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By wildcurious, May 4 2018 01:36PM

I’m stomping the lanes on the border of North Cornwall and Devon, taking some much needed space to just be in the outdoors.

Simply. Without distraction.

I have a hammock camp, fire and foraging basket. Sometimes not much else is needed.

This is about connecting back with what nourishes me, with really feeling how this land has the ability to hold and nurture when we ask for it.

Walking the South West coast path feels like coming home to the familiar at this time of year. The hedgerows are bursting with energetic possibilities, and old and much loved plant friends beckon from the unworn edges of my eyes.

It’s a belief shared by many that the land provides what we need as we need it. The energy and vibrancy of new plant growth gifts us with the qualities we need right now.

Nutrition, flavour, energy, cleansing, nourishing. As we prepare for the land to sing ever louder as spring drifts towards summer.

By wildcurious, Dec 23 2017 05:18PM

Inhabiting this wild and precious earth.

Making stuff is powerful, and crafting with the wild is a vital part of my life. There’s freedom, magic and sensual connection with oneself, with the earth and with living energy when we extract ourselves from our hyperconnected world long enough create; to craft something tangible with our own two hands.

For me, making foraged concoctions is about the quality of the experience, about continuing the flow from gathering from the land, preparing and preserving across the seasons.

It is a conscious invitation and a commitment to let the wild in, and out. To break down the invisible barriers between the living earth our ourselves.

So, whenever I open a jar of wild kimchi, keffir, or a herbal tea I’m instantly connected back to the land, back to the experience of feeling the living earth all around me, the rhythmic ripples of plant growth and life.

This year I’ve prepared a Burdock root fire cider, and as I open and bottle it my thoughts are drawn to the invisible web of life in the soil beneath us and beneath Burdock.

By wildcurious, Nov 4 2017 10:28AM

This is the time of year to surround oneself with rich and earthy fruits and nuts, with the smell of wood smoke at dusk, watching bats flit at close of eve over the sleek surface of the river. It is a time for warm toes, woolly hats, for earthy and sweet flavours and for fireside nourishment.

Sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa) surely evoke memories of autumn, of their deliciously creamy, earthy sweet roasted scent filling the streets by Christmas markets, or at the fireside.

A deciduous tree, sweet chestnut is very much at home in our island, having once travelled across from western Asia and north Africa, and now found widely across the continent, particularly in southern Europe. On these shores, it is said to have been introduced by Roman armies, playing the long game, because chestnut takes can take decades to begin to fruit heavily.

Through spring to mid-autumn, its beautiful glossy green toothed leaves atop the often corkscrewed, furrowed and twisted trunk mark its presence in the landscape. It expresses itself with a dramatic flourish, as if caught mid dance. And what might it have witnessed to spur such a dance along its hundreds and sometimes thousands of years of presence?

By wildcurious, Sep 12 2017 10:01AM

As a slight autumnal chill returns on crisp mornings in August and the beginning of September, elderberries droop heavily on their branches ready to be gathered by human hand, browsed by deer, or nibbled by many birds including Robins, Blackbirds, Starlings and Tits.

This is an example of co-evolution for mutual benefit. Animals and birds gorge on elderberries to build up energy reserves for winter, and in the case of birds, disperse seed as far away as West Africa and the Middle East. In this way Elder guarantees her own procreation, her own genetic continuation.

Elderberries, as with any wild fare, are best gathered slowly and attentively using a knife or scissors to snip the very bottom of the red stems laden with berries. I like to leave my filled basket outside for a while to enable little insects to disperse. Once this is done, carefully remove only the deep purple/black berries from the stems, being very careful to discard all green or pale red berries and stem material, as these are not at all edible.

Traditional Uses of Elderberries & Medicinal Properties

Each part of elderberry has been used in many different ways across cultures and history. For example, the bark and roots once used to tan leather and as a fabric dye and the Romans were said to use the juice as a deep purple black hair dye.

But it is for its medicine and as an edible that Elder is most prized. Elderberries have long been known as the 'medicine chest of the country people’ and were traditionally used to treat an incredible range of illnesses from flu to bronchial problems, inflammatory conditions , blood circulation problems and sciatica to name just some examples.

Once known as the ‘Englishman’s Grape’ for its wide use to make elderberry wine. This wine was also commonly used to adulterate port to make it look a deeper shade and well aged. This was so common that dark red port became considered a good remedy for rheumatism and gout until it was discovered that that true vintage port had virtually zero pain relieving effects, and only the cheap port cut with large quantities of elderberry wine had this effect!

There is a strong contemporary evidence base for elderberries’ inhibitory effects on multiple different strains of flu;enhancinge the body’s immune healing response to infection. Additionally, the berries contain an anthocyanin which - in the past couple of decades – has been shown to inhibit tumour cells.

Its important to stress that the raw berries can be emetic (inducing vomiting) and irritant if eaten in large quantity and they contain cyanogenic glycosides that can produce harmful cyanide. This is particularly potent in green parts and seeds – so it really is essential to separate unripe berries and stems from ripe berries before use.

However, at a low pH when fermented as vinegar the cyanide potential is destroyed, and at temperatures above 26°C cyanide evaporates .So heating, cooking or fermenting are safe ways to prepare ripe elderberries


If you’re interested to learn more about how cyanogenic glycosides produce cyanide and why this is harmful, take a look at this blog by the Nordic Food Lab for a detailed explanation of hydrogen cyanide production in elderberries.

Preparations & Recipes

Traditionally, elderberries were widely used to make a ‘Rob’, an old word meaning a ‘juice thickened by heat’. I have a rob in my fridge that I was gifted several years ago that’s still going strong! A Rob is traditionally made by simmering a pan of berries in a little water for about half an hour and and then straining through muslin to separate the stones and pith from the liquid. The longer the berries are simmered for the less sugar or honey is needed. The elderberry liquid is then returned to the pan with (up to) an equal amount of sugar or honey and left to simmer for another hour to concentrate the liquid.

Elderberries pair beautifully with earthy and warming spices such as cinnamon, cardammon, star anise, ginger and pepper. These are added to the Rob according to taste, and the simmered liquid is then poured into sterilised jars - Its sets like a jam, so is best jarred rather than bottled. A rob may be made without the addition of any sugar, but it won’t keep as long as if made with honey or without any sweetener, and needs to be simmered until the liquid has reduced by at least half.

You can also make a wild infused vinegar combining elderberries with other nourishing herbs, immersed in raw apple cider vinegar, kept in a cupboard for 6 weeks before straining and bottling. This may be used as a salad dressing, a daily tonic taken by the tablespoon neat or diluted with warm water.

I love to make a spiced Elderberry Elixi', also known as an Oxymel; with a jar filled with berries, my favourite chai style spices of cardammon, ginger, cinammon and pepper, covered with two thirds brandy and one third raw honey. In 6 weeks or so once this has matured I will strain it and use it as an immune boosting tonic and delicious treat, taking a little several times a week.

I'll also add it to the occasional hot toddy for a real warming and comforting beverage, taken as the woodsmoke begins to pepper the colourful autumn evenings rich with spices, woolen jumpers and fireside times.

Happy adventuring

By wildcurious, Sep 4 2017 09:44AM

Also known as; European Elder, Black Elder, Pipe Tree, Bour Tree (Scottish), Ellhorn (Low anglo-saxon) Hyldor, Hylantree (13th and 14th century anglo-saxon).

I have been among the Elders a lot recently, picking my way gently through six foot high thistles, Hemlocks and other magnificent plants that grow nearby.

And while doing so I wonder and imagine what unseen communication is happening between the plants and trees above and below ground between the trees, plants and creatures.

Gathering baskets of Elderberries is a warming and soul enriching pastime, and for me the experience itself is just as important and powerful as the final Elderberry concoctions.

When we open ourselves to wild spaces and places, a part of us becomes wild, and can connect us back to how our fore mothers and fathers would have walked and worked this land.

At this time of year gathering Elderberries is a wonderful way to experience our wild spaces, our hedgerows and woodlands. It really is a challenge not to notice Elderberries as summer cusps to autumn beginnings. Elder is common in hedgerows across the British Isles and is often planted with Hazel, Spindle and Hawthorn, and her heavily laden clusters of purple berries can be seen drooping from striking red stems. The deep red stems are also a good indication of the berries’ ripeness and I often feel an invitation to gather a share of her bountiful crop making sure that leave plenty for others.

The common name ‘Elder’ is thought to derive from ‘Aeld’, the old Anglo-Saxon word for fire and Ellhorn, a name that connects to its historical use of hollowed branches as blow pipes to stoke fires.

There are many kinds of Elderberry but it is Sambucus nigra that is most common and native to our island, and across the continent. The botanical name is derived from ‘Sambuke’ or ‘Sackbut’, an old musical pipe instrument, and indeed into the 20th Century rural Italians made a pipe instrument called ‘Sampogna’, as illustrated below.

Elder is was previously part of the Honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae), and has now been moved the the Adoxa (Adoxaceae), and is related to Pheasant Berry (AKA Himalayan Honeysuckle; Lecesteria Formosa, a garden escape with delicious edible berries). Its growth patterns are characterised by twisting bark and branches rising from the one or more stems. The light grey bark is deeply fissured and the delicate, easily broken branches bend and creak as they sway in the wind.

The branches contain soft pith, easily scraped or poked out, and because of this have been used playfully in the past by children as pea shooters or ‘pop guns’.

Indeed, virtually all parts of the tree have been used in traditional societies, and there are few plants that hold such a deep mythic status alongside a firmly embedded utilitarian nature. Elder has spread her roots throughout our history, folklore, horticulture, medicine, food and more.

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