Posts in foraging
Rosebay Willowherb Tea
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A few months ago when out with the dog, Kevin and I were chatting about our upcoming foraging workshops and he mentioned that he had read something about using Rosebay Willowherb as a tea. I'd never heard of it before, but a quick google and a deep dive into some of my older herbology books showed that he was indeed correct.  

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Rosebay Willowherb, known in North America as Fireweed, is a tall perennial, easily recognised by its purple, almost flame-like, flowers.  It favours waste ground and is a first coloniser plant, so is often seen on roadsides, plantation forest edges and disused building sites. Its American name comes from its colonization in fire-disturbed areas.

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The tea, called in some places Ivan Tea or Koporye Tea (after the area of Russia where it originated), used to be an alternative to Chinese tea.  With willowherb's nature of growing in disturbed or unused ground and its spread all over much of the Northern Hemisphere, it was a cheaper alternative to 'proper tea'. While it doesn't have caffeine, it is oxidised in the same way that black tea is - letting fermentation make its magic to create a deeper, more fruity flavour. It isn't caffinated and has become my bedtime drink. Apparently you can also eat the young shoots like asparagus, so I am looking forward to trying that next year. 

I've done a few batches of the tea now and I am finding the whole process so magical, on top of having a great tea - there is this moment on about day 2 of fermentation when all of the sudden the smell of the tea changes from grassy and green to deep and fruity.  It is such a rewarding process and you get a good amount of tea, quickly...always a bonus when foraging.

Harvesting: 

The leaves are best foraged when the plant starts to flower.  They have quite a long flowering season, so its nice not to have to rush about collecting all of it at once. You want to simply pick the leaves, leaving the flowers for pollinators.  You can do this quite quickly by grabbing the top of the stalk under the flowers and sliding your other hand down, stripping handfuls as you go.

Fermenting:

Once you have the leaves you need, simply leave them in a cloth bag or basket overnight to wilt.  This helps start the oxidation process.

After they have wilted, you will take a few at a time and roll them to help move on the fermentation.  Then pack them loosely into a glass container for 2-3 days.  Once they start to smell fruity, make a cup to check you are happy with the flavour.  Add a few leaves to hot water and steep like you would any other herbal tea.

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If you are happy with it, then you need to stop fermentation by drying the leaves.  I simply emptied my jars onto baking trays and dried them in a low oven until they were completely dry (about 20-30 minutes). For added visual effect, try drying some of the flowers along with the tea.

Store in a sealed container.  The taste improves over time, so letting it rest a few weeks will enhance the flavour. 

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Chicken Fried Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms

Chicken of the Woods is one of those treasures of a wild mushroom hunt.  Its tasty, easy to identify and there is a lot of eating on them when you do stumble across one. It gets its name from its chicken like taste and texture, and not in the usual way every protein of an unknown origin 'tastes like chicken', this mushroom really does. 

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Identifying the Chicken of the Woods:

When identifying mushrooms, always check with at least 2 sources before ingesting. If you have doubts, don't eat them.  Even mushrooms that may be considered safe to eat, can still cause poor reactions in some people, so be aware.  Also the general advice is to always ensure that your mushrooms are well-cooked before eating as this helps to neutralise any potential toxins. 

Chicken of the Woods is one of those mushrooms that once you identify it clearly the first time, its hard to mistake for anything else.  In the UK at least, there are very few mushrooms that can be confused with it and those that can, the Dryads Saddle or the Blackening Polypore, are both safe to ingest (and really don't look much like it any way). It is a bracket fungus that grows mostly on oak trees, but can be found on other hardwood and yew trees, so will be found without a stem, growing in a clump off of a tree or stump and it does not have gills.  As a young mushroom, it starts off apricot in colour and then fades to white as it ages.  Like most mushrooms it is best eaten fresh and can be frozen, but this does change the texture. 

Fresh, my go to recipe is the same for all wild mushrooms, fry in lots of butter with garlic and finish with a bit of creme and thyme.  However, you an harness that chicken-like nature and use it in recipes that call for chicken. We've made tacos, stir fry and pasta with our mushrooms and all were lovely.  

This recipe for fried chicken of the woods was inspired my my friend Jeni who loves to batter and fry all the things.  I simply brought my love of fried chicken to the mix and even the kids couldn't get enough. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 large section of Chicken of the Wood Mushroom (about 1kg)

For Brine:

  • 920ml/ (4 US cups) water
  • 3T salt

For Batter:

  • 240g (2 US cups) of plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 230ml (1 US cup) of ale
  • 2 cups of crushed corn flakes (if you want to substitute bread crumbs here, do, but corn flakes really do give a superior crispiness to the batter).
  • 1t smoked paprika
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1t salt
  • vegetable oil for frying

Method:

  1. Clean the mushroom, ensuring you remove all tree bark from the mushroom, especially if it was found on a yew tree.
  2. Cut off any dry or flaking bits at the edges and slice into pieces roughly 1cm thick.
  3. Mix up the brine and let the pieces soak for about 5 minutes while you mix up the batter.
  4. Add all the ingredients for the batter to a bowl, except the corn flakes.  Mix into a smooth, thick batter.
  5. Crush the cornflakes and place in a shallow pan.
  6. Remove the mushrooms from the brine and pat dry.  Dunk each piece individually into the batter, then coat with bread crumbs.
  7. Heat about 1cm of oil in a frying pan. Working in small batches, lightly fry off the breaded mushrooms, roughly 2 minutes each side to seal. 
  8. Once browned, place mushrooms on a tray and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes at 180c/360F
  9. Serve with garlic mayo or in a wrap or taco. 

 


Upcoming Foraging Workshops at Gartur Stitch Farm

 

 

Mama's Super Magic Cream (aka Yarrow, Comfrey and Plantain Salve)
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The first time I watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I laughed hardest at the dad who sprayed Windex on every problem. Not only because it was funny, but because I had grown up with a mother who had her own particular panacea for all that ailed us - Bag Balm.  Got a big bite? Bag Balm. Sunburn? Bag balm. Infected nose piercing you weren't supposed to get? Bag balm. Despite not having used it in 20 years, I still remember the acrid smell and sticky consistency that sat in the top shelf of her bathroom cupboard in its green tin throughout my childhood. 

This salve has replaced Bag Balm in my own kids' lives, so much so that they often fetch the jar before they come to me crying with scrapes and bites. The making of this salve has become one of our early summer rituals for years and we always have some tucked away for whatever we might need it for. I start scouring the hedgerows as soon as its warm enough, stockpiling jars to last us throughout the year.

The balm is based on yarrow, comfrey and plantain infused olive oil and thickened with beeswax.  This process of infusing and oil and then thickening it with wax is a great technique for making all manner of balms. We also make a lovely calendula balm in a similar manner.

The Herbs:

From Left to Right:

Yarrow: a hedgerow relative of the sunflower, its scientific name Acheallia Millefolium  relates both to the invulnerability powers it supposedly gave Achilles and its highly segmented, feathery leaves.  It has a peppery smell and likes dry environments.  It has a range of uses, but in a salve it helps stop bleeding and has anti-inflammatory properties. 

Comfrey: Large, green furred leaves with purple flowers. Its used for healing wounds and broken bones, in fact traditionally it was called "knit bone". It has been shown to enhance cell production and is mildly astringent, helping to kill bacteria.

Plantain (both narrow leaf and broad leaf plantain): the long veins in this plant are the key identifiers.  Plantain is great to stop itching and is known as a sort of hedgerow panacea, with antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Used together, these three hedgerow powerhouses are my favourite blend for the scrapes, brusies, bug bites, nettle stings, scraped knees, sunburn and chapped lips. 

Note on picking from the hedgerow: To harvest herbs responsibly - never take more than 10% of a plant and look to harvest in areas that aren't heavy in traffic and haven't been sprayed. You may well find all of these in your garden, I know I can. 

The Salve

Ingredients:

  • 50g of freshly picked comfrey, plantain and yarrow leaves 
  • 250g olive oil
  • 200-250g of beeswax (I buy beeswax pellets from here)
  • (optional) a few drops of rosemary essential oil

Method:

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1. Place your herbs in a glass jar and cover with olive oil. Let it infuse for 4 weeks in a warm spot.  Ensure your herbs are fully covered in oil as anything exposed to the air may grow mould.

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2. Strain off your herbs and compost them. Place the oil in a small saucepan.  Add beeswax (more makes a firmer ointment, less makes it looser - start with less if you aren't sure what you would like and if it sets too soft, reheat and add more wax)

3. If you would like to add essential oils, do it once the pellets have all melted.  We don't use essential oils and don't miss it from this salve. 

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4. Pour into jars and let cool.  Label and save.  We like to have a couple of small jars for handbags and backpacks and one large jar that just sits on the counter. 

We are running a new Natural Home and Beauty course this autumn if you want to learn more about making your own cleaning and natural beauty products.