“There’s a lot more to a date here than just something you eat,” explains Jeff Koehler, author of Morocco: A Culinary Journey with Recipes. “The date is a symbolic food that’s given to a guest; it’s eaten to break the fast during Ramadan, the soothing, rich sugar making it the perfect thing to prepare the stomach for the meal.”
Koehler also mentions the use of medicinal plants like lemon verbena (which is infused into milk and then drunk to relieve cold symptoms) for both culinary and therapeutic purposes as being an important part of Moroccan culture. While engaging with agriculture means moving beyond the city limits, Koehler notes the openness and willingness of local people to share their experiences. “There are co-ops that make argan oil — it’s mostly small farming there still — and you just have to show up. Tapping into this rural life or people living off the land is actually quite accessible.”
And to learn about the strong tradition of horticulture in Morocco, which dates back nearly a millennium to the Almohad dynasty, you need only book a room at Jnane Tamsna in Marrakesh. Opened in 2001 by Meryanne Loum-Martin (she did the interiors) and her ethnobotanist husband, Gary (he was in charge of the gardens), the 24-room guesthouse prides itself on providing a true sense of place and ecology.
The property incorporates the three basic Arabic gardens: riads (interior courtyard gardens), bustans (ornamental gardens with aromatic herbs and fragrant flowers), and arsats (tiered orchard gardens). At Jnane Tamsna, bustans translates to five pools that are surrounded by jasmine, white roses, lavender, and rosemary. The hotel’s arsat features date palms as its upper layer; fruit trees such as oranges, pomegranates, and figs in the middle; and small beds of culinary herbs, leafy greens, and other vegetables on the ground.
These enchanting gardens, along with a nearby 150-acre plot of farmland, supply the hotel’s restaurant, but also serve as part playground and wonderland for children and their parents too. Depending on the season, kids might pick mandarins or dig up carrots; parents might harvest olives and then taste the olive oil pressed from them.
Loum-Martin puts it simply: “Our guest wants to learn; they want to learn about Morocco, about the environment, the cooking, the architecture, the craftsmanship. Everything that makes their experience full.”