For our November meeting we were delighted to welcome Wendy Paton, fellow WI member of East Edge Sisters and founder of London Bushcraft. As well as being experienced in bushcraft in the UK, Wendy has led 21 expeditions worldwide. During these trips she’s foraged for wild rhubarb in Mongolia; eaten live ants in Ecuador; gone mud fishing in Vietnam; tracked with the Kalahari Bushmen in Botswana; caught and eaten frogs for breakfast in Laos; and picked enough wild blueberries in Ecuador to turn herself blue! Her passion to start London Bushcraft was driven by wanting to do a job she loved and to be able to introduce Londoners to the nature around them.

Wendy gave us an introduction to many plants and trees some of which we recognised and plenty we didn’t that we’d easily find in and around us in London. The session was interactive with the chance for members to share their own experiences of foraging and there was plenty of sharing of ideas and recipes some of which even Wendy didn’t know!

Between us we had members who’d made a cherry cordial, foraged for chestnuts and sloes, cooked with nettles and there was even a Japanese Knotweed crumble in there too!

There are several rules of foraging including being totally sure you can identify what you intend to pick and there’s no substitute for a field-ID in real-life so Wendy was keen to stress there are old foragers and bold foragers but there are no old, bold foragers!

Here follows a tiny titbit on each of the plants Wendy talked about:

Ribwort Plantain – Wendy’s favoured use is a salve made from the dried plant mixed with oil and beeswax to help with very dry hands. Even more effective than over the counter hand creams! Better than dock leaves for stinging nettle stings

Elder – The flowers are apparently fab with mashed banana, flour and milk to make a batter and fried in a pan

Yarrow – Member Sarah had used yarrow in tea with peppermint as a cold remedy

Jack by the Hedge – Young leaves are lovely in a pesto (especially combined with nettle and dandelion) though the plant itself looks quite different depending on its stage of growth so take care with ID

Stinging Nettles – great for beginners as it’s easy to recognise! Makes the most green and delicious risotto! Wear gloves for collecting young leaves 🙂

Silver Birch – the sap tapped from a suitable tree (like Maple trees are tapped to make maple syrup) in early spring has a lot of nutrients with anti-ageing benefits!

Common Mallow – makes a swampy-looking soup that Wendy’s husband was very impressed with!

Dandelion – another good starter plant for the novice forager as it’s so easy to recognise. All parts of the plant can be eaten in various ways

Sloe/Blackthorn – spent sloes from making gin make a lovely jam for eating with meats or they can go into port after the gin to make sloe port

Lemon Balm – looks like mint, smells like lemon and is often found in gardens. Makes a calming herbal infusion to drink and is often used to help relieve PMS

Goosegrass – the plant with those annoying sticky balls that stick to your clothes. The dried and roasted seeds ground up make a decent coffee substitute. Harvest them with your arms covered in socks to effectively capture those sticky seeds!

Curly Dock – in the Buckwheat family. Wendy has made flour from the seeds and added it to sourdough bread

Seabuckthorn – a few members have enjoyed this in drinks and even in a cake recipe combined with sesame. It’s purported health benefits are numerous!

Sweet Violet – Wendy uses the leaves as a parsley substitute but the flowers look very pretty frozen in ice cubes as a drink decoration

Ash – our most common UK tree, the young seeds can be pickled and are great with cheese and crackers

Herb Robert – great for a sore throat. Beware of the smell… the plant is also called Stinky Bob! Tastes nicer than it smells

Burdock – the leaves make a great wrapper for food on an open fire

We learnt a lot both from Wendy and each other and found that as well as being a potential source of nourishment and connecting to the seasons and the environment, foraging is also an adventure.

Recipes and ideas on Wendy’s London Bushcraft blog here

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