On a hunt for hemlock

Being out and about at this time of year is such a treat. Hedgerows, woods and banks alive with colour, smells, tastes and sounds. Bluebells, pink campions, greater stitchwort, primrose, dandelions, wild strawberry, violets. Young leaves, fresh and vibrant lime green and downy-soft to touch. Unfurling ferns emerge from furry silver-green caterpillar-like curls.

I’m with the dog and she whines as I progress too slowly. I’m ambling, exploring, enjoying. She wants to run and sniff and hurry along, but today I’m taking it slow.

I’m on a hunt for hemlock and cow parsley. These two members of the carrot family can be at first – and even second – glance hard to tell apart. Getting it wrong can be deadly serious though. Those of you who are a fan of historical dramas will no doubt be aware of hemlock’s poisonous potency and its suspected use in some infamous deaths. Yes, Hemlock will kill you.

I’m 99.9% sure I can tell them apart 99% of the time, but I’m definitely not an expert on the difference, and so, I won’t risk eating cow parsley just yet. But even though I’m not planning on collecting it, I enjoy stopping to spot the difference.

Being out “in the field” is by far the best way to get to know plants. By stopping to observe, to notice, with all senses (except in this case, taste!) I feel more connected to nature in general. Not just nature, but an entire way of being.

Our ancestors would have relied on plant identification. Knowing which plants were good to eat, which plants were poisonous and which plants could be used to heal. By getting to know the plants around me, I feel connected to a way of being that has been all but forgotten. In this fast-paced, crazy, materialistic world, simple pleasures such as walking peacefully and curiously along country lanes and field edges, stopping to smell, to see, to taste, to touch, to hear, brings a proud sense of peace, joy and aliveness.

I feel empowered, when I can choose to nibble on leaves and flowers here and there as I go. When I can collect wild garlic and sorrel and navel wort and other such tasty treats to add to my dinner.

It’s why taking time to observe and be curious about the plants around us forms a part of my work with clients, particularly on WildFire Walks or retreats. It’s a form of mindfulness I guess, although the effect on us goes deeper than that. It’s about connecting with the very core of who we are and through that, finding aliveness and joy.

My challenge to you, should you choose to accept…. notice the plants and flowers around you more closely this week. You don’t need to name them, unless that interests you, just observe them with gentle curiosity. Notice how many different species there are in a particular section of hedgerow or verge. Notice how it feels to pause, to watch, to see, to hear, to smell. Take a deep breath, and just pause for a little while. And feel that inner smile creep out into your face 🙂

Hemlock (top) vs cow parsley (bottom). Dangerously similar and deadly different!
[Please DO NOT rely on this photo for identification. Identification needs to be carried out on more than visuals alone and plants can often look different to photos. NEVER pick or eat a plant you are not 500% sure of!]

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