Scouting for wild food (or as our ancestors would call it, “food”) is not a new skill. It is a skill so old that we have started to forget how it’s done!
Under the guidance of herbalist Anna, we found that using the natural environment for our health means so much more than chomping on berries – though, of course, berry-chomping is important! Many everyday (and not-so-everyday) illness can be treated with plants, rather than the pharmaceuticals a lot of us currently rely on. In fact, many pharmaceuticals use plant extracts, such as the yew tree used in cancer medicines, but unfortunately can also contain any number of chemicals alongside.
These are not plants that you need to fork out a fistful of fivers for at the garden centre, but plants that you might easily walk past without ever even distinguishing them from the midst of their surroundings. One would be forgiven for having passed our group in Pollok Park and wondering what on earth we were doing, standing in a circle in the grass, apparently collectively staring at nothing at all. Not so! We were chewing daisies.
More recently, we took a Cantonese-speaking group to Malls Mire in Toryglen in the southside of Glasgow, with our own Maryanna translating all the info. Malls Mire has recently been reclaimed by Urban Roots for the benefit of locals and volunteers and now serves as an important city-based conservation site, a mixture of woodland and wetland.
And therein lies many common species! You probably know what a stinging nettle is, but did you know it can be drank as a tea with anti-allergenic properties? They are also high in Vitamin C and calcium. As many children already know, nettles are found often near dock leaves, which themselves can soothe stings, bites and small burns.
We also came across hawthorn, a tree often used in Chinese cuisine, particularly sweets. The berries taste like very tiny apples, good for jam or jelly, while the leaves and flowers can be used as a tea for balancing blood pressure.
Elder and ground elder are similarly named with important distinctions. Ground elder is full of vitamins and minerals, and can be used as a salad leaf, raw or cooked. The elder tree may be more familiar, it has tiny, purple, pendulous berries – delicious as a cordial! These have plenty of vitamin C and can be used as a cold tonic.
These are just a few of the many species we discussed, along with rosebay willowherb, silver birch, ribwort, pine, herb bennet, brambles… before we topped the day off with instructions in creating our own balm from scratch!
The plants we found in Malls Mire are mostly common enough to be found close at hand in Glasgow – but having a workshop is a great opportunity to highlight how utterly simple it can be, given the practical knowledge, to use widely available plants for their medicinal and culinary benefits. It’s simply too easy to walk past rosebay willowherb and never think of it as more than a pretty, fluffy, pink flower, when in fact… you can make a MEDICINAL OMELETTE out of it! Incredible!