JULY FORAGING WALK
Our latest foraging walk at the beautiful site of the Sustainability centre was filled with many plant delights. At this time of year, the butterflies are bursting with colour above nectar filled plants and nature's exuberance is bursting with enthusiasm, the late John Muir always seems to find the perfect words for such an occasion :
'The plants are as busy as the animals, every cell in a swirl of enjoyment, humming like a hive, singing the old new song of creation... Insect swarms are dancing in the sunbeams, burrowing in the ground, diving, swimming, a cloud of witnesses telling nature's joy'
John Muir 1838 - 1914
Meet the plants: ( hover on the plant to discover its name)
Please note that if you have any medical conditions please check with a medical herbalist first before taking any plant and only harvest it if you are 100% sure what it is!
We were first greeted by the upright vibrant blueish violet flowers of the self-heal plant (Prunella vulgaris) which is a low growing herb that provides ground cover hugging the earth and providing nectar. It is an edible plant that acts as astringent for wounds and for internal bleeding.
Cleavers or sticky weed clambered amongst the strong woody nettles, both plants full of nutritious value especially earlier in the year. I demonstrated how nettles could be turned into natural string and how the bedstraws (Rubiaceae family) to which cleavers belongs to were used for bedding by our ancestors.
We spotted more ground hugging plants which were coming to the end of their flowering season including ground ivy and speedwell. Speedwell is a wonderful plant known as one of the wayfarer herbs guiding the lone traveller along country lanes cheering their journey and offering good luck. The phrase 'speed you well' can be used as a blessing when people set of on their journey. This edible plant can help relief bronchitis, whooping cough and catarrh.
Ground ivy up until the sixteenth century was used in brewing to clear the fermenting liquid and add a sharp flavour. This beverage was known as gill-ale and unlike most ales was reputed to clear the head effectively often within 24 hours. Jonathon Swift (1767) is quoted as remarking on this drink. This plant can help soothe the stomach including griping pains, coughs and chest disorders, it also will help clear mucous membranes and as an inhalant can help colds, coughs and respiratory complaints.
The upright Rosebay willowherb dominated the grassy areas beneath it. This willowherb is the only species that is generally safe to use for food and medicinal uses. As a herb it is used dried for whooping cough and asthma. As a food plant the young shoots can be steamed and peeled and its pith is used to thicken soups. The leaves can be used as a garnish or dried for a tea.
Peeping out from the woodland paths were herb robert plants which are native geraniums growing in shady areas and often on more acid soils. It branches out with stately foliage, each bright green leaf is lined with red carefully drawn by nature's fine artist. The fresh leaves can be used as a compress for wounds and as a sedative and astringent, as well as gargle for sore throats and mouth. A lotion can be made from it for irritated eyes.
The plant can be dried and used internally to lower blood sugar for diabetics, help diarrhoea, peptic ulcers and treat an internal haemorrhage.
Agrimony has upright bright yellow flowers which brighten up field margins, road verges and hedgerows. A plant that is well worth harvesting, it lifts the spirits making an invigorating tea for many complaints from aching joints to sore throats. It is a good general summer tonic.
Vervain contains ‘verbenaline’ which is a chemical renowned for its ability to reduce fevers and pain. An infusion of this plant can induce sweating and used with yarrow is an effective herb for coughs and colds. More often than not the plant has been used as an external application for inflammations and sores. Internally it also can be taken as a strengthening tonic.
Dock is known as the cure for the nettle sting and this extends to any burn, scald or blister as the juice of this plant has many healing properties. Ironstone quarry workers are said to have rubbed freshly cut dock on their forearm sores. Science is now calling dock a placebo but I have found dock incredibly effective when treating insect bites! It's root is rich in iron.
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Poetry of flowers
Join me to explore the flora of the British Isles on this blog. My intention is to attempt to capture the unique quality and beauty of each species of flower, tree or shrub. For every species featured I will be growing many more wildflowers to celebrate the joy of their existence, their intrinsic conservation value and bewildering array of uses. For nearly 30 years I have noted, studied and explored wildflowers in the field much to the patience of the walker beside me. To share this passion is a heartfelt plea to respect, preserve and care for all British Wildflowers no matter how common they seem.