Foraging for Mindfulness
Guest post written by: Sheena Corry of The Forge, Corwen, North Wales
A springtime forage at The Forge in North Wales is truly a feast for the senses and the soul. After the long, cold, dark months of winter the first flush of edible spring plants are a welcome sign that warmer days and lighter nights are on the way. Foraging is a wonderful way to immerse yourself completely in nature, tapping back into your primitive senses and instincts. In a world increasingly dominated by the pressure to be ‘always on’ with social media and ever-present technology, there is no better way to switch off and tune into a different pace of life. Especially when combined with a night glamping out under the stars.
Run by husband and wife team, Jamie and Sheena, The Forge offers cosy glamping on their 20-acre smallholding in North Wales. It was created to compliment their existing business, the Wild Bushcraft Company. Together they offer the ultimate opportunity for you to enjoy the benefits of nature and spending time outdoors. Learn bushcraft skills, including fire lighting without matches or a lighter, knife making, game preparation and of course, foraging.
It’s the perfect combination for discovering true mindfulness. We’re delighted to partner with The Forge to bring you a taste of this North Wales glamping retreat within our Discovery and Micro Discovery multi activity holiday.
Here is The Forge’s guide to getting the very most out of a springtime foraging experience.
Our primary sense for locating and identifying wild plants are the sneaky first glimpses of vibrant colours standing out in contrast to the decay of autumn and winter. Our first edible plants of the year are our gorse bushes (Ulex europaeus) which stand proud on top of our hill fort. The bright yellow flowers are visible from a distance and are unmistakable. You really have to get your eye in to pick the youngest, most tender petals from the viciously spikey branches to avoid getting ripped to shreds. But you are well rewarded if you do…. They have the most delicately coconut-like flavour and bring a gorgeous colour to any salad.
The other flower that is easy to spot at this time of year are the wild primroses (Primula vulgaris) which have a slightly honey-like flavour. They go wonderfully in salads or can be used to garnish puddings.
We are lucky enough to have wild garlic (Allium ursinum) at The Forge, which is an essential ingredient in any wild forager’s larder! You often smell it before you see it, although be careful not to confuse it with other poisonous plants, such as lords and ladies. With wild garlic you really need to trust your nose and let it be your guide! Just rub the leaves between your fingers and then take a sniff – it really does smell exactly like regular garlic. You can eat all parts of the plant and your options are really endless.
We like to make lots of wild garlic pesto by blending freshly picked leaves with pine nuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil lots of salt and pepper and a dash of lemon juice. But they also work marvellously wrapped around fish or chicken fillets and cooked over the campfire, keeping everything nice and moist. The flowers can be added to salads and used as garnish. While the roots can be chopped up like regular garlic and make a lovely base for soups and stews.
Although you may not actually hear the plants, your hearing definitely plays a part in the whole foraging experience. The sound of the birds in the trees, rejoicing in their songs after many months of cold silence. And at this time of year the air is positively buzzing with the constant bleating of lambs and their mums. It feels like the world has once again switched itself back on and wants to shout about it from the treetops!
Now although there are not many wild spring plants that make a noise per se, forgive me the slightly tenuous link to one of our most prolific and year-round wild foods, the Jelly Ear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae). This fungus does in fact look uncannily like a human ear and grows on dead elder, which is in no short supply here at The Forge! After all the wet weather in the winter they are usually plump and very jelly-like, perfect for a wild-inspired Chinese style dish. We like to wash and slice them thinly, then simmer in a stock with soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and ginger. You can also dry them and store them for use later in stocks and stews.
Probably the most abundant and most nutritious wild plant that we have at The Forge is the common nettle (Urtica dioica), which is at its very best in early spring. Nettles are an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, Vitamins A & C, beta carotene and iron. It’s just a shame they are so tricky to pick!
My husband and I run an annual competition to see who can pick the most nettle tops without gloves….. I have actually come to love the sensation of the stinging on my skin, which makes me feel alive and strong (especially if I have managed to beat him yet again – yes!). If you are not feeling quite so brave (or stupid) we advise wearing rubber gloves to pick just the very top 3 or 4 leaves from the plant.
Once you have gathered your superfood bounty, the options are really endless. My kids love nettle soup – added to a leek and potato base, or just as they are in a tasty stock. You can also chop them up and use them as you would spinach or kale – just make sure that you cook them well first to get rid of the stings. Although you may like the sensation of stinging on your skin, it’s a whole different story in your mouth and throat!
One of the best parts about foraging is being able to have a little nibble of this and that as you amble along through the fields and hedgerows. In early spring, you have the joy of young hawthorn leaves (Crataegeus monogyna) everywhere around you. In olden times they used to be called ‘Bread and Cheese’ and are said to be a heart tonic. When I first tasted them, I was somewhat underwhelmed by their very mild flavour – maybe our ancestors had more refined taste buds than me! But there have been a few surprising taste sensations from around The Forge which have genuinely wowed me.
Tapping some of our birch trees (Betula pubescens) for sap and then boiling down the collected liquid created the most wonderful sticky and sweet syrup, which tastes sensational. Fry this up in the Dutch oven with some roasted hazelnuts (Corylus avellana) that we harvested in the autumn and boom! You have something very special on your plate, 100% wild and natural.
A sixth sense?
After a couple of hours foraging around The Forge you may find that you start to feel a little different – calmer, more alert. You become observant to the details in the fields and the hedgerows where previously you just saw ‘grass’ or ‘leaves’. As you use all your senses to identify the wild plants, we are engaging in the very best kind of mindfulness.
I also believe that we are harnessing the power of a very ancient and primitive memory that lies within us all, in our subconscious, deep within our basic instincts. It’s like a sixth sense that tells you that red in nature is to be avoided, bitter tastes are bad and sweeter ones are good. It’s about unlearning the urge to leap to Google to try to find out what you are looking at. Instead, dig deep to feel what nature is telling you about the plant. How does it make you feel and what should you do with it?
This is not something you can instantly do, and of course we strongly advise against eating anything unless you are 100% sure you know what it is! But it is something that can be re-learned over time, with patience, practice, some good books and, ideally, a wise old teacher.
Discover mindfulness for yourself
The Forge offers a unique glamping experience in North Wales, offering ‘digital detox’ and foraging retreats. Combining bushcraft and nature experiences with luxury camping facilities, it’s designed to minimise the stress of taking a holiday. Equipped with everything you could possibly need, our accommodation is situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. With stunning views across North Wales’ Berwyn and Snowdonia ranges, it’s perfect for watching the sun set or a spot of star gazing. And the perfect spot for your UK adventure holiday.
Author: Sheena Corry of The Forge, Corwen, North Wales
If you feel inspired to find a happier, calmer you, check out our Discovery multi activity holiday. This week long escape back to nature includes a 24 hour foraging, bushcraft and glamping experience at The Forge. Plus you’ll go hiking, river rafting and exploring the North Wales coast by boat. Short on time? Our Micro Discovery adventure holiday is a 4 night break that also includes The Forge foraging and glamping experience.