“I’ve been stung! Find the whale chins! I need you to look over there by the dock leaves mummy!” My heart swells with pride. What started out as naming daisies and dandelions when she was learning to talk, has evolved into identifying edible and medicinal plants (albeit with her own names for some varieties). Joining her on her journey of discovery, I have borrowed books and studied online in a bid to expand our knowledge and make the most of the fantastic flora and fauna on our doorstep. Striving towards a zero waste lifestyle, foraging became a useful way of finding food without packaging, but oh how it opened up a world of opportunity!
Nothing makes me happier than holding a little hand and meandering over footpaths at a child led dawdling pace; inspecting leaves, exploring hedgerows, and cataloging new finds to learn about at home. Lockdown gave us the time to explore our neighbourhood and the veritable feast that lay on our doorstep (or in our neighbours gardens). Our top finds to date have been wood sorrel (it tastes like apple lemonade mummy!) and fuchsia berries (kinda like a squarish blueberry but watery like a grape). I personally ate my own weight in pennywort which helped to substitute our crops of rocket and spinach in my summer salads, and delighted to find an abundance of hairy bittercress in my garden.
The amount and variety of edibles on our doorstep (and neighbours gardens) is surprising. Once you start looking there is something on every corner! Nettles are savoury and delicious, hogweed shoots like nothing I have ever tasted before, and our stash of tri-cornered leek pesto in the freezer will give us a taste of spring in the darker months. Taking her newborn brother with us in the sling we have tramped for miles happily munching on wall flowers and borage. This has backfired on us slightly in that he now considers most plants fair game for snack time - our poor tomatoes and peas have not had a chance, and good luck if you can find a dandelion left in our garden!
Foraging for finds hasn’t stopped at food - the colour and variety of flowers, leaves and berries have inspired our creative sides too. We decorated t-shirts by hammering flowers on to the fabric, leaving a beautiful print behind. A very noisy but satisfying craft. More recently blackberries and elderberries have made deliciously messy works of art. The ‘whale chins’ she was speaking of are the leaves of ribwort plantain (the underside of the leaf have raised veins that remind her of a humpback whale) and are much better at treating stings and scrapes than the better known dock leaf. So much so that I have made a balm for our first aid kit by infusing the leaves in olive oil and beeswax (which surprisingly also clears up cold sores!).
Getting outdoors on the hunt for food has helped me welcome the change of the seasons, and for the first time this year I have not gotten SAD when Autumn ambushed us last week. I already have our elderberry tonic brewing (which should give us defence from colds throughout the year), and after discovering a secret cache of hazelnuts we will be making our homemade nutella at the weekend. I am drying hogweed seeds to spice our Christmas biscuits, and of course blackberries are finding their way into a lot of baking. There is no doubt that the biggest benefit of foraging for our family is the time that we get to spend together. I relish our chats, and the opportunity to learn and discover together. My daughter and I have precious moments together on our wanders, as the wee terror is always quiet in the sling and immersed in the world he can see around him. This winter I am looking forward to stormy walks along the coast and unearthing the world of seaweeds…
Jennie is mother of two wildlings, who enjoys making, mending, sea swimming, and striving towards a sustainable, zero-waste life. “We are lucky to live on the beautiful coast of Cornwall, and are currently crossing our fingers as our first house purchase goes through and we can finally have the space to raise chickens.”