The feast on our doorstep

I’ve been away this weekend for my friend’s hen do.We all had an absolutely great time and are pretty exhausted now.

So, clubbing, L plates, high heels and feather boas? Not quite….we spent our weekend mostly making fire instead!

The hen herself doing the honours

The hen herself doing the honours

We took Jo to Plaw Hatch Farm near Forest Row in Sussex for a day of bushcraft and foraging followed by a BBQ and night under canvas. The weather couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to do (but then we had booked it for the same weekend as Glastonbury so that’s our fault right?!) but it mostly rained when we were under the cover of trees and more importantly was dry for the campfire in the evening and for packing up the next morning so I think we were pretty blessed in that regard.

We had a busy day learning about different ways to chop wood, build fires and light them, learning to weave baskets out of rushes (mine is now proudly being used to store our eggs in the kitchen), making a healing salve and taking part in a most interesting foraging walk during which we gathered plants for a salad, the main ingredient for our salve and made a delicious nettle and cleaver tea. In the evening we enjoyed a well earned break and celebrated with drinks, cake and plenty of BBQ-ed food as we sat round the fire that we had built ourselves. Most satisfying!

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The bit that I really wanted to talk about though was the foraging walk. I’ve dabbled in using commonly grown plants for (mostly) edible purposes over the last year or two but my eyes were really opened to the absolute abundance of plants we can use and consume that grow all around us unbeknownst to most of us. We spoke about how we’re at a turning point and how important it is that this knowledge doesn’t get lost. It really enthused me to learn more about plants that we often ignore or dismiss as weeds. I’ve used elder for it’s flowers and berries, blackberries for jam and general eating and toyed with the idea of nettle but not taken it further than that. But crikey, I’ve been missing a lot!

For instance, I found out that nettle is a natural antihistamine and you can roll up the seeds into a little ball and eat them (actually quite tasty!) to help with allergies. Nettle is also a tasty leafy vegetable that you can use in soups and other dishes (cook as though you would spinach), it makes delicious tea and can help with ailments such as eczema, muscle aches and pains and asthma as well as allergies. We learnt that cleavers (the sticky plant that kids love to pick and stick on peoples back for fun) is great for the lymphatic system and you can brew a tea with it that can really soothe and help breastfeeding mothers suffering with mastitis.

We were shown how to strip down thistles and eat them (they were surprisingly delicious!), picked a salad made out of dock leaves, dandelion leaves, hawthorn (nicknamed cheese and bread because the whole plant is edible-a foragers delight!), wild mustard leaves, wild rose petals and clovers and identifyed plants such as the delicious smelling pineapple weed (a type of chamomile) and more that I can’t recall right now.

Finally, on our way back to the camp we were shown and picked plenty of plantain for our salve. When she said plantain we all looked and each other, slightly confused and thinking of bananas! She actually meant this, a common weed that I’ve seen all my life and been completely oblivious of. Recognise it?

plantain

Turns out that Plantain is incredibly useful as a healing plant. It apparently has a ‘drawing out’ quality so is great for stings, burns, bites and grazes. If you have toothache and are waiting to see the dentist we were told that chewing some of it and putting it next to the tooth in question can really help with the pain. What an amazing plant! We went back to the campsite and simmered the leaves with a little oil in a bain-marie before melting some beeswax, adding some lavender oil and pouring into little tubs so we all had a tub of cure all salve to take away with us!

I just couldn’t believe how many plants there were just on a short walk that we could eat, drink or use for medicinal purposes. Nature really is amazing! I think in future I’d be much more inclined to try some natural, herbal or plant remedies before resorting to manmade medicine. Obviously being able to accurately identify what you’re picking is important but there is a lot of information available online, plenty of books you can buy (especially field ones that you can take with you) and if you’re really feeling a bit cautious you can book a foraging course with someone so you can get to grips with some of the basics.

I would really really recommend thinking a bit more about what is growing in your garden or our country lanes and the potential of using them. I was quite nervous about eating some of the plants and especially drinking the nettle tea but I am absolutely 100 percent convinced. Nature has provided us with some amazing plants to help us and feed us and providing we’re respectful in our gathering, I think we owe it to her to use them and pass on the knowledge before it all gets forgotten.

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