Foraging with Friends

It’s spring – my favorite time of year in Sinai! Especially after a particularly wet winter since that means our desert plants are thriving and the goats and sheep have plenty to graze. Recently, we met Freyj, one of Bedouin History’s drivers and guides, at his daughter’s springtime camp in the desert. We were welcomed with smiles and a light lunch of fresh bread and goat milk. It didn’t take long for the children to wander over to see their grandfather and his foreign friends. Freyj knows well my passion for plants and photography and knew I would be eager to explore the surrounding desert. Recalling our failed attempts last year to locate one of the edible plants, Zeinab, one of Freyj’s young granddaughters, eagerly offered to get her digging tools and lead our exploration. So we set off with Zeinab, Farah, Mohamed, and Omar to forage for tummayr (تِمِّير), the Bedouin name for Erodium crassifolium.

Zeinab with her digging tool.
Zeinab with her digging tool.

Known in English as Desert Storks-bill or Hoary-leaved Heron’s-bill, this plant has an edible tuber that grows deep in the ground. But there are eight different Erodium species growing in Sinai so finding the right one involves a knowledge of what tummayr leaves look like and where they grow. All Erodiums have fruit that look like long bird beaks, hence their common English name, but each species has distinct leaves. 

Erodium fruit
Erodium fruit

Zeinab and the other children are a wealth of information about the local plants, especially the edible ones, as foraging for these are a favorite past time of the Bedouin children who live in the desert for a few months of the year.

Erodium crassifolium, (tummayr)
Erodium crassifolium, (tummayr)

I followed Zeinab through the wadi, trying to keep up with her quick steps and even quicker digging abilities. I try to figure out which Storks-bills are the ones we are looking for and was cheered on by Zeinab when I correctly point out a large tummayr plant. 

Zeinab digging for tubers.
Zeinab digging for tubers.

Zeinab dug quickly, scanning the area to check on the progress of the boys, who are leading their own expedition with my husband. It seems that this had turned into a contest to see which “team” can find the most. But we are all successful and end up with handfuls of edible tubers! The children remove the skins with their fingernails and hand them to us to eat. The small potato-like tubers are sweet and crunchy. 

Foraging with friends
Foraging with friends

Along the way, the children have also spotted sweet desert onions. They are so quick to dig these up that I never see what the plant looks like when it is still rooted in the earth. The onions, possibly an Allium species, are sweeter and juicier than the tummayr. And easier to reach as they are not buried so deep in the rocky ground.

Handful of collected onions and tubers.
Handful of collected onions and tubers.

We returned to camp to share our foraged goodies with the other adults at camp, but they showed little interest in eating our treats. It seems foraging with friends is a childhood habit, something to entertain them during the long days in the desert. How lucky I am to have such amazing young friends!

Flowers of Erodium crassifolium.
Flowers of Erodium crassifolium.


Read more about how the Bedouin live during the spring:


Arthropods in Sinai

Arthropods make up over 80% of living animal species on Earth and include insects such as butterflies, beetles, bees, ants, and grasshoppers, as well as spiders, scorpions, and more. They are characterized by their exoskeleton, divided body parts, jointed legs, and bilateral symmetry. Here’s a sampling of arthropods found in Sinai. Can you identify them?

arthropod collage

Photos by Bernadette Simpson






Wandering through Wadis

WtW Front Cover_md


Just in time for the upcoming spring season, which is bound to be one of the greenest springs Sinai has experienced in years due to the generous rainy season we’ve had….

Wandering through Wadis: A nature-lover’s guide to the flora of South Sinai is a field guide to the plants growing in the mountain wadis and coastal plains of South Sinai. Perfect for the nature-lover or hobbyist interested in identifying the various plants encountered while trekking, hiking, or camel riding in the Sinai desert. For each of the 104 plants in the directory, you will find the Common English and Arabic names, general description and information, photographs, and practical and traditional Bedouin uses.

The eBook (PDF) is currently available for sale and pre-orders are being taken for printed copies. You can also download a free sample from my website.

Happy Wandering!


After the rain

desert green collage

The mountains in Dahab and the surrounding areas have been blessed with several rain showers already this season. There was much damage caused to the plants by the hail and floods, but the wadis are full of new sprouts! Pictured above are just a few examples of the plants growing happily in the coastal wadis near Dahab.

Top Left:  Aizoon canariense, Horse Purslane

Top Right: Forsskaolea tenacissima, Desert Nettle

Bottom Left: Citrullus colocynthis, Bitter Gourd or Desert Squash

Bottom Right: Fagonia mollis, Common Fagonia

Salt Tree Fruit ~ A Tasty Seaside Snack

It’s that time of year again – HOT – which means afternoon trips to the lagoona for a much-needed splash in the sea. And on the way there, we stop of at one of the dozens of Salt Trees in the area.  The bright red fruits of the Salt Tree (Nitraria retusa) are edible and make a tasty seaside snack. My young Bedouin girlfriends collected a bunch – enough to take home to mom and ask her to prepare some juice. Eid confirms the fruit is mashed, strained, and mixed with sugar and water, more like a flavoring for water than a thick juice. But the fruits are tasty on their own, too. So if you’re by the sea this month, keep an eye out for these snack-providing bushes!

Recommended Reading: Wildlife in South Sinai

Wildlife in South Sinai

Photography and text: Dina Aly and Rafik Khalil

Funded by the EU in cooperation with G.O.S.S., 2011

ISBN 13: 9789774761027

Available for LE 220 from Al Kotob Khan, Diwan Bookstore, and AUC

From the Author’s notes:

This book is not meant to provide a complete or comprehensive guide to the flora and fauna of South Sinai but rather to show some characteristic species, with a special emphasis on their behavioural patterns. It is through understanding the complicated life patterns of the desert creatures, while revealing their beauty and vulnerability, that we  hope expanded awareness and deeper appreciation are achieved amongst readers. Understanding and appreciation are the solid ground upon which conservation efforts will build.

The book is divided into seven chapters: Water, Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Insects, Arachnids and Flora. Local names are provided whenever Bedouins have verified them, taking into account that some names were sadly lost for many reasons.

My Thoughts:

An absolute must-have for Sinai nature lovers! This book is full of the most stunning images of the plants and animals of South Sinai, not to mention all the interesting facts about the critters’ behaviors.  I’ve read a lot about the wildlife of our desert over the past several years, but the text in this book left me fascinated! Did you know, for example, that the female Velvet Spider ends her life to become food for her young? Or that the nest of White-crowned Black Wheatear is built of small rocks in  crevices – and the Bedouin call these little rocks “darahem Om Ghrair” (the money of the Black Wheatear)? That the Bedouin have a vaccine against the venomous scorpion and wasp bites that is given to infants before they eat their first solid food? Besides the amazing photos and facts, the authors provide an excellent brief overview of the flora and fauna of South Sinai. Their admiration and devotion to the natural world is obvious throughout the book, and they discuss sensible and attainable suggestions for protecting the remaining wildlife in the region.

Cleome Herb ~ سموا ~ Samwa

Samwa (سموا), known in English as Cleome Herb, is one of the most popular plants in Egypt and is in bloom now across south Sinai. You can´t miss samwa´s distinct aroma given off by the glandular and sticky hairs covering the plant. The plant is used medicinally for ailments ranging from bee stings and infections to diabetes.