Beltane Foraging Tips for the Season
As the wheel of the year turns, so our land offers up new delights and nourishment for us to gently collect and savour.
Not only does She do this for our bellies, but also for our wellbeing, as She offers a host of medicinal herbs along the way.
Worth noting that the abundance alters year by year according to what is required....
In 2020 there was an unusual abundance of cowslips in the meadows - no coincidence then that they are used medicinally for respiratory disorders!
Never by chance, always by design.
What will we find in our woodlands, hedgerows and meadows this year?
Ne'er cast a clout til May is out - that ancient adage pertaining to when you can leave your coat or jumper behind - is a saying that refers to the May blossom, or Hawthorn blossom rather than the month and while it is traditionally used to crown the May Queen, it is famously fickle in its appearance, waiting for the true frost-free days that we can never wholly bank on here in the UK!
Nevertheless, bloom it will and while some confuse its blossom with that of the similarly prickly Blackthorn bush (of sloe berry renown) it is worth remembering that blackthorn blossoms first and before its leaves arrive, whereas hawthorn becomes wonderfully verdant before dressing itself in its sweet white blooms! Their leaves are totally different too, so worth noting their shape.
The berries of the hawthorn will be spoken about when the season presents itself (and there will be much to write), but the best hawthorn tincture uses the flowers and leaves gathered in the spring time, so if it's something you're looking to try, the fun starts here!
"Hawthorn is a superb heart and circulatory tonic, protecting and strengthening the heart muscle and its blood supply. It improves blood circulation around the body, and can be used to treat a wide range of circulatory problems.
"Hawthorn also affects the emotional side of what we think of as 'heart', by calming and reducing anxiety, helping with bad dreams and insomnia, and smoothing menopausal mood swings" (Taken from Hedgerow Medicine by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal, Merlin Unwin Books)
This prolific weed is the scourge of gardeners everywhere - but wait a minute... You can eat it?!? YAY!!!
It was introduced to the UK by the Romans as a food source and the lemony young leaves (picked before flowering) make a delightful addition to a spring salad. They are packed with Vitamin C as well, which is why they came to be known as "gout weed" Another name is Bishops Weed.
Once the flowers bloom, it is possible to cook the leaves and eat them, but they may not be as desirable... worth a try though!
It's also worth noting that it is toxic in high doses, so don't go too mad! Also avoid during pregnancy and don't share with the dog.
Ground Elder does also have medicinal uses: for digestive disorders, asthma, angina, kidney stones and fluid retention, even as a poultice for skin conditions such as psoriasis, but as with everything, please use with care!
Much like the ground elder, the common sorrel makes a delicious addition to a spring salad with its lemony flavour and is well worth becoming completely familiar with its particular leaf shape. As it is high in oxalic acid, it should be avoided by anyone with kidney stones and may add as a diuretic (for that extra spring-cleanse!)
I feel at this point, particularly this year, it is worth pointing out the difference between sorrel leaves and those of the cuckoo pint/ lords and ladies, to give just two of the many many folk names given to the Arum maculatum. They do look very similar at first glance, but the highly poisonous arum has glossier, waxier leaves, often with purple spots on (always a deathly giveaway!) and often grown in woodland amongst the wild garlic (though this year it's growing pretty much everywhere!)
Given its particular profusion in 2023, I took to finding out why - often a plant will become more abundant when we need it most, take the cowslips in 2020, such great cures for respiratory illness, yet most people had no idea.... Nature does try! Other than discovering that the roots can be used as a starch supplement when well roasted (is anyone feeling the pinch that much?!) my research continues.... if you know, do tell!
Cuckoo Flower / Lady's Smock / Milkmaids
Often to be found at the edges of farmers' fields, by streams and in meadows, these pretty little four-petalled flowers grow 10-60cm tall, often in clutches. Not to be confused with Lady's Mantle or Cuckoo Pint, these add a delicious accompaniment to a salad, especially the flowers! The leaves are said to taste somewhere between watercress and horseradish, so they're quite peppery! The flowers are far milder, a delightful scrump on a springtime walk!
You hardly need me to show you what a bramble leaf looks like. Who hasn't been snagged painfully, clothes ripped, skin torn by a trailing bramble vine?
Well, we all know they produce the humble blackberry and in that truth we find forgiveness, but did you know the leaves are just as tasty when young and fresh and they're packed with Vit C! Also good as a digestive aid, they make a lovely infusion, especially if you allow the picked young leaves to wilt in the sun for a few hours before crushing, wrapping in a damp cloth and hanging for a few days. Sounds like a lot of faff, but it does improve the flavour. Still good straight off the plant though, I think!
Herb Bennet / Wood Avens / Clove Root
Uses : Food
If your garden is anything like mine, this cocky little weed will spring up all over your beds and become a bit of a bind to keep on top of - trouble is, the flowers are so pretty!
Fear not - turns out these can be eaten too! The leaves are edible from now until early summer (best steamed, they're a bit hairy!), but far more interestingly, I think, is the fact that the root, as the name suggests, make a wonderful clove substitute - clean well, tie together and add them to the cooking pot - delicious!
Worth noting: They also serve as excellent nectar sources for pollinators, so don't go pulling them all up, please!
More to come.....
More to come.....
More to come.....