Foraging | The most immediate connection with nature
Growing up in central London the word 'foraging' wasn't a part of my vocabulary. Moving out of the city to have kids there have been so many new things that have come into my life, that I have learnt about with my children as they grow.
At the end of my first summer of parenting, on those daily walks with the baby in the sling, I was taking in sights that I couldn't quite believe. It may sound silly to someone that grew up in a rural environment but seeing thousands of blackberries along the edges of fields blew me away. Not in plastic, film-covered trays but right there on bushes, and for the taking! Of course I'd experienced the odd bit of blackberrying but the idea that there was going to be a seemingly unlimited free supply of them, as part of our every day lives, was really rather exciting. And so our foraging - of an ever increasing variety of foods - began.
To think that all my life we could have been making short journeys out to the suburbs and coming back with hoards of foraged goods! It seems so obvious but it just wasn't in our consciousness. Mum was a busy single parent and - as we all know - the demands of every day life can make it difficult to keep sight of the visions we had of the kind of things we'd do with our families. Over the years foraging has become a regular, seasonal activity for me and the kids and now Mum comes with us when she visits, timing her trips with what's abundant in the hedgerow or on the forest floor.
Here are some of our easy, go-to favourites for Springtime:
Ooh, it's so exciting when the Garlic comes up! It grows by water in shady areas, so a little stream in some woodland is what to look for. It comes up in March and the younger leaves are the better ones, and the most potent. Eaten raw these are great for an intestinal cleanse and immunity boost. Stick them in a sandwich or a salad, make a pesto, throw them into a sauce - we use them in the same way that we would use baby spinach, except they're tastier! Pop them into a jar when you get home and they will keep well in the fridge.
Going into April the leaves start to brown and they're not at their best, but you can now take the pods that haven't flowered yet. The little buds inside give a yummy, peppery crunch to a salad.
Around the time that the Garlic is really starting to thrive, young nettles will start to appear in woodland and fields - well, you know nettles, just about everywhere! These pesky stingers are phenomenally nutritious so, with the right foraging equipment, it's well worth trying to change your relationship to nettles. By 'equipment' I mean long sleeves and trouser legs to keep skin covered, gardening gloves to enable you to pick and baskets for carrying them home.
It's best to only pick the top cluster off every stem, (approx. 4-6 leaves), as these are the most tender. Once home you can blanche them in hot water to stop them stinging. We like to use them to bulk out a spring greens soup and simple nettle tea is also a great detox.
Cleavers, aka Goosegrass, aka Stickyweed
As the Wild Garlic starts to flower Stickyweed begins springing up in woodland and under hedgerows. For a long time I didn't know that there was any use for this other than throwing it at people. The leaves of this plant are, (you've guessed it), sticky, and since time immemorial they have enlivened the walks of children with their ability to stick to someone's clothes when thrown at them.
Should you want to do anything else with them, they are super for a lymphatic cleanse! Soak them in cold water overnight to let them release their healing properties. I find this very refreshing as it is but my kids prefer it with a splash of apple juice.
Foraging in cities and some nice alternatives
You'll be surprised by how many edible plants you spot in the city once they are on your radar. Whether you want to eat them, however, may depend on how far away they are from roads and dog-walking areas. If you can't get to any parks that are big enough to have non-polluted areas then there is another option to play with, which is perhaps the perfect first step for a child not so used to foraging: Flowers!
There are many types of edible flowers. You can of course grow them from seed but a widely available and already-grown option is pansies or violas. A little pot of these will brighten up your home and a child can take great pride in keeping them watered. Should the day come for them to decorate a cake then that will be another joy!
I haven't yet got my hands on it but Conscious Craft are now stocking what looks to be an absolutely gorgeous book by Alys Fowler, (author of my first ever book on foraging!), called Grow, Forage & Make. I love that it takes into consideration that not all children have gardens and includes loads of crafting activities.
A simple craft that we love is flower pressing. Even in the densest parts of a city there are normally small parks bordered by flowers. Of course if we picked them other people wouldn't get to enjoy them but what about the ones that fall to the ground? Instead of letting them go to waste we can collect and press them, use them to make art or just to remember a special day. You can find a selection of beautiful flower presses here and you may enjoy this Craft Idea on Pressed Flower Art.
Never ending discoveries
We are only beginners when it comes to foraging but with the fantastic book Foraging with Kids in hand we are learning more each year. Already we are much more finely tuned to the changes of the seasons and I hope this will instil in my children a drive to preserve the natural balance of our climate.
It's one thing spending time outdoors and appreciating what you see but to literally nourish yourself from the plants that you pass takes your connection to nature to a whole other level. It's like another universe has opened up for us when we go on our walks, with no species being taken for granted, edible or not.
We hope you have fun exploring this Spring and Summer. Come back in the Autumn for an update on some of our favourite things to forage for then!
By Rebecca Santos for Conscious Craft