that we’ve become amazingly self sufficient with growing all our own food and making everything from scratch.
On one of our last retreats my sourdough baker told me he was going away for 2 weeks, 2 days before the retreat started and I just made do by waking up at 5am every day and baked enough bread for 20 people for breakfast, lunch and dinner! I also have new found skills in basic plumbing and carpentry - if you need a shower fixed at midnight, I’m your woman!
Tell us about rewilding and what it means to you.
When we speak about rewilding at Meadowsweet, we are meaning to rewild oneself. The meaning of rewilding in nature is to restore eco-systems to a point where nature will take care of itself by reinstating natural processes and missing species to allow the landscape to reshape itself. At our retreats we are encouraging our guests to revert back to a natural, untamed state of being by learning about nature, foraging, permaculture and connecting with like minded community.
What are your top tips for reconnecting with nature?
I think it’s really important to try to take some time every day to just disconnect with technology and be in nature. Leave your phone at home or turn it off and go for a walk, spend some time in the garden or even just arrange some flowers in a vase. Spend a few moments in stillness, connecting with your breath and remember that we are just the same as a tree or a flower.
During our retreats, before we go on a foraging walk or work in the garden, we always take 5 minutes to just sit in stillness, usually sitting in the grass and listening to the bees buzzing, insects moving around, the wind, the rustle of the trees and the suns rays on our faces.
Once you take the time to tune in you notice so much more around you, your eyes adapt to the different shades of green and brown. An Italian forager told me this year, “when you find your first porcini mushroom, you must gaze at it until you become mesmerised by it’s colour, then you will see them everywhere”.
"Foraging takes you into such a joyful state, like playing treasure hunt as a child.”
What is it about growing & foraging that you enjoy so much & what's your favourite ingredient to forage this time of the year?
Foraging takes you into such a joyful state, like playing treasure hunt as a child. Mushrooms are the jewels of this season, we have had the most exciting month of finding golden chanterelles, rare Amanita caesarea, so many porcini and even a type of European reishi!
Similarly, I find myself in such joy when growing my own food. When you succeed in growing something from seed to fruit, you are rewarded not only by eating something more delicious than you could ever buy but the feeling of accomplishment is unrivalled.
This year we grew our first watermelon, our Italian gardeners told us it was impossible to grow one in the elevated, mountain climate where we live but we choose the sunniest spot, watered it daily with spring water and tended to its climbing vine like something so precious.We managed to grow one whole melon (a storm unfortunately knocked off 2 of its babies) which we enjoyed fresh and simply and we pickled the rinds so not to waste anything and saved the seeds for next years melon challenge!
”I love the subtle bitterness of the floral botanicals and the earthy green flavours of the spruce needles. It transports my senses into an Autumnal foraging walk where I’d be picking apples and juniper to braise red cabbage in over a fire lit with dried pine cones.”
What’s your go-to simple outdoor cooking recipe?
Wild mushrooms (porcini and chanterelle at this time of year) cooked over fire in a glug of olive oil, fresh thyme, wild oregano and garlic - served on piece of sourdough with a crack of salt and pepper.
What did you enjoy about drinking Ambijus Clearly Confused?
I love the subtle bitterness of the floral botanicals and the earthy green flavours of the spruce needles. It transports my senses into an Autumnal foraging walk where I’d be picking apples and juniper to braise red cabbage in over a fire lit with dried pine cones.
What dish would you pair with Ambijus Clearly Confused?
At this time of year I would love to pair Ambijus Clearly Confused with ravioli made with wholewheat integrale flour stuffed with a filling of roasted Crown Prince squash, sage and smoked Maroni chestnuts. The balanced bitterness coming from the spruce needles would pair perfectly with this Autumnal ravioli.
What exciting things are on the horizon for you & Meadowsweet Retreat?
For me personally, I’m 2 months away from giving birth to my daughter who will grow up on the farm with us and will hopefully be as mad about foraging as we are!
For Meadowsweet, we are about to announce the 2023 calendar of events which will largely be focussed around self sufficiency and living off the land. We have had incredible interested from guest teachers from all around the world who specialise in permaculture, foraging, fungi growing, knife making, basket weaving, green woodwork and cooking to host retreats and weekends on the land.
I’m excited to learn more and to bring together this community of earth lovers into our piece of paradise.