Friday, 8 June 2012

Wild Food & Natural Resource Course - Spring Round Up

This Wild Food and Natural Resources course has been running for the three months of Spring and has had great feedback and support. Initially, it was to cover one tree, one plant and one fungus per month, but by popular demand, generally doubled that and added in a few supporting articles. I thought it worth rounding up what we've learnt and how things have changed.

We have learnt a great deal about habitat and how it affects the things that grow. The major habitats are important, but also the fringes and transitional borders between them. We've learnt about water, altitude, light & shade, leaf morphology, companion & indicator species as well as how things change throughout the season.

I'm hoping you have maintained the regime of not taking notes or books with you on you wanders or tried to take on too many species if you don't get out much. This forces us into a progressive learning pattern with repetition reinforcing what we know. By now you will have proved to yourself that you don't need such trappings and in fact, they can be a hindrance as they compel us to take on more than we should.

Here's a quick test. Find a long pictorial list of wild plants online, such as this one. Read through it, taking in all of the pictures and descriptions. Now stop looking at it and try to recall the contents. Which of the plants you saw were inedible and could you positively identify them? Which of the plants are growing now? Can you recall them all? If not, what is the use? Maybe you would see something outdoors and decide you might have read about before grabbing a guide and checking.

This is the problem with trying to learn too much at once. The human mind can't hold too much new information. Here's another experiment. Spend as long as you like trying to memorise this list letters and numbers.
G 6 J 3 9 K 8 R 3 U 0 E L 2 B 2
Got it? Now go and find a piece of paper and try to write them down from memory. See you in a minute. I mean it, go and write them down on a piece of paper.

How many did you get? Six, seven? Eight, nine or ten with a few mistakes? It's hard work taking in new info. Yes, there are lots of techniques for memorising series, but you get the point.

Now here's the proof that what we've gone through has taught you a great deal and that you've not only retained it, but added to it yourself in such a way that you probably won't remember to specifics of what was written and what you picked up by learning to look at the natural world in a different way.

Each of the links below will take you back to the original article, but you'll probably not need them. Take a look down this of all the covered species. Maybe you didn't read each of the articles, and if that's so, don't beat yourself up about it; be happy with what you've learnt and know there is more for next Spring. For each one, try to recall what they look like, how they've changed throughout the year, where they grow and which grow together. Try to remember all you can, you'll amaze yourself.

Trees - buds, catkins, flowers, branch structure, bark, leaves and leaf development as well as uses for each one.

Silver Birch
Sallow (Pussy Willow or Goat Willow)

Fungi - size, grouping, shape, colour, smell and uses.

Cramp Balls (King Alfred's Cakes)
Fairy Ring Champignon
Jew's Ear or Jelly Ear
St. George's Mushroom

Plants - flowers, leaves, shoots and taste

Field Sorrel
Jack by the Hedge (Garlic Mustard)
Navelwort or Pennywort
Ramsoms (Wild Garlic)
Three Cornered Leek (Wild Garlic)
Wood Sorrel

Learnt loads, haven't you. Nice work! Take a few minutes to look back over a few to remind yourself of a few details, but also to show how much you've taught yourself on top of the basics.

If you fancy a reread, of all of the Course and Supporting Articles, be careful that you don't overload yourself with information to try to catch up. Remember, it's better to remember few than forget a lot.

For doing so well, here's a special bonus for sticking with it. These sweet violets should still be around and although the leaves are edible, the flowers are where it's at. I'm sure you'll have seen them in the hedgerows and many of you, like me, will have learnt them as a child. They are a tasty trail treat* and when combined with other flowers make a mighty mouthful*. 

With Spring over, we have Summer on the way there is still much to learn and enjoy, such as elder, hawthorn, rose, blewits, wild mint and many more. Try to keep a good learning pace and don't forget the trees, plants and fungi you've learnt already. Watch how they change throughout the Summer and which of our new sets overlap and interact with them. 

Happy foraging and keep an eye out for complementarity articles.

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

NOTE: These articles were written from a UK perspective and identification will almost certainly differ in other places around the world. Seek local advice to confirm positive identification.

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* I love alliteration :)

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