This blog series shares my experiences completing the year-long course in Practical Ethnobotany and Plant Identification with the Woodcraft School.
On the third day of the course, we mostly stayed at the base in the woods and got on with our bark craft work. We learnt about sticking and how to add rims on our baskets. It was such a heavenly process to work with the bark. It also smelt delicious!
John talked to us about birch bark and how it is highly flammable but also very waterproof. It has even been used for roof tiles in Scotland. We also had a play with some conifer resin that can be made from spruce and pine, as well as some super-smelly birch tar which forms the basis of a glue. It’s very different to birch oil which can be painted on like creosote to line things like cabins and canoes.
Phil then introduced us to charcoal making, which is basically heating without oxygen. Willow was used traditionally but other woods can be too. Originally the process was used to capture oils rather than to make charcoal, however, charcoal production soon influence the shape of the landscape.
A couple more plants came to light too – Herb Bennet (Geum urbanum) also known as wood avens and blessed herb, which has an edible leaf as well as clove oil in its root. This makes it good for toothache and stomach ache too. Cleavers (Galium aparine) was the last plant of the weekend – everyone knows this sticky plant that you throw around at school. I normally make it into juice and freeze it at home, as its a great lymphatic tonic.
Finally, we finished the three-days with a recap of what’s expected in our assessments, as well as how we will communicate through the course. Overall it was an exhausting but super enjoyable few days and I learnt loads!