Experiencing the world through our senses can be a rewarding and healthy way to engage in the world .
In this blog post I share a wild conversation between myself (forager and somatic educator) and Miles Irving (founder of Forager Ltd). We discuss nature, the body, what it means to be whole, human and how to find our way back to the things that really matter.
We finish with a rambling conversation about foraging songs and me sharing/singing a few.
NOTES and general timings of themes
(Timings are approximate).
- 0:00 Introduction from Miles Irving
- 7:05 Podcast begins - Polyvagal nervous system, the importance of relating and 'tend and befriend'
- 16:35 The wisdom of the body, anchoring in the body, felt-experience of nature verses an objective experience of nature and how to relate to nature.
- 25:50 Free food verses and a sense of wonder, benefits of nature (Richard Louv - Last Child in the Woods)
- 30:00 Sensing through the body, movement verses stillness, intuition and instinct
- 40:00 Body intelligence, risk and moving through trauma
- 55:00 Instinct and intuition, the intelligence of breaking down in order to become more whole.
- 1:05:00 Vulnerability, the importance of play and pleasure and how to THRIVE
- 1:13:00 How time outdoors supports the biology of our body and the value of relational living
- 1:19:40 What is wildness? Is it scary or predictable and how does it relate to living fully and trusting life?
- 1:31:17 Foraging, nature and connection. Navigation and maps verses interrelating with the landscape (Tristan Gooley)
- 1:40:17 Creating support, brain and body plasticity. Stuck verses movement, choices verses limits, being verses change.
- 2:01:00 Foraging songs - non-verbal communication, learning through music and expressing something 'else' through songs
It's been two and a half decades since I started a serious (and fun) relationship with foraging. And it's been well over a decade since I've been teaching foraging (I'm writing this in 2019). Like any relationship, there's ups and downs, boredom, frustration, elation, new experiences, the same old ones and falling in love again.
We all know that long-term relationships thrive on a few basic principles and one of those is cultivating and sustaining intimacy. Not just skating over the surface with 'I know that plant', but having a sense of curiosity, interest, care and taking time. Now, I know I'm straddling between talking about people and plants here, though there are some similarities. The way I see it, all my interactions with the world are relationships; with people, food, the landscape, my work. And the deeper I go, the richer my rewards. Imagine if I'd stopped at making Nettle Soup - which I love. I'd of never been able to enjoy the sensations of Nettle and Honey Cake or discovered Nettle Pakoras. Or shared these with so many of you. I digress... Do check out the Stinging Nettles blog if you'd like to know more.
How to keep Foraging new and Fresh
A couple of years ago I started exploring song-writing as a way to express some of the qualities of plants in new ways. I was attending an outdoor learning conference at Mount Pleasant Eco Park at the time, and thought it might be a useful exercise for the attendees. In my workshops on 'Wild Foods with Children' we explored 5 common weeds as food and I created and sung a foraging song or two as an illustration of memorable and fun directions foraging can go in. The song wasn't great, though I was brave enough to sing it and we learnt and laughed together.
Since then the concept of a Foraging Course with Plant Songs has developed. I realised I wanted to offer songs, fire and tasters. I didn't want to dilute the foraging courses I already ran, but add an additional layer to them. Sometimes the arts express something that words alone cannot do, and I hoped this creative addition had this potential.
Through sharing my foraging songs, I'm giving you a little insight into my relationship with the wild foods that I teach. Offering a doorway into the world of plants and a platform to express something of the plants' character, essence, as well as their practical uses. I open my little black book of foraging songs and sing, I invite you to sing and we sing to the plants, to the hedgerows, to each other. It's fun.
At some point, on every course I lead, I open my bag and offer handmade, wild tasters from one or more of the plants we have sung about. The recipe remains a secret, except to the participants who attend. Does this deepen intimacy with the plants? I like to think so. Tasting, smell and eating the wild foods can deepen our understanding and appreciation of the wild foods surrounding us. And that is good for building positive relationships with the world we reside in.
Sssshhh! Come along to the Foraging Course with Songs to get the secret foraging recipe. A little more insight into the songs and experience is here on the wild singing blog. If you'd like to stay up to date with what I'm up to, consider following my instagram or facebook page.
Alexander seeds are one of my secrets. Okay, so perhaps a secret I've shared with a few people. Even so, it's a lesser known wild spice that goes unnoticed by the majority of folk. I call it a secret because even if you bite into it raw, the chances are you won't want to taste it again. Unless, that is, it's incorporated into a delicious recipe.
Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) are prolific here in Cornwall, originally from the Mediterranean, they can now be found on the south coast of the UK from Wales to Norfolk, as well as throughout Europe. I love them, they are so versatile, so abundant, though vastly misunderstood. I've written many blogs about Alexanders if you'd like to find out more. I also have a song to help you remember their qualities that I share on the Singing Forager Experience, where you can just listen, hum, or join in.
Highly rated by the Romans (who brought Alexanders over, also know as Black Lovage. Horse Parsley, Alisanders) you can eat every part of it, if you just knew how...
Alisander or Alexander-seeded bread
I've been making Alexander-seeded bread for years. I first created it in collaboration with the head chef at a gourmet foraging and dining break at Hell Bay, Isles of Scilly. Lovely fresh, handmade bread to dip into fine olive oil before a series of 5 wild courses were served. I've also foraged it and made it with students at Rick Stein Cookery School, which was a good few years ago now.
Alexander-seeded bread is so good, I keep making it; flecks of bitter spice through dough work perfectly and the seeds make a nice cobbled effect too. In the past those seeds have been used in soup, stocks and to flavour rice, though I've used them in many other dishes, including sweet treats. They contain an essential oil, cuminal, which is reminiscent of cumin and myrrh, or think black pepper with its heat and a little added bitterness. I like to enjoy alexander-seed bread with Rock Samphire Salsa Verde, or with wild seaweed dips or just on its own with olive oil.
Alexander-seeded Bread Recipe
A simple, lightly spiced bread which is perfect with savoury accompaniments - it has never been refused by guests attending a foraging course.
- 1 heaped tbsp alexander seeds
- 500 g white or wholemeal flour (or half and half)
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1 tsp quick yeast
- 1 tsp sugar or honey
- 400 ml warm water
- 15 ml olive oil (optional)
Roughly grind or chop (you want some texture, not a powder) the alexander seeds in a seed grinder or pestle and mortar. You may find them easier to grind if you dry roast them first (140°C for 10-20 minutes), making sure they don't burn. Mix the flour, ground seeds and salt in a large bowl. Dissolve the yeast and honey in the warm water and stir into the mix. Combine well and knead the dough for 10 minutes, or until it starts to bounce back. Cover and leave in a warm place until it doubles in size.
When well risen, oil a bread tin, punch the dough a couple of times then place in the oiled tin, cover and allow to rise to double the size again. Heat the oven to 200°C and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until hollow-sounding when tapped. Remove from the oven and leave to sit for 10 minutes before attempting to take the loaf out of the tin. Allow to cool on a wire rack before slicing.
I share some tips on bread, picnics and wild bread in my seaweed bread blog and teach Alexanders - how to identify and use them on my foraging courses throughout the year. As well as on my Singing Forager course.
Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) are one of my favourite spring greens, and this was a recipe I shared with Graham Pullen of St Ives Screen Printing at Tom's Yard. Graham is keen on making art affordable and accessible, and has incorporated the recipe into one of his hand-printed individual cards (featured above). I love both Graham's botanical drawing of the humble nettle, and his interpretation into print.
The last time I made this recipe was for my friend's birthday last spring. We had a 'bring a contribution' curry dinner and the range of curries, samosas and spiced breads was great. These nettle pakoras fitted in perfectly. The only down-side was my dog sneakily finishing off the cooking oil. Trust me, you don't want to know the end of that part of the story.
The fourth time I made them was when I ran a nettle day at Bramble Cottage. It was great having a 6 month old, budding forager with us, gurgling, watching and smelling the various stages of the process. Perhaps that's where this nursery rhythm tune came from, finding a soothing way to give a little extra information about the humble stinging nettles.
You can watch the process and hear the song in this video; 'Making Nettle Pakoras' below. The reason for the song lyrics is explained in my blog When NOT to eat Stinging Nettles, yet the song is self-explanatory really, so just watch and listen...
Do get in touch with Graham, and he can show you, sell you or tell you where to get a great range of foraging recipe cards, including this one with the full recipe. For more ideas, why not browse my Stinging nettles blog. Nettles are regularly included in my wild food foraging courses too.
Follow the #singingforager to find out more.
Song, verse, sound and rhyme have been used by humans for thousands of years to communicate, respond and express. Sound is an integral part of our daily landscape. It has been used functionally (to explain things) as well as for fun and as an essential part of celebrations across the world. Rachel Lambert is a foraging teacher who has sung all her life. She sings on her own on the moor, with friends, with family, to mourn and to celebrate life. Since childhood she has learnt songs and made up songs, feeling happy to hit the right or wrong note and just enjoy singing!
Why wild singing
There is much scientific evidence to suggest that singing is good for the brain, heart, gets creative juices running, sends feel good endorphins round the body and can help counter anxiety and loneliness. Coupled with the great outdoors, which can legitimately claim similar health and well-being benefits, wild singing is a pretty good boost for the body and soul.
The benefits of using song to learn about plants
Singing about plants and nature is also part of our historical tapestry. When Rachel Lambert (Wild Walks South West) has researched past uses of plants she’s often come across poems and songs. Songs tell of plant uses, claims of curing ills, bringing love and of old traditions. Rachel has taken this idea and created new songs to tell of plant qualities she often shares with participants on her foraging courses. Songs can be a great way to remember things, as well as just enjoying the moment.
If you'd like to see snippets of other songs, or read more about this experience, you may want to view my other Wild Singing blogs. I run The Singing Forager Experience for anyone who'd like to listen to, hum along or join in. Dates for these are here; The Singing Forager Experience and details of how to book is here.
Follow the #singingforager to find out or hear more.
Click on the link or image above to read the full article about singing in the landscape and combining foraging with songs about the plants.
Follow the #singingforager to find out or hear more
We've been having a lot of fun, Kelsey and I.
We've been working pretty hard too. Kelsey Michael has been teaching me songs, I've been creating quirky little ditties about plants I see and eat along the coast paths and hedgerows, and we've been walking.
Walking and hanging out in nature, as friends do, enjoying the landscape, birds, seals, the weather, sunsets and fires. And when happiness comes, or any moment that feels worthy of enjoying or celebrating, we sing. We've sung to the Cornish hills, we've sung an ode to the sour taste of sorrel, to the wonderful world of seaweeds. To gorse bushes, to the sailors and even the donkeys that we've walked past. As I said, we've had a lot of fun.
I was lucky enough to be brought up singing, singing round camp fires (my parents ran youth camps), from church pews and at home. I love to sing, it feels a natural and joyful thing to do and share.
Though Kelsey, a professional singer and singing leader makes singing feel natural and easy for everyone. Accessibility is practically her middle name.
It's been great to sit, stand and walk together, in song. Kelsey has been leading Wild Singing Walks for a couple of years now. Together, we offer the Singing Forager experience; being outside in nature, singing and foraging together. You can read more about what we are offering and even come and join us here; Wild Singing Walks.
Follow the #singingforager to find out or hear more.
Back in the warmth of the summer, I had a glorious few hours with singer Kelsey Michael. We'd been getting excited about words and tunes and at last had found a moment to share a walk and sing together outside.
This quick video is of us singing, what Kelsey now calls; The Foraging Song. The tune is from the Cornish Can Dilly song. Here we share the Rock Samphire verse which we created together to help you remember a little bit about it's qualities!
If you've joined one of my foraging courses before, you'll probably be familiar with this snippet of information;
'Samphire growing on the rocks
Always there where the sea is not'
The song is in its early stages, open to having information added over time, about the same plant or additional ones (we currently have a Sea Spinach verse as well). I also share a popular recipe for Rock Samphire here; Rock Samphire Salsa Verde.
This is one of the elements we will be offering on our Wild Singing Walks - sharing anecdotes about plants, and potentially creating songs together with participants.
(The Rock Samphire edible plant we sing about, and Kelsey Michael on a stormy, winter's day)
Kelsey and I share a love of the land, sea and being present to the elements. Over the years we've danced together (for work and play), sea swum as well as eaten and celebrated lots together. I've even been a singing student of hers, which gave me the confidence to work on and sing a song solo in front of a small group.
Kelsey is a fantastic singing facilitator and a professional singer songwriter in her own right, having performed Internationally as well as locally. Our new venture together, offering Wild Singing Walks (including wild tasters and a solo al fresco performance by Kelsey), is guaranteed to be a unique and inspired experience - watch this space!
Follow the #singingforager to find out or hear more.