Summer has reached its crescendo. As the mercury rose, so did the heady aromas and vibrance of our wild and native plants. Nikki Bawn of Boggle Lane Foods helps you make the most of their flavours and health-giving qualities.
It goes without saying that keen gardeners will be gleefully reaping the rewards of their labours from fruit and veg beds now. But it’s in the wild patches that you’ll find some of the most prized pickings.
Lincolnshire is blessed with a rich variety of landscapes and ecosystems, from chalk-based hills to ancient woodland and hedgerows. All are precious habitats for animals, insects and plants – they also happen to be dream destinations for many foragers. Peaceful, timeless places where we can reconnect with nature, and arguably ourselves too.
You don’t have to set foot outside your own boundary to bring the wild close to home. This can be achieved by doing one simple thing: nothing!
Yes, that’s right, simply resist the urge to prune, spray or mow a small area of your garden, then sit back and marvel at what happens when Mother Nature is left to her own devices. Even the most uninspiring and seemingly inhospitable places can be transformed into a beautiful and wild oasis where previously unseen critters will suddenly flock.
Many plants get a bad rap and often are seen as annoying weeds which should be obliterated from existence. But the truth is, these clumps of things like docks and nettles are nurseries for the next generation of pollinators, with insects such as butterflies laying their eggs on these prickly leaves.
The plants themselves also provide a rich source of food for animals and savvy humans.
I’ve come across quite a variety of new arrivals in the purposely deserted areas of my garden, which grow in number each year.
Among the many surprises are various rambling roses. Their origins are most likely from birds generously depositing the leftovers from their rosehip feasts in previous years. They clamber up bushes and trees and can reach an impressive height of three metres. Their petals are fragrant and flavoursome, ideal for salads, infusing in vinegar, adding to jams or crystallising for cakes or cocktails. I love scattering them with wild abandon on tagines and Asian recipes. One day I might even have a go at making Turkish delight.
The most uplifting and prolific finds for me include lemon balm. This ancient plant is known by various names such as ‘sweet balm’, ‘bee balm’ and ‘Melissa’. It’s incredibly aromatic, with notes of sweet lemon. The whole plant is edible and is famous for its healing and soothing qualities. It’s brilliant as a tea and the perfect addition in sweet and savoury dishes from ice cream to fish. The medicinal aspects of this lovely, leafy character have been featured in herbal reference books for at least 500 years and they seem to be endless.
They say most things come back into fashion eventually. Recently everything from sewing to baking, clay throwing to home growing are all old crafts enjoying a revival. I believe this is a good thing – anything that helps us become more self-reliant is equally linked to being more at ease and satisfied.
Foraging is of course on the list and as a nod to the old ways, I’d encourage you to try your hand at using the culmination of summer growth to make your own mead. This alcoholic beverage was enjoyed by legends from the past including Viking warriors.
It’s an ultimate way to combine the best of everything in season – wild and cultivated, sweet and savoury – all in one recipe. Try various combinations in your version of mead and I’ve no doubt that all will be a happy experience and the best results, you may well be reluctant to share!
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