Monday, 19 March 2012

Beware Armchair Experts

Someone had to tell it how it is, so I did. Click it for the Facebook version and happy sharing.

Ways of Seeing One

Take a look at this photo. What do you see?

Trees? Sky? Stream? Path? I'm rather hoping that you noticed the Beech on the bottom left. Anyone who didn't should be reading my Free Wild Food & Natural Resources Course. Shame on you if you're not.

OK, the question was a little unfair, since it's quite a detailed photo with lots going on. First let's consider ourselves wild food foragers, what do you see now? Brambles? Nettles? Beech? Stream? Shaded areas for mushrooms?

Let us now imagine that this is the point at which your survival situation has begun and you are in the surveying and resource analysis phase before you start making real decisions. You'll be considering shelter, fire, rescue, water and food. What do you see now? Wood for a shelter, dead wood for fire? Roots for binding? Water in the stream? A meadow for signalling? Tracks in the mud?

There is a method surveying an area like this quickly which allows us to both take in lots of information without having to look in detail and that is to take a wider view and consider what you're looking at in zones. In this article, I'll address just one type of zone, that of Habitat. Further posts will cover other zoning techniques and they each of the zone types interact.

By far the most relevant zoning technique for foragers is Habitat. Different plants grow in different conditions and those are broadly grouped in habitats we can easily identify such as grassland, woodland (both broad leaf and coniferous), river, bog, rocky, sandy, sea shore, jungle, etc. There are also urban regions to consider, such as park, garden, footpath, avenue and carpark. Across a consistent climate zone, these habitats will support similar species.

The green bit is broad leaf woodland. The red is the path, the purple is the bank, the blue the stream and the yellow the meadow. There is no need to be more detailed. From a foraging perspective, we're looking at these zones as supporting different edible species, from a survival perspective, we're looking at more general resources. In both cases we're going to maximise our outcome by having lots of different zones. This area is very good for both parties.

The woods support trees in both live and dead form as well as shrub and plant species which tolerate the low light conditions. At this time of year, in this or other broad leaf woodlands, the leaves have all gone, giving plants such as Wild Garlic and Primrose a chance to complete their cycle before the the new leaves begin to form. The woods also afford us a certain amount of shelter from the weather, but are not so good for placing signals. 

Conversely, the grassland is exposed and bathed in as much sunlight as available. Here thrive grasses, which have a root system so tight that it prevents other species taking hold. Only those with thick tap roots, such as Dandelion, can work their way into the soil without getting strangled.

The stream is clearly a source of water, but also supports it's own unique species, and also the bank, where its normally quite moist. Watch out for flood potential, as well as midges this close to water. Little used paths can support hardy plants which don't mind being stepped on, like Plantain. In a survival context, the path might be a game trail. Either way, paths and trails not only give us an easy route through the woods and also Search and Rescue teams so are worth keeping close to and are a good place to erect signals aimed at those on foot.

Each of the different habitats throughout all the climate regions of the world support their own plant and animal life as well as providing different resources for those in a survival situation.

What's most interesting is that these do not represent the ecological zones in the picture. At the edges and borders of all of these broad habitats, there will be a zone which supports its own set of plants, because where one habitat meets the other, there is an area which shares some but not all characteristics of both.

An example of this is where the woodland meets the grass. Here, the ground gets more exposure to the sun, but not enough for grass to take over. This is ideal for such as Nettle or Bramble. In heavily closed canopy climax woodland filled with ancient old oaks, say, the edge is an area where secondary succession species such as Hazel and Willow can thrive as well as shrubs, like Wild Rose or Gorse. When a path cuts through a young woodland, there might not be enough light for nettles, but Jack by the Hedge and Hert Robert may thrive. This might also be the case where a large tree has fallen.

So when you're out and about next, try taking a broader view of your environment as you go. Take a walk off the path and check out what's growing in the different habitats and also at the borders. Where do you find the easiest fire wood? Where does the fungi grow? What sort of habitat to ferns like? As with learning our trees and plants, take a distant view ahead and try to make predictions about what you'll find. As an academic exercise, look around and try to consider where you might set up camp in a survival situation. Find a place which gives you protection as well as access to resources. Have you found a place close to multiple habitats?

When it's light, look out of the window. What do you see?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

SAR Starting Point One

When does Search and Rescue (SAR) start looking for for you? Where do they start looking? How long do they look for? These are three important questions and by understanding the answers, you can greatly increase your chances of survival. This article addresses the first of these questions.

Not long now Mr Frodo
The answer is simple; SAR starts looking when they think you're missing. But when does that occur? It's normally triggered by one of two events. The first is when someone notices that you are missing, worries and reports it. This time has a number of factors.

When I was a child, if I was told to get back at 6, I was back at 6. Conversely, a friend of mine was so poor at time keeping, that it was not be unlikely for him to get back at eight, though he'd not stay out after dark. So, if we'd both been involved in an accident at half five, my parents would have worried half an hour after the fact, but my mate's would have worried some hours later.

So the first factor of when someone worries is all about you. If you're the type to stick to deadlines, then when that deadline has passed, people may notice, if not, then they'll continue to make excuses for you until such time has passed that the situation is considered abnormal.

Where are we again?
But what if there were no deadline? When would people start to worry? If you're the type, like me, to text your partner every day when you're away, then not receiving a message would be a concern. For some, even then an excuse could be made. "It's late, he'll be tired", "he's likely got no signal", "he's probably having fun and forgot". If you're not that guy, then it could be days before anyone noticed. Even not turning up to work can have a day or more of lag before someone decides to call the authorities. 

On a course in the Lake District, I asked the question, "if we hit a survival situation right now, when would someone call the authorities?" The answers ranged from "tomorrow" to "a couple of weeks". Clearly, that time range can have a significant impact on survivability. 

The second reason that the troops come looking is that something has happened, like a plane crash. In reality, this is the same as the above since all that has happened is that the plane has not met its deadline, due to the regulations associated with the laying down of flight plans. The only difference is that the trigger is the plane, not the passengers. 

So what does this tell us, if we want SAR to come looking as soon as possible after we get in trouble? It tells us that we have to set up a system whereby, if a certain amount of time has passed, someone will call someone. This might be as simple as having someone that you check in with every day, without fail and who won't muck about if you don't. Another might be to log a route plan and deadline with the authorities themselves. The police stations around at least Dartmoor, Mountain Rescue, the Coastguard and even the camp site and pub will take a note. I leave one in my car windscreen if I'm hiking. All of these methods will get the wheels in motion as soon as possible.

If you think that telling people where you're going and when you should be back lacks spontaneity, then you have to accept the risk that should you find yourself up the proverbial creek, the the man with the paddle is going to be somewhat later than you might like.

Here's a final note for those on the other end of this process. As a member of a SAR organisation, we'd much rather be called early to a false alarm than late to a crisis, so don't mess around if you really think there might be a problem. 

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - March - Set Two

Welcome to the second set of natural resources for March. If you are reading this then you have already read the following posts and are confident with their content.

A New Outdoor Diet

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - March - Set One

If you've not, then I suggest that you head on back to have a look then come back to this post in a week or so, when you're happy you can recognise them. The idea of this course is to be progressive, not drowning you with information, much of which you'll forget. So, this post is a bit extra for those who have got through set one and looking for more.

Recognise all those from the last set? Good good. It's now important to reinforce this set by not ditching it and moving on, rather we keep reminding ourselves of them, keep watching their progress and start filing them in our memory, so we simply know them.

The Beech may now have lost its leaves to the wind, but by now you should be able to recognise its buds. Have a look at the ground, the leaves will likely still be there. You might be able to recognise it from a afar, from its branches. Try to spot it from a distance and confirm when you get closer.

The Nettle will have grown, but the top set of leaves will look very similar to the new growth. You should be able to predict the location of these from a distance now. Have you made tea with them yet, or a soup, or chucked some in a stew? Remember, you just want the top couple of sets of leaves. At this time, they will still be lighter green. Remember what they were used for in the war?

As for the Jew's Ear, did you find some? Did you note the tree it was on? It was mostly likely a dead Elder. Did you find it easier to spot this companion rather than the fungus itself? I bet you did. As the weather warms up, you might find these dried. Remember how to test if they are dead?

I get to repeat the facts whilst teaching, which reinforces it for me, but at this time, you need to actively repeat the information or it'll be lost. It's a real "use it or lose it" situation. You'll be amazed how much better the info sinks in if you say it out loud, so tell the kids, the dog or even the plant itself. Try not to impress your friends at this stage or they'll ask you a ton of questions about other things, and that can get awkward.

So, if you've got that all going on, let's move on to the next set. Remember, don't overload. It's still better to remember few than forget many, so if you're still not sure, come back to this another day.

Plant - Navelwort or Pennywort

New and Old Pennywort
This is an easy on to spot as it can be found on walls all over the place but also on rock outcrops and in crevices. Succulent and crunchy, this is a handy plant you can browse on as you go by as it requires no cooking, though in a survival context, you might not want to take the risk. As always with recreational foraging, ensure that you pick high enough off of the ground to miss the dog pee. 

The picture shows the new growth coming through next to the old, both of which are still edible. Try them both and see which flavour you prefer. Leaves and stems are both edible.

Tree - Ash

Distinctive Black Ash Buds
Ash has no edible parts, but is a companion to other  resources as well have having many uses itself. A hard wood with a straight grain, it's very good for construction and tool making. Chances are that handle on your broom is made from Ash. 

Most usefully, Ash can be burnt green, meaning straight from the live tree, which means you can use any offcuts from construction on the fire. It burns nice and slow this way, and green logs can be used as a component of a fire you want to burn through the night.

The reason I've chosen you this one is because it's another one with a distinctive bud structure. As you can see from the picture, the buds are black and like no other. 

Look out for the buds and use those as a reference to the tree itself. Take not of the bark and branch configuration. As always, try to spot from a distance and confirm.

Fungus - Morel

No image for this one for a very good reason. I like to use my own photos and I've not got a good one because North Devon is riddled with clay soils which are a massive turn off for Morels. There are three species to look out for, but they are all roughly the same. Have a look at Morels on Google Images to get the idea. They all have the same look and the real deal has a hollow body. ALL MORELS MUST BE COOKED throughly as they are poisonous raw.

I've chosen this mushroom for two good reasons. The first is that it's one of the few that grows at this time of year. The second is that it's another of those which is pretty much impossible to get wrong. There is are False Morels, which pretty much only grow in Scotland and on the South Coast, but if you take a look at False Morel on Wikipedia you'll see they are totally different. You won't get that wrong, will you?

So where do we find them? Here in lies the rub, these are a right bugger to find. The common factor with all is they grow in rich soil, often where there has been decay or fire. Look out for areas of cleared woodland or where there are many fallen branches, lots of leaf litter or needles. They require warmth and humidity, so don't start looking too early in the year if you're way up North. They are best looked for early one sunny morning after the rain. There is no guarantee you're going to find any of these, but of you do, they are worth it. Sometimes, you find them by accident in the stupidest of places, like under the roses on the garden.

To increase your chances, ferns are good indicator of Morels and decaying ferns make for good soil, so keep and out for those and carry a stick for turning the leaves. The mushrooms are quite small, rarely growing to 10cm and can easily be passed by. In a survival situation, you're likely to take more energy looking for them than you get from them, but worth knowing, in case you bump into them. Recreational foragers might like to take  picnic.

Common Morels can be found in woodland as well as scrub and favour chalky soil. Poppies and Corn Flowers (later in the year) are good indicators for chalk and Ash thrives there too. Unfortunately, Ash doesn't mind clay either. Since Rhododendron and Heathers hate chalk, their presence can be considered a good indicator for the lack of Common Morels. Black Morels favour coniferous woodlands and the acid soil they produce. Semi-free morels are not as tasty as the other two, but can be found in both woodland and grassland as well as paths and canal sides.

You're probably getting the idea that the sets of plants, trees and fungi that you are being tasked with finding are only part of what we're beginning to understand. We're starting to learn about habitat, soil, companion species and indicators, which allow us to zone in on what we're looking for. Not only are we learning the habitat and indicators for what we're looking for, but by taking note of what we find with these sets, we start to use them as indicators themselves.

Keep your eyes peeled and your mind active and you'll begin to learn by yourself. Next month I'll not only post another couple of sets, but update you on things to look out for from those learnt in March.

Happy foraging.

REMEMBER: Do no pick or eat anything you can't positively identify as safe and legal.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

A Quick Poll

I'm generally interested in why people read this blog so I've popped a poll on the Facebook page. Please take a mo to register an answer and add your own reason if you don't see it there.

Here's a handy link: Survival's Cool Reader Poll

If you don't already Like this blog on Facebook then please do so as sometimes there are comments on posts there which can't be seen from these pages.

Here's another handy link:

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Once more, my daughter and I headed off into the wilderness to take in a particularly sunny day, gather some wild food, learn a few new things and have a hot chocolate on the beach.

It when we reached the shore and lit a fire that my daughter, who normally presents with an almost allergic reaction to smoke, was quite purposefully standing directly its path, stepping side to side to ensure maximum coverage.

"What are you doing?", I asked.

"Bees!", she replied.

Smoke is normally considered an unwanted by-product of our fire, but it has many uses. In this case, my daughter was fumigating herself against the onslaught of the two bees which seemed to be occupying her personal space, something that is clearly more irritating than the smoke from fire (nice little inequality there for you).

On courses, smoke fumigation works very well for a couple of reasons. While students are making natural shelter, they note the prolific number of creepy crawlies on the bows from which they are making their roof for the night. The first fire they light clears them out very quickly indeed.

The next task for the smoke it to get rid of midges. Anyone who has found themselves out on a warm damp day will have been surrounded by the little buggers. There is a strange attraction of these swarming creatures to the synthetic smell of washing powder, shampoo, deodorant and other perfumes. This is why I use neutral antiperspirant, pine tar soap and Original Source Lemon shower gel when I'm heading off outdoors and why my compadre Wurz uses stones for washing clothes (which I must get around to some time). "Why the lemon?", you might ask. Well, it contains citronella in it, which is a natural insect repellent.

It takes a few days for your unusual smells to dissipate outdoors, but a good old fire will cover them very quickly. Some armchair expert will tell you that smelling like a bonfire is good for setting traps, as it masks your natural scent. Since we don't wear or exude "eau de predator" and your average rabbit does not have a scent match for human and association with "bad", since, in evolutionary time, we are not their natural predator, it sees unlikely, at best. The reality of the situation is that cautious prey animals, such as rabbits, have a sense of "different", and smoke is somewhat different to grass. So unless your rabbits are resident in an area recently razed by forest fire, your smoke ridden clothes will be somewhat off putting.

Our native British midges are generally nothing more than a bit annoying and the bees, wasps and even hornets are not deadly, unless you have a particular allergy. This is not the case with jungle dwellers who have two distinct problems they like to present. The first is environmental. Even the smallest scratch or puncture can become very quickly infected, since the ambient temperature and humidity are perfect for breeding. An innocent bite from an otherwise harmless insect can quickly turn to sepsis. I'm not talking about days; a colleague of mine got a himself a thorn prick in South America and instead of treating quickly with iodine, or some such, he let it go. Minutes later he had swelling, an hour later he was being evacuated and by the time he got to hospital, he was delirious. He didn't do that again!

The second insect borne problem is far more sinister. Carried by  female mosquitoes of the Anopheles genus, malaria accounted for around a millions deaths last year. Cerebral malaria can kill you on the same day, other forms a week to a month. In this time, you're pretty ill and other factors can take over, such as dehydration or malnutrition. This is on top of the fact that you might end up with some other infection. So you don't want any of that.

In the jungle, prevention is better than cure, and if you've not got a mozzy net, or something similar, then smoke is going to be your best bet. Of course, carrying tincture of iodine and anti-malarials as part of your survival and first aid kit is going to help a lot, should you get a nasty bite.

So, dear reader, when you next get smoke in your eyes, think of the many uses of this otherwise annoying collection of airborne particles and gasses. Alternatively, sit somewhere else. 

Saturday, 10 March 2012

A Toast

Well, a toasted sandwich. This is a favourite at the beginning of courses when the clients still had a bit of bread and cheese. Wild Garlic is a great accompaniment to cheese and when toasted, makes an excellent outdoor treat.

I'll be covering as Wild Garlic part of my Free Natural Resources Course next month, when it flowers, but if you know where to find it now, then go ahead and grab some. It's nice that foraging for wild food is recreational, as well as a survival skill, since that means that we can practice it all year round.

Apply wild garlic to soups, sandwiches, casseroles and as my daughter plans this evening, to be added to a simple dish of roasted vegetables and pasta. Happy foraging.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - March - Set One

So, here you are with your first month of getting in to foraging. If you recall from A New Outdoor Diet, I am publishing a series of articles relating to my simple and progressive method of getting into foraging for wild food. Many people, including myself, have found that buying a bunch of books and hoping to absorb them whilst wandering around the woods and meadows is an epic fail waiting to happen. Not only can't you carry all the books, but having sat reading them all evening, you're filled with pictures of plants from all seasons, many of which are not even be anywhere near you.

The difference with this course is that I'm going give you a few things to look for each month with photos of what it looks like in that month. I'm choosing things that are all over the place, and in the first set, things that are almost impossible to get wrong, as far as confusion species go.

As each month progresses, you'll not only get a new set to look for, but be able to watch the progress of your previous sets. I'll ultimately be compiling an online database to map this, rather than littering the blog with a post per resource per month. Watch this space for a link.

As an aside, there is much to learn about nature, habitat and wildlife as well as just foraging and wild food. I'll be putting up two articles a month, each representing a set consisting of one plant, one tree and one edible fungus. Each of these will be a wild food, but also represent a useful natural resource. There will also be articles on habitat, weather, wildlife, food preservation, medicine, etc. I'll not be presenting each and every fact about the item in question, just enough to be absorbed, and more importantly - remembered.

If you're hardly out, try to keep to one set per month, if you're going out more often, try to take in both sets and if you're reading this a year or so later then there will be sets three, four and onward posted.

Righto, that's the waffle over, let's get down to it. Here's your first set for March.

Plant - Nettle

Stinging Nettle - Spring
The humble stinging nettle. Chances are you already now what these look like, but let's start to take notice of where they grow; most likely not in meadow or in woodland, but on the fringes of both where they can still get light, but their roots have not been restricted.

The nettle will be around for months and months and and chances are, if you've seen one, you've seen a whole load, so always pick the best looking examples. You only want the top section, no lower than that illustrated in the picture. The rest is full of acids that will give you the squits,

From a recreational foraging perspective, these can be used to make a refreshing tea, soup or as a tasty leafy vegetable in a stew or casserole. To make a tea, take a few heads, and use like a tea bag. Make your tea without milk, of course, but feel free to add sugar, berries or lemon. Simple.

From a survival viewpoint, these are a super food and should be eaten every day. High in vitamins and minerals; containing more iron than spinach and having more protein by weight than any other temperate leafy plant, this is a life saver. Add to every stew and if making a tea, be sure you eat the leaves. This sting will have gone, so no worries there.

Fact: nettles were used to make dye for camo nets.

Tree - Beech

Beech - March
Why have I chosen this tree you might wonder, since it's not going to produce nuts until Autumn. Well, it's little known fact, but some trees produce quite palatable leaves and sometimes buds. Also, the Beech is a good starting tree, because it's easily recognisable at this time of year and has distinctive characteristics. 

You'll find Beech simply as, other than conifers, it's likely to be the only tree that still has leaves, and almost certainly the only one that has Autumn leaves still attached. This makes it easy to see from a distance. Take note of the leaf shape, as this will be a give away later.

The buds are very pointy and have a characteristic criss-cross pattern. Remember the location of this tree as it's going to provide you with food and firewood throughout the year. Beech is about to become a useful foodstuff, so start to take note of the bark and branch structure before those leaves finally fall. You'll need to be able to recognise the new leaves when the old have passed and the buds are no longer.

Fact: Beech rots from the inside, so branches fall without warning. You can only spot these potentially fatal branches when they lack the leaves that the rest of the tree has, Thankfully, since Beech retains its leaves, they are often quite easy to spot, but let's not take risks, just in case.

Fungus - Jew's Ear

Jew's Ear Fungus
I've already mentioned this fungus in Make No Mistake as it's so easy to get right. With fungi being such a dangerous foodstuff to get wrong, this one is a simple starter. 

Found on dead Elder, these are an easy foodstuff and in my opinion, best shredded and added to stews and casseroles. They are high in B vitamins and many minerals not all of which are available in leafy plants, so form an essential part of a survival diet. 

Jew's Ear Fungus Dry
Whilst revered in the Far East, these mushrooms are an "acquired taste" in the West. They are available, together with Cloud Ears, which are both collectively known as Wood Ears, in a dried form in many Chinese and Far-Eastern supermarkets. 

The photos show the same fungi a week apart, the second being after a particularly sunny spell. A week later, they might be back to  their fully hydrated form. Soak dried ones in water and if they swell, they are fine; if not, they are dead and should be avoided.

That's the set for this month. Try not to take a printout, don't carry a book and don't make notes. This is the key to getting it all to sink in.I'll be posting another set this month, but don't try to go go too fast. If you find it all too much, just slow down the progress. It's better to remember fewer, than to forget many.

As the month progresses, try to predict locations of these from a distance.  Spot the Beech from its leaves, guess where the best nettles grow and try to identify dead Elder from a distance, as this is much easier to find than Jew's Ear itself.

Next month, there will be more to look for, but don't forget these gems. Keep an eye on their progress and see how they change throughout the year. I'll be posting updates on these as well as other things to look out for and further posts on useful plants, wild medicine and natural resources. 

To ensure you don't miss anything, you can always check my post on this Natural Resources Course or simply Wild Food. The best bet is to simply subscribe to this blog  here or on the Survival's Cool Facebook page.

Happy foraging, feel free to comment and let us all know your progress.

REMEMBER: Do no pick or eat anything you can't positively identify as safe and legal

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

What Survival Instructors Do

Someone had to do it, so I did. Click it for the Facebook version and happy sharing.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A New Outdoor Diet

Wild Food, Natural Medicine and the general topic of Useful Plants is a a BIG subject and takes a long time to master. I've spent years learning and have only touched the surface. Many people dedicate decades to the subject and still don't know it all. If you want to get into foraging, the I'll share this method which should give you a progressive path needing no prior experience and allow you to go as far as you want without becoming swamped or having to carry a book with you wherever you go.

We can only take in so much in at a time and so trying to rote learn a whole book of information is not the way to go. What with all the leaves & flowers, nuts & berries, roots, bark, tubers, confusion species and not even to mention the sheer number of species; it's an absolute minefield.

The key to cracking this topic is practice through repetition and a realistic rate of progress which matches your level of exposure to the outdoors. If you walk your dog twice a day, every day, then you can pick this up quicker than the city dweller who only gets out once a fortnight.

Here's core of the method. Like success in trapping is based around understanding animal behaviour, success in foraging is based around understanding plants (and fungi). Let's start with the fact that availability of species depends on season, latitude, altitude, climate, gradient, orientation, habitat, soil type, local animals and other stuff. Thankfully, you don't have to learn any of that in advance. All you have to know is that there is some or there isn't.

Next, we have to understand that different parts of plants are useful and not only are we interested in leaves, fruit and nuts, but also shoots, buds, flowers, seeds, wood, bark, roots, tubers, sap, resin, etc.   and these only exist at certain times of the year; buds in Spring, foliage in Summer, fruit in Autumn and tubers through Winter, for instance. Thankfully, you don't have to remember all of this in one go either. All you need to know is that which is available right now and that which has gone before.

"So where do I start?", I hear you ask, "and why have you told me all this stuff I don't need to learn". Well, dear readers, you don't need to learn all this stuff, but you will, naturally and as for starting, I'll give you a phrase my dad used, "if you don't know where to start, just start". A caveat to this was "unless super glue is involved", but that's another story.

This is where we start; March, 2012 and this is what we're going to do: Each month, we're going to learn one plant, one tree and one fungus. That might not sound like much, but as each month passes, we get to build on the ones we know and our internal database will grow and grow. Sometimes we'll repeat the same species, as the season changes and the plant provides us with a new resource.

It's important that we choose the right set, so we're going to start with things that are common and everywhere, or "ubiquitous", which is one of my favourite words. From a survival perspective, it's better to be able to recognise things that are more likely to be around than it is to know the ultra-rare specific variants which, though interesting, are unlikely to be helpful. Additionally, we need to know what's available here, now and soon, not last season or miles away.

This month, we learn something new, next month, the fun begins. Not only do we learn a new set, but we get to watch the progress of our existing set and build on the knowledge we've gained. One day, we're going to see elder flowers, and as time progresses, we'll then see elderberries. We'll see hawthorn twigs, then leaves & ultimately fruits and by knowing where the silver weed plant is, with its cooling leaves, we'll know where the silver weeds tubers will be.

Here's March's set:

Beech Tree, Nettle Leaf, Jew's Ear Fungus
Why have I chosen these, you may wonder. The answer is simple: you can't really fail to find them. they are distinctive, they don't have anything species which are comparable, they have a wide variety of uses and they have a nice progressive future.

The above are all the visuals you're getting right now from me, but I will post an article on each one this month. I've already partially covered Jew's Ear in Make No Mistake, which also addresses confusion species, which should not be your concern right now.

Your mission is to head on out and find them. Here are a few clues:

  • Beech is probably the only tree which still has dried leaves hanging on it.
  • Nettle is EVERYWHERE, but especially in rides between grass and woodland or in hedgerows. 
  • Jew's Ear can be found on dead Elder, which is the one of the most popular trees in the UK.

So, not only have we learnt three species here, but we've got the bark, old leaf & bud of beech, the look of an early nettle and not only Jew's ear, but (dead) Elder, which is a rather useful firewood. Things to take in are season, location and surroundings. Learn where these are and we can watch the progress. Start to take notice of things like bark, branch structure and companion species for beech. Take note of the places where nettles grow where dogs are unlikely to wee and try to recognise elder in this form at least. Watch them change over time.

What you'll find is, once you seen these up close, you'll start to recognise them from afar. The beech leaves hanging on will give away the location. The environment for nettles can easily be seen and the dead elder is very good indicator for Jew's Ear, which is otherwise quite well camouflaged until you get up close. Do go forth and investigate, it'll prove it's working.

This is all you need to do this month. Just learn these three and as little or as much extra about them as you want. With each passing day outdoors, you'll see your set over and over again. You should consciously spot the, confirm them and relay any useful information you know about them to yourself.  This process reinforces the knowledge and is a lot easier than making notes or carrying books. Your confidence will grow.

As time progresses, you'll begin to predict locations subconsciously and if you watch this blog, you'll catch the additional posts containing useful information on each one, including uses as well as methods for harvesting, cooking and preservation, where applicable.

For those who are out more then others, two a month might be more the mark, so here are a few more to try: Ash, Penny wort and Morel. Again, you can't really go too far wrong with these, but no clues here other than it's worth looking up False Morel, which is only just a reasonable lookalike for the real thing. I'll cover all three of these this month too.

Happy foraging, watch out for further posts and I hope you find this method as useful as I do.

REMEMBER: Do no pick or eat anything you can't positively identify as safe and legal

Friday, 2 March 2012

Domain Update

I've just updated this blog to use the domain which seems to be causing some interesting redirect, page not found and caching problems. Please comment on this post if you encounter anything odd.