My love of gathering wild food started when I was a child. I was born and grew up in London, but spent my childhood summers in the cabin my granddad built in the middle of the woods in Poland. The cabin was a world away from London life. Think washing in the stream, cooking on a wood fired stove, mushroom hunting, stargazing, and having to walk down a woodland path to get to the compost loo. Even when not in Poland, my parents have always loved a life outdoors, and would take my sister and I on all sorts of weekend adventures, many of which did involve mushroom foraging. I learnt about mushrooms mainly with my mum, who in turn learnt from her dad. There’s a big culture for mushroom hunting in Poland. I’m no expert, and really only know a handful of varieties, but the happiness I feel when I come across these mushrooms is immeasurable. Is it nostalgia? Is it something primordial? Or is it both of those mixed with the joy of being in the woods? Who knows. I only know that it gives me the kind of joy that seems excessive and bizarre to someone who doesn’t understand it. It’s also something that inspires my work. I’m an artist, illustrator and author, and my most recent children’s picture book ‘Wylder’ celebrates a more sensitive and mindful way of connecting with nature, including a good few nods to my love of wild food gathering.
There are many different thoughts that can lead me to go out looking for wild food. Mainly though, they fall into two camps: “I could do with some leafy greens,” or “I could do with some mindfulness/therapy.”
Over five years ago I moved to Cornwall, and although I’ve loved mushrooming since I was a child, it’s only in the last couple of years that I really started paying more attention to plants. A couple of years ago, it had been a while since I’d been mushrooming, and a beautiful solo adventure to a new spot reignited my love for it. It must have been then that I decided I didn’t want to rely on just one part of the year to get this feeling. I wanted to learn more about what you could gather all year round, which lead me to think more about plants.
Without knowing it you probably already know a good few wild edibles: brambles, nettles, dandelions… That’s how it started for me. Then one time, along with my sister and mum, I went on an organised foraging walk here on the coast. Gaining knowledge about some new plants sparked my interest further and had a snowball effect. Then learning more and more new plants randomly here and there whilst walking with or chatting with friends and family… It just changed the way I looked at things. I observed more during my walks, and I wanted to know what was what. It does surprise me just how much I’ve learnt through curiosity and interest. Gathering wild food and gaining knowledge on it is a satisfying and rewarding thing. I think the more you know, the more you want to know and the easier it becomes to absorb new knowledge.
Going out to gather wild edibles is a different way of looking at and engaging with your environment. By default you connect and interact with the land, you have to pay attention to your surroundings and engage your senses. I have no doubt that this form of focused awareness and presence has a great benefit for mind health. For me it definitely feels like mindfulness and a form of therapy. And how great it is to then on top of that have access to free food that’s full of nutrients, not only because it’s freshly picked, but also because it’s from more nutrient-rich wild and uncultivated soil.
In a supermarket you only have access to a handful of different leafy green varieties, but when you go for a walk you could be surrounded by dozens of edible plants without knowing it (and of course deadly poisonous ones too!). We’ve experienced a great loss in our connection to nature and food. The knowledge of wild edibles, something that is somewhere deep in all our blood, these days isn’t so readily available or accessible to everyone, and can all too easily start to seem like a fancy interest for the lucky people who have time on their hands.
It’s important to note though, that going out and picking plants to eat isn’t in itself a sustainable act, and on the contrary, when done in a non-mindful way, can actually be very damaging to nature and ecosystems. Something to remember is to never take more than what you will eat, and always leave plenty for wildlife… after all they don’t have grocery shops, and they completely rely on wild food. So go gently, and be mindful. Modern agriculture has a devastating impact on the planet and on the welfare of animals and humans, but with how densely populated the world currently is, plus how little wild spaces are left in comparison, if we all went to forage our own food right now this could have pretty interesting implications on the natural world too. Of course, it doesn’t look like we’re all suddenly going to do that, but it’s just good to stay mindful of how you interact with the natural world, whether it’s the environmental/ethical impact of the food you buy in a shop, or how you pick the mushrooms in the forest.
Here are a few common edible plants you may find it nice to get to know, and some of which you likely already know. These notes are not meant to be a guide in identification, just a little personal introduction to them that might inspire you to investigate further.
I’m sure everybody knows this one! Pick the top couple/few layers of leaves of this super food, and either make a nettle tea, nettle soup, add it to curry or pasta sauces, make it into a pesto, or just steam it and use it like any other cooked leafy green. You can use gloves if, unlike me, you don’t like the sting!
Such a versatile plant. I’m known to not bother de-weeding this nutritious medicinal plant from my veg beds, as I think of it more as a salad crop than a weed! You can eat the leaves, flowers, stems and cook the root. The leaves have a bitter taste, which I personally really like. I love the younger leaves added to salad (as it’s quick, easy and means you keep more nutrients intact by not cooking) and I’ve made soups and pestos out of the leaves too. The flowers are also great in salads, and I’ve made dandelion syrup from them before for a cake recipe, which is a nice thing to do when you have more time. But I’m definitely all about the faff-free plants that you can either eat raw or quickly cook, and dandelion is one of those for sure.
I think most of us know what a clover looks like with its three leaves, and how common it is. Both the leaves and flowers are edible, but up till now I’ve mainly only picked the flowers to add to salads. I really love adding flowers to salads, mainly for the colours and how it looks :)
Sorrel is one of those I had heard about for so long and wanted to find, but somehow only came across my first one way later… and now I see it everywhere! It really is a common plant. It grows in a rosette, and the main identifying feature is the pointed tails at the base of the arrow shaped leaf. It has a lovely sour citrusy taste, and I most like it added fresh to salads.
I love this succulent plant. It grows from stone walls and rock crevices and has a distinct appearance, so it’s an easy one to identify. It has a lovely fresh crisp taste and texture, and is great added to salads, curries, cooked dishes, or as a raw garnish to cooked dishes, to add freshness and texture. Be gentle when picking this one as the roots of the plant come up with the plant very easily if you’re not careful.
Another very common and highly nutritious plant that seems to grow almost everywhere. You can add the leaves to salads, and also add it cooked to dishes you would use other leafy greens in. I’d say I eat this one mainly because it’s so common and nutritious, not because it’s particularly tasty. I haven’t tried them myself, but apparently the flower buds have a mushroomy taste.
I’d known and loved honeysuckle and its beautiful scent for so long before I realised the flowers were edible! I add them to salads, and decorate cakes with them :)
Sea beet (coastal)
This rich green plant with its shiny succulent leaves can be found around the coast. It’s a great one to know about because it’s both very common and also delicious. Similar to spinach but tastier, and like spinach can be eaten raw or cooked.
Click hereThe Secret Wild Garden
Contribution by Maia Walczak words and pictures
In these unprecedented times the garden can become our saviour, a place where we can temporarily escape
from the tribulations which are unfolding around us and the rest of the world too.
The garden provides food and medicine for the soul, but it could be regarded as reciprocal, that is the
plants no doubt benefit too from human presence.
There have been scientific studies that plants may benefit from being spoken to by humans and a great
advocate of this was the Duke of Cornwall himself, The Prince of Wales.
It was back in 1986 that Prince Charles famously quoted ‘I just come and talk to the plants, really – very
important to talk to them. They respond.’
Indeed, the plants will respond from the release of carbon dioxide which is produced when people exhale
as they speak. The plants then absorb the carbon dioxide which aids them with their growth and through
the process of photosyntheses, oxygen is released as a by-product which in turn is breathed in by the
It also maybe plausible that plants benefit from sounds such as a person talking. Sounds are forms of
vibrations which the plants do respond to.
An experiment was carried out several years ago by a television crew who arranged plants into separate
greenhouses, each greenhouse having a different theme of sound. One greenhouse was silent, another was
subjected to the sound of people talking, another to classical music and one to the sound of rock music.
The greenhouse which remained silent had the least growth and the greenhouses with music being played
had the most growth, the greenhouse of rock music having the most growth of all.
However, from this conclusion it is recommended that one must not play loud music in their garden if it
would cause any tension with the neighbours at this time of self-isolation, but some gentle singing maybe
Why not try an experiment yourself? It can work with house plants too. Have two identical potted plants
which are placed apart from one another, but if possible the same amount of sunshine and water.
Continually talk to one and not the other and after three weeks, the results may prove conclusive, either
way it can help pass the time of self-isolation.
Otherwise, venture out into the garden and start talking or singing to the plants, select a different area of
the garden each day if possible.
When asked at a later date if he still spoke to the plants, Prince Charles responded ‘No, now I instruct
Whether you wish to instruct them or talk about the day to day events which are unfolding rapidly in front
of our eyes, without doubt it will benefit both the plants and the person who is speaking.
BY OLIVER DAVID COOK
It is a month which at times can show signs of spring and entice one to partake in some gardening. Indeed, if the weather is genial then February is the ideal month to prune those plants which belong to the RHS category of Group Six pruning.
Essentially, these are the plants which flower late summer to autumn and on the current new seasons stems and growth.
Examples of plants which adhere to Group Six pruning are:
As these shrubs flower on the same years growth a hard prune is required during the month of February and as in the case of the hardy Fuschias almost down to ground level, this can be extremely therapeutic too for the person who is doing the pruning. Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ which exhibits a wonderful display of blue-lilac flowers, also known as Russian Sage, will benefit immensely from a hard prune back to its basal shoots. Perovskia thrives in many coastal areas and in many soil types and with aromatic leaves akin to sage and an appearance similar to lavender it makes an excellent low lying hedgerow.
Buddleja Davidii also known as the ‘Butterfly Bush’ can be cut down, using large pruners, to approximately half a metre from the ground, this will encourage upright shoots with a slight arching habit and will be greatly appreciated by the butterflies.
As a rule of thumb for shrubs which adhere to Group Six pruning, cut back the previous years flowering stems to one or two buds from the older framework.
Certain types of Clematis will also be required to have a hard prune in February, this is particularly the case for Herbaceous Clematis, Gypsy Queen and Clematis Viticella. They all flower on the current seasons growth in late summer and if they are not pruned annually the stems will be devoid of flowers and only up high will the flowers grow and most often amongst a tangled mass of growth. It must be noted that Clematis has its own pruning group classification, those which flower in late summer fall into Clematis Group 3, whereas, those which flower in early summer and on older wood or the previous years growth fall into Clematis Group 2. If unsure when to prune, then observe the time of year the Clematis will come into flower.
For the kitchen gardeners, autumn raspberries will fall into Pruning Group Six.
All old canes should be cut back down to ground level in February and the new canes will start to grow in spring and then fruit in late summer. It is important not to mistake summer raspberries for the autumn variety, as they fruit on the previous years canes, which would result in a loss of crop.
Contribution By Oliver David Cook
"After his long journey across Europe and Asia Minor, Voltaire has his hero Candide settle down on the outskirts of the Muslim city of Constantinople to “tend his own garden”, in other words “to mind his own business.” After witnessing horrifying episodes of religious intolerance and political oppression Candide decides that the best thing to do in the world is settle down, live peacefully with his neighbours, and produce something of value to others which he can sell in the markets." Candide (1759)
The sun still remains low in the sky and the length of daylight hours are short, but the month of January provides an opportunity to pay attention to the deciduous plants of the garden, that is those which annually lose and renew their leaves. It is this time of the year that the deciduous plants are dormant, meaning the preferred time for pruning and transplanting.
Young, newly planted trees can grow branches out into other nearby plants and now is the time to prune the misplaced stems, always cutting back to the main stem or at a junction of another branch. Lower side growths can also be pruned to form a length of bare trunk, this is known as a standard tree.
Any dead or diseased branches can be removed and a general prune is advisable to tidy trees and shrubs to one’s liking. If any shrubs which have become loosened by wind they should be firmed up and staked if necessary.
Providing conditions permit, January is a good time to plant deciduous bare-root trees and shrubs, particularly the common hedging varieties such as, Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Beech (Fagus sylvatica).
If the weather conditions are not congenial and the soil is waterlogged, the bare-root plants can be healed in a corner of the garden until the soil is suitable.
When purchasing bare-root plants always look for evenly distributed spreading roots and not ones which are tightly coiled.
The spacing of between each hedging plant can vary, but below is a guideline:
This is assuming a single row of planting, if a denser wider hedge is desired then double planting is required, this is two rows of staggered plants and the spacing of the plants should be slightly increased. In exposed sites, a temporary wind break may be necessary and it must be positioned on the windward side of the hedge. It should remain erected until the hedge becomes established and can support itself.
Other deciduous plants which can be attended to are climbers, now that they are without leaves it is easier to see where the stems are and where to cut. The vigorous climbers, such as Hydrangea Petiolaris, can cause structural damage on buildings so now is a good time to prune. Wisteria can have what is known as its second prune, during the summer, the new long shoots would of been cut back to five or six buds from the main stem, now in January, these same shoots should be shortened even more to two or three buds from the main stem. This should encourage a fabulous display of flowers by early next year.
Written by Oliver David Cook on behalf of Green Landscapes Cornwall
MISTLETOE the ‘air-plant’
Mistletoe, its true name being Viscum Album, is synonymous with this time of year particularly with the tradition of ‘Kissing under the Mistletoe’.
There are many ancient mistletoe traditions, the best known being the Scandinavian legend Balder, the god of peace, who was killed by an arrow made from mistletoe and was resurrected by the other deities. The goddess of love was then entrusted with the
mistletoe and regarded it as symbol of love, hence, any person passing beneath shall receive a kiss. Mistletoe is an evergreen parasitic shrub with white viscous berries and of the natural order Loranthaceae. It is a native of Europe and North Asia and requires a host plant with which to grow on, such as an apple tree in the garden. Orchards benefit from the growing of mistletoe on their fruit trees, thus yielding a return during the winter months when the trees are dormant. This is what makes the mistletoe so unique, it is also known as an ‘air-plant’ that is it is not rooted to the ground but it attaches itself to other plants, the correct
name for such a plant is an Epiphyte, this word originating from the Greek words epi (upon) and phyton (plant).
The bark and the leathery mistletoe leaves are of a yellow-green colour and are oval- lance-shaped, mostly in pairs. In spring, there are inconspicuous yellow flowers which consist of four triangular sepals, a similar number of anthers and an ovary with simple stigma. This is followed by poisonous white berries, however, they are devoured by birds most notably the Mistle Thrush, the seeds becoming attached to the branches of trees by their agency. On germination the embryo pierces the bark and penetrates to the wood and here it draws most of its food from the tree, but it manufactures carbohydrates in its leaves.The constituents of mistletoe can vary due to the host plant with which it grows on
and it is believed the Druids regarded the mistletoe which grew on an Oak was the superior, although Oak being a rare host. It possible to grow your own mistletoe and there are numerous fact sheets and websites available including the following:
Hello everyone, Green Landscapes Cornwall are sharing with you some ideas about how to implement different features for your garden!