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Keep calm and carry a plant ID book

This week it's like the lid from Pandora's Box has been lifted. Whilst Corvid-19 has been causing chaos for humanity, Spring has simultaneously emerged, bringing sunshine, new growth, and hope.

Nobody needs to be told that this week has been a time of unprecedented stress as health, livelihoods, and homes have come under threat. Combined with supermarket shelves that are emptying faster than they can be filled, and prolonged periods of social isolation, this week could have been a recipe for unmitigated misery. However, yesterday the Spring Equinox happened, and the greyest, wettest, muddiest winter in living memory was officially exiled into the history books. The arrival of the Vernal Equinox means that for the next six months days are longer than nights, the growing season is upon us, and nature begins to rejuvenate and reproduce.

To mark the start of my family's period of social isolation and the arrival of Spring, we grabbed a picnic, a basket, a pair of scissors, a pair of gloves, a pocket-sized copy of "Food for Free", and headed into the woods to go foraging for greens. We were not disappointed. We came home with a basket filled with wild garlic, nettle tops, dandelion leaves, and cleavers. We washed them thoroughly, then added them to a hearty soup, as you might use spinach. All the plants we gathered have wonderful health properties, as well as obviously being local, fresh, in-season and free.

Stinging nettles have high levels of Vitamins A and C, as well as being full of iron and protein.

Wild garlic is good for the immune system, is an anti-oxidant, and is an insecticide. It is also very good for the digestion.

Dandelion is a great detoxifier - helping to flush out the liver, and aleviating gout and rheumatism.

Goosegrass (or cleavers) is a blood cleanser and a traditional treatment for urinary infections.

Other, entirely unanticipated benefits of going on the foraging walk included my son, who is not usually a fan of green vegetables, placing wild garlic as his third favourite food, (after baked beans and Dad's Cheesy Pasta). Who'd have thought it?! Plus the process of going for a foraging walk resulted a calmer mind, because by spending time focusing upon the plants around us, I became more observant, more present, more mindful, less stressed. Finally, we also spent over 4 hours outdoors in the fresh air, greeting many other families with smiles from a safe distance, and getting a healthy amount of exercise.

A word of caution: if you decide to go foraging, please remember it is quite possible for the untrained eye to confuse some toxic plants with edible ones, for example the leaves of lords and ladies (arum maculatum), lily of the valley and foxgloves which can all grow in similar locations to wild garlic, as well as looking superficially similar to wild garlic leaves are highly poisonous, so be vigilant, and don't eat anything if you aren't 100% sure it's edible. A good book will help with plant ID, and there are some fantastic plant ID apps available for free. I have listed some books and apps that I find useful at the end of this blog.

Finally, a degree of commonsense is required when foraging things from the wild: don't pick things from where dogs might have toileted; don't pick things if there isn't a plethora of it growing in the same location (no panic foraging please!); wash everything well before eating it; and most importantly, remember to have conversations with your children about all of the above helping them to have an appreciation of and respect for the wonders of nature that are on their doorstep. With children who are too young to be discerning about what is safe and what is not,it is better to be safe than sorry, and I find the phrase "no picky, no licky" to be an effective ditty.

Books from my library:

The Hedgerow Handbook: Recipes, Remedies and Rituals by Adele Noxedar

Food for Free by Richard Mabey

Hedgerow by John Wright

Wild Food by Roger Phillips

The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler

Inaturalist - plant ID app

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