Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
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630 miles of coast line.
That’s 630 miles of pathways, steps, beaches, cliffs, pebbles, sand, shingle or boulders.
630 miles of potential coastal plants, as well hedgerows, fields, even woodland growth.
That’s 630 miles of varied and possible foraging ground.

Foeniculum vulgareHonckenya peploidesCochlearia officinalis

I’m a forager, a walker, a stalker of plants and a lover of sea views and varied landscapes. I live in Cornwall, and like many Cornish (or settlers here) I’m content holidaying here too.

Taking a chunk of time out to walk part of the Cornish coastal path is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Embarrassingly, I’ve never done this (for more than 1 day at a time) in Cornwall. Though I have done several walking trips in the Himalayas, Scotland and Austria - up to 3 weeks at a time, just walking.

So this summer, this was it: 8 days, 80 miles, various companions and a new pair of walking sandals. Traveling light, I had pockets and bags to forage with and left the cumbersome, though beautiful and often useful, basket behind.

Crithmum maritimumLeucanthemum vulgareRaphanus raphanistrum ssp. maritimus

Coastal foraging is rich pickings - there is a good reason that many communities originally settled on the coast line or nearby, and this wasn’t just for the fishing, or the view.

Fish and seafood are wonderful sources of nutrition, particularly protein and good oils, yet the plants and seaweeds that grow in these areas are equally of value. Actually, I wouldn’t choose one over the other, though together the combination is sublime, as well as nutritionally balanced.

Starting from St Ives and finishing in Padstow, I was fascinated by how much the foraging available would vary on this stretch of coast path. Whether I'd be seeing much variety, or just seeing the same plants again and again.

Beta vulgarisDaucus carotaCarpobrutus edulis

There are over one hundred plants and seaweeds that I, and you too, could be foraging, easily and regularly while walking the South West Coast Path. I know if I'd have walked further, perhaps the whole of the coast - from Minehead to Poole - then I would have experienced a greater diversity of edibles and landscapes that they thrive in. However, as much as I am an explorer, I am a home girl too, and being able to look back along that coast path, and see the distance that I had traveled by foot, felt -for now- far enough away from home.

If you've ever done long distance walking, or indeed walked the South West Coast Path, you will probably know these two things;

  1. You can burn quite a lot of energy walking, especially when it's up and down, rocky and challenging, and especially if you're carrying a ruck sack too.
  2. Despite the considerable improvement in food choice in Cornwall, i.e. good quality, local ingredients, simply cooked. In some areas of the coast path, it's trickier to access much more than fish and chips and sandwiches.

Laminaria digitataUlva Lactuca and Palmaria palmataCrithmum maritimum

 

Perhaps I'm just justifying my food and calorie choices for this journey! However, snacking on forageables definitely broke up my walking and monotony of meals. While camping, I was able to add wild greens to dishes, introduce walking companions to wild tastes and enjoy the beauty of the coast through my taste buds as well as my feet and eyes.

If you know much about sailing and the fate of many sailors one hundred years or more ago. You'll know that scurvy - a condition caused by vitamin C deficiency was an unpleasant, unsightly and far too common disease. Many of the plants I was picking were rich in vitamin C, and used by sailors in the past for this very reason.

Rock Samphire, Scurvy Grass, Sorrel, Ox-Eye Daisy, Sea Spinach - are all good vitamin C sources. No oranges or lemons did I carry in my rucksack, my nutrition was hedgerow and coast path sourced, well, ok, with the occasional Cornish apple juice to quench my thirst too.

To find out more about walking the South West Coast Path, go to; http://www.southwestcoastpath.com/

Baggage transfer can lighten your daily load and this company is hugely friendly and helpful, see; http://www.luggagetransfers.co.uk/south-west.html

If you would like to have a 1/2 day foraging guide, during your walking (please note I average 1 mile an hour for this), please do contact me

How to remember & appreciate the mundane (and why we’re running ‘Nettle Days’).

In life & relationships it is all too easy to take for granted those that are close to us, to over-look our loved one’s qualities that we once fell in love with. Too easy to forget that they are amazing, loveable, admirable, desirable, shifting our focus instead onto their negative qualities & the things we’d like to change.

I feel it is the same with Nettles (Urtica dioica). We’ve got so used to seeing them - almost everyone knows what a nettle looks & feels like - that all we have left to say to them is rude & dismissing. Our modern culture tells us that foreign super foods are bigger & better, though Nettles are just as good & free! It's time we rekindled our love for this plant - a local love affair because...

    

...nettles have always been there for us. A true native, growing & thriving through our British seasons, arriving, without fail, each spring - vibrant, potent & bursting with nutrition.

Oooh, but the sting! I hear you cry...

Oooh, but their always growing in the wrong place & a real pain to get rid of.

Well, those so-called negative qualities also have a flip side. Nettles sting to protect themselves - yes, they’re that valuable that they developed a protective mechanism. Their sting even contains the same compound as a bee sting - formic acid. The sting of the nettle has also been used to help relieve severe rheumatic pains & to help improve blood circulation (Culperer Herbal). As spring arrives the sting is even more virulent (I can still feel my fingers pulsating from my yesterday’s foraging!).

The ability of the humble stinging nettle to grow in abundance was of great use to our ancestors & is great for us too. Those long roots that are so difficult to dig up enable nettles to draw up the rich nutrition deep in the soil. Exuding with vitamin B2, C, E, K, iron, protein, magnesium, calcium, beta-carotene as well as other minerals. They’ve been used to treat anemia, rheumatism, arthritis & kidney disorders to name a few. All this makes nettles a fantastic food, hair tonic & herbal tea.

 

The thick, hardy stems contain strong fibres that have been used to make string & rope as well as practical & beautiful clothing. My favourite are delicate nettle shawls, see www.wildweaves.co.uk.

So to conclude, why would we want to get rid of this old love, for a new more exciting one? Why not re-ignite or even start your love for nettles; cherish their qualities, put on your best (nettle) clothes, eat (nettle soup), drink (nettle beer) & be merry! Nettles are our own, native super food. Available in abundance, on our doorstep, in hedgerows, fields & amongst the plants we so lovingly cultivate. Life is too short to chase the greener grass elsewhere, especially when the grass here is so rich with nettles!

Making Fresh Nettle String      

Finally, are they tasty? Are they ever! Use like spinach, they’re great in lasagne, curry, soup, risotto, in falafel, gnoochi & make a great base for pesto (blanch the leaves first).

Wishing you a wonderful love affair... X

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