Out Now – Nettle seed!

Welcome to the common nettle’s best kept secret (until it was blared all over the internet, anyhow)…its seeds!!

They are not only edible, they are a superfood containing adaptogens to strengthen the immune system and help you cope with stress, whilst the iron and calcium plus other trace minerals aid vitality and endurance, and the protein and healthy fats feed you.  Also giving you lustrous hair and renewed vigour.  Sound good?  i cannot think why British people arent stuffing nettle seed down them every time i go out foraging.

Here is a picture of nettle seed at an ideal time to pick…a sort of buttery goldy green.  Make sure the nettle flower is FEMALE.  the seeds will be SPHERICAL not flat and a warmer more goldy colour than the droopy green catkins of the male flowers, and the female seeds are clustered tightly to the stem whilst the male flowers hang loosely.  It is easy to make this mistake if you don’t know what to look for.

Pick them with gloves, take only half of each nettle’s seeds and leave at least half in the patch untouched to ensure theyll be there for you next season.  You can either take the top off the nettle or if the seeds are ripe you can ‘milk’ the seeds off it into a plastic bag or lined basket underneath.  you can eat them green straight off the plant if you have a sturdy palate (as i do) but they are best dried.  Some say the green seeds are so energising they will keep you up at night, so treat them as you would caffeine, take only a few teaspoons a day of seed. Personally ive never found this to be a problem when i ate off the plants or made my electuaries (ground seed mixed with honey), although i had dried the seed in the electuaries.

Here are some recipes with nettle seed….soup, pastries, herbal salt.

Be warned…nettle seed is also an aphrodisiac that was used by the Romans, Greeks and todays Chinese in TCM.  Gypsy horse dealers used it to make the coats of the horses more shiny and give them extra vigour before they were sold for a good price.  So lets follow those horses into the nettle fields….

For those interested i will be selling some nettleseed electuary in Leighton over the next few months…for dates keep an eye on my Facebook page ‘Hedgewitch Adventures’

ciao for now…

 

 

Out Now – Nettle seed!

Waterworld

As the rain hurls itself into the canal im reminded of the film that first made me want to become a boater…Kevin Costner’s epic masterpiece of dystopian global warming gone wrong.  who cares if it plummeted at the box office?  His trimaran was awesome and germinated a craving for the life aquatic that never went away.  Bushcraft gleanings from this film include the steampunk-esque urine and seawater filtration system, where every last drop of fluid is recycled in this saline world.  Sea water, if drunk unfiltered, is eventually lethal.

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A primitive filter can be constructed using layers of firstly coarse gravel, then grit, then sand, then activated charcoal (which removes toxins and bacteria).  Salt, however, can be removed through evaporation, so if you have time for one of these babies,  try a desert funnel evaporator…only drawback, it involves acquiring a plastic sheet in a fairly good state of repair..not too easy in apocalyptic future worlds, but ok if you live near a Homebase store, as i do.  also hard to find area where am allowed to dig several feet into the ground…roll up to the big kiddie sandpit in the park!!

Vitamin C was another must among Waterworld’s boating folk.  Provided by a carefully tended lemon, orange or tomato plant in a scrap of Dirt.  Its worth knowing some races of people, namely the Mongolians and the Inuit, traditionally survived entirely on animals they caught as Vitamin C is stored in the fat, organs and fluids of fish and blubber bearing animals such as seals.  This involves consuming raw parts of the whole animal, not just the tasty bits! and not wasting a thing.

For those who’d rather avoid this scenario of carnivorous desperation, micro greens and sprouts can be grown in very small spaces, even if you havent even got a windowsill and yes, even in winter (if you have central heating, which i dont, so make the most of it).

If you do want to try growing citrus and tomatoes, try a sheltered, sunny space and the helpful rotting straw and pee/fertiliser compost bale…the rotting bale generates heat and keeps the plants warm! Ive had a big crop of Tumbling Toms in 6 hanging baskets on my own water craft.

More film based bushcraft fun to come!

Waterworld

Books with a Bushcraft Soul

Here are some of my favourite literary inspirations to get close and personal with the wilderness….

  • ‘Walden’ by Henry David Thoreau – in depth account of one mans personal decision to live in the woods, very philosophical musings on the nature of humanity intersposed with brilliant observations of animals and people he meets on Walden pond.   Though he is a bit santimonious and bangs on a bit at times…
  • ‘The Woodlanders’ – Thomas hardy – Ive already wittered on about this previously, if you like your history and traditional craft with a twist of doomed romance this is for you.  I do!
  • ‘The Cottage Economy’ – William Cobbett – an antique but still relevant tome on DIY farming and micro brewery, also a great rant on how beer is better for fattening pigs than tea, and my favourite, a sexist monologue on how attractive the sweat on a womans brow is as she prepares fresh bread and small beer for her husband!  I guess at least the focus is on her talents not her flesh!!   Interesting also how the brewing industry was gradually brought from being something every family did to breweries under corporate control.
  • ‘Waterlog’ by Roger Deakin – wild swimming around the British isles, from the Broads to the chalk trout streams of Gloucester
  • ‘Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two’ – Maggie Smith-Bendell – a Romany gypsy’s memoirs of travelling life in the 1950’s…gypsies made good use of the hedgerows and many classic recipes involved nettles and other plants and the rabbits and pigeons they hunted.

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Books with a Bushcraft Soul

Collidge Lake..forest huts and edible flowers…

Last Sat me and the littleun trekked to Tring to see what collidge Lake nature reserve has to offer and if its possible for me to run workshops there.  after a fairly pleasant half hour walk pushing the buggy over a stony towpath to the second bridge (nr Bulbourne’s Grand JUnction Arms) i fled Marty the last hundred metres down a road with no pavement to get to Collidge Lake’s entrance, which seemed to be the only way in!

Once inside the quiet gift shop which reminded me of a hermit’s cave strewn with garden sculptures and soft toys, the receptionist even looked faintly shocked that someone had come in.

Marty woke up to this view….

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We discovered a Woodland theatre, a small bender shelter such as the ones yrs truly has lived in for a number of years (except i cheated by covering with advertising tarp as i didnt want to freeze to death being a purist) also a Shepherd hut which Marty proceeded to trash.

as for edibles, plenty of Plaintain and Biting Stonecrop, which is a succulent alpine type plant which is great on a green roof and also gives a peppery hot flavour to dishes.  Cowslip is also edible and was used to make wine (as was nearly everything in the British Isles as our ancestors were such sots) but as it is now so rare its poor taste to harvest it and you will earn well deserved glares if you try!

Guelder Rose is medicinal, the prepared dried bark relaxing cramped muscles including period pain.  not too good to eat though…

Beech trees will provide tasty fatty nuts every four years or so.

From top clockwise..Cowslip, Biting Stonecrop (with Marty!), Wild Strawberry, Salad Burnet atop my hand, and Guelder Rose.

Salad burnet grows on chalk as there is here, it’s a nice addition to any salad as, duh, the name suggests!  Last time i soujourned on chalk was when i slept out on the North Downs trail and i never went hungry for greens..you will find completely different edibles on chalk than on clay.

Whats more I found a copy of Bruce Parry’s ‘Tribe’ which is a darn good read, though some parts can even gross ME out, which is impressive.  I couldnt eat half the things that guy ate.  and the nice lady at the desk said i could pay next time as id spent all me change on a coffee. (Pricey..mental note bring thermos next time)

Collidge Lake..forest huts and edible flowers…

Health and safety with wild foods

Great, your’e about to start shovelling handfuls of luscious wild greens (and reds, purples, yellows and browns) into your foraging basket.  But wheres the best place to start?  It might not always be where you think.

Busy roads dust nearby plants with heavy metals and fumes, so stick to quiet country lanes, which you would probably rather do anyway!  Canals and rivers are good bets as chemical spraying of weedkillers is banned on the banks of watercourses, as is disturbed ground near allotment sites (but if in a garden or on an allotment, check they havent been sprayed with weedkiller!)

Surprisingly, the best [places are often thin strips of land in cities and towns, municipal planters that have been left to rack and ruin gracefully with the fronds of tender juicy chickweed (Stellaria media),  the grounds of abandonned buildings, and graveyards.  These useful plants need us to disturb the soil so they can root, spread their seeds in the treads of our shoes, and fertilize the soils they need to grow with our waste so they can then feed us in return.  If you do have a habit of fence-jumping to pick tempting samples from abandonned building sites, its worth checking the history of the site to ensure what happened there before wont have an effect on what youre eating.  I found the tastiest cherries with hearts of burgundy fire on the site of an aniline dye factory, for example…

So the country fields must be chock a block with wild food, right?  Well yes, but fields are often sprayed too. though im not sure what difference it makes as often we are then eating the bought commercial crop that has been sprayed too!

Tree and bush fruit and nuts is generally safer than annual/perennial plants, the most risky part being the root as its in close contact with the soil.

And remember to get a good ID guide so you know the difference between your Anthriscus sylvestris (Cow parsley) and your Conium maculatum!(Hemlock)

Hemlock is shown below.  Dont get it wrong!

 

Health and safety with wild foods

Londons top forage spots -Stoke Newington

Last weekend myself and Marty launched ourselves into the Big Smoke in search of wild food.  This is not as silly as it may first appear, as Londons many small pieces of disturbed ground and warm microclimate create an ideal environment for many of our favourite edibles. The fact is, wild edible plants are often symbiotic with humankind – they thrive near us and on our wastes and we thrive on them.  Nettles have grown on the sites of Neolithic settlements for thousands of years due to the high volumes of nitrates deep in the soil, for example, and plaintains were known as’White Mans Foot, as wherever white settlers went in America the plantain seeds riding on their soles found the compacted ground that they love to grow in.

First port of call was Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.

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This beautiful, secretive and haunting graveyard and nature reserve boasts the oldest derelict Gothic chapel in Europe and a plethora of wild edibles including the delicious burdock, white deadnettles, ground elder, cleavers, comfrey.  However, sadly they are not fit for long term consumption due to high levels of lead and mercury contamination in the soil.  This really makes one think about what we heedlessly throw into the soil.

Where this is the case i recommend picking some of the seeds come autumn and planting them in a windowbox or back garden, then you have your own crop of safe ‘semi feral’ plants!

 

Onwards to Clissold Park which proved far too well manicured (yet an excellent play ground and nice deer!) then a pre emptive strike at a yet unopened National Trust reserve, Woodberry Wetlands, (so new it still has the wrapper on, and a fence around it!)  It is due to be opened by Sir David Attenborough in May, im told.  It has a boating lake next to it festooned with sculpted gardens complete with breakdance troupes practicing their moves and slow plaits of hemlock with its deadly tresses.

So thats Stoke Newington in a nutshell…next installment, soon!

 

Londons top forage spots -Stoke Newington

Plant spotlight: ARUM MACULATUM/Cuckoopint

Chances are you’ll have seen this common wild hedgerow and woodland edge plant about.  In April, its ghostly phallic flower sheath of white about a long pollinating part, giving off a whiff of urine to attract flies.  In autumn bright orange red berries bunched on a stem.   ‘Maculatum’ means ‘spotted’ as its shiny deep green leaves are dappled with dark flecks, and spotted things are often natures way of saying ‘hands off!

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Cuckoopint, or Lords and Ladies plant, is no exception as it is fairly poisonous.  The chemical responsible is calcium oxalate which produces an effect like glassy needles sticking into the mouth.  So why is it included here in a forager’s list, you say?

Well if you ever find yourself in a survival situation (or are just damn curious) the tubers (roots) contain 25% starch so are a good source of energy.  The trick is that you have to make VERY sure they are completely cooked through as this destroys the oxalate crystals.

This can be by boiling, roasting, or drying apparently, though personally id rather cook it and be sure.  Ground to a powder it can be used to make a drink called ‘salep’ which was popular in England in the middle ages and the 17th/18th century.  Ground arum or orchid root mixed with milk, rose or orange water, sugar and cinnamon.  This is a popular drink in Turkey but there it is made of wild orchid roots (genus Orchis).

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It can also be used to make a pudding and an ice cream, so im quite tempted to try making the pudding, but now ive got a 14 month old son to consider I cant be quite as risque as i used to be so this particular pleasure might have to wait…has anyone else out there tried it and was it worth the cold sweat?

Plant spotlight: ARUM MACULATUM/Cuckoopint

book review: The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

What I love about Hardy’s classic is that you end up accidentally gaining knowledge on woodsmanship activities through reading the romantic fiction, set in ‘Little Hintock’ hundreds of years ago.

We meet Marty South making ‘spar gads’ for thatching, by smoky candlelight; we witness Melbury’s wood yard where waggons are laden with ‘ash-poles, sheep hurdles and cribs, faggots,’, we are taken to a wood auction by cider presser Giles Winterbourne  where yeomen bid with walking staffs corkscrew – twisted by ivy….

I especially like the reference to ‘ an alarum made of a candle and a piece of thread with a stone attached’, which appeals to those like me, with an Amish streak who dislike the modern shrills and beeps of todays digital alarms!  Great story, atmosphere and characters and you learn a lot about life in those days too, especially if youre into wood crafts.  Diving deep into the soul of nature and the soul of man, The Woodlanders leaves you with an ache inside you for a world and an innocence that has been lost.

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book review: The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

World of Bushcraft, Bedford

Shamefully, got into a spot of retail therapy after long suffering mate Sara drove me and my infant to World of Bushcraft last Sat, and ended up forking out £42 for a leather Crocodile Dundee style hat, also a greenwood carving blade (Mora) and two back copies of ‘Bushcraft’ magazine.  Observed the crazy prices Woodland Ways are charging for three hours foraging (£40!!) That just seems greedy, since it involves no materials and is not even in a particulary attractive location (e.g. the Cornish coastline)

One can also purchase, for  ‘mere’ £26 squid, 3 sharpened sticks and a small ruler sized plank to make fires with.  Bet theyre laughing all the way to the bank….

We liked the wildcrafts display at the back with some carved bowls, leaf woven belts and baskets, skulls and tanned hides, but first place had to go to the gorgeously intricate wooden snowshoes made in Norway by the nice bloke behind the counter.imgres-2 Now i got the hat I better grow to fit it!!!

World of Bushcraft, Bedford

Birch tap – just like giving blood…

My first ever birch tapping session with friend and baby in a quiet wood atop a hill, a feral place with the remains of a small polite fire showing others had used this space for another illicit communion with nature. I say illicit because it is very difficult to find anywhere that will give permission for any sort of interaction involving harvesting from nature, or sleeping there, despite this being essential for deriving any feeling of belonging to the natural world.

As i slowly drilled into the thick old bark of the biggest birch i could find, with nothing more than a corkscrew, the clear life source began to run and with a shock i realised the tree was alive.  You may laugh, you may say “but of course” however its one thing to be told trees are living creatures in a static textbook and to look at them hazily in the background of country walks and pictures…but quite another to feel the wetness of their pulsing life as it rushes upwards feeding buds and leaves that are getting ready to unfurl, and to feel it on your tongue and the vitamins and minerals pouring down your throat and clearing your system of impurities.

After wondering why the taps (drinking straws) didnt seem to go right into the holes, my carpenter friend told me that drills remove the wood from the hole and corkscrews, despite looking a lot like the birch drills you can buy, do not.  So i felt quite silly. After id tied the drinks bottles securely on under the taps we left. So now to go and collect the sap and stop up the holes with wax to prevent infection.5

Birch tap – just like giving blood…