Seaweed Lasagne Recipe

Dried sugar kelpWhether you want to go gluten-free or just to add a fantastic source of iodine, vitamins and minerals to your diet, seaweed pasta is a great alternative to durum wheat pasta. There is even a seaweed I’ve already mentioned called sea spaghetti. Here I want to talk about the possibilities of oarweed (Laminaria digitata). Also called tangle in Scotland, oarweed is one of the kelps in the order Fucales. Forest kelp (L. hyperborea) and sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima) can also be used but tangle is the most common.

You can use oarweed to replace pasta sheets in lasagne.

Prepare some cooked mince in a tomato sauce and also make a . white bechamel sauce as usual. Bog myrtle leaves infused in the milk give an extra dimension to the sauce.

Find young oarweed around a metre long.

Using scissors, cut one side off (leaving part of the thallus to carry on growing and reproducing), and make your lasagne sheets by trimming them into strips around 6 cm wide and 20 cm long.

Rinse in clean sea or fresh water to remove any sand. The sheets can be dried and reconstituted for later use but fresh is best!

Parboil the sheets for 10-12 minutes before layering in the dish with your mince and cream sauce in alternate layers.

Sprinkle with grated cheese and some toasted nuts and seeds.

Then bake for half an hour.

If the oarweed is very young you can skip the parboiling and layer the fresh seaweed in. This may need 40 minutes in the oven.

With young oarweed you can also put it through a hand cranked pasta machine to make thin strips of tagliatelle.

Is Common Hogweed Poisonous?

2020 update: the following is a quote of mine that I use when teaching people who come on my foraging courses. It brings a smile and helps people to understand the hogweeds.

“The difference between common and giant hogweed is like going to the pub on a night out. Giant hogweed is the drunk, aggressive, muscular guy on steroids. He’s all pumped up and itching for a fight. Just brush against him, not even spilling his drink, and he will attack you viciously. Common hogweed, on the other hand, is the quiet, wiry, calm guy at the end of the bar. Brush against him, even spill his pint, and he’ll accept your apology and carry on with his pint. But if you try to wipe out his entire family with a huge killing machine, then you’re in trouble!”

Main article: June 2015

Common hogweed is not poisonous. It’s also not to be confused with giant hogweed which has very high levels of furanocoumarins in the sap, and any contact with its sap will give you severe phototoxic burns. It is commonly confused and misreported and a Google search can result in a lot of erroneous information. By and large, common hogweed is safe and perfectly edible under ‘normal’ conditions however it’s important to be aware of the conditions when it isn’t safe.


There are reports of people using a strimmer to cut common hogweed who have experienced burns from triggering production of the irritating sap. I was also intrigued by my friend Robin Harford‘s report of another (his seventh) common hogweed allergic reaction reported to him in Devon. So I decided to look at the plant’s biochemistry and research literature to see under what conditions common hogweed could be dangerous.

I have 3 acres in Scotland dominated by hogweed and handle it a lot albeit with the respect that I handle all large plants. In all the years that I have taught foraging, I have never personally known anyone have a hogweed allergy. It also has a long medicinal use in mainland Europe.  I have picked it when young (without gloves) and eaten it for years: leaf shoots, flower buds, use the seeds as a spice and the root as a tincture and flavouring and I know other people who eat it every year.

My friend Mark Williams, also a foraging tutor,  says “I have now fed it (well fried, almost to caramelisation) to several hundred people with no adverse reactions reported. In fact I’ve had more people not get on with chanterelles than common hogweed. I did have one experienced forager at the weekend who declined to taste the seeds, having experienced some tingling in his mouth from tasting them in the past. I wonder if the effect may be cumulative in some people? I eat loads and haven’t developed any reaction”.

So is common hogweed actually dangerous?

Firstly, I do point out to people on my courses that any one can be allergic to anything and that celery – also an Umbellifer in the Apiaceae family – is the leading cause of food allergy in Europe. So I have spent some time reading the research on celery and parsnip allergies, psoralen, furanocoumarins and other exciting stuff. Here are my thoughts based on the research papers I have read.

The plant biochemical laboratory

Furanocoumarins (also called furocoumarins) are the biochemicals made by plants in the Apiaceae ‘celery family’ mainly to protect themselves from attack by fungus pathogens. High concentrations are responsible for phytotoxicity. They are most concentrated in the plant’s roots and fruits. In the green parts, psoralen (the parent compound of furanocoumarins) has also been found to be most concentrated in the plant’s stem skin. There are quite a few different types:

  • Roots > Bergapten, pimpinellin, isopimpinellin, sphodin.
  • Fruits > Bergapten, isopimpinellin, phellopterin, xanthtoxin, heraclenin, imperatorin, byakangelikol, byangelicin.

It is these toxins that induce phytophotodermatitis, irritating the skin of susceptible people and causing blisters with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation in the UV-A range. The furanocoumarins are changed temporarily into a high-energy state when they absorb photons from the sunlight. They then release this energy into the skin where it causes damage to DNA in the skin’s epidermis, causing skin cell death. Sweating, wet skin, and high humidity increase the intensity of phototoxic reactions by increasing the skin’s absorption of the furanocoumarin.

What causes high furanocoumarin levels?

In some plants, like giant hogweed, furanocoumarin chemicals are always high as a form of defence. In plants like celery and common hogweed the levels can vary. If the levels rise, then problems occur for humans. So what causes high levels of furanocoumarins?

Psoralens are linear furanocoumarins that are believed to be the phytoalexins associated with Apiacae resistance to pathogens. Pathogens are microorganisms that cause disease or illness. They included fungi, bacterium and viruses like the carrot mosaic virus that is found in areas of intensive farming. (Carrots are also members of the Apiacae family.)

The phytoalexin response varies and increases, as a defence mechanism, when subjected to various environmental stress factors. These include fungal infection, copper sulphate (used in a lot of chemical sprays), UV light (England is certainly much sunnier than Scotland) and low temperatures. (For example, frozen parsnips have a much higher psoralen content than fresh parsnips). Here is a report of celery handlers who had reactions to celery that was infected with the white mold fungus Sclerotinia sclerotiorum. 

Mechanical damage, that occurs during harvesting and storage, has also been shown to increase psoralen concentration by over 45 times. Celery allergies often develop in grocery workers who handle celery, especially celery that has been bred to be pathogen resistant (and therefore high in psoralens). Here is a report of phototoxic reactions while celery handling.

Celery allergy – Europe’s No 1 food allergy

Allergenic proteins associated with oral allergy syndrome (OAS) are usually destroyed by cooking. However this is not the case with celery, which may cause a reaction even after being cooked.

I believe that common hogweed allergy is really like a classic celery allergy being found in people not necessarily experiencing a celery allergy. If the furanocoumarins in some of the common hogweed plants reach higher than normal levels – increased by UVA light, pathogen attack or mechanical damage – and exceed the levels found in shop-bought celery, then the allergy will be triggered.

Why are allergies on the increase?

Interestingly, there are a lot of the problems with celery nowadays (a 4 fold increase in the last 20 years). If it was introduced now as a novel food, I’m quite sure it wouldn’t be allowed on the market! One reason for the increase is that, by selectively breeding the plants to be more resistant to insects and fungi, man has raised the furanocoumarin content in celery to levels which now trigger the allergy in people who didn’t get it before. There are studies comparing people handling different strains of celery which prove this perfectly.

Who is particularly susceptible?

Although anyone could theoretically get a phototoxic injury from sap high in furanocoumarins, during normal consumption of celery (and I believe common hogweed) only those with a celery species allergy or the predeterminant qualifying factors (family atopy, recent UVA exposure, 3 pollen sensitives, etc) are likely to ever experience OAS mouth symptoms.

People with allergies to alder, birch or mugwort pollen are more likely to become allergic to celery. Typically the sufferer is already likely to have experienced hay fever, asthma, allergies or eczema. with a family history of them also. Many people have no idea that they have oral allergy syndrome until swelling, tingling or pain develops while eating certain foods.

There is also evidence that there are more allergy and hay fever sufferers down south as the south experiences higher pollen counts and airborne pollutants.

Sun tans and psoralen don’t mix!

It has also be found in some studies, that people who have already recently been exposed to sunlight (tanning beds or sunny spells) can react to psoralens when they have not previously reacted to them before. It has also been found that people with fairer, less pigmented skin (e.g. Skin Type I and II) are more prone to reactions than those with dark, pigmented skin. This is borne out by the clinical report of a woman who ate a large amount of celery root before using a sun bed. A comment on this case calculated that 22.5 mg of psoralens were in the 450g portion of celery root she ate.

The plants in the south of the British Isles are exposed to more sunlight (and possibly a greater intensity of sunlight than in Scotland). Also people living in the south are more exposed to sunlight. So if you have just got yourself a sun tan, you can theoretically increase your chances of having a reaction.

So it is logical to assume that both the common hogweed plant is variable and the foraging person is variable. The former as to psoralen content, the latter as to a predisposition to allergy.

Cross breeding?

Heracleum, is a far wider genus than possibly suspected. The European invasive species with known phytophototoxicity include giant hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum, Sosnowski’s hogweed Heracleum sosnowskyi (not yet recorded in UK) and Persian hogweed Heracleum persicum (possibly in the UK). (H. mantegazzianum is less shade tolerant than H. sosnowskyi.) Species of the genus Heracleum can hybridize causing confusing in species identification. There is also the possibility for some people of confusing the plant (before flowering) with wild parsnip Pastinaca saliva. The native European hogweeds are common hogweed Heracleum sphondylium and Siberian cow parsnip Heracleum sibiricum and further to that there are at least eight known hybrids but without distribution detail:

  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. chloranthum (Borbás) Neumayer
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. elegans (Crantz) Schübl. & G. Martens
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. glabrum (Huth) Holub
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. orsinii (Guss.) H. Neumayer
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. pyrenaicum (Lam.) Bonnier & Layens
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. sibiricum (L.) Simonk.
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. sphondylium
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. trachycarpum (Soják) Holub

Important! Wear full protective clothing when strimming

Common hogweed is variable in sap phototoxicity with the most cases of phytophototoxicity reports coming from people who have attacked it with a strimmer.

As you read earlier, mechanical damage causes a phytoalexin (furanocoumarin precursor) response triggering the production of phototoxic sap, so a strimmer is a fairly fatal device and will set off the production of furanocoumarins in double quick time! You will also be more likely to suffer if you have been sweating and if it is sunny.

Basically when we launch an attack on the plant, the plant fights back to protect itself. They often ‘know’ we are coming. All plants are connected by fungal mycelium in the soil which like ‘Nature’s internet’ transports chemical signals to other plants. Some plants also give off pheromones (scent chemicals) which can signal distress – birch trees, for example, release methyl salicylate when attacked by aphids and other birches ‘smell’ this and start to produce defensive chemicals. So once the first hogweed plant has been strimmed it is likely that the rest of those in the hedgerow sense the danger, and will start to increase their furanocoumarin levels before you even get there! So as with any fight, put on your armour before going into battle and wear protective clothing and goggles. Even strimming nettles can result in minor burn spots with semi-permanent staining.

Update April 2017: I received an email from someone who’d been out with a strimmer and says “I volunteer with the National Trust and two weeks ago I was strimming an orchard with common hogweed. I was wearing protective clothing and a head helmet with a grill guard. Two days later I was sunning myself on the beach and my neck became very inflamed (like the picture of the lady who squeezed citrus fruit in your article). I reported what happened to the rangers the next week, and they were very aware of the symptoms and warned all the volunteers to protect their necks from spraying sap from hogweed strimming and to wear a full face guard. They also said I should immediately apply water to the affected areas to avoid skin burns. So maybe there should be more warnings out there to prevent others getting the burns. The rangers said the burn marks last for some considerable time. I’m applying hydrocortisone creame twice a day which seems to be helping.”

I advise: A) full protective clothing if you’re going to strim any hedgerow. Cow parsley, wild parsnip and even wild fennel have been reported as causing burns. B) if exposed, wash with soap and cold water to ensure all the sap is removed. C) Keep out of the sun for several days afterwards. D) if you are a ranger or employer do make sure that any one strimming for you should be provided with information and full protective clothing when using a strimmer. E) a scythe with a ditch blade is much safer than a strimmer as plants are not pulverised with sap flying everywhere, and just as effective and easy to use if kept sharp. 

If you attack a cornered wild animal you’d expect to get bitten, don’t forget that plants can’t move and some will also ‘bite back’. 

Personally speaking…

I will continue to eat common hogweed and teach responsible harvesting until celery, parsley and parsnips are banned from sale. But if you have a celery allergy or use sun beds I’d advise you not to eat or handle hogweed. And don’t eat it in excessive amounts, especially if you’ve been spending a lot of time in the sun!

Here is an interesting study on the effect of different quantities of celery eaten and the effects. It showed that the phytophototoxic threshold dose is not reached by the consumption of celery roots and other conventional vegetables under normal dietary habits. So as with most things, everything in moderation.


Other hogweedy posts:
Delicious hogweed tempura
Common Hogweed: A taste like no other
Edible wild spice conversion chart
Spiced Chaga and Elderberry Tea

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Allergy Update: June 2016

I recently heard from Eric Biggane who is also a foraging teacher. Eric says “I’ve been picking [common hogweed] without gloves since childhood and never reacted to it until about ten years ago. Now if I brush past the plant at any time of year my hands come up in itchy painful blisters that a week later cause my hands to dry out and crack to the point of bleeding. This reaction happens in the same places regardless of where my skin contacted the plant. I’ve seen several skin specialists who deny that I’m allergic to anything and give up looking. Please don’t think I’m in any way criticising your excellent website, what made me write to you was you mentioned in it the effect might be accumulative and that has got me thinking as I was fine years ago. I used to work on a farm and harvested celery by hand, sometimes I would have a mild reaction to the sap, maybe that didn’t help. I’m always cautious when I teach people about hogweed but I always feel like it’s putting people off, as I said I’m the only person I’ve ever met who has a reaction to the stuff. If you know of anybody else who reacts, please let me know as I would love to talk to them as it quite a severe reaction.”

As allergies can be accumulative it is quite possible that his early reactions to picking celery sensitised him and is causing contact dermatitis when he handles hogweed.

Interestingly, I have a friend who took up juicing. He liked the apple, carrot and celery combination and instead of varying different juices throughout the day, he drank only this combination for about a month. He was juicing two heads of celery, a bag of apples and a bag of carrot and drinking it daily. After about a month, when the summer arrived, he started to get dark pigmented patches on his face. They reminded me of the melasma experienced by some women as a hormonal change. As his health was otherwise good, we could only put it down to a phytophotodermatitis reaction to ‘overdosing’ on celery juice (although perhaps it was the carrots?). For the last two years, in the summer as soon as his skin starts to tan, the patches reappear in exactly the same place, although, in his case, this is not accompanied by any itching or pain. So the compounds in celery juice can certainly start a phytophotodermatitis reaction.

Phototoxicity in limes and citrus fruits

There are also documented cases that dark, pigmented facial burns can also happen from ingesting too much citrus fruit when also in contact with sunshine. Here is also a case of a woman who developed lesions several hours after she had baked a key lime pie from scratch. Part of the preparation included squeezing fresh limes by hand; afterwards, she walked outside on a bright, sunny day. The picture below shows the burns she experienced.

Phototoxic reaction to limes and sunlight

Bartenders who make cocktails and chefs who squeeze limes and lemons should be aware of this and avoid going out in the sunshine after handling a lot of citrus.

While grapefruit juice also contains furanocoumarins it seems that they are weaker and of low concern. It seems that the coumarin derivative limettin present in limes is to blame.

Parsnip, celeriac and carrot allergies

Parsnips can also be problematic as they too contain furanocoumarins but again, it seems to be all in the amount eaten and the exposure to sunlight, as a 200g portion of parsnip seems to be under the threshold. Some people also experience contact sensitivity to carrot, parsnip and celeriac, all members of the Apiaceae family.

Heracleum maximum (prev. H. lanatum) known as cow parsnip in North America can give the same type of burns as giant hogweed. It is, confusingly, occasionally also called ‘hogweed’ although it is not the same species as the British common hogweed but closely related. Here is the case of an 11 year old boy in Alaska who experienced burns after coming in contact with H. lanatum.

Every now and then there are reports of contact dermatitis caused by carrots too Report 1. Report 2. and another common Apiaceae herb, a parsley reaction in a boy and phytophotodermatitis in pigs exposed to parsley. Carrots and parsley are also related to celery and hogweed.

As even the most innocuous foods, not just in the Apiaceae family, such as the humble lettuce can cause allergies, it is sensible when trying a new food always to try a small amount first.

Do Dock Leaves Really Work?

The question I’m always asked on my foraging walks when talking about the common broadleaf dock is “Do dock leaves really work?”, “Do dock leaves work on nettle stings? or “Why do dock leaves work on stinging nettles?” For fun, I always ask someone in the group to demonstrate the correct use of dock leaf on a sting and, without exception, everyone just picks a large leaf, crushes it and rubs it on their sting.

This is not hugely useful. The part of the dock that really does work is the gel. You find this by going down to the centre of the plant where you’ll usually find some tightly rolled up leaf buds. If you try to pull them up, usually your hand will just slip off and you’ll come away with a papery sheath not the tasty young shoot. (That’s “tasty” in comparison to the extremely bitter mature leaves but still not a gourmet food!) However, if you go back to the shoot, you’ll find some very slippery clear gel. This is what you’re looking for when you use dock leaf to soothe nettle sting!

So do dock leaves really work? A big fat yes – provided that you use the right part. And for more that just the odd nettle sting. Foraging recently on Lambay Island I made some sugar kelp crisps which are notorious for popping in the pan. With one particular explosion I was blasted across my wrist with boiling oil. Following first aid procedure, I held by wrist under cold running water but this was not enough. My wrist had a huge raised red swelling that was starting to blister and was unbearably painful. Sadly for you, my mind was not on photographing it at that stage but on finding the right dock leaf!

i looked in shady lush woodland as out in the full sun docks produce far less gel. Sure enough I quickly found a vary large dock with large leaf sheath and a voluptuous amount of sticky gel. I smeared the gel liberally on the burn and then used the leaf sheath (gel side facing down) as a gauze dressing.

imageI then removed the centre spine from a very large dry leaf, leaving the two side pieces joined at the tip, and opened it out to make a long crepe bandage. This I wrapped around my wrist to protect the dock sheath gauze and the sensitive burn, and also to prevent it drying out. I then secured it by purging an elastic hair bobble on as a ‘bracelet’ which stopped it unraveling and slipping off.

imageAs soon as the gel was on I started to feel better. The burn cooled rapidly and the blister stopped developing. After 24 hours I took the dock dressing off and the burn looked like this third picture. Still red but no pain whatsoever even when touching it. Rubbing with pressure creates a slight ‘nip’ and that’s all. So a massive improvement and one I attribute just to that wondrous dock gel.

imageOn my foraging walks in Scotland, I also point out that when dock gel dries it is not sticky at all. In fact, your skin feels silky smooth! I joke that one day you’ll see Dock Leaf Eye Gel in our Napiers shops and when you do, you heard it here first!

Monica Wilde

Is sweet woodruff poisonous?


Posts about sweet woodruff are often accompanied by toxicity warnings and advice not to take it with warfarin or to check with your doctor first. So I thought an article on coumarins would be useful. 

Sweet woodruff contains natural compounds called coumarins – like many other plants, including strawberries, apricots, blackcurrants, tea as well as hay, sweet clover, bison grass, meadowsweet and tonka beans. In fact the highest concentrations in the food chain are found in cassia bark, one of the 4 species of commercial cinnamon. Coumarins have a lovely vanilla like scent and taste. Dried sweet woodruff infused into milk makes wonderful desserts. Sweet woodruff cheesecake, pannacotta, ice cream, custard, kulfi… and is also infused to make the traditional Maywein.

Contraindications

Unmodified coumarins do not affect the action of warfarin or similar anticoagulant, blood thinning drugs. This is because coumarins do not deplete vitamin K which affects the blood coagulation system. Modified coumarin – such as dicoumarol or coumadin – is different. Dicoumarol is synthesised and known as warfarin (Coumadin) and is used as a. rat poison. In nature coumarin can be modified by certain fungal infections which occur if the plants are are harvested while wet or damp. Sweet woodruff picked on a dry day and properly dried without any mould developing will not contain modified coumarins. 

Cancer risk

Coumarin is not classed as carcinogenic.

Liver toxicity

In 1954, the American FDA banned coumarin as a food flavour additive. This was largely based on the results of experiments with lab rats. However, rats process coumarin in their livers in a different way to humans. Rat livers metabolise coumarin into 3,4-coumarin epoxide which is highly toxic. Human livers metabolise coumarin into 7-hydroxycoumarin which is far less harmful. 

The lethal dose of coumarin has been has been calculated at 293 mg per kilo of body weight (taken orally in rat trials). So a dose of 20.51 grams for a 70kg adult. Cassia cinnamon – the highest food source of coumarin – contains 5.8 to 12.1 mg of coumarin per teaspoon of powdered bark. So you’d need to consume between 1,700 and 4,100 teaspoons of cassia cinnamon powder to reach a lethal dose. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BFR) calculated that a tolerable amount – if taken daily – is 0.1 mg/kg but sees no danger in higher amounts being consumed occasionally for a short time. For a 70 kg person that’s a tolerable daily dose of 7 mg – about half to one rounded teaspoonful of cassia cinnamon powder.  

Sweet woodruff has a fresh to dry weight ratio of around 10:1. The coumarin content ranges from undetectable to 0.6% (Chevallier, 1996) which would mean there are 6 grams of coumarin per kilo of woodruff. So you would need to consume 3.41 kilos of sweet woodruff to reach the lethal dose – about 34 salad bags full (based on a 100g supermarket salad). It’s a tiny delicate plant and 3.41 kilos would need some very dedicated harvesting! 

Given that you don’t need more than a couple of sprigs at a time – a handful at the very most – it appears almost impossible to kill yourself with sweet woodruff. However, if you steep a lot of it in alcohol and paint the town green, you may well give yourself one hell of a hangover!

Sweet Woodruff
Old herbalists called it Woodderowffe and it made a lovely children’s rhyme

W OO DD E

RO W FF E

Recited as

Double ewe double oh double dee ee, 
are-oh double ewe double eff ee.

How do dock leaves work?

By Sten Porse - Own photo, taken in Jutland., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=735079

I’ve already written extensively about the right way to use dock and how powerfully it works. The trick being to use the gel found inside the young, furled leaf sheath and not to just rub old leaves together. But here I thought I’d try to explain the chemistry behind why dock leaves work from a biochemical reason.

Why dock leaves work

First of all, this has not been an easy task. It costs money to do laboratory analysis and research, plus a lot of time and effort to submit papers for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. As no one is going to easily patent the humble dock (although some once tried) to make money from it, providing the evidence is purely a curiosity and, as a result, is scarce.

The main clue is in a family of phytochemicals called anthraquinones. In aloe vera gel – a well-known, pain-relieving gel – two of the most important anthraquinones are aloin and emodin. They are both pain-killing (analgesic) as well as laxative compounds. Dock root (Rumex obtusifolius) also contains anthraquinones of which two are emodin and aloe-emodin. In addition to being inherently analgesic, these anthraquinones can also generate salicylic acid (Nature’s aspirin) via enzymes, when under attack. (Coincidentally, emodin and aloe-emodin are also effective against the herpes simplex virus (HSV1 and HSV2). Dock is also very high in chrysophanol and physcion which are both anti-inflammatory. This would explain why dock leaf gel worked so well on my hot oil burn. It also contains rhein (shown to exhibit antimicrobial and antibiotic properties), another anthraquinone.

 

 

 

 

 


References

Fairbairn, J.W. & El-Muhtadi, F.J. (1972). Chemotaxonomy of anthraquinones in Rumex. Phytochemistry, 11(1), 263-268. doi: 10.1016/S0031-9422(00)90001-3

Rao, K.N.V., Sunitha, C., Banji, D., Sandhya, S., & Mahesh, V. (2011). A study on the nutraceuticals from the genus Rumex. Hygeia.J.D.Med. 3(1), 76-88.

Mulisa, E., Asres, K., & Engidawork, E. (2015). Evaluation of wound healing and anti-inflammatory activity of the rhizomes of Rumex abyssinicus J. (Polygonaceae) in mice. BMC Complement Altern Med. 15, 341. doi: 10.1186/s12906-015-0878-y

Vasas, A., Orbán-Gyapai, O., & Hohmann, J. (2015). The Genus Rumex: Review of traditional
uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology. J Ethnopharmacol. 175, 198-228.
doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2015.09.001

Zhang, N., Zhang, X., Liu, X., et al. (2014). Chrysophanol inhibits NALP3 inflammasome activation and ameliorates cerebral ischemia/reperfusion in mice. Mediators Inflamm. 370530. PMID: 24876671. doi: 10.1155/2014/370530.

Featured post image by Sten Porse – Own photo, taken in Jutland., CC BY-SA 3.0

 

New Year Resolutions for a Green Planet

Out with the old. In with the new. Here are ten little everyday resolutions to save the planet. Just imagine the effect if we ALL did them!!! If every single one of us acts together the power of billions will change the world.

  1. STOP CHEMICAL ASSAULT. If everyone buys organic food only we can still save the bees, insects and birds. This is paying farmers for the countryside and wildlife that you want as well as avoiding toxins yourself.
  2. STOP MICRO-PLASTICS. If your weekly shop still contains non-recyclable plastic, unwrap it and leave the packaging at the till. Or put it all in an envelope and send it back marked FREEPOST to the supermarket you bought it from with a note asking them to stop doing it. Imagine how quickly the supermarkets would change the supply chain if we all did this!
  3. REFILL YOUR PEN Save millions of biros going to landfill with a simple refillable ink pen. Think about alternatives for everything that you throw away from razors to earbuds.
  4. CHANGE SUPPLIERS If your electricity company doesn’t buy 100% renewable energy, switch to one like People’s Energy that does. If your bank invests in fossil fuels, switch to one like Triodos that doesn’t. Vote for the world that you want with your wallet.
  5. WRITE LETTERS to your council asking them to stop cutting wildflower verges and savaging hedges. To your MP telling them what sort of world you want to live in. Hold them to account with your pen and your keyboard.
  6. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN the stories of the plants, fungi and creatures before they encounter the digital world. They will fall in love.
  7. HAVE NOTHING IN YOUR HOME that is not both beautiful and useful (Wm Morris). And think about its end of life before you buy! Go for quality, natural materials and things that will last.
  8. GO FOR A WALK and discover the whole world on your doorstep waiting for you.
  9. BE KIND for we all need a little kindness
  10. HAVE PASSION because only fierce love will save the world!

Nature’s Red Card

early-morning

I recently received the following letter from Paul Lister, contemplating the lessons that we need to learn from the coronavirus outbreak and our relationship with nature. Paul runs the Alladale Estate and the European Wildlife Trust. I was delighted to meet Paul a few years ago and visit Alladale. Looking one way towards majestic – but bare – mountains covered in bracken, heather and scree is dramatic. But looking the other way, towards mountains covered with the 800,000 native trees he has planted, brings joy to the eye and the soul. With his permission I share his letter below.

“My thoughts remain with the communities and individuals, including healthcare workers and first responders, most deeply affected by the COVID- 19 crisis. Congratulations to Captain Thomas Moore on an incredible initiative, what a legacy he has created.”

Nature’s Red Card.

Human society has reached a tipping point, and it’s time for all of us to take a good look in the mirror. Albert Einstein once said: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” The wave we have been riding has now crashed ashore, and each of us will be required to change habits and make new choices in all aspects of our lives. None of us are exempt, nor will we be unaffected by the consequences of inaction; the alternative could well be an extinction-level event.

Regardless of personal opinions or the latest conspiracy theory, we now know COVID-19 is not going anywhere fast. This deeply egalitarian virus affects all of us, regardless of religion, fitness, class, colour, ethnicity, affluence, age or sexual orientation. There is no doubt that our abuse of the environment lies at the root, or has at least contributed towards the virus’s manifestation, and we must also take responsibility for it spreading to all four corners of the planet.

Environmental destruction is fuelled by our seemingly insatiable appetite for non-essential goods and services, propelled by massive advertising and marketing campaigns. Over the lifetimes of Queen Elizabeth II and Sir David Attenborough, the global population has quadrupled. This, combined with an ever-increasing amount of consumption, has led to a terminal drain on natural resources, pollution, famine, unemployment, global poverty, climate change and the rising tide and natural disasters, such as the devastating fires in USA, Brazil and Australia. It was recently calculated that humanity needs 1.7 earths to sustain almost 8 billion of us; failure to take population into account when trying to analyse the challenges we face is to ignore the elephant in the room.

We need to seriously challenge the capital growth model and realise the consequences of such behaviour. The plant, fungal, and non-human animal kingdom lives within a well-balanced ‘trophic cascade’. Humanity, on the other hand, has carved up the world into countries with political and religious polarities that make it nearly impossible to reach consensus on issues that threaten our existence.

It pains me to see the overwhelming sprawl of degraded, over-farmed and over-grazed lands throughout Europe that were once ‘living landscapes’, full of forests, wetlands, peatlands and grasslands, teeming with wildlife and acting as a mega carbon store. These utopias, other than the steep slopes and remote valleys of the Carpathians, Alps and other small pockets, are now transformed into bleak, sanitised, ‘industrial style’ mega-farms; interrupted only by urban development, complete with homes, apartment blocks, shopping centres, factories, offices and warehouses. This is not exclusive to Europe; wildlands, from North America and Africa to Brazil and Indonesia, have been logged and burnt to make way for extensive agricultural development.

Unbelievably, a massive 27% of the world’s entire landmass (excluding ice caps and deserts) has been cleared for livestock farming (in many cases heavily subsidised) and associated feed crops. The fashion, textile, disposable furniture and mining industries are also responsible for excessive deforestation.

Meanwhile, I continued for a further 15 years in the furniture business, which came to an abrupt halt when dad suffered a severe stroke and I took several months away from the office to be with him in hospital and support Mum.
During this difficult period of my life, I had the opportunity to reflect and realise I was part of the problem; so I decided to exit the ‘low-cost, fast furniture’ business and move into the world of conservation. I established The European Nature Trust (TENT) to support a variety of conservation and wildlife initiatives. In 2003, I purchased Alladale in Scotland to embark on a re-wilding programme and the creation of a wilderness reserve, as opposed to the hunting, shooting and fishing land-management model. This has resulted in a much healthier and more biodiverse landscape, with a greater variety of tourists now visiting the area. It has been a real privilege to dedicate my time and resources towards restoring natural habitats and fighting for environmental causes.

I have some personal insight into these industries. In 1964, my father co- founded the MFI retail business, which grew to become the UK’s largest furniture retailer over 20 years. In 1985, he sold his remaining interest in the company and was excited to transition from entrepreneur to philanthropist by establishing the United Kingdom Sailing Academy (UKSA).

One constant theme struck a chord: Steve would argue that technology will come to humanity’s rescue, whilst Doug maintained that nature and beauty will be our saviour. Perhaps both are true. Let’s look at some of the challenges we face and decide.

Whilst filming a BBC documentary in Argentina In 2007, I had the good fortune to meet and become close friends with Doug and Kris Tompkins, environmentalists who decided to ‘sell up’ their interests in the hugely successful clothing brands Esprit, North Face and Patagonia and focus on their passion for wildland restoration. This inspirational couple have become the world’s greatest philanthropic conservationists, in my opinion. Over the last 25 years, their projects in Chile and Argentina have led to the creation and protection of 10 million acres of national parks. Doug used to share with me his feelings of guilt over the fashion brands he created; he also told me of the endless debates he had with Steve Jobs.

Surely we should begin to legislate for the greater good, rather than allowing society to put money above the welfare of future generations? Politicians, financiers, business leaders and the capital markets are of the belief that the planet can supply a burgeoning population with infinite resources to fuel the global economy. I refer to this ideal as the ‘never-ending exponential growth monster’. With the offers of interest-free loans, combined with aggressive advertising campaigns, we are incentivised to buy more and more things we don’t actually need: another home upgrade, a new kitchen or sofa, the latest fashion items, disposable plastic toys, low-cost flights, the newest electric car – or yet another smartphone. We must acknowledge the carbon impact of unnecessary and excessive trading of goods like cars and wine that criss-cross the oceans filling carriers and containers!

Whilst efforts such as recycling, mitigating the use of plastics, installing solar panels and the purchase of an electric vehicle are well-intentioned, we must accept the fact that infinite growth on a finite planet is not an option; less is definitely more. We must now dramatically reduce our consumption, whilst simultaneously tackling the herd of elephants in the room – the population problem. Against our emotional instincts, we need to consider a one-woman, one-child policy (with adoption as an option for a second child) and accept the short/medium-term issues that might prevail. Alternatively, we might well follow a similar path of the Mayan civilisation: deforestation, excessive cultivation, climate change, drought, crop failure, famine and, finally, starvation. This is not an easy or popular thing to say, but we have reached a crossroads in our evolution and we must take these issues seriously. If we don’t, it will be nothing short of catastrophic.
Prior to Covid-19, we became accustomed to a daily scourge of holiday offers along with relentless discounts from low-cost operators. There are the cruise ship holidays to Antarctica: quite possibly the most remote, inhospitable, and unspoilt place on earth; probably best left to the scientists and researchers to measure the effects of climate change on the ice! After all, thanks to Sir David, we have the opportunity to watch the most amazing natural history films, with incredible landscape and wildlife sequence, without leaving our home.

The UN suggest that the world population is currently growing at a rate of approximately 81 million people each year; looking at the facts objectively, I think most of us can agree the planet will not be able to sustain this growth. This scenario looms ahead of us with the inevitability of an oncoming freight train. There are, of course, many contributing reasons for the sharp rise in global population, from religion, poverty, poor education, financial incentives, disease and cultural beliefs, amongst others. I hear a lot of people pass the blame and say, ‘oh, but the average family in Europe and North America have less than two kids and the issue lies with developing regions like Africa, India and South-east Asia.” Whilst it’s true that the majority of population growth occurs in these regions, the overall burden of consumption and carbon emissions of a person living in the developed world is up to 150 times that of an individual living in the undeveloped world – the very places that are most affected by climate change.

Similarly, despite the extensive breadth and depth of online and TV sports coverage, millions of people – at a personal and carbon cost – jump in cars, hop on trains or book a flight to attend away matches and games. The 2019 UEFA Europa League final between Chelsea and Arsenal was played in Baku (Azerbaijan), thousands of air miles from London. Why was the match not played at Wembley, for example? Just imagine the negative impacts of motorsports, polo and international horse racing, with the air freighting of cars and stressed horses around the globe! Is it clever or justifiable to host weddings, stag and hen parties abroad, so all guests are required to fly at their own expense and that of the environment? What about ‘non-essential’ educational exchanges, where graduates and parents opt for schooling overseas, plus the additional carbon cost for visiting family and friends?

We all know how celebrity ‘aura’ can empower, bringing focus and funding to good causes (such as we have witnessed with the current pandemic). To give money is one thing, but to get involved and roll your sleeves up is so much more rewarding and effective, especially with such a pool of global talent. But here comes the crunch: less than 3% of charitable giving is directed towards the environment, climate change, and wildlife. One must remember, we depend on nature – nature does not depend on us. As the Scottish-American naturalist and adventurer, John Muir, wrote, “when one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world”.

We must look at the traditional definition of ‘achievement’, which pertains to material success and the accomplishments of talented entrepreneurs, sports stars, artists and celebrities. The top 1% of wealthiest people control 45% of the world’s capital; how sustainable can this be in light of current circumstances? Successful entrepreneurs and global celebrities represent a tiny minority of the population, while most people are employed or operate modest businesses. However, creating and leaving a ‘legacy’ is a very different matter. In my view, a legacy is related to contribution and charitable giving, moving beyond endless wealth creation.

So what else can we do to avoid the bleak future that is thundering towards us like the four horsemen of the apocalypse?

Over time, agricultural areas could be re-wilded, thereby increasing recreational spaces for burgeoning urban dwellers, whilst allowing rural communities to engage with an agro-economy, based on nature tourism and associated micro industries. We should also understand that zoonotic diseases like SARS, Bird Flu and Covid-19 are the direct result of our proximity to livestock, domesticated and wild animals. David Quammen, scientist and author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic writes, “Humanity is a kind of animal, inextricably connected with other animals: in origin and in descent, in sickness and in health.”

Surely, it’s time for us all to move towards a plant-based diet for a richer and more sustainable environment? Shifting from the horrendous factory and industrial-scale farms, filled with suffering livestock, would improve carbon capture, mitigate flooding and help prevent droughts. It might create cleaner air, reduce contaminated water and lead to healthier soils – the very fabric of all life on earth.

We also need to pay closer attention to where our produce comes from: green beans from New Zealand, garlic from China, apples from Chile, grapes air- freighted from South Africa, Spanish tomatoes, Argentinian and Californian wines, water from Fiji, vegetables, fruits and kelp from Australia and beer from Japan. We need to consider the toxic industry of flying decorative flowers from Colombia and East Africa to Holland, only to be then redistributed all over Europe. With extended supply chains already under pressure, local produce for local communities is a mantra we must heed with a move towards an ‘eco- localism’ model. This can even extend to our own green spaces. Wild gardens, which have proved so popular at shows, can support a huge amount of flora and fauna, encouraging bees and other essential pollinators. Even better, explore the principles of permaculture and plant some vegetables too. Replacing traditional lawns in this way would not only save on mower fuels and harmful pesticides, but mitigate further the carbon footprint associated with food production whilst reducing your GMO intake.

As a result of Covid-19, the travel industry will be impacted for months and years to come, which means responsible, conscious and sustainable travel will be the new norm. During lockdown, we have become used to holding meetings via Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp and other applications, challenging the need for wasteful and unnecessary business trips. There has never been a more compelling reason for a ‘stay-cation’ to explore corners of the UK you hadn’t considered before, helping support the struggling hospitality industry and the people whose livelihoods depend on it. When international travel becomes possible, why not spend time connecting with the wilder areas of Europe, from the Carpathians and Asturias to Abruzzo and Scandinavia?

Wherever we live, let’s prove our worth by making compassionate and discerning choices and enjoying the treasures of our continent. Further afield, a well-researched African or Indian wildlife trip can go a long way in supporting local communities, protecting wildlife and helping to combat illegal poaching.

Finally, one of humanity’s unique traits is that no two people think alike; therefore, I trust you realise these are my personal opinions, which will not be shared by all. However, at the very least, I hope you’ll take time to reflect on the changes you can make toward a more harmonious world when we emerge from lockdown. We can all do something, and there is no time to waste.

Best wishes and stay healthy,

Paul

References: www.ourworldindata.org https://www.yesmagazine.org/video/coronavirus-pandemic-arundhati-roy/

How to make Nettle Cheese

Make nettle cheese with vegetable rennet

This is a light cheese made with a nettle rennet and cow’s milk. Using a vegetable rennet rather than calf rennet allows you to make a vegetarian cheese. There are lots of plants that can be used as rennets and I have written a long blog about wild vegetable rennets here. To make this cheese you need nettles, sea salt, water and of course full fat milk.We can’t get raw milk in Scotland so I use the unhomogenised, pasteurised variety. Organic jersey milk is the best as the higher the fat content the more cheese you will get, and organic because who really wants a dose of Monsanto? Juicy young nettles
 
Firstly, pick your nettles. When I’m picking them to eat, I just take the tender tops. However, when cutting them for cheese I will take the young stem as well, as I’m after the nettle juice. So young nettles about 4 or 5 inches high are the best.
 
Basket of nettle
 
Make sure you pick plenty. For this batch I used 8 litres of milk and 700 ml of rennet made from 350 grams of nettles. This whole basketful. You can never have enough and if there is too much you’ll find something else to do with them! See my post about wild vegetable rennets for more details of how many ml of rennet per litre of milk you will need.
 
Dark green nettle rennet
 
I like my rennet as strong as possible so will aim for a 1 to 1 ratio. So for my 350 grams of nettles I added 350 grams/ml of water. However, when cooking this small amount of nettle it wasn’t quite enough so I added a cupful more to stop them sticking to the pan. Simmer your nettles in the water for 20 to 30 minutes until the nettles are well cooked and gone limp, giving up their juice. Cool them and squeeze them out. I recommend thick builders rubber gloves for squeezing hot nettles (and carragheen bags!). Keep the squeezed nettles to use in dumplings, ravioli or pesto. To a litre of concentrated nettle rennet I add a heaped tablespoon of sea salt. So as I only had 700ml I added a roundish tablespoon of sea salt. Stir it well until it dissolves.
 Milk starting to curdle
 
Heat your milk to 37.5C. Well thereabouts. I discovered afterwards that I had a bubble in my thermometer so it could have been anywhere between 35C and 40C. Once it is up to heat, add your rennet and take it off the heat. You should notice quite soon that the surface will start to crinkle. The yellow is some fat from the cream. The wrinkling is the curds starting to form.
 
Cover your curds to keep debris out
 
At this stage cover your pan with bee wrap to prevent debris and dust getting into it. I would also add bacteria – but they’re pretty small so it’s the thought that counts!
 
Cover and incubate in a warm place
 
Here is the wrapped pan sitting on a heat pad. This is a low heat pad I use for wine making, kefirs and other things I want to keep warm. Other options would be an airing cupboard or just any fairly warm place. The curds form better with some heat. If you don’t have anywhere warm just wrap it up in lots of towels or blankets. I left mine to incubate overnight.
 
Closeup of the lovely large curds
 
The next day the pan is full of lovely big curds! Small ones on the top and big chunky ones all the way through to the bottom.
 
Some large curds draining
 
Ladle them out with a slotted spoon and put them into a very fine strainer propped over a clean saucepan so you can collect the whey. This is traditionally used as buttermilk for making scones and sourdough bread – it’s great in fermented type soups. I am going to make a hogweed borsch style soup with mine. 
 
Straining the curds
 
Once most of the whey has drained in the fine strainer, get a sieve and put a big square of muslin cloth over it. Then tip the curds into the cloth. Whey will continue to drain out of it. Draw up the corners and sides of the muslin so that your curds are hanging in a ball. Secure with a rubber band or tie with string.. Gentle pressure will encourage the whey but don’t squeeze hard.
 
Tying up the corners
 
The curd ball. I’ve tied a long string on it and found somewhere to hang it to drain.
 
Hanging cheese to drain

I have an old metal grate hanging above my sink. It’s useful for hanging up pans, strainers and all sorts of things – including cheeses. There is a saucepan underneath to catch the drips. They are going to drain all day. My 8 litres has given me two large cheese balls and a smaller one.


 
Above is the finished ball of cheese taken out of the muslin bag. You can see when it is sliced open that it is firm inside.Now you need to get the flavourings ready.
 

 
Today I am using finely chopped wild rosy garlic (Allium roseum).
 

 
Using a fork to mix the chopped rosy garlic and some sea salt and black pepper into the cheese.
 


 
Now forming the cheese into balls using two spoons.
 

 
If you can’t wait just spread it straight onto cheese biscuits for a sneaky snack!
 

 
Once the balls are formed I roll them in powders that I put on a plate. Roll them unevenly to get different textures. Today I used powdered nettle, toasted nettle seed, wild mustard seed, ground winter beech leaf, turmeric and some sesame seeds.
 

 
Enjoy!
 
For more about using wild plants to make natural plant-based vegetable rennets visit this page for a list of the plants you can use to make vegetable rennet.
 

Spring Wildflowers

Cowslip

Tis pleasant ‘mid the never-ending strife
Of this too busy, mammon-loving age,
When Nature’s gentler charms so few engage,
To muse at leisure on the quiet life
Of earlier days, when every humble flower
Was known to all, and cherished as a dower.

James Inglis Cochrane, Sonnets and Miscellaneous Poems, 1853

 

The Birth of a New World

How can I speak of hope when so many have died? The tragedy is that those who have passed are all the beloved of someone who lives to mourn them. Many innocent lives cut short.

The sun continues to rise. As Francesca Melandri wrote, in A Letter from Italy, “We are witnessing the birth of a new world”. Just what sort of world it is will depend so much on the lessons learned from this and the choices we make – and I mean we the citizens – coming out of it.

Gaia is swinging the pendulum back to the centre. Our beautiful blue planet is a self-regulating organism. This is more than just James Lovelock’s hippy hypothesis. Science has shown it to be true. Our entire evolution depends on her keeping the atmosphere just right for Life. The right amount of oxygen in the air we breathe, the water we drink – life-giving. Filtering the sunlight that plants and algae convert into the food that all animals are dependent on – life-giving. Life has flourished in her mastery of ecochemistry, her juggling of the winds and rains, her influence from the deepest ocean to the frozen tundra.

Gaia has been the perfect world for humans, the most generous, most kind, nurturing and forgiving mother.

I was struck by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s reflection in ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ of how the creation stories of different cultures led to our treatment of the planet. Her people believed that the last thing to be created was a pregnant woman who fell to Earth, vulnerable and helpless. The animals brought food and each of the plants solemnly promised to provide a gift to mankind in our hour of need – and how true the plants have been to their word! Every child of her tribe is taught to be grateful and respectful of nature. In Genesis, in the Western world, a human was also created last. Not a vulnerable human, but a ‘perfect’ man put in charge of creation, set up as master of all, with a woman made as his companion. Their first act was not one of gratitude, it was one of greed, and their punishment was to be thrown out of their perfect garden – divorced from nature. Their children Cain and Abel created war.

How different these tales are. And how different the relationships that followed between humans and Gaia. Ancestral people honoured her and were grateful for her gifts. ‘Civilised’ people have laid waste, ignoring the fine balance that makes Earth the only habitable planet in the universe. We have ungratefully trashed our home. Like a kind mother dealing with an angry, addicted, self-destructive teenager, we have been tolerated and gentled warned. But for the sake of our siblings, all other life on Earth, she has reined us in.

COVID-19 has stopped us in our tracks. Using the teenager analogy, we have been grounded, gated and confined to our rooms to reflect on our actions and think things through.

The biochemists are busy looking for a vaccine. But Gaia is the master chemist. Plants alone have been doing biochemistry for 700 million years, fungi for 1,300 million years. Bacteria and viruses were there long before them. Viruses evolved from complex molecules of protein and nucleic acid before any cells appeared on earth. In the virus-first hypothesis, viruses contributed to the rise of cellular life.

We have a choice. Do we continue to try and outwit her? Dominate her chemically, change biology, change the climate, the life giving systems and cycles, providing technological solutions to ameliorate the damage we cause?

Or do we stop and think?

Will we emerge from our rooms still determined to have our own way, fuelled by greed, materialism, capitalism, anger and suffering a disconnect from nature? A ‘hole in the soul’ disconnect that leaves us shitting on our own doorsteps, behaviour only ever seen in other mammals if they are caged.

Or will we emerge with a new understanding and appreciation for what we do have?

Giving thanks is not easy when so many have died. ‘Being grateful’ seems facetious if you’re locked up in a tiny flat with worried children, no money, no job, tense and fuelled by fear and anxiety. At 32 I was alone in a strange country with no family, no friends, no income, three small children and a stack of job rejection letters. Sadly this punishment will fall the most heavily on those least able to bear it. But no matter what happens to us in life, when everything is taken away from us, we all still have the choice of determining our attitude.

Gaia is rebalancing as we have failed to heed her warnings. We have some big lessons to learn. As a new world is born, how will each of us choose to respond?

I am so grateful for this Earth and the gift of Life. Even at this time the plants hold true to their promise to provide gifts in our hour of need. Black cumin seed, chamomile and of all things, orange peel, have all been shown to prevent SARS-coronavirus from replicating (Ulasli et al. 2014). We weren’t destined or designed to live divorced from Nature crammed into concrete boxes; our children caged and putting in more hours than the EU Working Directive to learn how to live in an artificial world; fed on rubbish and sickened by our own waste.

As a mother and a once recalcitrant teenager who made some pretty stupid decisions I recognise the words. “You’re not allowed out of your room until you’ve thought about your behaviour.”

My hope for humanity is that we all take this time to reflect – deeply.

As Old as the Trees

Today I’m doing housework. A bit of a shock for friends who know me well! A few weeks ago I did a wild food event for Hendricks Gin. A pop-up wild food banquet for 32 people in the middle of a field in a large tent. We filled the tent with wild flowers and roses. Beautiful, blowsy, old fashioned, decadent roses. The wildflowers didn’t last. They are creatures of the hedgerows and meadows and some will barely last a day when taken in their prime.

The roses though… the roses I took home and my house has been filled with flowers for weeks. A delight every day. I’ve watched them slowly decay and die until today, when the water in the vases has evaporated or turned into green slime, I have to admit that it is time for us to part!

They look so beautiful in the bucket as they wait for me to accompany them on their final journey to the compost heap. Crisp, withered, falling apart. So faded that you can barely see any colour at all now. Yet so exquisite in their decay.

I think of a conversation that I had with a friend a few nights ago. I was telling her about a magnificent oak tree that I’d seen in the forest. It was in a small clearing alone, as all of its generation were long since fallen or felled. Unlike the slender young trees taking their place, this tree was broad of girth. So wide it would have taken four or five of us to embrace her.

Her bark was deeply grooved and ridged. Knarled. With warty knolls from amputated branches and strange growths – bolls with little twigs growing out of them.

Mosses adorned her and long lichens trailed from her branches. A host of creatures, drawn to her shelter, were nesting, hiding, singing, resting, feeding. She supported a vast community. A mushroom at her base told a different story. The fungus from which it sprang was slowly eating away at the core of her. The heartwood. Slowly weakening her in a dance of a hundred years. That’s what all good fungi must do, prepare the trees for death. They are the bioremediators of the planet who ensure that dust returns to dust.

Yet which one of us would not chose to journey to the heart of the forest to visit an ancient spirit like her? Despite all the energetic, young trees clothes in brilliant green clamouring for a space in the light.

So why do we feel this way about old trees and faded roses, but not about old people?

Once over 50, as I am, the day comes when you know that there is less time ahead of you than is behind you. I pray that I embrace the process of thickening, knarling, fading and decaying as a privilege. To be grateful that I wasn’t felled as a sapling, that I have had the chance to become an ancient oak. No matter that like the flowers I will fade, like the branches creak and with the fungi I now head towards the earth again. I vow to try and be proud that I am no longer a beauty trying to prune myself in to younger topiary when clearly I am not.

Seize every moment. Live every second as if it were your last. Don’t wait to follow your bliss and be true to the essence of you.

When the time comes, the tree will fall. Lying in that still glade for a few years, we will return and mark her presence when looking for mushrooms. Yet they will pass too. Slowly she’ll sink into the mosses as the crust fungi help her to her rest. Covered in a mossy bed, eventually unseen. Perhaps occasionally we might remember her as we stub our toe on a stump, catch a fragrance, a shaft of sunlight, or hear her spirit on the wind that ruffles the dust.

~~~

We are strands in the web of life, not the web itself.

Gratitude for the Plants

The more I work with the plants, the more I become eternally grateful for what they give to us. They have an uncanny knack of being in exactly the right place and the right time when you need them. It’s hardly surprising that the Cherokee’s have this Creation belief:

“Each tree, shrub and herb, down even to the grasses, agreed to furnish a remedy for some one of the diseases named, and each said: “I shall appear to help man when he calls upon me in his need”.”

This could not be more true. As I get older, and hopefully a little wiser, I am learning to trust the plants implicitly. The depth of healing they can bring to a patient is often phenomenal and I am often full of awe. As I am becoming, in Stephen Buhner’s words “vegetalista” they appear, as if summoned on a whisper or a prayer in our lives, quietly but insistently making themselves obvious in subtle yet insistent silence.

It’s hard to explain this, certainly scientifically, without sounding bonkers. I spend a huge amount of time reading and researching, and yet I find that it is meditation that provides the clarity. When the plants present themselves they sometimes surprise me. I’ll say “Oh, it’s you!” and on reflection “Oh of course!!” as I realise the why.

Recently the forgotten herbs have started to make their presence felt. Humble weeds and meadow plants whose use has been lost to the passage of time. With climate change and overcrowding diseases are changing. My research area is Lyme disease. The tick bourne bacteria Borrelia, Bartonella, Babesia, Rickettsia, Erlichia, the viruses and molds. As the number of people infected becomes clearer, now that there is more ‘official’ recognition (a NICE pathway and 11 WHO medical categories for it), the plants appear too. A new John Hopkins lab study demonstrates the bactericidal power in vitro of Cryptolepis, black walnut, Japanese knotweed and co., herbs that Stephen Buhner and Julie McIntyre have been working with in over a decade of pioneering work with Lyme. The experience and trust coming before the laboratory proof provides vindication.

So Marsh Woundwort who found me four years ago is, I find, the closest thing I’ve known to an ‘anti-anaphylactic’ herb, quick acting and powerful in allergies and flares. In cases of Lyme and lupus flares and in chronic gut reactions I have watched her calm skin, gut, kidneys and tissues.

Now Mouse-Ear Hawkweed is calling. Before WWII he was a specific for brucellosis. A disease that mainly cattle had, that could be transmitted to humans, caused by the Brucella bacteria. Well it turns out now that Brucella and Bartonella are siblings on the tree of life. Well who’d have thought?

In Scotland, Japanese knotweed is an invasive species with a ‘bad boy’ reputation. A lot of resource goes into spraying poisons to kill it. Yet if people would take the time to dig it and dry it, I would buy every single rhizome. It is a herb par excellence for Lyme, killing Borrelia and alleviating the crippling joint pain that goes with it.

This morning, as I write, the sun is gently coming up on a new day. The meadow outside my window is in full bloom with hogweed, loosestrife, dock, nettle – a jumble of plants each one with a gift. As the countryside around me is slowly concreted over in the name of development, I watch their habitat disappear. And yet it is the weeds, determined to keep popping up – whatever obstacles we humans unthinkingly place in their path – that offer us healing now. And I am humbly grateful for their presence in our lives.

~~~

I recently read one of Stephen Harris Buhner’s essays and would like to include this quote that resonated:

“Plants are also highly responsive to the needs of their community. As I go into in depth in my book The Lost Language of Plants they sense when any member of their ecosystem is ill and begin producing the needed compounds. If other plants are ill, they send those compounds through mycelial networks to reach the plants who need them. If it is any of the multitude of animals in the region, they send out chemical cues through their stomata, letting those animals (who are far more attuned to their body wisdom than we are) know the location of the medicines they need.”

The full essay can be read at https://www.stephenharrodbuhner.com/articles/

Now is the Time for Action

You. Yes you! Did you know that what you do to the Earth, you do to yourself?

When you nurture the planet, you look after your body. For only by nourishing yourself with food that grows in healthy soils, pollinated by insects, with clean water and the right amount of sunshine, does your body stay strong and free from disease. As as you are nourished so too is the Earth.

When you respect your Environment, you create meaningful relationships with others – both human and other than human – knowing that you are not alone in this path through life. Every relationship requires ‘give and take’, and we’re doing far more taking than giving.

When you trash the Earth, you pollute yourself, disconnected and severed from your roots, lost in materialism with a hunger that will never be assuaged, a lack of meaning, unloved. Poorly nourished both in body and spirit, the desertification and abandonment we see all around us will creep into your life and health too. If the bees, the birds and the wildflowers cannot thrive, then soon neither will you.

Environmental action and personal transformation come together, and they can only come through your reunion with Nature and the natural world.

There is an urgency in Spring that says now, now, now. Now is the time for action. If each of us, each and every single one of us acts, deepening and restoring our vital connection then we shall survive.

Forget about politics, the leaders, the Trumps, the Mays, the Kardashians, the media. You have not just been betrayed – but you have betrayed yourself, and in doing so deeply wounded the land that so generously sustains all of Creation.

Action now lies with us. Action is in every single decision that you take about how to live your life.

It’s reflected in every single thing that you buy, consume and then recycle or throw away carelessly, sending your discarded mess to landfill out of your sight. Filling vast holes gouged in the belly of Gaia with everlasting polystyrene, plastic, nuclear waste. Or thrown from a car window in a thoughtless moment, to blow into a drain and make its way to the plastic soup we call the Sea.

Action is reflected in who your partnerships are with. Not just your family and friends but your bank, your supermarket, your electricity supplier, your farmer. Their Ethics are yours when you choose to be associated with them. Where do you stand?

It is in every breath that you take. Breathing fresh air made by the trees, or fumes of traffic and poisons from ‘air freshener’. The cities may be vast and the air hard to breathe but you can choose to plant a tree, or a herb, walk instead of driving, choose a palm-oil free biscuit that retains a little bit of rain forest, the lungs of this our Earth.

Action is in your every waking moment as well as your dreams.

Now is the time to become Conscious. You. Yes you.

Restoring Wild Connection podcast

Enjoy a podcast? Miles Irving of Forager Ltd chats with me on restoring vital connection, rewilding, wild philosophy, gut flora, health and a love of plants.

Click here to listenClick to listen to podcast

Topics we cover include:

Discussion on the importance of connection and synchronised interaction

The phytoncides of plants which calm us

Foraging and its role in opening emotional space

How seasonality actually works; with reference to seasonality of milk, honey and more

The gut flora of hunter gatherers

How teaching foraging is really match-making

The power of silence

England-Scotland land rights and fortress conservation

Man and land: estranged lovers

#podcast #foraging #wildfood #herbalmedicine #herbs #plants #fungi #herbalist #ecotherapy

Angel wings fungus. Angel of death?

Here in Scotland the beautiful, fragile, delicate angel wings mushrooms are forming on the rotting stumps of old pine. They’re exquisite to look at especially around sunset when catching the last of the sun’s rays. They’ve been widely eaten as a delicacy, particularly in Japan where they’re known as sugihiratake (スギヒラタケ), for centuries. However their edibility has been brought into question by an amino acid that it can create, making it a bit of a ‘Russian roulette’ fungus.

In 2004 during a particularly fruitful summer in Japan, it was unexpectedly linked to 55 cases of food poisoning with 17 deaths from encephalopathy. The deaths were in people of an average 70 years old with preexisting kidney conditions. In 2009 there was a single report of a death, also in a person with kidney problems on dialysis.

Research has since found that if isolated and applied at high strength to the brains of lab rats, pleurocybellaziridine – the amino acid that it can form – is toxic to the myelin protection around the brain cells. Like phytochemicals the amount of a particular mycochemical in any one mushroom can vary significantly (10 fold is not uncommon) and it’s not known whether the summer of 2004 caused higher than usual amounts of the toxin.

At the moment, no one is yet entirely sure why it affects elderly people with kidney disorders nor why the deaths occurred in 2004. Most of the people were already on kidney dialysis before the poisoning outbreak which was also unusual for a fungi poisoning in that the effects weren’t noticed until between 13 and 39 days. It appears that if the kidneys are compromised then they can’t break down the amino acid. It is then circulated in the body and crosses the blood-brain barrier to cause an encephalopathic condition not dissimilar to the symptoms of motor neurone disease.

Research after the poisoning’s also discovered that there are two genetically different strains of the fungus as well. In some parts of Japan angel wings are still eaten (despite the Japanese Ministry of Health warning) and some Americans still enjoy it too. The cooking method may have something to do with it too. An article suggests that:

“A recent report in the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun may provide clues that lift the veil on this mystery. Tomihisa Ota, a scientist specializing in natural products chemistry at the School of Natural Sciences and Technology of Kanazawa University, has found that when mice are injected with an extract of the sugihiratake mushroom, they suffer a toxic reaction that causes kidney failure. Not exactly the effect you want your wild mushrooms to have on your body!

The research team, led by Professor Ota, obtained the extract by heating sugihiratake gathered last autumn in Tohoku and Hokuriku Prefectures (Japan) to 90° C for 30 minutes. The team injected mice with one milligram of extract per gram of body weight. Seven of the ten mice injected died within 24 hours. The mice are suspected to have died of shock caused by damage to red blood cells and kidney failure. The toxic effects were not seen in extracts heated to boiling (100° C).

Interestingly, the mushroom is often prepared by boiling in miso soup, which may provide a detoxifying effect. According to Prof. Ota, a toxic sugar protein that is not destroyed by heating the mushroom to the temperature of miso soup was suspected of being contained in the mushrooms or in organisms attached to them. It is possible that the toxic substance enters the blood- stream, destroys red blood cells, and produces a toxic effect, Ota said.”

Quoted from The Mycophile, magazine of the North American Mycological Association, vol 46(3), 2005.

While the quoted study doesn’t look specifically at the effect of heat on pleurocybellaziridine, it may well be that the cooking method breaks down the amino acid. Until more research is available, we just don’t know and caution is advised!

The Nordic Risk assessments raise the following points:

Uncertainties: As Angel’s Wings has been consumed for many years in Europe, Asia and North America without any intoxications having been reported before the epidemic outbreak of encephalopathy in Japan in 2004 (and apparently also some in 2007), the Asian cases have raised several questions and resulted in uncertainties whether it is appropriate to consume the mushroom (Beug, 2011; Gejyo et al., 2005; Saviuc & Danel, 2006):

    Was the content of toxicants in the mushroom extraordinary high in 2004 due to the extraordinary hot and humid weather conditions this year?
  • Was the consumption exceptionally high in 2004, as the Angel’s Wings could be collected in large quantities this year?
  • Is pleurocybellaziridine the causative agent (the anticipation is mainly based on cell culture studies and data from very limited studies in mice)?
  • Do all collections of Angel’s Wings contain the agent (pleurocybellaziridine) that caused the outbreak of intoxications in 2004 or are there various forms of the mushroom?
  • What is the mechanism of the acute encephalopathy after consumption of Angel’s Wings?

Recommendation

Consumption of Angel’s Wings has given rise to several serious and sometimes fatal intoxications, most likely due to its content of pleurocybellaziridine. With the present knowledge, Angel’s Wings should not be marketed as an edible mushroom.”

Quote from: Mushrooms traded as food Vol II sec. 2. (Nordic risk assessments and background on edible mushrooms, suitable for commercial marketing and background lists for industry, trade and food inspection. Risk assessments of mushrooms on the four guidance lists.) Gry and Andersson, Nordic Council of Ministers, 2014

Recent research (2017)

Interesting article link

Research study link

Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) within reach! This particular one was a tad too dry to eat sadly, however it can still be powdered and added to a campfire to deter mosquitos. In its prime it’s an unusual mushroom in that it does have the taste and texture of chicken. It can be fried, baked, casseroled or served in a curry and dried and crumbled is great for kibbeh and falafel. Chicken of the woods mushroom

Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)

#foraging #fungi #wildfood #ediblefungi

Thoughts on the Winter Solstice

December

On Thursday 21 December at 16:28 GMT the sun reaches the position of the Winter Solstice. The word ‘solstice’ comes from the Latin solstitium meaning ‘sun standing still’. It is the point at which the sun seems to turn and change direction. The earth is slightly tilted on its axis and the solstices mark the point at which the angle of the tilt reaches its limit and changes, thus changing the relationship between the sun and the earth. After the Winter Solstice, the length of daylight starts to increase again and the nights start to get shorter – although the effect isn’t fully noticed until early January. The solstice is traditionally marked at the first dawn following the time of the solstice, so this year it is celebrated on Friday 22 December.

The winter season started on November 11th. Called Martlemas (Martinmas) it marked the first day of winter. On Martlemas geese, hogs and cattle were killed. Goose fat was rendered and stored, hams were salted and smoked, sausages and salamis made and beef was salted or dried. By Martlemas all the food that was necessary to survive the winter needed to have been gathered, preserved and stored before the first frosts and the typical mid-November cold spell that heralds the onset of winter. Martlemas celebrated the completion of this busy period with the first wines and foods of the winter season. Although it is usually very wintery from mid-November onwards, occasionally there is a sudden warm spell before the temperatures plunge. Now called an Indian Summer, this was originally called “St. Martin’s Summer”. The traditional St Martin’s goose later morphed into the Thanksgiving turkey. The forty days following Martlemas are known as advent in the Christian calendar.

From the Neolithic era when farming was introduced, the Winter Solstice was traditionally the time when the last of the animals were slaughtered. Over the winter, with less and less food to find, they would lose condition and require feeding from the stores of grains gathered in the autumn. Unless it was a bumper year, this grain was needed for people to survive. It was marked by a great feast, the feast of Juul (Yule) and later replaced by Christmas. This was often a feast of wild game such as three-bird pie, goose, venison or a boars’ head or, if you were a farmer or wealthy townsman, a fattened goose, ham or roast beef.

Nowadays I dislike how commercial Christmas has become but I still enjoy the festivities as a distraction to the cold, dark days. Here in Scotland, on the day of the solstice sunrise is at 08:44 and sunset is at 15:42 and it’s all too easy to slide into hibernation. We have a family pact that presents can only be given if you have made them yourself. It takes the financial pressure off everyone so that we can really enjoy coming together for a fabulous meal and spending time together.

Personally I like to reflect at the solstice. As the earth turns to face the reborn sun, so thoughtful solstice meditation helps me to cast off the things that went wrong in the last year. The areas where I could do better, disappointments and frustrations and start to turn toward the light again. New light, new hope, new plans, forgiveness and the promise of things to come. Although the winter is not over each new minute of light, as the days lengthen again, helps to remind me to see beyond the gloom.

It is easy to feel despair in humanity and the state of the world today. Especially for those of us old enough to remember a calmer, kinder, friendlier age, before the advent of the 24/7 electronic addiction to the dopamine hit of the ‘Like’ button. It wasn’t a rosy age without problems, bad things still happened, but you could switch off, you felt more free, your leisure time was your own and most children still had a childhood.

My prayer for the world in 2018 is that social media grows up and becomes a force for good. Without respect for each other, hiding behind a profile selfie, the statistics show that the mental health of our young people declines while teen suicide increases, along with increasing sexual aggression. Somehow we need to teach new generations that respect and kindness towards each other – the qualities needed to make a small tribe or community function – are essential when connecting us to all of humans. We need that connection now. Our politicians aren’t listening and only through social media – whether we like it or not – can we reach each other to create the groundswell necessary to reverse our destruction of our planet.

The Gorsedd Prayer
Dyro Dduw dy Nawdd;
Ag yn nawdd, nerth;
Ag yn nerth, Deall;
Ag yn Neall, Gwybod;
Ac yngwybod, gwybod y cyfiawn;
Ag yngwybod yn cyfiawn, ei garu;
Ag o garu, caru pob hanfod;
Ag ymhob Hanfod, caru Duw.
Duw a phob Daioni.

Grant spirit, your protection
And in protection, strength
And in strength, understanding
And in understanding, knowledge
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it
And in that love, the love of all creation
And in the love of all creation
The love of spirit.
Spirit and all goodness.

Cooking with seaweed not tin foil

I’m on a mission to manage without tin foil when cooking, roasting and baking. Have you every thought about what goes into that shiny roll of foil paper?

Firstly, you have to strip mine the earth for bauxite rock, for its aluminium ore. The main countries that bauxite comes from are Australia, China, Brazil, India and Guinea but many other tropical countries also produce some bauxite. Strip mining is necessary as bauxite is close to the earths surface and involves disturbance of relatively large land areas, which can include natural and critical habitats, leading to desertification and species loss. It often also often has a huge impact on the indigenous peoples.

Mined bauxite ore is then refined into alumina, which is then smelted into aluminium. Approximately four tonnes of bauxite are required to refine two tonnes of alumina, which in turn are smelted to make one tonne of aluminium metal.

The refining process uses sodium hydroxide, under pressure, and creates a highly alkaline residue that is stored in landfill sites and highly alkaline slurry and water run-off which has to be managed to avoid contaminating the environment and waterways. The smelting process generates solid waste, again destined for landfill, and also, when the chimneys are renewed (every 5-7 years), a heap of hazardous waste due to fluoride, cyanide and reactive metal.

Part of the process of extraction involves electrolysis – hugely energy demanding of electricity. The smelting process, where high temperatures are required to melt the aluminium, use large amounts of fossil fuels with concomitant emissions.

The aluminium is eventually rolled out to make your baking foil. Sprayed with lubricant as it goes through the rollers (food grade lubricant we’re told) and then heated to 340 °C (644 °F) for 12 hours. That’s quite a fuel bill!

You can recycle aluminium but you need to wash it first. I suspect much of it, after cooking, when you’re faced with the rest of the washing up, goes into the landfill bin. However, so far I’ve managed without it for over a year now, thanks to seaweed.

The thing it took me a while to work out was how to roast a joint of meat without aluminium foil. Not that I eat it that often, I also have an aversion to supermarket meat – but that’s another story!

Occasionally, for family gatherings we’ll sit down to a traditional roast leg of lamb. Without any covering the meat has a tendency to burn. Here’s where the seaweed comes in. I do this two different ways.

Method One

This is best if you have a thick coating of fat on your joint. If not using fresh seaweed (oarweed is best) put 4 lengths of dried oarweed into a large bowl with plenty of water to reconstitute. Preheat the oven to 230C.

Put the joint into a roomy roasting dish and rub olive oil over the exposed parts. Now add your seasoning. My favourites are harissa powder, a mix of porcini and dulse powders with salt, black pepper and occasionally a little cayenne. Of course garlic and rosemary are traditional but powdered yarrow and mugwort bring a special twist to it. Anyway, once you have a good crust of powdered sticking to the oil without any gaps, slide it into the centre of the hot oven for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes remove it from the oven and let the dish cool. Turn the over down to 150C and prep some veg while your waiting. After about 15 minutes it is cool enough to handle. Pat the excess water off your seaweed and bandage up the joint being sure to cover all the exposed parts including the ends.

 

Now return to the oven and cook at 150C for the remainder of the time. (I allow 20 minutes per 500 grams). Then, when a skewer inserted runs clear, remove from the oven and allow the meat to rest. I like to serve it on a wooden carving board with the seaweed still around it.

As well as the flavour imparted by the seaweed and the protection from heat, you also get a good deal of vitamins, minerals and the option of seaweed crisps as a side dish!

Method Two

This suits a joint that has little fat on it. For these I use a clay pot. Sometimes called Tuscan ovens, these have a deep clay base (glazed on the inside only) and a high fitted unglazed lid. They require soaking in water before use and you put them into a cold oven.
Season your joint lightly and wrap it with seaweed. Grease the glazed bottom pot and place the wrapped joint inside. Put on the lid. If it doesn’t fit well, a little raw dough can be used to seal it.

Put the dish into the centre of an oven and switch it on to 180C. Let the joint roast for 3 to 4 hours depending on its size. This makes an incredibly tender, melt in your mouth dish.

If preferred the lid can be taken off for the last 15-20 minutes of cooking to crisp up the seaweed and the top. However, for a really crisp crust use method one.

Enjoy!

Cooking with seaweed instead of tin foil 

I’m on a mission to manage without tin foil when cooking, roasting and baking. Have you every thought about what goes into that shiny roll of foil paper? 

Firstly, you have to strip mine the earth for bauxite rock, for its aluminium ore. The main countries that bauxite comes from are Australia, China, Brazil, India and Guinea but many other tropical countries also produce some bauxite. Strip mining is necessary as bauxite is close to the earths surface and involves disturbance of relatively large land areas, which can include natural and critical habitats, leading to desertification and species loss. It often also often has a huge impact on the indigenous peoples. 

Mined bauxite ore is then refined into alumina, which is then smelted into aluminium. Approximately four tonnes of bauxite are required to refine two tonnes of alumina, which in turn are smelted to make one tonne of aluminium metal. 

The refining process uses sodium hydroxide, under pressure, and creates a highly alkaline residue that is stored in landfill sites and highly alkaline slurry and water run-off which has to be managed to avoid contaminating the environment and waterways. The smelting process generates solid waste, again destined for landfill, and also, when the chimneys are renewed (every 5-7 years), a heap of hazardous waste due to fluoride, cyanide and reactive metal. 

Part of the process of extraction involves electrolysis – hugely energy demanding of electricity. The smelting process, where high temperatures are required to melt the aluminium, use large amounts of fossil fuels with concomitant emissions. 

The aluminium is eventually rolled out to make your baking foil. Sprayed with lubricant as it goes through the rollers (food grade lubricant we’re told) and then heated to 340 °C (644 °F) for 12 hours. That’s quite a fuel bill! 

However, so far I’ve managed without it for over a year now, thanks to seaweed. 

The thing it took me a while to work out was how to roast a joint of meat without aluminium foil. Not that I eat it that often, I also have an aversion to supermarket meat – but that’s another story! Occasionally, for family gatherings we’ll sit down to a traditional roast leg of lamb. Without any covering the meat has a tendency to burn. Here’s where the seaweed comes in. I do this two different ways. 

Method One

This is best if you have a thick coating of fat on your joint. If not using fresh seaweed (oarweed is best) put 4 lengths of dried oarweed into a large bowl with plenty of water to reconstitute. Preheat the oven to 230C. Put the joint into a roomy roasting dish and rub olive oil over the exposed parts. Now add your seasoning. My favourites are harissa powder, a mix of porcini and dulse powders with salt, black pepper and occasionally a little cayenne. Of course garlic and rosemary are traditional but powdered yarrow and mugwort bring a special twist to it. Anyway, once you have a good crust of powdered sticking to the oil without any gaps, slide it into the centre of the hot oven for 20 minutes. 

After 20 minutes remove it from the oven and let the dish cool. Turn the over down to 150C and prep some veg while your waiting. After about 15 minutes it is cool enough to handle. Pat the excess water off your seaweed and bandage up the joint being sure to cover all the exposed parts including the ends. 

Now return to the oven and cook at 150C for the remainder of the time. (I allow 20 minutes per 500 grams). Then, when a skewer inserted runs clear, remove from the oven and allow the meat to rest. I like to serve it on a wooden carving board with the seaweed still around it. 

As well as the flavour imparted by the seaweed and the protection from heat, you also get a good deal of vitamins, minerals and the option of seaweed crisps as a side dish!

Method Two

This suits a joint that has little fat on it. For these I use a clay pot. Sometimes called Tuscan ovens, these have a deep clay base (glazed on the inside only) and a high fitted unglazed lid. They require soaking in water before use and you put them into a cold oven. 
Season your joint lightly and wrap it with seaweed. Grease the glazed bottom pot and place the wrapped joint inside. Put on the lid. If it doesn’t fit well, a little raw dough can be used to seal it. 

Put the dish into the centre of an oven and switch it on to 180C. Let the joint roast for 3 to 4 hours depending on its size. This makes an incredibly tender, melt in your mouth dish. 
If preferred the lid can be taken off for the last 15-20 minutes of cooking to crisp up the seaweed and the top. However, for a really crisp crust use method one. 

Enjoy!

Foragers: Friend or Foe?

Locavore Magazine First EditionThis article appeared in the first edition of LOCAVORE MAGAZINE. A wonderful journal packed full of interesting and insightful articles about slow, seasonal and sustainable food.

If you hadn’t noticed it’s autumn again. Heralded by foraging headlines in the news with fungi bans and reports of gangs raiding forests for mushrooms. Are foragers all evil or is this a disproportionate response to a social problem? Monica Wilde, a member of the Association of Foragers, looks at some of the issues.

In 2015, a group of 23 foragers, who work as teachers or suppliers of foraged foods, met-up and formed the Association of Foragers. Over the last year this rapidly expanded to over 80 members from around the world. The momentum came from several years of informal support between the members and, through the Association’s forum and networking, it facilitates the exchange of ideas and sharing of resources. One of the earliest priorities was to collectively agree a code of Principles and Practice for foraging that all the members have signed up to.

Media headlines often portray foragers as at loggerheads with conservationists. Nothing could be further from the truth. In our experience, foragers are people with an intimate knowledge of the flora and fauna of their local habitat, who care passionately about conservation and sustainability, especially in the areas that they forage from. This may be seen as partly altruistic – after all if the local ecology is not cared for then there will be no species to harvest in future years – but it goes deeper than that. Connectedness with nature and place inspires a deep passion, respect and understanding that we are just one small part of the jigsaw.

There is no argument that humans need to reconnect with nature. Medical research shows that the ‘green prescription’ as the BBC reported recently, helps to improve both physical and mental health. Ecological research shows that people who care about nature become excellent stewards of their natural surroundings. Child psychology research shows that less digital online time and more outdoor playtime creates happier children – so important when it’s reported that 25% of young people feel depressed. Foraging is a vital part of this reconnection as it taps into an instinct that is hard-wired into us. On a conscious level, it also makes us much more aware of our environment and the food chain, as well as the politics of land use.

It is the latter that, as summer turns to autumn, is in the headlines again. We rarely see media attention drawn to bramble collection, nettle picking or rose hip harvests (although Bristol City Council started a consultation on this earlier in the year) but fungi seem to occupy a particular place of angst in our national psyche. This autumn it has been fuelled by the Forestry Commission implementing a “no-pick” code in the New Forest, reported by the media as a ‘ban’. This is not a legal ban, as there is no byelaw to support it, but an appeal from the Forestry Commission for all members of the public not to pick any fungi either in the ‘old’ New Forest woodlands nor the ‘new’ spruce plantations.

Surprisingly, although the FC is a public body, there has been no public consultation on this. Without research to support it, actual evidence of illegal picking by ‘gangs’ nor proper public consultation with interested stakeholders – which includes local families who forage (both of English and European descent), foraging teachers, commercial pickers, as well as mycology groups and the residents of the New Forest – it has met with a great deal of consternation and has not gained the support of people, whom loving and knowing the forest well, would have helped to design a fairer system that would allow both foraging and conservation interests to coexist together.

Unfortunately, foraging is not a field that has been researched in a lot of depth. There are studies, most notably a Swiss study carried out over two decades and the American ‘ten year chanterelle project’, that show that foraging seems to do little harm. On the other hand there are numerous studies that find air pollution (the cause of acid rain), industrial farming (whose chemicals contaminate the soil) and the widespread clearance of fungi habitat, are the main factors responsible for fungi decline in some areas. Ironically, this includes the Forestry Commission’s commercial conifer plantations as the clear felling that occurs every 40-50 years has a devastating impact on fungi mycelium. Certainly, in areas where over-population occurs, any human activity can have an impact on nature and its ecological systems.

However, just because there is a suspicion that something may occur does not give any organisation the right, without evidence and due process, to change ancient practices enshrined in common law. Those that allow humans to remain part of the natural world, that we have evolved both in and part of, are particularly precious. Consultations may have concluded that some research should be carried out, that record keeping or monitoring should be improved (whether through voluntary cooperation with organisations like the Association of Foragers or through permits), that law-breakers should be stopped… but to punish every member of the public by implementing a blanket ban is not only illogical but unjust.

Personally I wonder why there is such a disproportionate response to the picking of fungi as opposed to other wild foods. There’s no evidence of widespread harm to the fungi themselves. Perhaps the issue has little to do with foraging and more to do with local politics. No one pays much attention to guessing the nationality of bramble pickers but finding ‘strangers’ in ‘your’ forest picking mushrooms (picked by far fewer people than blackberries), in some parts of Britain seems to immediately designate an individual, family or a group of friends out for the day as criminals or devouring migrants. Perhaps it’s an ironic coincidence that the New Forest is in a particularly conservative area where 57.8% (64,541) of the local population voted for Brexit, where UKIP is making some of the largest gains (New Forest West 16.5% of voters, New Forest East 12.5% of voters) with 2 Hampshire UKIP MEPs, while data from 34 police forces showed that Hampshire had the highest rate of allegations of police racism, with 349 made between 2008 and 2013 – equating to 10.7% of all of its officers. Looking in from the outside, it is easy to suspect that the issue is not about fungi picking per se, but about local feelings on population, demographic change and cultural integration. Perhaps it’s just the thought of other people profiting from a ‘free resource’ that annoys people. Or perhaps it’s just a primal response to competition for food and resources when there is over-population and competition.
We are sometimes told that Britain doesn’t have a history of collecting fungi, as if chanterelles on toast for supper was a recent ‘trend’ fuelled by celebrity chefs. I wonder what M.C. Cooke, author of the 1884 edition of British fungi, would have said to that? Or why the Ministry of Agriculture published six editions of a handbook on ‘Edible and Poisonous Fungi’ between 1910 and 1950? Foraging, even if just for a few blackberries, has always been part of British culture.

The National Curriculum teaches ‘fundamental British values’ including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different beliefs. Society seems to have mixed feelings about foragers and intolerance seems to be growing. The same newspaper that carries an “Aliens Ate My Fungi” story and criticises foraging as a trend, will also publish articles encouraging you to take the whole family foraging and recipes for making your own hedgerow jam. Part of the remit of the Association of Foragers is to help to dispel myths and prejudices, to educate and promote sustainable and mindful harvesting. Some of our members are responsible harvesters making a living from foraged foods and produce. The majority of members are foraging teachers running courses. These are not merely courses about identifying and eating wild foods, as each instructor conveys their own passion for the woods, hedgerows and coasts that they love, by teaching sustainable collecting, not being selfish, awareness of your local ecology, connectedness to nature and passing that on to future generations.

Foraging has no social boundaries. It is definitely not a middle-class leisure activity – many families depend on foraging to eke out the household budget. Some choose, like our ancestors, to rely on wild plants for nutrition. A humble dandelion leaf has 3 times the vitamin A content than spinach and sea buckthorn berries have an antioxidant profile rivalling acai berries. But they’re not flown in from South America! Foraging is about food chains that are local and truly seasonal, that can be harvested by walking less than a food mile. It’s about highly nutritious foods that all of us can afford. It’s about crops that grow without fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, fuel and energy, and produce tasty, nutritious foods without wiping out the bees, the butterflies and other insect life forms, poisoning the water table and our environment with gender-bending, cancer causing chemicals.

Foraging isn’t the issue. Over-population, industrial farming, food deserts, poverty, inequitable access to resources… these are the issues of the day.

——–

Monica Wilde MSc FLS, a member of the Association of Foragers.

To learn more about foraging contact members in your area through www.foragers-association.org

Chilli Haw Ketchup

Hawthorn berries

This is one helluva ketchup meets brown sauce baby. There is nothing like Chilli Haw Ketchup to put some fire in the belly this winter. It’s got an amazing taste, sweet and sour, peppery, tangy, umami. I remember Chinese haw flakes from when I was a child. This is that taste but with a grown up kick. Use as a condiment, marinade or just with cheese. 

Ingredients 
750 grams haws (no stalks)
500 ml vinegar (homemade or apple cider)
500ml water
250 grams dark brown sugar
2 red chilli peppers 
Black pepper to taste

Directions
Simmer the haws and the chilli peppers in the water and vinegar until the flesh is really soft. Strain the mixture through a wire sieve. Push the berries around the sieve with the back of a spoon, trying to get as much of the pulp as possible through the sieve. (An ideal job to delegate!) 

Return to the pan and add the sugar and black pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer until the sauce is thick. Pour into sterilised glass jars or bottles with a reasonably wide neck. Keep in a dark cupboard – the flavour just keeps on improving with age. 

Yellow earth tongue

Spathularia flavida

Also known as the yellow fan, this fungus is a member of the club fungi and found in mixed conifer forests in mosses and decaying leaf or needle humus. This one was found at Glen Gore, just south of Edinburgh. Although not classified as a vulnerable species, the British Mycological Society believes it to be near threatened so every care should be taken to preserve its habitat. The small, fan- or spoon-shaped fruit body has a flat, wavy or lobed cream to yellow colored “head” raised on a white to cream stalk. The height is usually around 2–5 cm (0.8–2.0 in), and up to 8 cm (3.1 in). 

Spathularia flavida - the yellow earth tongue

Spathularia flavida – the yellow earth tongue


Division: Ascomycota

Class: Leotiomycetes

Order: Helotiales

Family: Cudoniaceae

Genus: Spathularia

Clover crispbreads recipe

Clover crispbreads – from ideally red but also white clover – are a delicious and surprisingly easy way to eat your lawn. I was introduced to these by my very creative, lovely guest from Munich* during a foraging and nature retreat I was hosting on Lambay. While it is simple to make by just eye and feel, I’ve now measured the quantities and recorded the recipe.

Ingredients
100g clover flowers
80g water
80g plain flour
Salt and pepper or other seasoning

Directions
Pick your clover flowers. The occasional leaf and short stem is fine. Preheat oven to 150C. 

Weigh the flowers. Now put into a colander and rinse under the tap. Weigh again. Add or drain off water until the weight is correct.

Weigh out the flour and add a little seasoning. Sift the flour over the wet flowers, turning them over to mix it in evenly as you do so. Using clean hands, ensure the flour is evenly distributed. 

Line a small baking tin (around 10 inches square) with greaseproof paper and lightly oil it. Press the clover mixture into the pan evenly.


If the flowers are large, press them down firmly with another piece of greaseproof paper. Smaller flowers are best as they are quite springy. When happy grind a little sea salt and black pepper over the top.

Bake in the oven at 150C for around 30 minutes. The lower temperature ensures that the centre is cooked before the edges get too crispy. When using large flowers, I have had to turn the crispbread over after 30 minutes and allow an extra 10 minutes on the second side. 

Allow to cook on a wire rack. When cool, cut on a chopping board with a sharp knife or pizza cutter. Serve with a little butter or cheese. Goats cheese chopped with pepper dulse and rock samphire is the perfect accompaniment. 

*While recipes are given freely for people to share, please credit other people’s ideas. Like most people, I appreciate a mention if you share them on your own blog or social media, or when you are teaching. 

Vegetarian artichoke rennet

Here is a lovely cheese developing from goats milk curdled with immature artichoke seed. For more about wild and vegetarian rennets see my long blog post here. 

Curds after cutting. 

Curd forming in the whey. 

Immature artichoke seed extracted from the artichoke flower, pounded in a pestle and mortar with a little water to make the dark brown rennet liquid. 

We’d tried to set the milk first with lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) but it was so small and dry by the coast that it didn’t curdle. However, the artichoke seed version, left to keep warm on a radiator, set during the hour we chatted over breakfast. 

Chemicals in plants – cyanide

Phytosemiosis. Talking to the trees.

Hydrogen cyanide (aka hydrocyanic acid) has a faint bitter-almond scent – although not everyone can smell it, due to a recessive gene. It is released in plants by compounds called cyanogenic glycosides. One is a cyanohydrin called amygdalin. Amygdalin will slowly release hydrogen cyanide when it comes into contact with the plant enzymes that are activated by tissue damage, caused by chewing or crushing. Fruits in the Rosaceae family, such as apples, apricots, bitter almonds, cherries, crab apples, damsons, hawthorn berries, pears, peaches, plums and sloes, have stones that contain small amounts of amygdalin, and other cyanohydrins like mandelonitrile. One hundred grams of crushed apple seeds can yield about 70 mg of hydrogen cyanide. 

The lowest reported oral lethal dose of hydrogen cyanide for humans is 0.54 mg/kg body weight (WHO report), and the average absorbed dose at the time of death has been estimated at 1.4 mg hydrogen cyanide per kilo of body weight. So, if you weigh 70 kg, your lowest lethal dose is 37.8 mg – about 54 grams of crushed apple seeds! You need to crush them – ideally into a powder – for all the enzymes to come into contact with all the amygdalin. If you’re worried about this, as symptoms of toxicity can occur from hydrogen cyanide at a concentration of 0.5 mg/kg of body weight, and some apples contain up to 4 mg amygdalin per gram, assuming an apple pip weighs about 0.7 g, avoid powdering and eating 66 apple seeds in one go. Incidentally, the amygdalin content of commercially-available pressed apple juice is low, ranging from 0.01 to 0.04 mg per ml.

Other popular farmed crops that are highly cyanogenic include lima beans, butter beans, almond, sorghum, macadamia nut, flax, white clover and cassava. (The “bitter” roots of the cassava plant may yield up to 1 gram of hydrogen cyanide per kilogram.) Seeds from cucumber, courgette, marrow, melon and squash also contain low levels of amygdalin – under a quarter of a gram per gram of seed. Processing, such as toasting pumpkin seeds and UHT processing of apple juice, also lowers the levels still further. 

Incidentally, it’s not just plants that do this. Your own neurons can also release hydrocyanic acid when your opioid receptors are activated. This is necessary for opioids to provide pain relief. Your blood cells (leukocytes) also generate hydrocyanic acid when they are engulfing other cells (phagocytosis). They can kill bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens by generating several different toxic chemicals, one of which is hydrogen cyanide. You’re most likely to come into contact with hydrogen cyanide from vehicle exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke and the smoke from burning plastics. 

Amygdalin decomposes into three parts. Hydrogen cyanide (as mentioned), glucose and benzaldehyde. Benzaldehyde, which tastes strongly of almonds, amaretto or marzipan is a common chemical in many young plants. Rowan buds for example, have a very intense marzipan flavour. Blackthorn (sloe) leaves are used to make a drink called épine which tastes like an amaretto-flavoured port. The flowers of hawthorn, sloe and cherry all smell of benzaldehyde.

Hydrogen cyanide is released to put mammals and insects off munching on the plant’s seeds. Cyanide-free benzaldehyde is an attractive flower scent for insect pollinators. 

Footnote on cherry brandy
Having been asked about cherry pit brandy, most commercial brandies like Bols are made from pitted cherries with just a few stones added for taste. People who have made cherry brandy keeping the stones in the cherries, for a year or two, have reported headaches and high blood pressure. However, there is a lot of debate about this. Cracking the stones and kernels releases more cyanide as it triggers the enzyme reaction, as does crushing the kernels and people’s individual tolerance for eating apple pips and cherry pips varies widely. Some react to a single pit, some have eaten them for years! A calculation done by D S O’Neil here, works out that ‪500mg pits in 1L brandy yields about 1mg HCN per ml. So 50ml – a double shot – could be very unpleasant and even kill a weak or sick person. O’Neil doesn’t state if this is cracked kernels but I assume it is cracked and ground, as in the apple pip illustration above, with all the amygdalin activated and converted. But to cut a long story short… keep pits a LOT lower than this ratio to be on the safe side and just leave them in for a few weeks and not years! 

Variety, the superspice of life

Variety, we are told in the popular expression, is the spice of life. However, we are missing something today and I’d like to rewrite that old saying. I would argue that variety is the very essence of life! One shocking fact about the ‘modern diet’ is that nowadays, over 50% of the world’s daily calorie intake comes from just 3 species of plant – corn, rice and wheat. 80% comes from just 12 species. Why shocking? Well not so long ago, the average community ate somewhere between 250 to 350 species (on average) of plants across the year. In parts of China, 600 species have been used in one documented village. 

Recently, I’ve been reading about centenarians. Specifically people living not just until 100 but up to 150, studied by a gerontological doctor from UCL in the 1970s (Davies, 1975). The groups that were studied lived in different parts of the world from Ecuador to Russia. Their diet doesn’t seem anything special. Heritage varieties of corn, potatoes served with simple cottage-type or goat cheeses, meat around twice a week (sometimes three or four), but with lots of green leafy vegetables and fruits, and plenty of manual work and exercise. So far, what is significantly different? The book tried to find a theme. Calorie restriction, quantity of meat eaten, altitude… reaching no conclusions. But what struck me, that all the communities had in common, was that they all regularly consumed at least 200 species of local plants as culinary and medicinal herbs. 


It is a well-known fact, in mainstream thinking now, that plants are a lot more sophisticated than commonly thought. However, published, peer-reviewed journals commonly start along the lines of “nature is a generous source of a number of compounds with potential application for the treatment of several diseases including the infectious diseases, which is of utmost concern for the modern medicine due to the observed striding antimicrobial resistance. A number of sources of natural compounds with valuable and clinical antimicrobial activity can be listed, comprising medicinal plants, marine and terrestrial organisms, which includes fungi and bacteria. Nevertheless, there is still a vast fauna and flora that, once systematically explored, could provide additional antimicrobial leads and drugs.” (Hayashi, Bizerra & Da Silva, 2013). 

The recurring theme is that Nature is regarded as a vast treasure trove to provide ideas for drugs. Nowhere, does anyone ever mention, that perhaps the answer to living a long and healthy life, free from degenerative illnesses and dementia, is not just to increase the amount of vegetables you eat from 5 a day to 10 a day, but to dramatically increase the variety of species that you eat. 

Without this immense variety we are missing out on a completely unquantified amount of plant nutrients. Yes, we all know we need Vitamins A, B, C, D, E etc and a handful of minerals but what about the thousands of other compounds – the immense variety of antioxidants, flavonoids, hormones, trace elements – that have disappeared from our diet? This has happened gradually since the dawn of carbohydrate farming, at the onset of the Neolithic era, and very dramatically over the last 50 years, since the advent of industrial farming. 

At this point, usually someone comments that our life expectancy is greater than ever, and that modern medicine has extended our lives.  I would argue, not necessarily. Firstly, longevity statistics are usually skewed by child mortality and accidental death. Secondly, the study of remaining hunter-gatherer tribes such as the Hadza, !Kung and Ache who still lived as our Paleolithic ancestors but pushed to the margins of the environment, had a life expectancy into their mid-seventies (Hill & Hurtado, 1989). Thirdly, there is substantial evidence that even in the Victorian times of city squalor and bad plumbing, with the right diet – organic, as it was before the advent of chemicals – we were better off then than now. For example, a paper by Clayton & Rowbottham, 2009, starts “Analysis of the mid-Victorian period in the U.K. reveals that life expectancy at age 5 was as good or better than exists today, and the incidence of degenerative disease was 10% of ours. Their levels of physical activity and hence calorific intakes were approximately twice ours. They had relatively little access to alcohol and tobacco; and due to their correspondingly high intake of fruits, whole grains, oily fish and vegetables, they consumed levels of micro-and phytonutrients at approximately ten times the levels considered normal today.” The modern myth that nobody lived long enough to get degenerative illnesses just doesn’t convince me. It may suit the drug companies but I believe that the answer is not in medication, it is with the plants. And, not only do we need to eat more portions, but we need to eat more of them.

We know from laboratory analysis that the weeds are superfoods. Dandelion leaf – triple the vitamin A of spinach; Wild violet leaves – 10 times the vitamin C of an orange; sea buckthorn berry – almost the same ORAC value as acai; seaweed – not just a source of essential iodine and B vitamins (including vegan B9 & B12) but also Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Valine, Alanine, Arganine, Aspartic acid, Cysteine, Glutamic acid, Glycine, Proline, Serine, Tyrosine… and that’s just the amino acids. I haven’t even started on the rest of the vitamins, minerals and trace elements that we found in the Napiers Organic Hebridean Kelp. So for the communities that eat hundreds of species, we can’t even start to guess at the true nutritional profile of their diet, and the impact is has on their health. 

The theme of variety keeps cropping up. The microbiome, a well-kept secret for 50 years despite the efforts of visionaries like Rene Dubos, is now out of the closet. Our gut needs a colony of happy beneficial bacteria to keep us healthy – mentally as well as physically. But it’s not just one of two species added to a probiotic yoghurt capsule, it is many. Very many. In fact there’s over a trillion other species coinhabiting our bodies with us. It’s a documented fact that humans living today, leading a western lifestyle, have only a third of the bacterial variety in their gut that a traditional hunter-gather or a Japanese fisherman had. Perhaps this isn’t entirely to do with antibiotic use. After all the bacteria are winning the antibiotic war at the moment. Perhaps it’s because we eat such a limited range of plant species. After all, the root microbiome is not that dissimilar to our own and it may be that gut bacterial diversity is completely intertwined with plant species diversity, and our diet should reflect that.

Foraging is one natural way to increase the amount of species we eat. This salad, that I picked a few weeks ago, from an area no more than an acre, contains 32 species of plants. Often, there are 40. On just one of the walks that I teach, I can introduce people to 82 species of useful culinary and medicinal plants in an hour – although it takes me 4 hours to talk about them all! I can’t even begin to imagine the micronutrients in this salad. And compared to iceberg lettuce? 


No doubt, as research continues, someone – with a research budget – will start to think the way I do. In the meantime, I urge you to take up foraging. It’s absorbing, relaxing, gives you exercise, fresh air and time switched off from the digital world. Above all, knowing even a hundred species may well just be the key to your health too! 


References
——————
Clayton, P., & Rowbotham, J. (2009). How the Mid-Victorians Worked, Ate and Died. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 6(3), 1235–1253. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph6031235

Davies, D. (1975). The Centenarians of the Andes. Barrie and Jenkins: London, United Kingdom. 

Hayashi, M, Bizerra, F, Da Silva Jr, PI. (2013). Antimicrobial compounds from natural sources. Frontiers in Microbiology, 4, 195. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2013.00195

Hill, K., and M. Hurtado (1989). “Hunter-Gatherers of the New World.” American Scientist, 77, 436-443.

To find a foraging teacher in your area or country, visit the Association of Foragers.

For a supply of over 200 herbs, visit Napiers the Herbalists

Cooking with Comfrey

Today I’ve been eating a comfrey ratatouille. This was partly inspired by Ivan Van Rooyen’s comment on my post ‘Is comfrey edible?” He said “My family and I have been eating comfrey for more than 25 years, about every two weeks when the leaves are good over the summer months. I got to know it 25 years ago when still living in South Africa were I grew up. My parents had a large patch in their vegetable garden. My mom cooked it like spinach and mixed it with potatoes and onions. This mix goes on a piece of toast with some tomato sauce (not catchup) and cheese on top and in the oven for a few minutes like a thick pizza. We’ve had it like that ever since.” It made me determined to explore comfrey as a leaf vegetable a but further. While standing in front of a big patch of common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) this morning, I recalled Ivan’s words but wrongly remembered “potatoes and onions” as “tomatoes and onions”. So here is how to make a very tasty comfrey-tomatoe ratatouille sauce.

Ingredients
2 medium onions
2 handfuls comfrey leaves
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 glass red wine
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste.
1 packet of soba or udon noodles

Directions
Finely chop the onions and fry until soft in the olive oil. Chop the comfrey leaves and add, stirring, until wilted. Add the chopped tomatoes, red wine, balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 12 more minutes with the lid on, then take the lid off, add the noodles and simmer for 5 minutes until the noodles are cooked al dente and the rest is of a sauce-like consistency. Serve while still hot. 

How to cook Sea Spaghetti

Thongweed (Himanthalia elongata) is called sea spaghetti because it really does turn out like pasta! It can be eaten on its own or mixed with spaghetti, cooked and added to a soup or even eaten cold. Before cooking it as spaghetti, I like to marinate it for 10 to 20 minutes in some lemon juice or sea buckthorn juice. This is optional but I find that the acidity helps to speed up the cooking time and also adds flavour. 


Then simmer it for 10 minutes or until al dente. Serve with a little olive oil or melted butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper. It’s delicious. It has a mild taste – not at all seaweedy and also the texture of spaghetti.

Thongweed is a brown seaweed (Fucales) and grows from a button-shaped disc that puts out two main frond ‘branches’. It starts growing in the autumn and winter and can reach up to two metres long by the summer, dying back after it has reproduced. When harvesting only take one main branch. Leaving one frond and the button behind allows the seaweed to keep on growing and reproducing for around 3 years. Each frond grows thick and divides into thongs. Why ‘thong’? Well think of the Australian word for rubber flip flops and not lingerie. 

Himanthalia elongata

It grows on rocks on the lower shore right next to the sub tidal zone, exposed at low tides. It particularly likes gently sloping rock shelves.

The name sea spaghetti is somewhat misleading as mermaid’s tresses/bootlace weed Chorda filum actually looks more like brown spaghetti than the thicker thongweed. However, while Chorda also grows from a tiny button, it is unbranched and grows in a few metres of water. I typically find Chorda on the leeward side of the Hebridean islands trying to wrap itself round the outboard motor propellor! 

After a quick rinse on the day of harvest, thongweed keeps relatively well in the fridge for a couple of days. It also pickles well and can be dried and rehydrated. Here it is rehydrated and added to a quiche with haddock. 

 

Forest trips help asthma and allergies

Asthma and atopic dermatitis are common allergic diseases, and their prevalence has increased in urban children. Recently, it is becoming understood that forest environment has favourable health effects in patients with chronic diseases and this abstract, from a paper published in 2015, set out to measure the effects on children. 

To investigate favorable clinical and immunologic effects of forest, the study examined changes in clinical symptoms, indirect airway inflammatory marker, and serum chemokines before and after a short-term forest trip. The forest trips were performed with 21 children with asthma and 27 children with atopic dermatitis. All participating children were living in air polluted urban inner-city. Airborne mold and PM10 levels in indoor were significantly lower in the forest accommodations than those of children’s homes; however, TVOC levels were not different between the two measured sites. 

Read the full study to see which markers the study measured and the significance of the health improvements. 

The study concluded that short-term exposure to forest environment seems to have beneficial clinical and immunological effects in children with allergic diseases living in the urban community.

So this weekend, plan a family outing to a woodland or forest near you. The walk will literally do you good. And bring home a few beautiful small branches of pine trees to use as home fragrance, instead of commercial ‘home fragrance’ that is well-proven as an asthma and allergy trigger! 

Read the full study here. 

Escape from the City to the Sea

 

Lambay, Irish Sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

To discover the peace and tranquility of Lambay and let the wildness of nature restore your body and mind, get away from the madding crowd and join me for a seasonal retreat.
For more details click here.

~~<•>~~

Various and vast, sublime in all its forms,
When lull’d by zephyrs or when roused by storms;
Its colors changing, when from clouds and sun,
Shades after shades upon the surface run;
Embrown’d and horrid now, and now serene
In limpid blue, and evanescent green;

George Crabbe (1754-1832) “The Borough”