Winter Nature Collage

Stuck for nature-based things to do in miserable grey January?  Get out on a dry day with some secateurs and a bag and harvest some dried stems, fallen bark, seedheads…then back at base have a play glueing them to a piece of hardboard or canvas to create textural worlds of winter sensuality….try contrasting opposites such as hard bark or stems with soft feathery seedheads…

Here I used strong pliers to clip off the pine scales as near the base as possible, and shake out the seeds which can be eaten! or used as another part of the collage, with their beautiful pearlescent wings.  I started using evil smelling chemical glue, then felt bad about the environment so switched to PVA which works just as well!  this is just hardboard from a DIY store which I prepared with acrylic paint.

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Try cutting stems to produce delicate, structural cross sections such as this Reedmace stem, with its natural foam for buoyancy, or stem pieces built up into a honeycomb of different lengths and textures.  I haven’t finished a lot of these so will put  more pics up when they are done!

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Last but  not least, weave in some basketry techniques to create some geometrical effects.  The world is your oyster!  I’m going to try using dried bracket fungus next.  And yes, do make sure everything is bone dry before using or you may get a moving, evolving picture of mycology and mildew…which is fascinating but messy and smelly.

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i used miscanthus heads in this for the fluff!

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Winter Nature Collage

Pine Needle Basket – pics!

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A finished (nearly!) pine needle basket made using short (4-5in) pine needles from several different species of trees..fiddly but fun, and very satisfying, and all you have had to pay for is a washer and some string!  I have dyed some of the needles with turmeric (the yellow ones) and used reddish needles and ivory cream needles to produce bands of colour.

Stay tuned for my Pine Needle Basketry workshop coming soon in Milton Keynes!  I will also be selling Pine Needle Basketry kits on my etsy.com page (‘Hedgewitch Adventures’ on Etsy).

Pine Needle Basket – pics!

The Briar Basket: Creating A Friend out of an Enemy.

Look about you at nature, in the gorgeous hues of fire of Autumn’s transition.  So we’ve picked the rosehips and the sweet chestnuts and made soup and nourishing biscuits against the impending chill.  What now?

This is the season craftspeople and hunter gatherers of old would have been out busily harvesting not just food but fibre..yet another arrow nocked to the forager’s bow and one that is all too often overlooked.  We are talking of Basketry, Papermaking and Cloth Making. 

Take a good look at the hedgerow, the browning waysides.  what do you see?  Already the senses of a keen food forager will pick out sustenance, but expand our horizons as we realise that to carry and store these fruits, nuts and seeds, containers are needed.   Let me introduce you to some fibre friends of the hedgerow. Admire the coiling spring of the vicious bramble.  With a stout heart, knife and gloves these can be trained into a rustic and equally stout basket.  There’s something really cool about making a friend of such a formidable foe.

The tall stately green-gilt-tan of autumn Reedmace (Typha latifolia) that my readers are familar with as a food plant can also be encouraged to tesselate in an attractive checker pattern into lightweight containers…once properly dried.  In Irish reed-craft large lofts and attics were saved for this purpose and even now there is a flourishing trade in traditional, intricate baskets of bulrush (Sciripus campestris).

Now also is the time to embrace that old stalwart, the common Nettle, in a completely different way that is a far cry from pesto or falafel balls.  First, find some old, tall, stick-like nettles growing in a pack.  Now..get in there, right at the base, with some secateurs (and gloves again, tough old nettles at the time of year REALLY do bite).  You will probably still get stung a bit, but you will be having so much fun you won’t notice 🙂  I have been cutting bunches  several inches thick, stripping the leaves off (yes, keep your gloves on and use a piece of leather to strip..I used a wire brush!!).  Then it is time to soak them for a week, in a tank or in my case in the lovely muddy canal next to my boat, tied precariously by bits of string.  I am now drying them over the heat of the engine in the engine room, will they produce a gossamer – fine jumper or shawl?  TBC!

Last but not least, Pine trees are shedding their leaves, carpeting the cold ground in a gentle springiness with their creamy gold needles.  I have been scooping up handfuls gleefully into my bemused toddler’s buggy if I have no bags to hand, from various locations where I also get the same bemused look from passing motorists, supermarket staff or dog walkers.  Once you have these beauties home, you will see, and feel, the difference between the different types, and then with the addition of some tying material and a significant amount of fiddling (my clumsy fingers are better suited to wrestling with brambles), baskets intricate as a spider’s web can be fashioned.

So, there’s some to get you started, now go out and harvest your own. As usual, though the parts you need are either ‘dead’ or dying down for the winter, this foliage is still useful in Nature as insulation for the ground, as homes for animals and breaks down into mulch and nutrients for the soil for next season, so don’t take so much from any one spot that a passer by would notice.

Choose stems and leaves that have a bit of flex in them yet are mature and quite dry, but not too brittle..  This is a difficult thing to describe and is best shown…stay tuned for my Basketry and Fibre courses.  Too immature and they will be too weak and moist, too old and they will be too brittle and snap.  The perfect basketry material is pliable, strong and a good colour with no spots of mould or weak parts.  you will get the hang of it as you go along!  In most cases you will need to prepare the materials by storing them in a dark, dry place until they shrink with drying (you don’t want this to happen AFTER it’s made into a basket or it ends up becoming  a sieve!).

So once you’ve done that, come back and we’ll go into some of these in more detail and learn how to make some basic baskets and fibres.

See you soon in the hedgerow!

xx Hedgewitch Kat xx

 

 

 

The Briar Basket: Creating A Friend out of an Enemy.

Blood, Iron & Fire!

I AM NETTLE.

The Blood, the Iron, The Hearth;

Woman , man;

Heart-beat, quiver and quim,

Stretch and knot,

Massage and hot.

I give pulse to things long dead

Fence past my forms so cruel

And there are

things to savour;

Tongues of flavour

Long distance memories of raves and crazy

I AM NETTLE

I give heart to the failing one

And make them Warrior;

I give form to the stiff

And make them the Greatest Dancer;

I give mind to the Orator

and gifts of memory to the Seer.

I AM NETTLE

My blood runs rich in ores, in oils,

my stings, my sores,

Are worth the getting of and more….

I am the milk that fattens babes

I am the sex on wild lake shore…

And sweet memories

Of an innocent time;

Where we fled in the woods,

Filled our bellies with berries;

Lay where we would.

And it only went wrong

When the first of us looked in the Mirror..saw God…

ate the fruit of Doom…

(Not the Nettle…)

I AM NETTLE

I give pleasures of innocence

I do not take away

I am not the Mirror that constantly begs the questions

I am…Life

I am …Joy

So come stay, play with me….

……….JOY, LIFE………

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blood, Iron & Fire!

On the Tail of Typha’s Gold

The scene…a golden afternoon in June, at a local muddy pond.  The character, a thin ragged yet energetic female leaps off her bike with Midas like glee and pushes down a thickening trail of turquoise-green leaf spears taller than her plaited head, broad soled battered brown sandals squelching and sinking into the mire.  After a few feints and colourful language the woman realises that this will be her lot if she is to find what she seeks, and she accepts the brown waters rising over her toes and cloaking her ankles, smiling at the harsh baking blue of the sky as she sighs with the cooling delight of the mud, understanding now the hippopotamus.

She cracks off young green flowerheads to boil later for food, within the green velvet bursts forth sun yellow, turmeric yellow with the taste of sweetest buttery corn.  Rich in protein and delicious eaten right off the spike.

She also sneaks forth on the mature spikes with their dizzying clouds of yet more gold, sparkling in the summer air, finer than finest flour and that crazy yellow like all the joy in the world is lying in wait within it.  She captures the clouds, bending the spike gently til the puffs descend into the waiting maw of a Tesco carrier bag (yes, I know, this ruins the effect..but hey, they’re handy, and they don’t leak like a wicker basket does)

Later back at narrowboat base camp she sorts her finds.

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Golden pollen, immature flowerheads (male and female), some younger stems to use as green veg, and some lovely mint.

Still with memories of the electric blue damselflies and the smell of the mint as she squlelched, the human begins to invent a recipe.  A delicious buttery tasting chowder soup with no butter needed, instead some plain soya yoghurt with its feral tang and some lime and some critters that live in the rhizomes…the crays, a poetic symphony of plant and animal that exist together in life an in dish.  Whacked on tip in a crispy foamy tempura and sprinkled with chives and more yoghurt.  Scrummy!  and I mean it.  Even my two year old ate all of it.

Left you can see the male part (top of spike) which has more to cook with.  this is the bit I used for the soup as it crumbles easily off the stem.  the female part can be eaten but she’s only a thin layer and better boiled and scraped off the stem like a lollipop!

The pollen is very fine and needs sieving to remove all the tiny bugs.  Also leave it on a flat surface to let them escape (but not in a place with the slightest breeze, or you will be sorry…and it takes AGES to collect even a small amount, I think i got about 100g if im lucky.

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The finished Reedmace Flower Chowder with Crispy Tempura Crayfish, dressed with yoghurt and lime juice and chives and with Typha tapas on the side  MMMM…

On the Tail of Typha’s Gold

Fungal fun in Leighton-Linslade

Have been photographing mycological mysteries whilst legging it about after my son (and preventing him eating said mysteries).   In order to identify a mushroom, these factors can mean the difference between life and death… Some of these are:

  1. Measurements – cap diameter straight across the fullest part, entire height of mushroom.
  2. Smell – fruity or mealy?  iodine? Nutty?  And the nice tasty smelling ones sometimes kill you too!
  3. Spore print – the ‘seeds’ of the mushroom fall out of the cap when left in the dark for several hours on a clean sheet of paper.
  4. Tree cover overhead – each mushroom gets its nutrients from different trees, often specific to either conifer or broadleaf but sometimes even to specific species of tree.

Well heres what I found…

Shaggy Parasol (Macrolepiota rhacodes) , absolutely delicious fried with a dash of olive oil on Melba toast, and some fresh rocket 🙂  In Heath Wood.  Beware of any ‘Parasols’ under 8cm, even if they have a scaly dry cap there is two that may kill you given half a chance.  (Isnt life so much more interesting now its under threat!!)

Brown Wood Mushroom ( Agaricus sylvaticus) at Tiddenfoot Lake.  Another great edible, and smells and looks it. Under conifers, height 5-12cm cap 5-10cm across.  Go for a warming stew or risotto, also good in Mushroom Ketchup.  Ps it wasnt me that pulled up this clump, honest to god! Far better to use a knife and cut the it doesnt damage the mycelium.

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The cute little cupcake number above seems to be (at best guess) a Yellow Cow Pat Toadstool (Bolbitius vitellinus).  Inedible.  In Linslade Wood.  What  a lurvely happy yellow!!

A type of Milk Cap, am not sure which one though.  A true milk cap will ‘bleed’ a milky sap when cut.  Many (but not all) are edible.  Heath Wood.  Beware the Brown Roll Rim, which has a pretty shiny cap and looks very similar except the rim of the cap is rolled tightly under…its toxins build up in the liver an can kill you years later just when you think everything is cool….

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Probably a Beech Russula…..or else the Sickener.  do you see how dicy this is!!  You never know which meal will be your last.  its like playing Russian Roulette.

(NB: I have never played Russian Roulette, and have no plans to do so 🙂 )

Fungal fun in Leighton-Linslade

Cretan Edibles…a semitropical feast!

Having just returned from my, ahem, research trip to Crete, where i sampled many of the local delicacies, which included semi-feral food garnered from the neatly planted beds and borders of the posh resort where we stayed.  Though the resort staff disagreed with my plan to harvest honey from a bees nest in a carob tree next to the bar, they did not catch me liberating the prickly pears, pomegranates, carob pods and mint, so I have these delights to bring you all.

So, Prickly Pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica, or Indian Fig) is a spectacular dinosaur-like arid climate species that produces Vitamin c rich edible fruits from its big flat plate like protusions (are they leaves!?)  DO NOT do what i did the first time many years ago and grab the fruit whole heartedly with a bare hand.  If you do this gazillions of tiny blade like hairs will insert themselves into your skin and they are REALLY hard to get out.  If you use the tips of your fingers and watch what you are doing you will miss the hairs!!

Prickly Pear Sorbet with Greek Yogurt

4 prickly pear fruits

1 lemon

4 sprigs of wild peppermint

small tub of Greek yogurt

  1. Cut fruits in half and Scoop out the insides with a spoon, put all of this in a bowl and break up with a fork.
  2. Squeeze in the lemon juice.
  3. Put in the freezer for a few hours or until solid.
  4. Crush it up with a fork again then quickly put the Greek yogurt into two dessert or wine glasses and scoop the prickly pear mixture on top.
  5. Add a sprig of mint.
  6. Serve immediately or place in the freezer.

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Carob (Ceratonia siliqua) grows everywhere in Crete, and is a magnet for bees that also appreciate its mild sweetness, every tree sounds like a bee hive!  Mostly known as a chocolate substitute, it was used during the war as a rich source of calcium (the syrup contains 3 times more than milk!) and fibre as well as minerals.  Nowadays its mostly used to make locust bean gum for use in foods, but ive brought enough back to make some kind of chocolateless drink so will get back with that later….

 

Olives. (Olea europea).this wouldn’t be complete without one of Crete’s biggest exports – fine olive oil. eaten without preparation, olives are disgustingly bitter (believe me, ive tried them in Homebase garden centre before).  But as olive oil thye provide a high energy healthy-ish fat that you can splurge raw to make salad tasty…

Pomegranates are good for the heart and a gateway to the Underworld, just ask Persephone.

Aloes can be used as first aid for cuts, bits, stings and rashes.  Just break a dragon-like leaf off and rub the jelly on the wound.

I also found palm seeds but they are not edible apparently!  The bark sheets can be used to make a roof and matting etc.

The Thorny Burnet plant grows close to the ground, constructed of vicious spines (and an excellent choice for my 20 month old son to sit on).  It was traditionally used to stuff in the roofs of houses to stop mice and rats.  Having touched this plant i will vouch for its efficiacy and its a good one to know if you ever have to make a survival shelter in the Cretan outback.

 

I found a type of Juniperus sps on Crissi Island, the oil can be used to treat inflammation and wind and to clear the lungs.  Also to make gin (yuck)…

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Last but not least, one to avoid and not let your kids eat…Oleander (Nerium oleander) has pretty pink and white flowers and spiky leaves and will cause you a trip to a foreign A&E if you ingest it.  It was made famous by the book ‘White Oleander’.

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Well thats all from the Aegean isles, now for mushroom season in rainy Britain….

Stay tuned folks!

Cretan Edibles…a semitropical feast!