A guest blog by herbalist, Joseph Nolan
The weather has been wonderful recently and with the spell of warm, gloriously sunny days preceded by quite a bit of rain, the plants have shot up and exploded into leaf with flowers everywhere. It was ideal this past weekend for a spring foraging trip, so on Sunday I suited up the little one in nettle-proof trousers, grabbed our little and large foraging baskets, and we headed outside.
As an aside, you can’t beat a basket for foraging. Bags are hard to put down, find a place to hang, or hold while you are working. You need to carry a bag for each thing you want to collect, or the separation gets tedious (and sometimes doesn’t happen at all and you throw the lot into compost bin three weeks later). Carrying in bags also tends to damage delicate structures like flowers, ripe fruits, and fungi. Baskets present none of these problems. Plastic often makes herbs sweat, whether it be a bucket or a bag, whereas baskets do not trap heat, and permit the evaporation of any dew or moisture that may be on the leaves. If you are planning to do anything but eat the plants fresh, the loss of a little water is helpful to the process, which an uncovered basket allows. They also allow any small creatures, dirt, debris, or small plant bits, to escape before you have to sort it all out at home. They may look like anachronistic affectations, but really baskets are the best tools for the job. If you like to forage, I highly recommend you get yourself one.
Having reached the green, there was plenty to find, even outside the path-side piddle zone. We picked Stinging Nettles, or rather, I picked stinging nettles while the little one stroked the leaves. We then had a little lesson in field herbalism, rubbing mashed up dock leaf on his hands. Incidentally, the best way to pick nettles, as I have written before, is with washing up gloves and a pair of scissors; if you can get long gauntlet-style marigolds so much the better.
Little E and I also found Cleavers, sometimes known as Sticky Willy (which amuses the kids in clinic), with the velcro-like leaves making impromptu broaches. Then we found the White Dead Nettle patch, the small and elegant plants already bearing rings of lovely white flowers. Just for Little E, there was a very low-growing Elder tree, which allowed him to see how the flowers are forming and where the berries will be (Eat! Eat! He remembers!) as well as smell and pick some of the leaves. Quite a lot of Garlic Mustard, with its cap of delicate white flowers, went into the basket too. It’s my single favourite wild vegetable, with a sharp and slightly bitter, garlicky and aromatic flavour, tasting great raw or cooked.
Then, in a ditch near the allotments, we found a splendid crop of Plantain just beginning to flower. Near allotments is a great place for foraging because of the escapes. You can often find herbs, flowers, berries, vegetables, even apples and pears. We spotted Comfrey, Pilewort, Goutweed, scores of Cherry Trees, Hawthorn, Elder, Scots Pine, Raspberry, Bramble, Yarrow, Tormentil, Speedwells, Toadflax, Medick, Poppies, Dandelions, Daisies, and the fleur-di-lis leaves of Creeping Buttercup. What a day!
The basket full, we headed home to process the haul. We put up over a litre of tincture, roughly chopping the herbs and covering with budget vodka: Nettles for hay fever; Cleavers for immunity, infections, and detoxification; White Dead Nettle for hay fever, period problems, and low immunity; and Plantain for hay fever, gut and skin problems. We infused olive oil with the Elder leaves, producing a dark brown-green oil for bump & bruise ointment. Then we had Garlic Mustard spring rolls at dinner. And on Tuesday, as we passed a patch of green by the house, an excited little voiced piped up: “Dock leaf!”