Did you know that there are literally dozens of plants and weeds growing in your garden, in local parks and hedgerows, and even in humble car parks, that you can safely eat? Not only can you chow down on these leaves and flowers, but they contain healing properties that can save your life! As someone who is becoming increasingly interested in a plant-based diet and natural medicine I was delighted when Barracuda invited me to a event for bloggers to promote two of their clients - Napiers herbalists, and The Caravan Club. It was one of London's sunniest and most glorious days of the year so far, the perfect day to go foraging!
We met at The Caravan Club's Abbey Wood site, just outside of Greenwich. It was so bizarre that this lush open space is in the middle of a quiet, residential area. The log cabins and pine trees made if look like another country – such a beautiful base to set up camp if you are visiting London. After tea and coffee we set out with our guide, the amazing and appropriately named Monica Wilde, who has been foraging pretty much all her life and works as a researcher for Napiers. Her extensive plant knowledge was astounding! We hadn't even left the car park of the Caravan Club and we had already been offered nettles and chickweed.
We headed off to the woodland to forage further. The bloggers mostly write about outdoor living, gardening and food, so there was lots of note-taking going on.
Monica explained that to be a forager you need to keep moving around – forests in the winter, beaches in the summer. She said that one of the major impacts of people becoming less nomadic and not living off the land, is that whole generations are dangerously deficient in iodine, which creates subnormal levels of thyroid hormone. This can make people tired, as well as lead to thining eyebrows and hair. She recommended a spoon of seaweed powder a day to normalise iodine levels. In fact, Monica is working with companies to try and have seaweed used a salt replacement in pizza dough and bread. She also recommends Ash Tree sap as a sugar replacement, and praised tree sap in general. The sap of the Pacific Yew tree is used in the leading breast cancer treatment drug.
We tried Sticky Willy (good for preventing cancer and aiding weight loss), Calendula flowers for cell regrowth, nettles – which in tea and soup form can ease Rheumatoid Arthritis. Monica had also brought along some toasted nettle seeds, which she sprinkles on salads. They were good! We had chickweed, which is good for easing eczema, and bramble buds which taste like coconut. My favourite was Hedge Garlic, a tiny leaf that tastes amazingly like garlic! This would be great in salads. Monica showed us some Cow Parsley, a member of the carrot family, and told us it looks quite like Poison Hemlock, so you have to be careful. Hemlock was used by the Ancients Greeks to kill Socrates, it stops your diaphragm working so you slowly suffocate. Nice! After telling us this, Monica held out the Cow Parsley for us to try. Unsurprisingly, not so many enthusiastic takers. She also offered us Giant Hogweed but warned us not to get the sap on our skin or it would be forever sensitised to the sun! Arrrgh!
The blossoms of cherry trees taste like marzipan! I have seen these every single spring of my life and never thought to eat these tiny flowers. Amazing!
Monica warned us to stay away from anything with purple blotches or spots, and highly recommended all new foragers get a guidebook to steer them away from anything that's not safe. She said that we have instincts though, to avoid the dangerous, which is why most children don't like mushrooms. They have an innate sense of something that has long been found in unsafe forms by humans.
What was fascinating is that Monica explained how plants have existed millions of years before us, and have a head start on perfecting their defence system. Like us they also have cell mutations and disease, but they can repair damage and prevent harm so much better than humans can. We can learn a lot from plants, and as humans have evolved eating mostly plants, we already have some of their defence system. If we go on eating a plant-based diet we can be at optimum health. Monica pointed out some plant cures for our everyday life – ginger for sore throats, elderflower for hayfever, crushed garlic as an antibiotic, and Hawthorne tea to reduce blood pressure. In fact, she said that in a study of people who'd had heart attacks, those who had regularly drunk Hawthorne tea had less heart scarring and were able to recover quicker. Monica was really interested in Rheumatoid Arthritis, and said that Turkey Tail mushrooms and Birch Polypore mushrooms, both found growing on trees, reduce RA inflamation, as does the spice Turmeric. She said that RA sufferers should avoid Echinacea and garlic as these stimulate the immune system. A non-related interesting fact about immune systems Monica told us is that babies born in February, March and April are more likely to suffer from hayfever as their developing immune systems have to cope with the highest levels of pollen in the air.
Finally, it was back to Caravan Club where a marquee had been put up for us, and a delicious lunch awaited. Everything was so healthy and scrumptious – lots of avocado, beetroot and beans! We all had a good chat and I was delighted to meet Tom of Tired of London, Tired of Life, a blog that I would like mine to be as awesome as when I grow up. His lovely girlfriend, Catherine, is a chef at The Skip Garden Cafe in Kings Cross where they use seasonal food from their own organic garden. I was joined by the awesome Kylie of Little Outdoor Kylie, and there were also a couple of people from charities such as Friends of the Earth. In fact I was there wearing two hats as both blogger and as a trustee of the The Vegetarian Charity. I actually wish I had worn a hat, I really caught the sun, and attribute this to getting a bit too drunk on only two drinks later that evening at another event, but that's another story.
I had such a great time and learnt so much! I'm absolutely amazed how many yummy things and natural cures there are freely available to us. We were all given an exciting goody bag with lots of Napiers natural beauty products. They smell so good! I am definitey going to buy a vat of seaweed powder from them. Thanks Barracuda, Napiers, Caravan Club, and Monica for a fantastic foraging day!