The Druid Herbalist

An ongoing journey with the healing power of plants


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Wild Foods! Foraging in the British Countryside

This month as part of my Herbcraft course we’re working on the Plant Realm – Wild Food. Here on the Suffolk coast there are lots of wild foods at pretty much any time of the year. With so many to choose from, it was hard to narrow it down to just nine for my course, so I’ve opted for some wild food combined recipes instead alongside nine available foods right now! All of the wild food listed here is found along the coast, heathland and bridleways of my home. It goes without saying: do not collect anything to eat unless you are absolutely sure of what it is.  There are many dangerous look-alikes that could seriously harm you, or even kill you. Also do not eat too much wood sorrel, as it contains oxalic acid that can cause upsets. That being said, foraging for wild food is one of the best and most rewarding ways to fill your plate, especially in the autumn!
Blackberry: found in hedgerows, sweet when fully ripe, tart when ripening. Eat straight off the bush, or use in smoothies, crumbles, eaton mess and other desserts.

Mushrooms: puffball and parasol, nutty and fleshy, found under trees, in lawns, along paths, dry soil. Use quickly after picking, as they don’t last (few hours) – great for frying or in a light batter. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Elderberries: found in hedgerows and forest, tart and juicy. Great for jams and wines. Also good as a syrup for winter coughs, colds and flu.

Haws: berries from the hawthorn tree, found in hedgerows and forest, tart and fleshy. Great for jams and jellies.

Rowan: berries from tree, found in hedgerows and forest, tart and juicy. Great for jelly.

Heather: flowers, found in abundance on heathland, sweet and earthy. Nice tea, as well as flavouring for beer and wine.

Crab apples: found along hedgerows and the occasional escapee in the woods, tart. Pectin in apples great to add to any hedgerow fruit for jams and jellies.

Rose hips: hedgerows and forest edges, strangely tart and sweet at same time! High vitamin C, lovely as jelly, also can be made into a syrup for coughs and colds in the winter.

Yarrow: young leaves and flowers, found fields and meadows, along bridleways and forest edges, mild bitter flavour. Use in salads or with flowers as a tea.

Recipes:

Springtime Soup – gather nettles (tops), alexanders (stalks) and cleavers (fresh shoots) in the spring. Fry an onion with alexanders stalks until softened and then add nettles and cleavers to pot, wilting them down. Add water and vegetable stalk, season to taste. Blitz in blender and serve. Scrumptious and packed full of vitamins and nutrients for a good, spring cleanse!

Spring Salad – mix together fresh young hawthorn, dandelion, chickweed, wood sorrel and yarrow leaves. Serve with a light dressing – maybe a blackberry and vinegar dressing from the previous autumn? Late summer/autumn you can make the same salad, just without any tree leaves as they now contain too many alkaloids. This recipe is more bitter than boring old iceberg lettuce, but so much tastier!

Mushroom Fry-Up – simply toss puffball and/or parasol mushrooms with a bit of butter/oil and garlic. Eat on toast or with eggs for breakfast. Gorgeous.

Raw Hedgerow Jam – gather haws, rowan, elder and blackberries along with some crabapples. Take off any stems and put together in blender. Add local honey (about halfway up the fruit) and blend together. Strain through muslin cloth into clean jars and wait for it to set (around two hours). Enjoy on yummy scones! Not as sweet as conventional jams, but equally delicious.

British Forager’s Stir-fry: stir-fry alexanders stalks, puffball and/or parasol mushrooms, samphire and blackberries with some garlic (you can use ransomes in the spring, or the ransomes bulb in the autumn). Just before serving wood sorrel and young fresh dandelion and yarrow leaves. A real taste of the British countryside.

Flower Power Teas: Just add water and allow to steep for 3 – 5 minutes with the following – heather flowers, chickweed, rose hips and petals, hawthorn flowers (can use leaves as well in spring – do not use any tree leaves after summer solstice, as they then contain too many alkaloids). Light and refreshing taste.

Breads: sweet chestnut or acorn with beech bread can be made by making nuts into a flour for pancakes, breads, scones and more. Do not eat too many beech nuts as they can cause stomach upsets – good to combine them with other nuts. Full-bodied, nutty and rich taste.

Eg. Making Acorn Flour
• Similar to other nuts, you’ll need to remove the shell of the acorns before you can consume them. There are different ways to do this: Nutcracker, pounding it with a hammer and removing the nut meat, or my favorite way is a two-step process: first cut them all in half with a large kitchen knife and then work at popping out the nut meat using the sharp point of a smaller knife.
• Now that you have all the nut meat out of the shells, you’ll want to grind these down as fine as possible. The old way is to use a big flat rock as your surface (acts as a mortar) and a smaller round rock used to crush and grind the nut (the pestle) into a fine consistency. Since I like to train in the old way but still use technology when possible, I like using my Greenstar juicer or a food processor. The nuts are softer than peanuts and will not damage these appliances.
• Leech the bitter tannins out of them before gobbling them down. To do this, bring a pot of water to a boil and pour the acorn meal in it. Let it boil for 5+ minutes making sure to stir the pot so that some of the acorn meal doesn’t stick and burn at the bottom. As an FYI, you could have skipped step 3 and just continued with this step, however I find that it takes way too long to process and wastes too much fuel. By using the ground up meal, it provides a greater surface area and leeches out the tannins much faster.
• After your initial boil, filter out the acorn flour with a cheesecloth or an old t-shirt (even a sock will do in a pinch). I like to place a colander in my sink and then place the t-shirt or cheesecloth over the colander making a bowl-like depression with it. After pouring the liquid into the cloth depression, be careful with the hot water. It’s best to pour cold water into the slurry until it cools off and you can then pick up the cloth filter to help strain the remaining water out. After filtering, you’ll want to do a taste test. Is it still bitter? If so, repeat steps 4 and 5 until the bitterness is out.
• At this point you’re left with essentially a ball of acorn-flour dough. If you want you can use this right away or if you want to save it for later, you can dry it out. To dry it out, simply spread it out flat onto a cookie sheet and place it in the oven at the lowest temperature until it is completely dry, or do the same thing but instead place it outside (this takes longer). Placing it in a food dehydrator also works great. After it has dried out you’ll probably notice that it has caked together (this is due to the high fat content). You can store it as is or further process it by crushing it into a powder (by hand or food processor). This acorn flour can then be used to make pancakes, bread, or added to cereals or soup.
*Acorn flour recipe from Tactical Intelligence Blog: http://tacticalintelligence.net/blog/how-to-make-acorn-flour.htm

Alcoholic drinks: Freeze some sloes or any other berries the night before. Empty half a bottle of vodka or gin (invite some friends around to help you!) and then fill up the bottle with the frozen berries until full. Leave in a cool dark place for a week or longer (if you are able and not tempted to drink it straight way), shaking up the contents every day. When you’re ready, strain and enjoy! Dee-lic-ious.


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Drying rack up and running!

So, I’m using my airing cupboard as a drying rack – here in the UK, many houses also have their hot water tank in their linen cupboard, and call it an airing cupboard. Not only great for keeping dampness and a musty smell away from your linens and towels, but also great for drying herbs in a warm, dark place! In this photo I am drying stinging nettles (Urtica dioca) and plantain (Plantago lanceolata) for use in hayfever tea.

Drying rack with Nettles and Plantain(800x435)


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Know thy “enemy”…

Not really an enemy, but a plant to be highly respected.

I recently discovered that water hemlock grows quite prolifically in my area. The confusion that can be had from thinking it one of the tastiest spring forager’s food, Alexanders, can result in death within three hours. It has often been mistaken for wild parsnip as well. It puts the deathcap to shame.

The deadliest plant in Britain – how or why would you want to establish a relationship with it? Well, firstly, to know to avoid it. It will have to be love from afar – you shouldn’t even touch this plant. But as a Druid and animist, I intend to spend some time with this plant, to learn from it and to try and hear its “song”.

When the flowers are out and it is more easily identifiable, I shall go and seek it out, sit near it on a riverbank or ditch, and hopefully learn something more of this plant’s world, its way of being and its nature. I shall respect it with every fibre of my being, but I shall not fear it. It is a part of me even as I am a part of it – we are all made of star-stuff, after all.

 

Note: If you are unsure of anything you are picking in the wild, WEAR GLOVES to pick it and then take it back to your books/tutor/foraging expert. Ensure that you do not touch it, and do not ingest any of it. If you are not 100% certain and don’t have the right equipment (ie. gloves and something to put it in without touching it), LEAVE IT ALONE, BOW AND WALK AWAY WITH RESPECT. Nature is beautiful and brilliant, dangerous and exciting, and the gods of flora are to be honoured just as much as any other gods existing in these realms.

More information on water hemlock can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/magazine/hemlock-water-dropwort-dead-man-s-finger.html

and here: https://jpwaldron.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/hemlock-water-dropwort-the-most-poisonous-plant-in-britain-2/