The wonders of nature’s gifts to us. We can appreciated that there a myriad of benefits associated with spending time outdoors and enjoying nature’s gifts. The fresh air, movement are all great for health. Patient the NHS patient website recommends spending time outdoors, to enhance your mood, get vitamin D and also for movement.
It is early in the morning, elderflower fragrance is thick in the air and a dawn chorus of birds is in full swing. The morning sun feels pleasant on my skin. I enjoy all these with gratitude and appreciation. I draw in a deep breath, savouring the elderflower fragrance. I focus on the bird song and the rays of the sun on my face. I feel gratitude for this moment, for spring, for the flowers, for the birds, for the sun, for life…
With appreciation fresh on my mind, I changed the direction I was running, veering towards the woods. I was on a mission, a mission to find more gifts from nature for me to appreciate. My eyes rested on an elder bush laden with flowers. Being the foodie that I am, my inspiration was appreciating food offered by the woods near me. I must confess, though I do enjoy wild plants for food, I am a fledgling in this field. I am sure the woods offer much more edible plants than I noticed on my short expedition. I don’t classify myself as a forager, I prefer saying I enjoy wild food. Foraging which is also synonymous with scavenging has a negative connotation to it. Enjoying wild food has a positive ring in my ears. Picking wild food has a lot of positive aspects to it such as being close to nature which is a great mood lifter. While out picking wild foods you get some exercise, fresh air and vitamin D depending on location, season and time. A word of caution, the wild offers a lot of edible plants, and likewise it offers toxic plants as well. Unless sure that a plant is safe to be consumed, you should not consume it. Be wary of lookalike plants such as wild mushrooms.
Starting off with my inspiration – the elder. The flowers which start blooming in the UK from spring to early summer. Elderflowers are used for preparing cordials or can be fermented with honey and lemon to make a fizzy non-alcoholic drink. The flowers are also used dried up for herbal tea infusions.
Elderberries are used for making fruit pies, fruit crumbles, jams, syrups, liqueurs, or pudding. These berries are high in vitamin A, contain flavonoids and are a good source of fiber.
Firethorn is also known as Pyracantha Cochnea. It bears scarlet berries and is widely used as a hedge or ornamental plant. The berries are used for making jellies or sauces and can also be consumed in small quantities raw.
Normally considered a weed and tends to grow in parks, on lawns, in gardens and through cracks on pavements. The plant has bright yellow flowers which apart from providing food for pollinators, are also consumed. To be honest, all the parts of the plants including roots and leaves are consumed. The leaves can be used in a salad. Dandelion is considered a herb with various applications such as herbal tea which is claimed to be a good liver cleanser and detoxifier. The flowers are also used to make dandelion flower syrup and are also used in topical creams, bath infusions, homemade soaps and salves. This is one very versatile plant.
More nature’s gifts – venturing into the woods
In the woods, two magpies noisily squawked at a crow. I looked around at the trees and the underbrush. The richness of the flora was breathtaking. It was like I was noticing it for the first time although I visit the woods frequently. Because I was consciously appreciating my surroundings, it was like I was seeing the trees and plants for the first time. I drew in a deep breath and expressed gratitude for the experience. Getting back to my task of identifying edible plants..
These thorny bushes produce edible blackberries which can be eaten as a fruit or can be prepared into fruit preserve, jam, jelly, or syrup. The fruits can also be used to make fruit pies and liqueurs. Young shoots can be eaten in salads or in an omelet and the leaves are used for herbal tea.
Stinging nettle leaves are used as greens. Nettles leaves can be used to make nettle risotto, can be added to omelets, soup, or can be used instead of spinach or any other green. I pick my nettle in spring when the leaves are young and tender. Nettle leaves are also used for making nettle herbal tea.
This plant is abundant in the undergrowth. The young shoots also known as fiddleheads can be picked up in spring and used in stir-fries. A word of caution, mature plants contain toxic compounds such as the enzyme thiaminase which literature shows breaks down vitamin B1 and can cause a deficiency and Ptalquiloside which is carcinogenic. The Ptalquiloside can be inactivated by cooking. This is one plant whose consumption should be approached with caution.
Chestnuts are versatile in their use. They can be eaten as roasted nuts, can be ground into flour for baking and pancakes, they can be used for making stuffing, added to risottos, in soup, lasagne, and many other dishes. Jamie Oliver has many recipes incorporating chestnuts.
Hazelnuts can be snacked on, simply shelled and toasted. They can also be made into butter, ground and sprinkled on cereals and porridge. Hazelnuts can also be chopped up and added to salads, pasta dishes, or risotto dishes. They can also be used in baking.
The tree is famous for birch sap tapping. The sap can be used for making cordials, wine, liqueur or syrup. The inner bark can be ground into flour for consumption also; I found some birch bark flour recipes.
Fruits can be eaten like any other fruit. The wild cherry fruits are not as sweet as the orchard varieties and can be bitter before they fully ripen. The fruits can be used to prepare syrups, liqueurs, jams, and fruit pies. The stalks are used for tea infusions among other uses, see ideas.
Acorns are not food for squirrels and birds only. They can be ground into flour, roasted into snacks, can be chopped up and added into food for a crunch or you could even brew a coffee substitute drink from acorns.
I am sure there are many more edible plants that nature offers near me. What I may not consider as food is probably food for someone else or another community. This is one of the reasons we should be open to learning from each other and learning new things. We must be open-minded and willing to try new foods as this will prove useful in the future, more so for future generations due to challenges that may come about from climate change and the growing population. Most importantly we should take care of our natural spaces in order to preserve them so that we can continue to enjoy their gifts.
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