Foraging for food and the fun of it!

When it comes to getting fresh veggies from a local farm, you may think "what can I grow myself" or "what edible treasures are in my soil?" Well, maybe not quite those thoughts, but that's what I wonder especially after seeing the recent Irish hot spell make the plants flourish. It was like everything around me, I could pick and eat or make some kind of bi-product from dandelion greens to wild garlic flowers to rosemary hedges to field mushrooms to the most beautiful wildflowers. I was in my own bio-dome with food at my fingertips. I had to take advantage of this opportunity and also share it with others.

Pretty Flowers

The one thing I love as for most women is flowers. Even when someone gives me flowers I try to

make them last for weeks because I love seeing their vibrant colors around my environment. And luckily for me, our overgrown "back yard" is full of weeds but the most beautiful weeds you've ever seen like deep purple milk thistles, bright yellow butter-cups, orchid-like yellow and purple flowers (aka hemp-nettles), and delicate montbretia red bulb flowers. All these fragrant flowers together with meadow grass make beautiful arrangements in a simple recycled glass jar. To our surprise, we threw a few flower seeds into the soil and suddenly a striking red poppy appeared followed by a few more. This also happened with our sunflower seeds, which just kept growing and growing and growing. Moreover, the best way to get fresh inexpensive flowers and a bit of natural beauty in your life is to pick the weeds!

Seaweed Self Care

As for self-care and medicinal products, there are a plethora of options in your surroundings like wild herbs made into tea and dandelion root to aid inflammation. Here along the Atlantic Ocean, there are many types of seaweed that wash up on the beach shores. There are edible species, those that contain alginates (thickening properties), and some that are best used for relaxing baths. Seaweed has a number of health benefits packed with loads of vitamins and antioxidants.

Edible seaweed such as dulse, kelp, laver, and gutweed should be washed in fresh water to get rid of sand, creatures, etc. They can be sliced thinly using them in raw salads, stir-fried in a hot oil until crisp, or as an addition to a soup. Carrageen can be used to thicken soups and sauces, but you can also make it into a jelly for coughs and sore throats. First, boil it with ginger and lemon for 5 minutes and then add honey drinking it as a tea or sieve it into a jar with some honey and place into the fridge. It will turn into a jelly, which you can take a few spoonfuls of it throughout the day to relieve your cough.

Finally, time to indulge in a seaweed bath. Choose from kelp, bladderwrack, or dulse and thoroughly rinse it. You can then dry the seaweed and store in a plastic bag or use it fresh. Layer your tub with the seaweed and turn the hot water on, which you will notice the seaweed turning bright green releasing its gel-like substance into the water. You can then turn the cold water on to get it to the desired temperature. As you dip into the tub, it will feel a bit slimy but the seaweed will soften and moisturise your skin, hair, and face. This is great for any dry skin conditions and also helps to release toxins from your body. It is truly a unique experience that soothes the mind and body.

Blackberry Jamming

One of my favourite foraging experiences is with blackberries. However, I would use the word "foraging" lightly because blackberries are literally on our doorstep and they are abundant along the hedges and in woods. That being said, you still need to be careful in picking blackberries as they are protected by their sharp thorns, surrounding stinging nettles, and other interested insects and small animals. Their sweet taste and deep purple colour make them oh so delectable, which makes filling a small bucket a hard task when resisting your mouth.

Blackberries are typically ripe in September/October time but a good summer can ripen them even earlier in the year. You'll know after the prickly shrubs bloom with whitish-pink flowers and then green berries arrive turning to red and when ripe nearly black. When picking the ripe berries shake off any insects including the infamous small worm usually hiding where the stem meets the berry. There are numerous recipes with blackberries from blackberry crumble to blackberry pudding to blackberry wine. But I am partial to the jam! Although blackberries are not high in pectin they still make a lovely spread on a fresh scone!

So here's my simple but sweet recipe:

For about 6 glass jars

  • 1kg blackberries

  • 1 kg sugar plus a little extra (I used coconut sugar but caster sugar or another fine grain sugar will work)

  • Juice from 1 lemon

  • 6 sterilised glass jars

Be sure to pick through berries wiping off any debris and taking off stems. I think I get a little picky with reviewing my berries but you don't need to be too selective a little protein won't hurt anyone ;) Prepare your jars - see this site for more details on sterilising jars. A quick summary of what I did is: wash jars and tops in hot soapy water, rinse well, place glass jars in oven at low temperature (140C/275F) for 15 minutes, place lids in a bowl of boiling water and allow to dry.

Place a small plate in the fridge. Combine all ingredients including blackberries, sugar, and lemon juice together in a stainless steel large pot over medium heat. Bring to boil dissolving the sugar and allow to boil rapidly for about 15 minutes. See if the jam has set by placing a teaspoon of jam onto the chilled plate, allow to cool and then smudge with your finger. If the jam wrinkles then it has set. If not, allow boiling for another 5 minutes and test for a set again. If needed add more sugar. Once it has set, remove from the heat and transfer to your jars using a funnel. Cover each jar with waxed paper and seal tightly. Label with your creative name and date and store in a cool dark place - should keep up to 12 months. And at last, enjoy on a nice warm homemade scone or bread or whatever you want to indulge with it!

When you forage it’s not only practical, it’s also fun. The experience of it teaches you how to really live off the land. I learned that you can use the plantain plant as a plaster (bandaid for my yankees) and can save the seeds of red clover for sprouting. I still hope to make an immunity booster syrup from rosehips and good ole sloe gin - stay tuned. This is why we should take care of our earth because the things that grow in our soil nurture us with love, sustenance, and fun!








© 2018 by Erin Dolan

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