By Feebee Foran
This week, Feebee brings us her Starter Guide to Foraging in your neighbourhood.
What is growing around you? Have you ever really stopped to look?
I am not talking about the beautiful blooms that we see in our gardens and that of our neighbours – the ones that have been tended to, nurtured by human hands and cultivated as a feast for the eyes to gaze upon when you step outside your front door.
As much as I love seeing the bright and colourful Alliums, Tulips and the golden glow of Marigolds in my lovely neighbours’ gardens, I am drawn to the little pockets of my local area in Firhouse to discover the wild herbs and flowers that grow naturally. Herbs that would normally be cast aside as weeds are the plants that interest me most. These are the plants that sparked my fascination with foraging.
How to Forage?
Foraging starts with a love and interest in what nature gives us.
In our busy lives, we tend to rush through our days, working, commuting, collecting kids, moving from one task to the next. Foraging offers a calming, relaxing and slow-moving break to your day that allows you to breathe deep, smell the natural aromas on the air, look past the sea of green to distinguish one plant from the other and learn what they can bring to your life and how to use them.
The senses are the best tool a Forager can bring along when out walking and discovering what is awaiting underfoot or on trees or bushes.
Until you feel confident about the plants and herbs you come upon, spend some time as a visual Forager. Look, identify, appreciate. You don’t even need to pick the plants – just by walking and doing a mental checklist of the plants you see on your stroll is an amazing way to get started. Start with easy to recognise plants like Nettles, Dandelions, Daisies, Hawthorn, Cleavers – each time you spot one, tick it off. This is a great way to get children interested in nature too. Make a little list of the plants you see on your walks to and from school and let them draw what they see.
As you progress, add another plant you would like to see to your list and take your time to find it. Chickweed, Speedwell, Yarrow, Ground Ivy, Lesser Celendine – they are all waiting nearby to be spotted and acknowledged.
A Foragers Toolkit
Aside from your senses, there are some practical tools you can put together for foraging walks.
Your phone – for first time foragers, I would always advise a “leave no trace, take only a picture” policy until you have properly identified local plants. Most mobile phones have National Geographic grade cameras built in, so get snap happy when you spot a plant that interests you. The next time you walk by the same plant, you can quickly look back on your pictures and compare how much it has grown since your last visit.
A sharp knife or scissors – for taking gentle slips off plants, either for growing at home or for identification purposes later.
Gardening gloves – to avoid stings and also protect from tiny stem fibres that might not react well with your skin if you have never handled them before.
A soft material bag – if you are foraging plants to take home, pop them into a breathable bag, like a material shopping tote or muslin bag – failing that, just scoop them into bottom of your t-shirt or jumper. Plastic bags will suffocate the plants and expedite the wilting process.
Foraging Starter tips
- Know your surroundings. If you are in an area that gets a lot of passing traffic, its best not to forage edible plants, as they can be polluted by the fumes of vehicles. Stick to spots where the foliage is protected from pollution. Also be respectful that you are not foraging on private property.
- Start small – look for easy to identify plants and then scale up. With foraging, it’s best to identify a plant with 100% certainty than by guesswork. This is especially important if you plan to eat what you forage. Remember some plants can be poisonous, so always err on the side of caution.
- Waist up – it’s not just humans that use the areas around us. Dogs, foxes, hedgehogs, badgers and birds are also our neighbours. By foraging from the waist up (where possible), you are avoiding taking plants that may have been peed on or are used by small animals for food. Also, by taking only the top 6 inches of a plant, you are ensuring that it will continue to grow and flourish. If you take the root – it cannot grow back.
- Take only a little of what you need – a good guideline is to take only between 10% and 30% of a plant that you are foraging. If you are taking leaves, just take one or two from each branch. This will allow the plant to continue thriving and also, it ensures that animals, bugs and birds that rely on these plants for food have plenty to enjoy.
Foraging for Food
We are so lucky to have so many edible wild herbs growing around us that not only make salads look pretty, offer so many health and nutritive benefits. Remember, only eat plants that you can identify with 100% certainty.
Here are some safe local herbs that you can try:
- Dandelion Leaves – a gentle diuretic that is packed with Vitamin A, C and K
- Daisies – fantastic aid to the digestive system and also helps fight colds and respiratory complaints
- Wild Strawberries – a heart healthy wild fruit that also aids digestion
- Wild Garlic – contains Vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and is known for its antibacterial properties
- Wild Garlic & Hazlenut Pesto
This gently flavoured pesto works great with pasta, as a dressing for salads – or my favourite, on fresh crusty bread with a drizzle of olive oil.
- 100g Wild Garlic Leaves (not stems)
- 150g Olive Oil
- 100g Hazelnuts
- 40g finely grated parmesan
- Lemon juice
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground peppercorns
- Wash the wild garlic leaves, removing the stems and flowers (keep the flowers for salads). Roughly chop the leaves.
- Add to a blender and blitz well with the oil until you have a creamy consistency. Add the juice of half a lemon.
- On a dry pan, gently toast the hazelnuts, before adding to the blender with parmesan. Blitz well.
- Taste the mixture and adjust to your preferred flavour with salt and pepper.
Store or Gift
Pop the pesto into a sterilised jar and store in the fridge. It will keep for 3 days.
Add a pretty label and some twine to the jar for a lovely, homemade gift for friends or neighbours.
Feebee Foran is a nature enthusiast, allotmenter, milliner and homebrewer. Owner of Forager.ie, Feebee creates skincare and healing products using all natural, locally foraged herbs and plants.
Follow her nature adventures on Instagram @forager.ie