Foraging – Springtime Edibles (Pt 1)

Foraging is about much more than just harvesting plants for their nutritional or medicinal properties, it’s the outcome of an adventurous learning journey with skills that can be transferred to many aspects of life. In order to successfully forage you must get to know your environment intimately which breeds a deep respect and love for the landscape and nature, and expands your knowledge of the geography and biology of your lands.

Spring has arrived here in the UK and with it comes a new bounty of edible plants and flowers that our wonderfully varied eco-system offers up. Fields, hedgerows and gardens are coming alive with a variety of healthy and sustainable alternatives to the mass-produced foods, drinks and medicines on offer in the shops; and they’re all completely free! Here I will share with you some of our family’s tips and tricks for a plentiful foraging session, and some recipes to make the most of your haul. There are far too many plants to list in one post, so I will break it down into a series to be posted every Monday and Saturday – starting today with the wonderful stinging nettle.

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Nettles

Nettles are a truly underrated plant in the UK. Mostly viewed with fear and disdain as ‘those nasty stinging weeds’, these hardy little plants are actually an abundant source of iron, vitamins C and E and fiber. Nettles come in a few varieties, each of them easily identifiable and found in gardens, fields and hedgerows across the country. This post and recipe relates specifically to the stinging nettle. While these plants are available throughout the year, spring is a particularly good time for harvesting. The new top shoots of the nettles are less bitter than the lower parts of the plant and make a fantastically refreshing and healthy tea, the tops can be snipped with scissors – just wear some close-knit gloves to avoid the stingers. Nettles can be harvested any time of the year and from pretty much anywhere, just try to avoid roadsides where the plants will have been heavily polluted and areas that are subject to chemical/insecticide spraying. When brewed as a tea nettles have excellent cleansing properties and also make an absolutely brilliant alternative to shop-bought antihistamines that can be of benefit to both people and animals – the following recipe for nettle and turmeric tea worked wonders for treating our small dog’s severe reaction to a spider bite when the veterinarian prescribed antihistamines failed.

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Recipe for Nettle and Turmeric Tea

  • 1 cup of nettle tops (or whole nettles if preferred)
  • Enough water to cover the nettles in a small pot/pan
  • 1\2 to 1 tsp ground turmeric (to taste)
  • Small pot or pan
  • Jug or bowl
  • Sieve
  • Cup (or jar for storing)
  1. Rinse the nettles in cold water
  2. Place your nettles in a small pot or pan and cover with cold water
  3. Bring the pan to a gentle simmer, not quite a boil
  4. Strain the nettle water into your jug or bowl and add turmeric powder, stirring well
  5. Pour into a cup for drinking or clean jar for storing (in the fridge for a few days, or freeze for months)
  6. Enjoy your healthy, vitamin fueled, cleansing, antihistamine

The above recipe (with or without turmeric) can be sweetened with honey, syrups or fruit juices to taste – and when sweetened and frozen make excellent ice lollies – just pour into a suitable mould or small container (with a stick for holding on to!) and pop in the freezer for a few hours.

As with any food/drink/medicine, there is a risk of intolerance or allergy, for this reason it’s advisable to start with a small quantity. Once you have ascertained it’s suitability for you and your needs you can safely drink 3-4 cups per day in addition to your usual water consumption.

Nettle tea is a great staple and can be used to treat many, many ailments; including hay fever, anemia, skin conditions (including the dreaded acne!), type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. With added turmeric the benefits are further enhanced – turmeric has been widely studied and shown to effectively treat arthritis, heart disease, depression and certain cancers; along with a plethora of other illnesses, diseases and disorders.

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Recipe for Savoury Crispy Nettles

  • 2 cups nettle leaves
  • Sesame oil
  • Garlic powder
  • Sea salt
  1. Heat the sesame oil and a pinch of garlic powder on high heat in a frying pan
  2. When the oil is very hot, add the nettle leaves
  3. Fry on high heat for approximately 2 minutes, until leaves have darkened and curled
  4. Transfer to kitchen roll for draining
  5. Once drained, transfer to a dish and season to taste with garlic powder and sea salt

This recipe can be adjusted to suit preferences – try using different oils and seasonings to create your own signature nettle snack.

I hope you enjoy foraging for and experimenting with the wonderfully versatile stinging nettle – let me know in the comments how your concoctions turn out!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor! This post is not meant to take the place of medical advice. I do however work with many aspects of mental health and can attest to the benefits of turmeric for depression.

The Pleasures & Perils Of Nomadic Life & Communal Living

We’re now in to our 3rd week on the first stop on our journey…and it’s starting to feel a little strange to be so stationary! 

Our trip up to the Cambrian Mountains was truly amazing. We did the vast majority of our traveling along the waterways, utilizing the wonderful canal towpaths and riverside footpaths and revelling in the abundant and diverse nature of the wildlife and scenery. We could certainly have taken a more direct (and less challenging!) route, but we’re glad we chose the path less traveled. We’ve seen herons and goosander, woodpeckers and kingfisher; and the scenery passing by has been nothing short of idilyc. 

We’ve met some really incredible people along the way too – some who have encouraged and inspired us, and others who we were fortunate enough to have encouraged to look a little closer at the beauty surrounding them, and to reconsider their view of what’s possible to do with life. We’ve been welcomed by many landowners and had deliveries of water from locals – not to mention tmosts for the children (and a bottle of wine for me!). There is of course the flip-side; hauling heavy trailers up seemingly never ending hills and over styles, less than ideal camps and the not-so-nice people. The people – the good and bad – have been the real surprise for us though. It’s certainly made us reevaluate our opinions on folk. The most prejudice we have faced has been from those we least expected, most surprisingly a rather unpleasant Nature Reserve volunteer who was far more concerned by our strange little convoy’s use of a bird hide to bird watch than the group of drunk and high teenagers setting fires in the adjacent hide. This was obviously a regular occurance – both hides were in a sorry state; The windows had literraly been smeared with feaces, the entire area was littered and fires had been set inside the wooden hides; yet we were the people made to feel unwelcome while sitting quietly with binoculars and bird books. Local police even attended and praised our attempt at cleaning up, refusing to ‘move us along’ as requested and instead escorting the young group back to their parents. What saddened me most though was this woman’s total lack of knowledge of the plants on the reserve – who doesn’t know that Dock leaves soothe Nettle stings?! Anyway, needless to say we didn’t stay long – even if she hadn’t arrived being a massive pain in the arse the poor state of the reserve wasn’t particularly appealing, not to mention hazardous to health. It left me somewhat forlorn and concerned for the viability and longetivity of Nature Reserves in general. I really hope this was just one poor choice of caretaker, but I have a feeling there are plenty of others like her elsewhere. 

Arriving at our first stop was a breath of fresh air; a beautiful plot, lovely yurt and warm welcome were waiting for us all – and it was immediately clear that these people were genuinely caring for their land. Though we still have no flushing toilet or mains water and remain pretty wild, we now have beds and actual illuminated light bulbs – which is a novelty for sure! The host family seemed great – Mum, Daughter, Dad and Grandma were immediately close to our hearts; and our fellow Workawayer, Guillem, was just great to be around. Now, 3 weeks in, we’ve had a great time with brilliant people, and will miss them all when we go. It’s been bumpy at times – communal living isn’t always easy – and we do sometimes miss the freedom and variety of life on the road, but overal it’s turning out to be a really positive experience. That’s not to say it didn’t nearly end in tears and an early departure…

The nature of this stop is a work exchange; Pete is here to complete a variety of construction tasks while I generally help out where needed. While I’ve been lucky enough to be left to do my jobs unhindered, Pete didn’t have quite the same level of good fortune initially. His first task, with 16 years construction experience, was to complete a shack conversion. Now, this is a job he could do in his sleep. He’s done countless conversions and renovations, built houses and x-ray bays and even part of the Chanel Tunnel; however the highly educated but certainly not a builder Dad was project managing on the verge of micro managing his work, which Pete found rather challenging at times. While I was happily sewing seeds, tending to the chickens or preparing meals, poor Pete was cleaning concrete dust off concrete blocks with a toothbrush while trying not to laugh (or scream) when Dad declared “one thinks one should be able to weigh out one’s materials with these baking scales…they go up to 500g!”. Madness, I tell you. As you can imagine, the first week of this was wearing a little thin on poor Pete; add to that the 1hr jobs taking 3 days (yes…3 whole days to fill a hole) and it began to equal a rather naggy Pete. After a stern talking to (which was done in ‘builders terms’ – “I did it your way and now it’s f**ked mate, pack it in or do it yourself…”) Dad has calmed down somewhat, and Pete is now happily working unhindered. This situation, as well as causing a horrible amount of stress, taught us two very valuable lessons:

1) Always confirm that the host doesn’t intend to interfere in any skilled work unless they have the skills to do so. It seems obvious, but we made an assumption, and the old ‘makes an ass out of u and me’ was really ringing true for us. Our bad, lesson learned. 

2) Don’t let an issue stagnate. As soon as the conversation was had and some boundaries drawn the situation improved dramatically. It could have been handled with more diplomacy (by anyone other than Pete!) but it was managed, and had it been managed sooner it would have been even better. 

So, Pete had a rough first week. I on the other hand was having a grand old time getting to know Mum and Grandma, looking after the adorable daughter, cutting firewood and tending the garden and 96 chickens. In the second week we did a few days small holding sitting, which was a lovely break for us all and gave us the chance to have some quality family time together, and generally regroup. While it’s been great to share meals and work with others, it was a bit of a shock to the system at first to be missing family meals with just our family – that’s something we’ve always made time for and enjoyed. After a little time to ourselves though, we were feeling refreshed and ready for a return to the communal nature of Workaways, and our Host family.

After that, things have really been great – the work has been good and the company even better – and we’ve all developed a strong bond with our Host family. We’ll be genuinely sad to leave them next week and will definitely be back to visit. We’ve been introduced to another home educating family and spent many happy days with them also, forming friendships that I’m sure will be long lasting; plans are already being made for meet-ups once we move on, and they’re doing their best to come up with a plot nearby to tempt us away from France! Between spending our days off with this wonderful family we have been enjoying the local area, exploring the mountain and playing in the stream that runs through the plot – bliss!

The children have been keeping up with their home ed with ease – most of the time they don’t even realise they’re learning! Our daily lives are filled with opportunities for discovery and they’re soaking it all up like sponges; learning about water filtration when working on the rainwater tank, Catalan from Guillem, maths when helping their dad to cut and measure for studwork, keeping journals and writng letters, reading at any given opportunity, and absolutely everything in between. 

Somewhere amongst all of this we’ve also been introduced to the owners of a local off-grid cider farm, and have changed our plans so that we can spend some time with them in July – meaning we’ll be staying in this beautiful area a little longer. Happy, happy days!

If anyone reading knows the area (Newtown, Llanidloes, and beyond) and can recommend any must-see places or wild camping spots, please do get in touch – and be sure to follow us on Instagram for more regular posts!  

Nomadic Life – Week 2

We’re still wandering!!!

Our journey so far has been varying degrees of awesome, it hasn’t all been sunshine and smiles – there have been difficult moments and even the odd write-off day – but it’s all building us up into a hardy, unstoppable little unit. We’ve met both the very best and absolute worst types of people along the way, but it’s the stories shared over a communal campfire meal that have stuck with us. My faith in humanity is gradually being restored – hooray! 

Power and signal have been the only issue, and they’re only needed for me to keep our lives online – which I’m having some mixed feelings about at the moment, but for now, we’re holed up in a McDonalds plugged in, typing and sipping strawberry milkshake!

Lack of time and power means it’s going to be easiest to share our journey this far in pictures….So here it is. Enjoy!

Are you ready to Wander?!

The time has finally come for us to pack up our lives and take them on the road…and I can’t quite believe we’ve made it!

The children have gone to bed exhausted from the day-before high and I’m writing this post in an eerily quiet and empty house; a house that has been our home for almost two and a half years, a place where so many amazing memories have been made; and I’m not too stubborn to admit that I’m feeling just a tiny bit sad about leaving it behind. It doesn’t override the excitement – not by a long shot – but it’s there, poking me occasionally to remind me to keep balance. Balance…that’s really been the theme of this week. It’s been an absolute roller coaster of emotions and achieving some semblance of ‘level’ has been incredibly hard – I am so relieved that it’s over! We’ve vaulted our share of hurdles along the way (and I’m almost certain I’m now sporting my first grey hairs) but it was all worth it to be sitting here tonight. We have yet to set out towards all the amazing things in store for us but already I know we’ve gained so much from this experience – and it’s only going to get better from here.

Now that we’ve made it to the final night of ‘normal’ life there’s a real atmosphere of anticipation. For the first time in our lives none of us really knows what tomorrow will bring, which is such a big and giddy feeling. The freedom to live at our own pace is going to take some getting used to – it’s a strange concept in modern society, but one that we’re finally ready to try on. Our trailers have been checked and packed, bicycles given a once-over; forecasts, routes and hosts confirmed; and we’re officially ready to take our love of wandering full-time. We have 3 weeks of blissful ‘wild’ time to look forward to before our first stop, which will give us some much needed time to decompress before getting stuck in with some great projects.

While we’re on the road we will be truly off – grid and relying mostly on solar gear for our power; so posts will probably be a little erratic, though I will aim to post updates weekly. We’d love it if you followed us on Instagram and Facebook (there’s a button here somewhere!) where we’ll be documenting our wanderings with photo’s galore – and please feel free to share and leave us a comment!

The Final Stretch – Nomadic Life Here We Come!

So this post is a little late, but it’s ok, there’s a good reason for my tardiness – I’m in the late stages of a slow and even descent into madness. That counts as a reasonable excuse, right?!

This month so far has been a whirlwind (Understatement. Huge one. Raging typhoon is more accurate) of learning, planning and packing. I am now officially unemployed, and Pete is currently finishing up his final job. We are exactly 11 days away from elective homelessness. 11 DAYSHOMELESSNESS! I think a little descending is perfectly acceptable given the circumstances, and the madness is simply a prerequisite of the task at hand – so I’m not worried. Do I feel the immense pressure of the situation? Yes. Am I over-analysing anything that can be analysed? Definitely. Am I worried that we’re doing the wrong thing here? Nope, not at all. As I said – madness. Despite spending my nights poring over routes and plans into the wee hours and the days juggling this with the children – plus the constant whirring of my brain while I mentally run through any and every terrifying scenario that my frazzled mind can conjure, and the endless sorting and packing and selling/donating/recycling of our entire house – the overriding emotion is anticipation. I may be scared silly of the trials to come, and I might be so exhausted it takes an enormous effort to form coherent sentences, but above all I’m excited to see what our future holds. I know that any upheaval we’ll face will make us stronger and better – as individuals and as a unit – and that we’ll have an awesome time; we always do when we attempt anything together. Whether we make it for a few weeks or a few years we’ll all be glad to get out there and experience something new, learning the skills we need to achieve our goals from people who are living them, and spending our time together.

The children are possibly even more excited than I am and so incredibly motivated to learn; Maddy can’t wait to get stuck in on a permaculture project and Brendan’s excited to learn about eco building. At home they’ve increased their research and discussion on their related areas of interest and have completed the ‘to see’ and ‘to experience’ lists; and we’ve even managed to take breaks for parties and a little outdoor fun. Oh and Easter, we fitted Easter in too!

They’ve also completely overcome any attachment they may have been harboring for their belongings and have been piling toys, clothes and books into ‘donate’ and ‘recycle’ boxes with gay abandon – it’s brilliant! This week we have sent a whole Transit van’s worth of household items and toys to our local recycling center, and my goodness do we all feel lighter for it.

The children were a little sad to see some beloved (but very tatty!) cuddly toys taken away but, as usual, managed to see the bright side. While I was reveling in the thought of a clutter-free existence Brendan was thinking much deeper, declaring that all of these discarded items were now going to have the honor of upward reincarnation and that we had helped them on their way to bigger and better things. His beautiful perspectives on these simple acts never fails to amaze me, and I love that both he and Maddy have the unerring ability to find the good in any situation.

It really is amazing how much your perspective can shift in such a short space of time. It wasn’t so long ago that my shelves were filled with designer bags and my shoe collection was something to be admired – or so I thought. I had wardrobes and drawers full of clothes but not a thing to wear, a plethora of fancy gadgets but no idea how to use them, and so much stuff that I had a ‘rotation’ for shelf and display items. I didn’t realise just how restricting all of these things and, more importantly, my attachments to them were. They took on lives of their own – needing love and care to maintain them – and became a hindrance. It all took up time, energy and money that could have been better spent; and only served to distract me from more important things. Because none of it was important, just things; clutter. When you remove the chaos of clutter you can breathe a little easier, think a little clearer and hear yourself a little better. The same applies to the myriad play-things that the children had – so much that they couldn’t see the wood for the trees, spent an insane amount of time keeping the hoards of toys in some semblance of orderly tidiness, and rarely actually engaged with any of it. Most of the ‘in’ things that we often struggled to afford and almost always had to fight off other rabid parents to get to have remained packed away in boxes since moving house 2 years ago, and those boxes have now been stacked for donating without a second thought to their contents – because it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is in those toy boxes hasn’t mattered over the course of the past 24 months, so it’s unlikely to matter in the next 24. This was a great eye-opener for the children who were able to figure out pretty quickly that if those toys don’t matter now – and they must have before because we brought them with us – then perhaps their whole system of value-placement was flawed. It prompted a bit of soul-searching from both of them and a whole lot of reevaluation; culminating in a strong sense of true value and clearly defined priorities. Brendan, eco-warrior that he is, is so proud to be doing his bit to cut pollution, consumption and waste; and Maddy is overjoyed to be sharing her wealth with those less fortunate. They both feel like they have more despite having less, and really enjoy the things they’ve deemed important enough to keep.

However, even with all of these positives, this is undoubtedly one of the most chaotic and stressful times we’ve faced yet. We have all of the usual stresses and strains of a house move, without the security of a new house and with the addition of facing the absolute unknown. We’re not packing our things to unload into a new house, we’re saying a final goodbye to the set and props of many happy memories. We’re trying to reduce everything we need to a small enough quantity to carry in our trailers (which will incidentally also be carrying our new homes) and let go of everything else. And I do mean everything. The most difficult thing to let go of has been that nice sturdy life-raft of ‘normalcy’. I’ve been happily paddling alongside mine for a while now – not quite brave enough to let go completely but no longer scared enough to stay inside – but this huge change looming already has me trying to scramble back in. It’s just a natural reflex to the unknown, and I’m working on knowing this and owning that sensation, but for now it’s just another self-made obstacle to achieving our goals. The thing with obstacles is, it’s in their very nature to be overcome or bypassed – obstacles are learning opportunities disguised as hurdles in a path, not a dead-end – so again I’m not worried. And this is the thing that has struck me most throughout our preparations – the perception of obstacles. Most people have been incredibly positive and supportive of our plans, and many have even expressed regret that they didn’t do something similar when they were younger, but even these people often wonder at how we’re actually managing to get past all the obstacles meant to keep us in neat little boxes. When I talk about whatever hurdle we’re facing at the time the most common response is something along the lines of ‘oh well, it was a nice idea but I guess you’re staying put’. To me, that kind of thinking is the real madness.

 

 

New Season, New Life, New Lessons

The past few weeks have been filled with the joys of Spring and we’ve all been doing our best to make the most of it – the weather is getting warmer, the sun is gracing the sky more often and our environment is awakening and blooming all around us – what’s not to like?! The children have been practically living outside; Maddy up a tree with her nose in a book and Brendan making some marvelous contraption under said tree, with the occasional ‘Hey, aren’t you glad we’re not in school?!’ thrown in for good measure. Their days are so happy and fun-filled it’s sometimes hard to believe they’re actually learning anything at all, but then I remember that learning is supposed to be fun!

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At this time of year it’s hard not to love home educating. There’s so much to see and do together, so much to learn and experience. The children have always been barefoot, wild at heart nature lovers and since we began home educating in December the natural world has been our classroom – and that has been all-round awesome! In the process of a seasonal change our classroom is bursting with excitement, and the new life that the vernal equinox brings has given us plenty of opportunities for learning and exploration.

One sunny Wednesday was spent hiking to our favourite spot by the river, picnic in hand and dog off-lead. The children did as children do, laughing and exploring and observing – constantly driven by their curiosity, and constantly learning. They took up their chosen tools and set about understanding what was happening around them, and it went something like this; ‘What’s that growing over there…what can we use it for?’ ‘Is that a hard or soft wood?’ ‘Why does the water in the river look different to the water in it’s contributory stream?’ ‘What on Earth is that and how is it jumping on water?!’ ‘Oh, so the lens can make heat…can we make fire with it?!’ ‘Ah, baby lambs…why do animals have babies in Springtime?’.

They spent hours in the field (literally!) investigating the answers to these questions and many more, much longer than a school day could afford, and continued with their research closer to home over the next few days. One trip can inspire such a varied and thorough quest for knowledge it really is astounding to behold, and such an honor to be involved.

We also took advantage of the improved weather to put some of our indoor learning into practice, taking our work on forces to the great outdoors. ‘Forces Day’ began with a 6k bike ride, and what a ride it was! As we meandered through the countryside shouting back and forth about centrifugal force and inertia, how Maddy’s riding position was effectively reducing drag, and how Daddy’s adjustment to Brendan’s gears was causing more friction than fire-starters, we probably embodied the ‘Mad Hippy Home-Ed’ers’ stereotype pretty thoroughly, but hey – why not?!

After our rather unconventional ride we were all ready for some time on the water. Kayaking gave the children the perfect opportunity to put their understanding of buoyant force to the test, and this they did – along with drag, aerodynamics and thrust. Brendan also had a particularly interesting lesson on equal and opposite reactions and the impact of sudden cold on the body when he capsized! Despite getting a soaking Brendan had a great time learning a new skill, and it was clearly a huge bonus that this skill could be converted to speed – his newfound dream of being a sprinter is still alive and well. Having kayaked before, Maddy was most at ease on the water. That said, Maddy has a wonderful way of ‘pin-balling’ her way around any given course in any given vehicle, but boy does she own it. She loved every second and, with one-to-one instruction from a professional, was cutting straight lines in no time. By the time we left the water the children had learned far more than we expected, and perhaps the most valuable of the days’ lessons were not about forces at all; but rather the persistence and resilience which they both demonstrated beautifully. The character building continued with stamina as the focus on the return journey, we were certainly less vocal on the way out!!! I for one was thankful when a family of buzzards gave us a good excuse to stop and rest, and yet another opportunity for observation and learning. We watched the two adult birds and one young hovering, manouvering and diving over the field a few hundred yards from where we stood, prompting the addition of another branch to our project on forces and an entirely new fact-filing mission.

In between all of this we have attended home-ed groups, experimented with solubility, played with friends, foraged, cooked, learned about chromatography and colour psychology, spent an unnatural amount of time willingly working through maths (thank you Khan Academy!) and generally absorbing any information they can get their hands on like little sponges. It exhausts me just thinking about it!

Along with the sunshine, blooms and babies, the equinox also appears to have graced us with a fresh chapter to our home-ed journey. The children seem to have rounded that dreaded ‘deschooling’ corner and are definitely getting into the swing of autonomous learning; using their initiative and trusting that their own questions are as worthy of investigation as an adult’s. Reaching this milestone has been a tough haul for both children, but especially for Brendan. Maddy gained her trademark assertive confidence some years ago and I think this helped somewhat with the whole school-to-home adjustment period, whereas Brendan began his childhood with a confidence that was soon to be eroded by his experience with school, and that made the process a little trickier for him. It’s surprising how institutionalised a child can become after just a few years of school and I’m happy (and relieved…hugely relieved!) to see them both adjusting so well to their new found freedoms.

Of course, they now have another set of obstacles to overcome and another drastic lifestyle change to adapt to as we move into our final month of ‘normal life’. The arduous task of sorting and packing is now well underway, and though that may sound simple and mundane, to a child it runs much deeper. This is the first time that their grasp of true value is really being tested, and it’s been tough on them at times. Giving up some of the things that they own – many of which they have chosen and paid for independently – was a bitter pill to swallow when we first broached the subject some months back; but they soon began to realise that they were unduly attached to inanimate objects, and that this wasn’t good. They understood the practicalities of packing for a trip, knew that they couldn’t possibly carry their ‘stuff’ as well as the necessities, and couldn’t believe they’d let that strange attachment cloud their logic. Since then their knowledge of true value has strengthened immensely but I expect this final phase of preparations to be hard on them regardless, it’s bound to be – it’s tough on us adults too! I have to constantly remind myself that, in a years time, I won’t be crying into my tea over my beautiful dressing table that’s now gracing the bedroom of a lucky Cheshire farmhouse, nor will I miss the amazing dress I bought but would never wear that’s currently jazzing-up the wardrobe of someone more suited to it than I. So yes, it is hard, but it’s undoubtedly worth it. If the children gain as much insight into their priorities and principles as I have from this experience, their world will be better for it.

 

 

 

Foraging – Spring Edibles Pt. 3

This week’s foraged goodness is a real little ray of sunshine and is probably blazing its way across your lawns right now – the dandelion. If you missed last week’s instalment on Hairy Bittercress, you can find it here.

Dandelions are so abundant and persistent at this time of year that people spend hours trying to eliminate them – a quick google search tells me that we’re spraying, digging, salting, smothering, even torching (really?!) this gardeners blight – when what we should be doing is enjoying their deliciousness.

 

The dandelion ‘weed’ can be found just about anywhere grass grows and can be harvested at any point during their cycle, though the leaves do get tougher as they age. Just make sure the land you’re foraging is chemical free (no roadsides!) and you really can’t go wrong. I sent my children over the garden fence to gather ours, they spent a happy home-ed morning sprinting between patches of dandelions and wandering the tree lines; returning with a basket full of the flowers, a ‘shopping list’ of found foragables and a plan to spend a family day in the fields sampling them. I love that they can engage with their environment in this way – and are sensible enough not to graze unattended!

As well as being readily available, dandelions are also easily identifiable. There are other plants, namely the Cat’s Ear, that look similar at a glance; but with a closer look their differences are plain. This site is a good source of information on spotting the difference, though there’s no need for the beginner forager to be concerned. These plants aren’t just similar in appearance; they’re also equally edible, used in the same way and have similar nutritional and health benefits. The humble dandelion has been used by many to treat ailments such as muscle aches, gall stones, liver disorders and cancer; and scientific study into its potential as a medicine is producing promising results. It’s also known to be a good source of vitamins A, C, B6, D, E and K; along with iron, calcium and lots of lovely detoxifying antioxidants. Dandelions – like many foragables – are an effective diuretic so bear this in mind when using with other plants. Also take care when using with other natural remedies or medications and seek appropriate advice prior to use.

 

Dandelion Recipes

Dandelion Set Syrup

  • 200 dandelions
  • 4 cups (1l) water
  • 1kg white sugar
  • Lemon (1/2)
  • Sharp knife
  • Medium sized lidded cooking pot
  • Sieve
  • Jug

Day 1

  1. Wash the dandelions thoroughly and leave to stand for half an hour (give any bugs chance to escape!)
  2. Using a sharp knife, remove the petals by cutting just above the base of the flower – any green that you can separate from petals at this point, do* – and put the petals into a medium-sized cooking pot.
  3. Add 4 cups of water to the pot, cover and bring to a rolling boil
  4. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for an hour
  5. Allow to cool then put in the fridge overnight

*Too much green and your syrup will be bitter, but if cut close to the base the surrounding leaves should come away fairly easily.

Day 2

  1. Remove from fridge and, using a sieve or cheese cloth, strain your golden liquid into a jug. Press the petals with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid.
  2. Transfer the liquid to the pot, add juice of half a lemon. Cover and warm over a medium heat
  3. When warm, add white sugar to your mixture a cup at a time. For a thicker syrup, add more sugar; and vise versa.
  4. Increase heat and bring to a rolling boil
  5. Reduce heat to low and cover pot, simmer for around an hour – until thickened
  6. Pour your syrup into a warm jar. Use fresh and hot over waffles and store leftover syrup in the cupboard to show off share with friends 🙂

The syrup can be refrigerated for longer storing, just remove the jar from the fridge and place in hot water prior to use. You can use the same warming method to thin down syrup stored at room temperature.

This syrup is like sunshine in a jar and we’ll put it on pretty much anything – so get creative with the sweet stuff! Try adding a few spoons to a batch of plain cake batter or biscuit mix for a subtle natural flavour.

This recipe makes a set syrup of a similar consistency to set honey. For a runny syrup suitable for drizzling you will need to adjust the method slightly, and use the juice of a whole lemon; on day one boil the liquid for one minute, cover, and refrigerate overnight. On day two add the lemon juice with the sugar and simmer until most of the water evaporates. Do not bring to a rolling boil. Allow the mix to cool, then simmer once more until it reaches the consistency of maple syrup.

 

Bacon and Dandelion Stir Fry

  • 1 cup lardons – bigger is better
  • A good handful or two of dandelion leaves (1.5-2 cups when wet and chopped)
  • 1 cup baby carrots
  • 2 cup broccoli florets
  • 2 shallots
  • 1tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1tbsp soy sauce
  • Wok
  1. Wash and roughly chop the dandelion leaves
  2. Peel and thickly slice shallots
  3. Heat sesame oil in a wok and add carrots, shallots and lardons. Stir-fry on med-high heat for 5 minutes
  4. Add soy sauce, broccoli and dandelion leaves, stir fry for 5 minutes until tender-crisp.
  5. Serve and enjoy!

We like ours mixed in with egg noodles and couscous, but it’s just as good on its own for a quick lunch. The bacon can be substituted for pine nuts (toss in for the final 5 minutes of cooking) for an even healthier and equally tasty outcome.

Eating foraged foods is enriching beyond the nutrients they share. The experience of taking your food from field to plate, all by yourself, is incredibly rewarding. It reminds you that you are inherently connected to the Earth and all of its cycles, and with that knowledge you can begin to sustain yourself.

We’d love to hear about your foraging adventures, share your tips and recipes in the comments or head over to our Love Learn Wander Facebook page and share your photo’s!

 

 

 

 

Foraging – Springtime Edibles (Pt 2)

The next forageable in my Springtime Edibles series is another annual plant that really comes into it’s own in Spring – the wonderfully tangy Hairy Bittercress. If you missed the first installment be sure to check it out here.

Hairy Bittercress is easily identifiable by it’s small rosette of cress-like leaves at the base and hair-like foliage growing from the stems under the small white flowers, which bloom in branched clusters from February – September. This common wildflower is likely growing in your garden right now, but if not don’t fret – you won’t have far to go! Hairy Bittercress is considered a problem weed by many gardeners; it can quickly and efficiently establish itself on any waste ground, alongside paths and walls and even amongst rocks and sand-dunes. The plant can be eaten in it’s entirety, roots (dried and ground for flavoring) and all, but the most common use for Bittercress is the addition of the tangy aboveground foliage and flowers to salads and sandwiches. To harvest this plant simply dig up for the roots – being careful of surrounding plants – or cut away at the base for the foliage and wash before use.

Hairy Bittercress may not sound like the most appetising of foragables but it really does make a cheese butty! In addition to bringing some tasty texture to the table, this little wildflower is also nutritious. It’s a good source of vitamins A and C and also contains beta-carotine, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and glucosinolates – which are known to help with removing cancer causing carcinogens from the body.

With all of these benefits it’s a real shame to be fighting this plant in the garden when we could be happily harvesting and utilising it. The phrase ‘if you can’t beat it, eat it’ suits this plant well!

As always I’d love to hear your foraging tips and recipes – sharing is caring! Leave me a message in the comments, happy foraging! ☺