If I tell you that all the seaweed you see on your local beach is edible bar one* which is not likely to be present anyway – does that demystify the whole subject a little? At Wild Harvest we teach many different subjects broken down to be easily accessible for beginners and yet which take our learners to a level of basic proficiency. Its ok to be a master of one subject like foraging, or an artist in something like basketry but where will that get you if the situation is not about pleasure but survival?
So, this Seaweed Survival blogpost is designed to give you enough knowledge to make some basic foods and still benefit from the same bountiful health benefits that eating fancifully prepared and nominally challenging recipes will bestow. I believe we should be unashamedly pragmatic in our learning journeys in order to keep moving forward, there is no need to make the learning journey so complicated, information overload stops us starting. At Wild Harvest we encourage people towards the confidence to move from ‘head-to-practice’ by giving simple easy to follow instructions and just enough peripheral knowledge to interest not overwhelm you – so here are the seaweed survival basics to give you the confidence to get out:
There are some general harvesting and processing rules that can learned for foraging in general and can apply to coastal foraging too without the need for much more, for example
Harvesting – from an unpolluted environment, at the optimum time of the day/year for the best nutritional benefits and safety of the collector, without uprooting – just cutting a plant and not stripping a resource bare when you find something you like.
Processing – once you know that most of our seaweed is edible the only difference is preference for one taste over another ie palatability rather than actual edibility. It is simply preference that will determine how you process seaweed because all of it can be processed in pretty much the same ways. In a survival situation of course palatability or preference is less of an issue than edibilty and nutritional value – all of our seaweed can be quite tastily:
Patted dry and fried from fresh either shallow fry or deep fry into crisps
Boiled/added to mash potato or cooked grains and cooked in oil or fat as patties
Boiled as a vegetable
Eaten (a little) raw (if sea is clean)
Dried and crumbled or powdered and stored in a jar for later rehydration in a stock or soup.
Health benefits of eating seaweed
Seaweed is one of the few foods that is contains all of the 56 trace elements essential for human health, amongst them is calcium, iron, magnesium, iodine, potassium and selenium (the latter becoming scarcer in farmed land veg due to soil depletion). The brown sea weed especially is rich in alginates …… and fibre for the digestive tract. Seaweed is a low fat and calorie food despite being also high in fibre and minerals. Purple seaweed like Laver contains more B Vitamins while Kelp in particular is rich in Lignans which are pre-cursors in the body to the formation of phyto-oestrogens. This is linked to Japanese women’s low incidence of breast cancer. The Okinowans from an Island off Japan eat between 7 – 10 portions a day and are the worlds oldest nation. Iodine present in seaweed helps with thyroid functioning.
Seaweed is cited as ensuring a healthy heart and digestive system and can also detox the body of heavy metals. It is a useful ingredient where there has been a radiation leak.
Note the drying of leaves does not compromise the nutritional value as its mostly water that is lost though any vitamin c will deplete with oxidation and heat.
Topically seaweed is good for hair, scalp and skin (face and body) its unusually rich combination of minerals, nutrients and amino acids are drank up by the skin and absorbed by the hair to give a shiny healthy appearance. It moisturises, is beneficial for anti-ageing and calms senstive and spotty skin. Add dried powdered sea weed to soap making, bath salts, or body butter and conditioners.
Making iodine solution.
Steps to extract iodine from seaweed:
Burn some seaweed in a metal container above heat.
Wash the ash with distilled water, filter it through cloth or coffee filter paper.
Boil the water until there is just watery salt left.
Put this in a glass jar.
Now add sulphuric acid (car battery?) – the water should go purple brown. (When you add the sulphuric acid it hisses and some liquid evaporates there’s a possiblity that if you put muslin cloth or iodine paper over the jar you may catch some crystals).
Adding sodium hydroxide dissolves the iodine crystals into the solution and neutralises the acid.
You will have a brown liquid that you can test the strength of (how many ppm from 0 – 50 of iodine) using iodine paper (a bit like litmus paper).
Fertilize Your Soil With Seaweed
One cold November when back-packing alone with two toddlers I stayed at a community in Scotland. Erraid is the smaller sister community to Findhorn and I earned our stay there by trudging up and down to the beach to collect seaweed then covering the growing beds with a deep layer of mulch. Over winter the seaweed would rot down nourishing the soil ready for Spring and in addition to the usual benefits of any mulch seaweed has the extra advantages of:
Not carrying weed seeds
Not carrying diseases of land plants
Breaking down easily
Rich in Selenium
*Desmarestia – is the name of the toxic seaweed. It is a fine frond-like pale green-brown seaweed that grows in inter-tidal waters and emits sulfuric acid and has out of the water a ph of 2% so would burn your digestive system (perhaps you could use this in your iodine making experiments to get the iodine out of seaweed?).
“I grew up on the wide sandy beach at Marske-by-Sea on the North East Coast, barefoot and raggy-haired, alone, dreaming of joining the mermaids. My school was only seventy metres from the beach so I even chose coastal erosion as my geography project to justify to the teacher why I should spend his lessons ‘on-site’. Moving inland to live on farms in Yorkshire subsequently meant I’ve lost touch with the wide skies and the fresh salty smell of the coast – if you are lucky enough to live near the coast make a pledge now with me to get out to the beach soon and bring seaweed into your life! Post your pictures on Facebook and remember to tag ‘Wild Harvest School of Self-Reliance’ – we offer prizes every couple of months for the best tagged photos! – Di Hammill x
Growing up with an Industrial Chemist
I decided to email my Dad a couple of years ago to ask:
“which chemicals could start a fire?”
For example could glycerine and potassium permanganate work – an article I had read online suggested so? This was his reply…
this is just a quick response to your email.
Potassium permanganate, glycerine and water . Add a few drops of glycerine to few crystals of potassium permanganate. accelerate the reaction by adding a couple of drops of water.
Or instant fire with potassium permanganate with antifreeze (that you might have in your car along with petrol to keep it going).
Acetone, sulphuric acid and potassium permanganate. Soak a tissue with acetone. Draw sulphuric acid into a glass pipette, dip the pipette into the permanganate to coat with a few crystals. Dispense the sulphuric acid on to the tissue. It should catch fire. (Where would you get sulphuric acid?)
Sodium Chlorate, sugar and sulphuric acid. Mix a small amount of sodium chlorate and sugar initiate the reaction by adding a few drops of acid. (Where would you get sulphuric acid?)
Ammonium Nitrate powder, finely ground zinc powder and hydrochloric acid. Mix together a small amount of ammonium nitrate and zinc powder initiate the reaction by adding a few drops of hydrochloric acid. (Where would you get the hydrochloric acid?)
9V battery – touch both poles to super fine steel wool it will catch fire and burn tinder, wool fibres and feathers etc. (Sounds good to me)
Boy scouts have tried sunshine and a magnifying glass but it might work for girls too. Ha ha!
PS please excuse my sense of humour”
The above experiments should keep me going for quite a while! Upon research I have found ammonium nitrate can be found as fertiliser and sodium chlorate is weedkiller but whether these products are pure enough to use in the above combinations or are mixed with other ingredients I will have to read more. I will also try to create an info graph illustrating the above combinations at a glance. Firstly though is my promise to myself this year – I need to learn to make fire with a hand-drill (spinning a stick on a hearth). I will post about this method next. If anyone has tried the above methods do let us know how it turned out and any tips for successful fire-starting with chemicals? Blue Skies, Di x
Where our local supermarkets and restaurants stand today our ancestors once hunted and gathered their food. Hunting and gathering was, over the last century, becoming a romantic relic from the past. The subject of anthropologists and historians (how eating such large quantities of nettles in World War Two was said to give certain communities green tinged skin) wild food foraging has experienced an upsurge in popularity, so let’s look at some of the reasons why modern man may wish to learn about wild food today.
Benefits of Wild Food Foraging
Firstly, wild plants have optimized to survive on their own – we don’t have to do anything at all to enable their growth. Foraging is therefore easy gardening – it is a low input-maximum output system of gardening – we don’t have to worry about planting, potting on, weeding and watering. Nature does all this for us leaving us simply to do the harvesting.
Secondly, foraged greens are the ultimate in ‘local food’. You can’t get fewer food miles than the distance between the dandelion patch on the green over the road and your front door. Unless, of course, you decide after reading this to allow a few weeds to colonize a part of your own garden.
The third advantage of wild greens over the cultivated veg. we buy from shops is that they are usually healthier. How? On two accounts. They are ultra fresh having just been picked by you, they haven’t sat on supermarket shelves for three days and in chilled transit for a week before that (some vitamins diminish over time and with exposure to air or heat). Wild plants are usually of the darker green colour and of the bitter perennial type which are packed with minerals from the soil drawn thirstily up a long tap root through the need to survive harsh conditions without help and these are then deposited in the leaves/roots/flowers of the plant. These plants are known as dynamic accumulators. Compare a dark green shiny dandelion leaf to insipid water filled nutrient deficient iceberg lettuce or white cabbage – bred to meet a demand for bland taste rather than nutritional content.
A fourth advantage is simply that wild food is free. Learning about foraging can ensure you a lifelong supply of free greens for your family!
The main benefit though, I believe, is this:
Economic, social or climatic disaster could see our shops empty in three days due to the modern tendency to operate ‘Just In Time’ Stocking Systems to minimise capital outlay. How would you feed your family? The reason I started to learn about wild food nearly twenty years ago was to future-proof my children. In an uncertain future where imports may stop and domestic food production could be under pressure, to have knowledge of a native wild food source could save their lives.
Warnings When Learning to Forage for Wild Foods
So, we have considered the benefits of learning about wild food, but there are also some warnings that must also be communicated here, caveats to heed before embarking on gathering wild food.
Here they are:
Pollution. If we are hoping to eat wild plants for their health giving properties it is no use collecting them from busy roadsides or the edges of recently sprayed fields as we will be ingesting potentially harmful chemicals. Always harvest away from busy roads and recently sprayed farmers fields (you can usually tell a sprayed field because the weeds in in will be pale and droopy).
Law. When harvesting it is important to work within the law. Law relating to wild food foraging would be concerned with theft, trespass and conservation. Foragers are protected under law from theft charges as we are allowed to gather leaves, flowers, berries and mushrooms without being guilty of a Theft Act offence but must not uproot a plant without the owners permission. In theory you still need the landowners permission to cross land/take these weeds though or you could be guilty of trespass. Finally the law protects some plants that are at risk we must not forage these for the conservation of their species. For a full list (updated every five years see Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) but don’t worry too much about this as there is still plenty of more common obvious stuff to start with anyway!
Conservation in its own right, not just to adhere to the law. Natives living in nature based cultures know to just take a little from a few plants rather than strip a resource dry. When berry collecting in Autumn always leave some fruit for the birds to winter on, some for the plant to reproduce. If you struggle with the temptation to pick the lot – think about the fact that the birds, by eating berries will be ensuring the future survival of the berry giving shrub by pooping out the seeds in ready made fertiliser onto the soil around ensuring bountiful supply for your own tomorrow too so leave some for this reason.
Identification Errors. Although there are many edible plants growing in the UK there are numerous poisonous plants, the consumption of which could result in serious illness or even death! So, rather than just looking at a new plants’ picture in a book for a quick i.d before you guzzle it down compare other variables than just its appearance…
After comparing the plant to a clear image in a reputable reference book, I personally prefer photographs rather than artist drawings however beautiful and I like photos across a couple of books showing the plant in all its growing stages from overwintering rosette, spring buds, summer foliage and autumn fruits/seeds. After the visuals – compare notes on the plants habitat eg. woodland or pasture, light preferences, seasonality with your observations of the current plants situation and only then decide if you have a match.
This isn’t the end of it, you should then do a sensitivity test next. This involves:
Rubbing the plant on a sensitive part of your skin eg. inside arm or neck.
Wait for 15 – 30 mins. If no itching or stinging occurs chew a small piece of the plant and spit it out. There are always exceptions though – (think nettle) and conversely not all poisonous plants sting, again this is just one of many tests to be performed together.
Wait for 15 – 30 mins. If no ill feeling follows chew and swallow another mouthful.
Wait for 15 – 30 mins. If all is well go ahead and tuck in.
This may seem laborious and lengthy but it is only done in situations where you are still new to a plant.
Seasonality, Processing and Storing of Wild Food
Your diet was once about ‘what you could get and when’ as there were no fridge/freezers and not much in the way of imported food, certainly not for the poor. Eating what was in season fresh or learning to store harvested food to keep over the year especially during the hungry gap wasn’t a fashion it was the only way to survive. Our ancestors learned to preserve the wild harvest by drying, smoking, salting, steeping in oil or covering in fat to prevent air (and hence bacteria) entering, pickling, or boiling into a syrup (foods with high sugar content eg. honey keep well).
In late Spring, Summer and Autumn food is abundant but in Winter, for hunter gatherers , it was important to know where and when root foods were available. Roots store the foodstuff and vital energy of a plant over winter to give it growth in the Spring so the optimum time for eating roots is autumn/winter. More importantly though, our ancestors would have to find these roots in winter when the leaves of the plant; the usual indicator, would’ve died back. Some plants leave overwintering rosettes of leaves often very different to the plants actual leaves but at least there was some marker to show where to dig. To dig speculatively for roots in winter would expend more energy than would be gained by eating the results of digging so this method would not have been used unless their was another system of indicators. Our ancestors would’ve had a much greater awareness of plant life cycles and a system of markers. Roots are very rich in starch and have always been a good winter food (think how we still yearn for baked potatoes on a cold bonfire night) and so roots, together with dried meats, dried herbs (all reconstituted in a hot water to make a broth) and dried berry fruit leathers, nuts and seeds would’ve been the winter staples until other methods of processing and storing became available. Examples of wild edible roots are dandelion, dock, silverweed, marshmallow, bullrush and dock, thistle and burdock. These can be used immediately or stored by roasting/drying and chopping or grinding into a powder to store and add to the pot later.
Now of course we can preserve berries in fancy vinegar and oil or freeze them on fast freeze or dry herbs and mushrooms in an electric dehydrator but please do practice with traditional, fire, fat or solar methods of preserving, just so you have the skill for a time when you may need it.
Following the energy of the plant, after winter the growth forces move up from the roots to enter the stems, leaf buds, and leaves so Spring is a time for eating spring greens. Some weeds surface as early as February and so can provide a refreshing plate of spring greens to end the hungry gap. Useful early weeds are dock, lesser celandine, chickweed, cleavers (goosegrass or sticky willy), dandelion and nettle leaves. Followed by hogweed leaf buds (huge, cooked like asparagus) and ramson. These can all be simply mixed together steam fried with butter and seasoning as the green part to a meal, dried into vitamin rich powder to add to other dishes or have as tea. Leaves on trees follow and certain types can be eaten; beech in April raw as the green layer in a sandwich or cooked, silver birch leaf tea rich in vitamins a, b, c and e. I tend to dry leafy greens by laying them in baskets cover with brown paper or a tea towel and leave in warm dry room for two weeks turning occasionally then crumble the leaves into jars (adding dried flowers or other ingredients as they come available) these can be made into teas or added to meals eg. rice, omelette’s or crumbles over the next year. This way, long after the leaves have died back outside we are still getting the benefits of wild greens in our diet. To preserve leaves by drying retains much of their goodness and indeeds concentrates it as you are simply evaporating the water out. Some wild greens eg. plantain or ash keys are so bitter that they need double boiling to make them edible. Double boiling involves bringing the plant to boil in one lot of water, changing the water then re-boiling.
Blossom and flowers follow on from the leaves, some can be a wayside nibble; hawthorn and blackthorn, while others like elderflowers can be made into fritters (dipped in batter and sprinkled with sugar) or made into recipes such as strawberry and rose-petal fool or sweet violet sauce for venison, meadowsweet flavoured ice-cream and sweet ciceley and rhubarb preserve.
Towards the end of summer the flowers give way to either fruit, berries, seeds or nuts. The hogweed gives round flat seeds that give a citrus peel flavouring to puddings or can be eaten as a wayside nibble. On my walks I warn students they taste like citrus peel with a washing-up liquid after-taste! Large, long sweet cicely seeds have an aniseed flavour. Gather hazelnuts early to beat the squirrels and store them in shells in your airing cupboard.
In 2010, I became concerned not only with preserving the wild harvest but preserving the nutritional content as best I could. I decided after making elderberry cordial, rosehip syrup and hedgerow berry jam for years that I was boiling the life out of fresh fruit and decided to research the effects of heat on vitamin ‘c’. Having believed the old wives tales of making vitamin ‘c’ rich berry syrups for my children for a decade I bowed to modern science and reluctantly realised that I had been boiling most of the vitamin c out of the fruit for years. I therefore began experimenting with different ways of preserving berries without cooking. These are some of the ways I have discovered:
1. Fruit Leathers: mash up the berries in a bowl, pick out as many stones as possible (you could mash through a large gauge sieve, spread the paste thinly and dry somewhere in the sun but covered with paper or in the oven on a very low heat eg. 47 degrees for a couple of days. Cut the dried leather into sheets and store in air tight container. I have made leathers that have lasted nearly three years made in this way.
2. Put uncooked berries into vinegar and oil as a sweet salad dressing.
3. Blend with vanilla ice cream and refreeze.
Make a sugar syrup, pack uncooked bashed or pricked berries into a jar and cover with the hot syrup. Leave to seep for about three weeks then blend in a food processor to make a vitamin ‘C’ rich syrup.
Berries and rosehips could be dried whole to make a tea later, strained through muslin
Freeze small berries like elderberries in ice cube trays to pop out when needed.
Beginning with Wild Food.
To begin your journey into wild food foraging, processing and storing I recommend that you start with just three to five plants this year. Right now, choose three to five easily identifiable, easily accessible and simple to prepare weeds, I recommend dandelion, nettle, elderflowers/elderberries, ramson, and maybe daisy as they all meet these criteria but you can choose others. Write them down now or google some if you are having trouble thinking of names of weeds. Find one way you can use each and pledge to go out collecting this week and set aside some extra time before one mealtime to get to grips with it. Here are some basic family meal ideas, I dont apologize for not being ‘foodie’ I came to this from a background of being neglected underfed child then as a concerned mother wanting to future-proof her children so I don’t tend to offer gourmet recipes just healthy family basics. Plus I find it offensive to take a commoners food source and turn it into a fancy meal to impress friends at dinner parties or charge too much for in restaurants looking for a niche.
Bacon and Dandelion Pasta. Fry some bacon (or quorn?) roughly chop and fry a couple of handfuls per person of small/medium size dandelion leaves and a little onion with the meat, add to pasta.
Chickweed Pakora. Collect a small carrier bag of chickweed. Chop roughly. Make up a batter mix adding spices of curry, cumin etc. Stir in the chopped chickweed. Put dollops of the chickweed/batter mix into the frying pan and cook in oil. Drain on kitchen roll.
Elderflower cordial. Pick 12 heads of elderflowers on a dry non windy morning (else the pollen will have blown/washed away and the taste will not be as piquant). Put them upside down in a large bowl, cover with cold water and weigh the flowers down with a plate so they sit under the water. Leave for 24 hours then strain the water through a sieve into a pan, measure the liquid and for every 1pt add 300g of white sugar. Bring the flower water/sugar mixture to boil, add optional squeeze lemon, bottle hot in sterile bottles and seal immediately. The cordial will keep for up to three years. Dilute to taste with cold or hot water, fizzy water or milk or pour over deserts like a syrup, elderflower is especially nice to sweeten gooseberry deserts. A simple way to make champagne is to add a pinch of yeast to one of your cordial bottles decanted into a larger plastic pop bottle, shake then leave for two or three days, let off air and leave again. After about 5 days you will have light fizzy champagne without the complicated methods found in many recipes.
Elderberry or bilberry sweet yorkshire puddings with cream and sugar. Make up batter mix, add elderberries and spoon of white sugar, cook as yorkshire puddings and serve sprinkled with sugar and cream.
Ramson (or wild garlic) is often found in woods near rivers. Gather a few handfuls and chop up and mix with either new potatoes and butter or cream cheese and pasta. Use the white flowers in salads.
Nettle soup (and any other of the greens above thrown in) Collect a carrier bag of nettles from a shady spot so the nettles are not too dark, large and tough. Chop and fry a potato and an onion in oil, add the nettles (removing any large stems) and salt and pepper. Put a lid on and wilt it for a minute then add stock to just cover the nettles. Cook until the nettles are mushy then put in food processor with some cream and nutmeg to taste. My children will eat three bowls of this in a row! You could put a blob of cream cheese in to serve and a sprinkle of nutmeg, serve with oat cakes or crusty bread.
Adding to Your repertoire of Wild Food Recipes
When you have got used to including these ingredients in family meals without having to refer to recipes, choose another three to five plants to research and use. For the next year I might add:
Hogweed leaf buds
Jack by the hedge
Red clover flowers or lavender.
Wood Sorrel – looks like clover but found in woods and has a very tart lemony taste. Chop finely and mix with sugar and a little vinegar/oil to stuff fish. Serve with mash potato (including some silverweed root?) and steam fried hogweed leaf buds covered in butter.
Grate the root of Jack by the Hedge (garlic mustard) and add it to some mince to form into burgers. Serve in a bun with cheese and fresh garlic mustard leaves).
Make some almond shortbread biscuits and add either red clover flowers (chopped up) or lavender or dry red clover, lavender, chamomile and rose flowers to sweeten herb tea.
‘Gardeners Revenge’. Ground elder is no relation to the Elder tree but is still as useful in the kitchen and dry frying it and serving it in omelette or pasta gives gardeners the opportunity to get their own back on this pervasive troublesome weed. It’s really tasty and very easy to prepare – just fry!
Wild Food Foraging should no longer be seen as a quaint old fashioned idea our fore-bearer’s did for their survival because it’s benefits are too numerous to ignore for families today. The knowledge of how to secure healthy local food easily and for free is surely a legacy you would want to leave your children…. so get foraging now!
For advice or to book on a wild food walk or rural craft course with Diana please visit www.wildharvest.org
Basket-making really is a cradle-to-grave skill. Baskets are used from birth as moses baskets to carry newborns and then throughout life to collect wild food, cook in, eat from, shop with, sit on, right up until our death, where we can even be buried in a woven casket!
In the UK our ancestors would have woven baskets from native plant materials such as: dried grass, bramble, willow and straw. The rule of thumb is that any long thin plant material you can wrap around your wrist once fully without snapping can be woven as a basket. Today we can also buy imported basket weaving materials such as cane (from a tropical palm) or raffia.
above: straw, cane, raffia.
At Wild Harvest School we teach willow basket weaving due to the easy availability and quick growing nature of willow in the wet UK. It is a plant you can readily find in the wild or that you can plant in your garden to raise a few willow whips yourself. We don’t believe in importing tropical plants when nature provides us with native materials right here!
above: black maul willow, brown willow, buff willow (bark stripped)
The willow used mostly in commercial basket weaving in the UK is Black Maul a cultivar of Salix Triandra but most willow is ‘weavable’. The thin shoots of the willow tree are known as whips but once cut and dried we call them rods.
Choosing Willow for Basket Weaving
You can buy rods already cut and dried, either with the bark stripped off (buff) or with the bark left on (brown). The difference here is in both aesthetics and toughness to weave. If you are new to weaving and/or don’t have much hand strength then its best to start with buff willow as its much easier to work. Green willow refers to undried willow that in theory could sprout life again if stuck in the ground. If you weave a basket from willow straight off the tree (green) it will shrink as it dries so distorting your baskets shape, this is why we usually work with willow that has been dried and then re-soaked. It has then pre-shrunk.
Size – For basket weaving purposes rods can be bought in bundles known as ‘bolts’ sized from 3 feet long up to nine feet long and sold in Kg. A 5kg bolt of 3ft willow is approximately £12 and contains 500 rods. You will need about 70 rods to make a simple round basket.
To determine how long the rods should be for a particular basket weaving project use Pie – The only adult use of ‘pie’ (that abstract mathematical concept we learn at school) I have ever had is in basket weaving. To work out how long the willow rods should be for a particular basket diameter use the Pie formula of “circumference equals 3.14 times the diameter”. So for a one foot diameter basket you will need rods of slightly longer than 3 feet in length, for a three feet diameter basket you will need the nine foot rods. This is a rough guide but its better to have slightly longer rods than your desired circumference.
Disease – Any black marks on your willow rods indicate a disease the plant was suffering from when it was growing and these spots will be weak and prone to snapping as you weave. Discard rods with this on until you are confident enough to work with it.
Timing – If you are cutting the willow yourself – there is a season for cutting to be aware of. Traditionally this was between Michaelmas and Candlemas, basically over the winter months. The reason for this is because the sap is down then; it rises in the tree in Spring and when the sap is down the whips are not so rigid .
Preparation of Willow ready to Weave into a Basket.
Soaking – Assuming you have some dried willow rods from a supplier or have cut your own and left them to dry indoors somewhere or wrapped under a hedge for three weeks you are now ready to re-soak the willow ready to weave. The re-soaking of the dried willow makes it pliable; bendy enough again for weaving, you will not be able to weave a basket with dried willow it will simply snap. To soak the willow I use either my bath at home or a garden pond, a river will also be fine. If you are using a pond or a river I recommend tying the bolt with string and the other end of the string to a tree so it doesn’t float away. I weight the bolt down under the water by covering it in wet towels. The amount of soaking time depends on both the type and length of the willow. Buff willow, because there is no bark for the water to penetrate is soaked for a much shorter time, the rule of thumb is based on the length of the rods because he length of the rods determines the thickness at the butt ends that the water must penetrated. Three foot buff rods can be soaked for as little as one hour but six foot buff rods can take about 3 hours.
With the brown willow (ie. bark on) the soaking time is much longer and the saying goes – one day per foot. So, a four foot bolt will take four days in the pond.
Mellowing – This isn’t the end of the process however because after it’s bath the willow likes to mellow for a while – after you remove it from the bath/pond the willow works best if its wrapped in wet towels for a further amount of time proportionate to the soaking time ie. soak for an hour then mellow for an hour.
I always think of this part like the willow is lounging around in a dressing gown for a bit until its ready to work.
Cut – dry – soak – mellow – weave.
Anatomy of a rod – You will see that the rod is thicker at the base end, the end that was closest to the ground when it was growing, this is known as the butt, the topmost end, the thin end is known as the tip. Rods will have a natural curve to them, the inside curve is known as the belly, the outer curve is the back. It is useful when weaving to work with the natural shape of the rod and not bend it at an un-natural angle to itself or it can snap. Wild Harvest are producing a series of videos teaching each stage of basket weaving. On the videos we will talk about butts and tips when teaching weaving. To express an interest in watching the videos email [email protected] or to book on a course here at Wild Harvest School, York, visit our course calendar. The next course is Sunday 30th April 2017.
Linda Harrison went for a forage with wild food expert Diana Hammill.
“You can eat this – have a taste,” urges wild food expert Diana Hammill, holding out a plant with a clutch of small bright yellow flowers.
Diana explains it’s a tansy plant that grows along the riverbank and pops some into her mouth.
I taste it tentatively. It’s got an odd tang and it’s quite sweet, although I’m assured it’s better cooked. Among its many uses are flavouring puddings and omelettes. The seeds can also be baked in biscuits – once a tradition at Yorkshire funerals, according to Diana.
I’m on an urban foraging walk near Skeldergate Bridge that promises “free greens for life”. Every few steps we stop at plants that I’d normally walk past, but which I’m learning can be added to all kinds of tasty dishes.
Diana points out a patch of green leaves that look like weeds. They’re actually edible and called Plantain.
“They’re a bit tough at this time of year, but eat them early in the season and they’re good raw in salads or in a creamy sauce with gammon,” says Diana.
“They’re rich in vitamin B and the seeds can be eaten like sesame seeds.”
Diana, started the walks to share her passion for the wild food that grows around us in York. An adult education teacher specialising in rural crafts, she became interested in wild food after thinking about the health and survival of her three young children.
She says: “Wild food is fantastic for three reasons: It’s free, it’s very very healthy and it’s sustainable.
“It’s also about ‘futureproofing’ your family for tomorrow. I wanted my children to know how to feed themselves.”
Next is a hawthorn hedge, near St George’s Field car park. I’m amazed at all the different parts of the hedge that can be eaten, including the leaf buds (delicious rolled in suet pastry with bacon), blossom (dried for a tea), and the bright red berries, which can be scoffed straight off the bush or made into jam.
There are also plenty of salad ingredients up for grabs, such as hawthorn leaves and dandelion leaves, as well as “wayside nibbles” like plump brambles.
It’s fascinating to learn that so much on a city riverside is edible.
Diana explains that knowledge of wild food was once very common in this country. She crouches down near some green leaves called Silverweed – our ancestors cooked and ate the root before the advent of potatoes.
Next we come to a row of nettles. I’m a fan of nettle tea and try to grab a handful, but I can’t help wondering about germs – how do I know they haven’t been polluted by dogs, or worse?
Diana recommends picking only the tips and at a safe height.
As we go our separate ways near the Millennium Bridge, my head’s buzzing with ideas.
The advice for newbie wild food explorers is to take it slowly and choose five foraging foods to try in a year. Then choose another five the next year, and so on.
I’m going to start with the nettle tips I squirreled away in my bag – and head home to make my first free brew.
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Wild food foraging fundamentals
• Conservation: Remember to leave some for tomorrow – and for the other wildlife
• Pollution. Don’t pick plants next to roads, or fields that have recently been sprayed
• Avoid ID errors: If you’re not sure about a plant, first check it against a reliable guide book like Food For Free by Richard Mabey. If it looks and sounds similar, rub it on your arm or neck and wait up to 30 minutes for a reaction. Repeat the process on the inside of your lip. Then chew it and spit it out. And if still in doubt, consult an expert.
First appeared in the York Press 14/09/2012