This blog series shares my experiences completing the year-long course in Practical Ethnobotany and Plant Identification with the Woodcraft School.
Day two brought more adventures in the woods. Plants that I have seen for years but never known much about were coming alive to me. John introduced us to Wood Sage (Teucrium scorodonia) and Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) a strong astringent. We tasted sweet blackberry tips and learnt the difference between strawberry and barren strawberry (the leaf tip!). One of my favourites was Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea), affectionately known as ‘snot buster’ for its effect on clearing the sinuses. It’s also been used to flavour ales and for liver health. Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) was another edible and medicinal plant we were introduced to. I must admit, it’s not my favourite but learning about its properties on helping with bleeding as a ‘carpenter’s herb’ did make me feel more affectionate towards it!
We also learned some lore about Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) also known as ‘jack in the pulpit’ and ‘cuckoo-pint’. The root used to be used as a starch source for stiffening clothes, but it was so caustic on the hands that it damaged the health of laundry workers. It has a cunning trick of trapping flies for pollination and then releasing them.
We then moved down towards the field edges and roadsides, coming across Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis), probably my favourite medicinal plant in the world! We also met Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis) which has a subtle peppery taste. Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) was used as a strewing herb. White Dead Nettle (Lamium album), which is edible, had been affectionately called fairy shoes, my Grandma who passed away this winter would have loved to know that. Yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon) has the same properties too.
We could not forget Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) with its amazing ability to soothe bites and stings, as well as having edible roots and seeds. It’s one of the herbs tattooed on my sleeve! As well as Sweet Violets (Viola odorata) and Dog Violets (Viola riviniana) that is a lot smaller in terms of growth habit. We found loads of Docks (Rumex spp.) which can be hard to ID but have a great edible root. Common Sorrel has also been used a lot in soups for its lemony flavour. Greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) was also introduced and we could see its soapy qualities due to its saponin content! On the water’s edge was some Water mint (Mentha aquatica) which tasted delicious too.
No one can forget Jack by the Hedge (Alliaria petiolata) or Hedge Garlic either, for its delicious garlic flavour that brings any wild-food dish to life. It was great to be able to get to know more about Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) which also has an astringent action and can be used in a poultice to stop bleeding. We also had a nibble at some young beech leaves!