Wild and wonderful!
• One of the first things I teach my budding foragers is the importance of identifying some of our most common, poisonous plants that can grow quite prolifically. One obvious example is hemlock (Conium maculatum). Over 1,500 years ago, hemlock was famously used to poison the Greek philosopher Socrates. To the untrained eye, it can sometimes be confused with other popular plants like yarrow and elderflower – so it is vital to make sure you positively identify every plant before you pick it.
• Another ‘shady’ character is giant hogweed, which contains photosensitising furanocoumarins. This basically means that the chemicals in this plant react to sunlight, a process known as phytophotodermatitis and this can cause severe burning to skin.
• But don’t let these put you off! Foraging really is a safe pursuit and a blissful distraction if you do a little bit of homework, or an introductory class to build your basic knowledge.
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It is a perfect time to take yourself off for a mindful meander that will not only help you gather your thoughts, but some surprisingly beneficial wild food too, says Nikki Bawn.
July is a month that brings glorious perfume, colour and plenty. The warm days and sunbathed evenings make exploring hedgerows, fields and gardens even more magical. Many seasoned foragers subscribe to an ancient belief that the potency and power of herbs and wild plants reach their peak on midsummer’s day – but this lingers long into July.
Cast your eye across any landscape now and you’ll be able to spot more than just a pleasing scene of wildflowers and greenery. Nature’s larder is brimming with blooms, blossoms and bounty! Good old elderflower, wild strawberries, camomile and borage are among the plethora of this month’s familiar finds, but there are many more that can bring beauty, healing and flavour to those ‘in the know’. Yarrow, meadowsweet, red clover and even thistles (yes even thistles!), are all ripe for the picking now.
A TASTE OF WHAT’S IN SEASON
It’s worth noting that there are powerful plants out there – do some basic checks before you use them – especially if you are on medication or suffering from a health condition.
Two of the most medicinal plants in full bloom now are meadowsweet and yarrow. Both are well known for their healing benefits.
Meadowsweet grows along damp banks and meadows. It was previously used like aspirin is today and can have a thinning effect on the blood. As well as being added to ales and punches, this flowery favourite is said to remedy stomach ailments, coughs and colds. Most parts, including leaves and flowers, can be used to make herbal teas and preparations.
Yarrow prefers drier, less fertile soil. It’s been popular for thousands of years. On battlefields it was used to stop bleeding and heal wounds and it is said to heal inside and out. It can be dried and ground into a powder to treat wounds, made into a tea, then cooled for a skin astringent or disinfectant and even added to your bath to reduce a fever.
One surprising and uninviting plant that packs a nutritional punch is the lowly thistle. Most thistles are edible, though you’ll need sturdy gloves to prepare them!
Nutrition: Believe it or not, weight for weight, thistles are higher in fibre, protein, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, copper, zinc, and other nutrients than most vegetables.
Uses: Peel and chop stalks, which boiled and fried in butter with seasoning can be eaten as a side dish or added to stews, soups etc.
Red clover is a low growing plant which flowers during the summer months. It can be found in lush grassland and even in some gardens. It’s a herbalist’s favourite – highly prized, it is a powerhouse of natural nutrition and healing. For centuries people have used it to help reduce inflammation, fight bacteria, balance hormones, boost energy, heal skin irritation and even combat cancer.
Nutrition: Red clover is rich in vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, thiamin, vitamin C and zinc.
Uses: Flowers and green leaves can be added to most dishes to bring colour and nutrition, from salads to stir-frys, or combine flowers and leaves with hot water for a refreshing tea. You can preserve this plant’s potency by making a delicious syrup too.
A SIMPLE RECIPE FOR RED CLOVER SYRUP
This wonderful syrup is so versatile. Take a spoonful as a pick-me-up. Add to teas for sweet healing, pour over desserts or dash into cocktails for glossiness and unique foraged flavour.
• Combine 4 cups of fresh red clover flowers and 4 cups of water in a pan.
• Bring the contents to a simmer for 20 minutes.
• Remove from the heat and cover. Leave to steep overnight.
• Strain the liquid to remove the flowers.
• Add 4 cups of organic sugar and half a sliced orange to the strained liquid.
• Put on a very low heat for several hours, making sure it doesn’t burn, until the mixture is reduced to a thick syrup.
This syrup takes a little patience to prepare but it’s worth the wait. Once bottled, it should keep for quite a while if stored in a cool place out of direct sunlight.
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