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Alys Fowler Alys Fowler | 11:25 UK time, Wednesday, 24 August 2011

For more than two years now I’ve been working with wayside plants. Those plants that we don’t tend to take much notice of.

We don’t often think to give plants a narrative because we don’t often recognise them as important players. In fact some scientists have suggested that we have plant blindness that is we have an inability to see the green world around us.

Our media, education and zoochauvinism (all those cuddly toys as I child I guess) have socially constructed a world in which many of us can’t tell one green thing from another. A simple test of this is to ask a non-gardener how many plants they can differentiate between on the way to work. Sadly, most will come up with just trees and grass.

What I think we need is more stories, relevant stories, some old, but more importantly some new. The folklore tradition of foraging is often these days seen as written in stone but I wonder how relevant is to the next generation?

Mint at the Green Man Festival

Mint growing wildly at the Green Man Festival (Photo: Clare Savage)

I’ve been going to the Greenman Festival for four years now. It marks the last part of summer for me. It is always a challenge to go, the harvest is in full swing, plants still need watering, tending to, but I love to soak myself in hours of music. I love the Welsh hills, the way the river smells, the larger sense of community that comes from thousands of people sitting in a field capture by one person’s voice. I like hearing other people's stories; through the music, the snippets of conversation or the chance encounters.

Himalayan balsam at the Green Man Festival

"Himalayan balsam contain delicious slightly peppery seeds a perfect snack for an afternoon wander" (Photo: Clare Savage)

This year at Greenman I wanted to see if I could forage my way around the site, whether it was possible and more importantly whether I could make it relevant to others.

There was a lot to see. Sweet chestnuts (Castanae sativa), heavy with those prickly cases, apple rose (Rosa rugosa) hips rich in Vitamin C so soft that you can eat them straight from the bush (don’t eat the seed it will upset your stomach with its irritating hairs), Himalayan balsam (Impatiens gladulifera) with those exploding seed heads contain delicious slightly peppery seeds a perfect snack for an afternoon wander and down further on the river bed grows wild celery (Apium gravelons), dandelions (for leaves, hearts and roots) and various wild mustards and cresses.

The site had its own walled garden that contained cultivated finds for those in the know. There is a great stand of mint perfect for those that forgot to take the toothbrush with them. A fig tree that last year was laden, this year it seems to be taking a break and lavender for the those over stimulate brains, tuck a little into your sleeping bag and drift off into a calm slumber.


"Mallow leaves perfect for campfire scrambled eggs" (Photo: Clare Savage)

There were sow thistles a great liver tonic for those that consumed too much local cider, fat hen unopened flower heads steamed much like broccoli and full of vitamins to keep you dancing. A few daylilies soldier on amongst the weeds, the fresh flowers are good in salads or added to sandwiches for a few extra greens. Or perhaps mallow leaves perfect for campfire scrambled eggs.

A strange sort of forage but the kind I’ve become rather fond of recently.

Alys Fowler is a writer and broadcaster. Read more of Alys's Gardening blog posts.


  • Comment number 1.

    I cant believe there was so much in one place - you make it all sound so perfect ! What a womderful time you must have had its made me think I need to go to my ever first festival just to savour all those amazing tastes!

  • Comment number 2.

    Alys; there is one aspect of foraging in this country which is almost "verboten" Fungi.
    All I need is the hedgerow fungi in the autumn never to need to buy a mushroom again.
    I sometimes venture further in to deep wood and field for special specimens.

    The pedestrian has gone from country lanes because the dangerous speeding car has arrived on it, even in the deepest countryside. I get up at early hours to see my classified road (B/C) wild flowers and it very surprising how much there is to be found, soon to be lost in later spring time prematurely by the ignorant machine cutting of the hedgerows for the "safety" of motorists, never mind for a moment the flowers or the pedestrians.

    If I scream at a Pedestrian who is in imminent danger of death on a back road, from vehicle abuse, I scream in contrary manner for the loss of wild flowers thereon.

    A house of Lords Act (introduced in the lords in about 1998, was called something like the Wild flower hedgerows act, and in my vicinity they were obliged to cut in a different manner, and notify with signing, that particular hedgerows were thus designated and miaintained. Regrettably the Act has fallen in to disuse and the county no longer keeps to its terms. No maintenance of the signs, no careful hedgerow maintenance.

    Foraging is not generally possible on anything but public hedgerows and forestry commission land is not productive of anything, except forest. Most broad leafed mixed woodland, is private property, and laws of trespass would be invoked.

    That brings me back to the wonders of funghi in autumn, the finest crop of all
    But......but.....but..... the blackberries are good this year! Who is complaining when there is a September day of blackberrying to enjoy???!! Avoid road traffic.

  • Comment number 3.

    The forager is a determined breed, I remember returning back to the yard at a Parks Dept and seeing a man in his 30's guzzling yew berries from a tree near the gate. As I rushed up to warn him of his peril he expertly spat out all the seeds and looked at me with disdain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hey Hereisabee

    That old yew berry trick. It defines the hardcore forager how many of those you've consumed (warning the seeds are fatally poisonous if digested and you don't have long before it happens). I met someone who actually made jam out of them once. Russian Roulette in a jar if there every was one


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