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Why Forage?

To forage, or gather, is many beneficial experiences and learnings rolled into one activity. Yesterday I walked a windy Welsh landscape with a family from Essex who didn’t know any wild edibles. Their three and nine year olds ‘refused’ to eat greens, yet within three minutes of discovering Sheep’s Sorrel the nine year old was filling his ham and cheese sandwich with it. He continued to pick and munch on a variety of the wild leaves for the next three hours, openly tasting each plant we spoke about, exclaiming their deliciousness. The three year old was calling “Pennywort” as we passed walls and old oaks, looking to me for a confirmatory nod before nibbling through a grin. 

So we learn of abundance, not scarcity.

Upon being told that some of these rivers were drinkable their disbelief left me sad, yet their excitement and bursting desire to drink directly from a stream gave me such hope in humanity, and witnessing these children kneel by a river, cupped hands offered up for one sip felt something like watching a newborn horse on wobbly, unsure legs. I know this horse can very soon gallop!

So we learn reverence and awe.

We come across rotting hazel hidden around an old ruined stone farmhouse, a single bright red mushroom calls our attention, but first I remind the family that we never take the first and we never take the last.

So we learn of natural limitations and of respect for all life. 

On each walk I lead I am sure to hand out botanical loupes (magnifiers) to a few of the group. They become the guardians of the hidden realms, appointed with the task of discovering the unseeable and showing the rest of us what they have found. The colourful details inside a flower. The pollen grains spread over petals after a flying visitor. The leaf veins that suddenly make biology lessons interesting. What it feels like to fly into a foxglove like a bee. 

So we learn of sharing.

After discovering their love of Sorell we know the need to learn Lords and Ladies; a potentially similar looking inedible plant. Huddled around these beautiful leaves I ask the family to remember Sorell and tell me how they know if this is it. The hawk eyed one notes the rounded ends of the ‘V’ on this plant and tells me this is not Sorell. This young one is re-membering the wild. He is belonging in it.  

So we learn of boundaries and of fearless caution. 

These are gifts given freely, ‘free food’, but to recieve gifts is to ask us to consider, not by any obvious punishment or reward but by the recognition of what it means to be in relationship, what we will give back. Such a gift back to nature asks for creativity when our minds have been taught that we pay with money and if no price is asked we simply take.

So how do we give back? Here are some responses I have heard:

I will stop people cutting down hedges so the birds have food

I want to show my friends the bugs hiding inside flowers 

I want to grow some plants so I can taste proper food 

Would the plants like some water when it is hot?

I will ask my local council why our rivers are being polluted

I will tell my Granddad that weeds are valuable friends 

So we learn of reciprocity and right relationship. 

These are some of the reasons I love foraging.

The fact of it being a free activity in nature does not guarantee it. The loss of wild places threatens all the members of this resplendent biotic community, but with that it also threatens these life lessons that are available to us when we move slowly through a landscape, make nettle soup and watch birds and bugs enjoying their habitats. To sweep through a landscape harvesting to sell is simply stealing masked as foraging if we forget to ask what this wilder community needs back from us. Foraging is a gentle art imbibed with slow steps and multigenerational offerings. How can we be in relationship to landscape in a way that allows us to sit and envision our great grandchildren’s great grandchildren wandering the very same landscape, discovering an abundance of wild plants and animals and giving thanks to us for ensuring that they will return next Spring?

So we learn of not only sustainability, but of regeneration.

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