Spring is reawakening the world around us from its winter’s slumber. Now is the perfect time to tempt your sleeping taste buds to a feast from our past, allowing our dormant hunter gather to reappear with a spot of foraging.
Foraging’s popularity has increased over the past few of years with programs like River Cottage and Countryfile featuring the hunt for food in our hedgerows. The National Trust and other similar organisations have also set up events to show their visitors what to look out for with guided walks and leaflets.
Living in the countryside, I often feel that I don’t take advantage of the plentiful bounty of tastes and ingredients which grow around our home. With this in mind, I decided to chat with Natasha Richardson of Forage Botanicals to find out what I should be looking for as I walk the dog each day.
First, here’s a bit of background on Natasha.
Originally trained in herbalism at University of Lincoln following her experiences and courses at Neal’s Yard Remedies, this followed a passion in her childhood to learn about the world around her. “It was partly fuelled by my interest in paganism that started when I was at school. I also think Buffy and Charmed had something to do with it too.”
During a gap year, Natasha started working for Neal’s Yard Remedies and took as many courses as she could through them to further her interest and learn how the world around her could help and heal.
“I thought about studying homoeopathy but the herbs swayed me. I wanted to be out in the world,” so she continued to learn and turned her hobby and passion into a business, Forage Botanicals where she offers monthly walks, usually in and around London. She demonstrates that no matter where you live, there is always somewhere you can find things to forage.
“The best places to look for herbs in an urban area is railway stations. The entrances and exits aren’t usually kept and you can find many of the herbs just growing freely. Along the edges of allotments is another great place or at the entrance of parks where the council hasn’t tidied.”
Alongside the monthly meet ups and herb walks, Natasha presents workshops to show how to use the herbs found on the herb walks as well as online courses to share her more detailed knowledge of herbalism and how it can be helpful in our everyday lives.
“Spring is a great time to get out and forage. From March we are coming out of the fresh leafy greens and as we go into June, the flowers are appearing.”
Here are Natasha’s top foraging picks for Spring:
Found on waste ground, in gardens and along hedgerows. The ideal time to pick March – early June when the plants are young before they flower. Use in a tea to detox and to help with hay fever. To cook, wilt in boiling water, drain and squeeze out and chop up. Can be used in stews, curries, risotto, pizza and pies.
Cleavers (Sticky buds)
Found in gardens, woods, hedgerows. Use the young stems which are about 10 cm long and with 1-2 leaves. Makes a great detox tea as well as a side vegetable dish when steamed and buttered. It can also be added to scrambled eggs, spaghetti and soups.
Found wherever there is grass. Use the young leaves as they are less bitter. Has a bitter taste, like chicory. Another great detox tea plus a tasty addition to salads or use the flower buds in fritters.
Found in hedgerows. Can be used both internally and externally. When made into a cream it can be used to heal external wounds. When made into a tea, it will heal internal wounds like stomach ulcers and can be stirred into soups and risotto.
Found in woods, hedgerows, and wasteland. Use only the flowers or berries as the rest is poisonous. Can be made into many things including cordial, wine and vinegar. Great for hay fever, runny noses, and wet coughs. Also ideal for inhalation using a hot water bowl.
Heartsease (Viola tricolor)
Found in woods, wasteland, corn fields, and gardens. Use internally as a tea and externally in a cream to relieve hot dry skin conditions such as eczema. They can also be used in spring salads, made into syrups and crystallised to decorate cakes and puddings.
Natasha does have a word of warning to add. “Although foraging, if done properly can add immense benefits to our health, you really need to know what you are looking for. I advise new foragers to head out with a herb identification book and photograph anything they find before picking and sharing it with a herb identification group on Facebook like the Herb, Plant and Foraging identification workgroup.”
To find out more about Natasha and what she does, pop over to Forage Botanicals.