Herb Walk at Helen’s Bay Organic

Red Dead Nettle

If you’ve followed this blog you’ll know I’m a bit of a foraging nerd. I was really lucky to go on an amazing herb walk with 2 fantastic and highly qualified herbalists (Sarah and Luke) down at Helen’s Bay Organic farm.

The weather was bracing to say the least, but Luke and Sarah were so passionate about their subject that you almost didn’t mind the rain showers and wind.

In my part of the world we’re fortune to have a brilliant variety of wild plants that are delicious and amazingly good for you. To make things even better, they’re free!

Rose hips

When picking wild food it’s advisable to not pick from roadsides (because of all pollution from passing cars). If you’re picking herbs at low level it’s also worth remembering that dogs might have pee’d on them (so give them a quick wash if you’re not sure).

Rose hips from wild roses

The first wild food we were shown were rosehips, the seedpods of wild roses. It’s not advisable to eat the whole thing as the seeds are an irritant. They make a tasty syrup packed full of vitamin C. In fact only 3 rose hips, has the same amount of vitamin C as a large orange.

Raw dandelion roots produce latex that can be used to treat warts

Dandelions are seen as a scourge by most gardeners’ but has a range of uses. The young leaves can used in salads, the roots make a decent coffee substitute, and it makes a very good diuretic, that removes sodium but not potassium from your body.

Chick weed

Chick weed (so called because chickens go mad for it) is good in salads and tastes quite like spinach and packed full of vitamins. This herb is also great for your skin and can be used in baths as a little treat for your skin

Speed well

Speed well was apparently used as far back as ancient Greece, and helps with muscle injuries and fatigue.

Red Dead Nettle

Red dead nettle (even though the flowers are pink) is a member of the mint family. A powerful anti spasmodic, it’s useful in the treatment of IBS and period cramps.

Shepherd’s Purse

Shepherd’s Purse, can be used to reduce inflammation and can help treat heavy periods and intestinal issues.

Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles are a pain if you brush up against them, but are an almost perfect super food. Jam packed with vitamins, minerals and trace elements the young leaves can be picked all year round and eaten in soups and stews. Medicinally they are high in iron, and has proved effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and kidney problems.

Dock Leaf

As a kid I was always told if I was stung by nettles to rub my skin with a dock leaf, which proved to be absolutely no use. But it turns out there was something in the old wive’s tale that obviously got jumbled over time. If you ignore the big leaves and look towards the root there are little new almost spiky leaves. If you pick leaves they release a gel similar to aloe vera, which as it turns out can sooth skin irritation. The roots can also be dried and used to treat skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

Plantain

My favourite herb of the day was plantain, which tastes a little bit like dried mushroom, but in a good way. This was traditionally made into a poultice to help wounds heal more quickly. If drunk as a tea about 20 minutes before taking certain antibiotics it can boost their effectivness by 3-4 times.

Ivy

Ivy is also seen as a pest by most gardeners’ but can also be used to make a tea. The tea helps treat lung problems like hooping cough and bronchitis.

Just part of our yummy lunch

We were also treated to a tasty lunch of home made nettle soup and nibbles. Sarah and Luke run these walks several time a year based on the seasons. I’m not including a quarter of the fascinating stuff they told us. If you like to geek out a little bit about foraging, this is the experience for you. I would definitely recommend it.

Foraging at Navan Fort and walking through history.

Even though I was raised in the city, one of the things my Dad loved to do was to take us on nature walks. During these he would point out trees and plants and let us pick wild blackberries and hazelnuts.

Elderberries, packed with vitamins and antioxidants

Foraging isn’t practical for everyone but when you get the chance I would recommend it. It helps ground you to where you live, and best of all it’s free. It’s also a fantastic activity to do with kids (just make sure to watch what they’re eating).

Celtic round house

Recently Navan Fort and Visitor Centre in Co. Armagh, ran an event which provided a guided foraging walk and demonstration of the food and cooking methods our Celtic ancestors would have ate. I’m a big history nerd, so this was right up my street.

Iron Age fire pit

The staff in full Celtic regalia complete with spears really brought history alive, showing not only what the Celts ate, but how they cooked and lived, complete with a genuine Iron Age round house.

Inside an Iron Age round house

The staff were brilliant at getting younger visitors involved and having banter with the participants. They’re also extremely engaging, knowledgeable , and were really interesting.

Tripod cooking
Celtic bread oven

We were then treated to the foraging element led by Fergal. It was great to be back in nature and learn the history and use of local plants.

Robert’s plant or herb Robert

I have to admit in being remiss at not taking more photos of the edible berries like haws, rosehips, and sloes (yes the things they make sloe gin with). One of the more interesting plants was Robert’s plant/herb Robert. Apparently this will be one of the most important cancer fighting drugs in the next decade. If you want to put it in a basin of warm water and soak your feet it also has great antioxidant properties.

I honestly couldn’t recommend the place highly enough. We were also treated to nettle soup (packed with iron and surprisingly tasty), pork and apple stew (we were in the orchard county after all), and a dessert of toasted oats and nuts, local honey, and berries and cream. The charming and entertaining Ita not only cooked all this but demonstrated how our ancestors would have made bread. The foraging events are coming to an end due to the time of year, but the place has different events all year round and is still well worth a visit at any time.

Coastal Food Foraging

I’m fortunate enough to live in a part of the world where you are never far from the sea. Despite this as a nation we don’t eat enough sea food. We definitely don’t take advantage of the absolute heaps of sea vegetables and edible coastal plants we have access to

On a mild but rainy day, the immensely knowledgeable David (former National Trust Ranger, with a passion for coastal flora and fauna), was kind enough to share a small portion of his encyclopedic knowledge with me and a small bunch of other food nerds.

To make things even better David’s partner Celia, an extremely talented and well known chef in her own right, treated us to a fabulous meal centered around foraged food.

Who knew that trendy foods like sea purslane can be collected for free!, and scurvy grass was used as far back as the Romans to give sailors a massive hit of vitamin C on long voyages, (it also tastes like wasabi).

Other top discoveries were pepper dulse, which tastes somewhere between an oyster and black truffle, OMG it tastes so good.

All sorts of terrestrial plants such as sea spinach, sea radish, wild peas and orach all make amazing salad vegetables, and sea vegetables like channel wrack, and sea spaghetti are super tasty when lightly steamed and are bursting full of iodine, and other trace elements that are really good for you.

Who would have thought of baking fish in sea weed. Celia treated us to hake wrapped in sugar kelp and it was properly delicious. She also made us a feast of breads seasoned with seaweeds, dulse butter, wild garlic pesto, and great salads.

Get out and get foraging, make sure you check what you are picking, and don’t be a d’ck and over pick plants that are scarce. Other than that, go forage!