Ahhh what a glorious day! It helps when we are blessed with beautiful sunshine (as much as I love walking in the rain!) but I just love this time of year. The long winter quickly seems a distant memory and once bare woodlands and hedgerows are now flush with verdant greens, whites and yellows.
There is a real sense of life at this time of year although warm sunny days give a hint of the lazy summer vibe to come, even if “summer” only ends up being around for a few days, scattered over the official summer months. The woods are a thoroughly pleasant place to be when the sun is beating down outside, it is pleasantly cool in the dappled sunlight and one can do without the trials of a hat and sticky suncream. The wild garlic is fading away now, a strange yellow amongst the lush green of everything else growing at this time. It’s pungent scent still lingers, and there are few green leaves left, should you want to make a final batch of pesto for the year. It’s as if the bluebells never existed, and in many places they have been replaced by bracken growing strongly, taking over the glades and beating everything else to the light, unless they’ve been cut back and managed for the benefit of other, gentler, wildflowers.
Last month we picked young leaves from beech, lime and hawthorn trees, this month they’ve grown tougher and darker, much less palatable! Flowers have given away to the hint of fruit and nuts to come later in the year and it’s time to start clocking which trees will bear the best harvest in future months! Several patches of raspberries are looking good, I’m hopeful for bountiful pickings in a month or so. Have you ever eaten wild raspberries? Oh they are so good! Much smaller than cultivated varieties, and sweeter too. I’m so excited to have found decent bushes in my favourite wood!
Out in the meadow, it was time to enjoy the sun and relieve feet of hot boots. Ahh the joy of walking barefoot on warm summer grass! The meadow is flush with wild flowers at the moment – clover, buttercups, birds foot trefoil, plantain and cow parsley. Lots of sorrel too, with its delicate red seeds trembling in the breeze like hundreds of tiny standards on the tall flagpole stalks. My interest with sorrel was culinary however, and its small arrow-shaped leaves were collected to go into omelettes or soup later. Nibbling a few leaves raw, I enjoy the sharp, almost lemony, taste and regret not picking some earlier in the year for salads. The benefit of waiting until now is that it’s much more obvious which plants are sorrel. You don’t want to confuse them with the poisonous Lords and Ladies!
The main foraging goal of today however was elderflower. Perhaps one of the most common foraged species (I reckon after blackberries, but up there with wild garlic and perhaps hazelnuts and sweet chestnuts), everyone is familiar with elderflower cordial and possibly elderflower champagne too. I hope, but am not certain, that many people will not find it too challenging to identify the big frothy flower heads…if not by sight then I’m sure by smell! Elder is often found on the edge of fields, or in old clumps in the middle. Perhaps not so easy to find in a wood, but there’s a lovely patch of cleared ground next to the pine plantation where heaps of elder shrubs have sprung up and they are loaded with flowers. It’s a bit of an adventure to get to them, with a forewarning of nettle stings (it’s that time of year…) proving prophetic. Thankfully another of nature’s medicine cabinet grows nearby, and it’s not the dock leaf (although yes, that grows there too). Today I’m interested in plantain, supposed to have many medicinal benefits (it has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and also acts as a coagulant) and I get to try out my plantain poultice. Nothing fancy here, just a chew-and-spit job. Chew the leaves a little to release the cooling juices, then apply the resulting ‘sludge’ to the smarting sting site. I’m pleased to report it works rather well!
With a nice patch of plantain, I collect some leaves to bring home to make tea. It’s supposed to help with indigestion, inflammatory bowel conditions and dry coughs, due to its soothing nature. In fact, it’s a bit of a wonder herb for a “weed” that grows so ubiquitously! You probably have it in your garden – do go and have a look and see if you can find some!
With lovely wafts of elderflower filling the car on the drive home the transition from woods to civilisation was a little more gentle. There’s something incredibly satisfying about bringing a little bit of nature back with you and creating something with it. The elderflowers are already steeping in their water-sugar-lemon-white-vinegar bath, I just wonder if I’ll have the patience to wait for the bubbles of the champagne to appear before I drink it all! In the meantime though, it’s a sorrel omelette for dinner!