Signs of Spring: Allotment Progress

My family got an allotment last year, late spring so it was a rush to get it all planned out, tidied up and planted. It has been a learning curve and good experiment for me, giving the freedom to practice some degree of permaculture discipline (mixing plants together at least), growing some plants native in the wild here that we don’t have space for at home, and likewise with some vegetable crops. I went today to look over things, having not been there at all myself since the end of Summer/early Autumn, and was encouraged by the state it is currently in, despite all the rain we’ve had. Like my last post on foraging, I want to share some pictures and take you through what I grew, what I found in the way of weeds, with some information again on uses and benefits of plants here and there.

First I noticed how well the garlic was doing. Especially with a pandemic spreading at the moment, being stocked om homegrown garlic will be useful. Onions coming up to the right as well, there should be spring onions but I saw no sign of them. Other than that it’s mainly cleavers/goosegrass growing here. This time of year cleavers should still just about be tender enough to be edible, I plan to gather all the cleavers on the  allotment soon and have them in salads, steam them with a meal or dry them for teas. I may consider making a tincture too. Cleavers are good for swollen glands, tonsillitis, bladder irritation, as an ointment for burns or dry skin, and as a poultice for burns, blisters, nettle rash and open sores.

We had a change around after last year’s harvest, if I remember correctly this patch was where some of the maize and purslane was, along with carrots, turnips, radishes and beetroot. Radishes did well enough, beetroot did really well, turnips were OK but the carrots were a bit of a disaster. Apparently they need poor soil to grow properly, they also got infested with something and rotted.

Garlic is useful as an antibiotic, to cleanse blood, reduce blood pressure and clear catarrh. Take as protection against common colds, dysentery, worms and typhoid.

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I also came across plenty of red dead nettle throughout the allotment. This is best eaten in early spring, is very common. Uses: astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, purgative and styptic, as a poultice or as bruised leaves to treat cuts and wounds and for bleeding. As a tea to promote perspiration and discharge from the kidneys in treating chills. The related white deadnettle is good for periods, irritable bowel, cystitis, catarrh and diarrhoea (as a tea) and for burns, bruises, splinters and cuts (as a poultice), I would presume the two most common dead nettles have reasonably similar medicinal properties.

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A good mix of useful “weeds” in the same picture: Stinging nettle, read dead-nettle and cleavers. Around here is where I had (summer) Purslane and the rest of the maize growing, both of which did really well. I don’t know if I can expect the purslane to coem back or not, but I’ll be growing it again either way. Same with maize.

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Here is the strawberry patch (multiple varieties, including alpine strawberry). We planted several herbs here, including ones supposed to go well with strawberry (sage I think). Rosemary and lavender planted further back, this is where we planted rhubarb and gooseberry too. The kale is still looking healthy, it grew in abundance last year after I scattered a load of seeds from some kale we had growing in a pot in the garden (that didn’t produce much leaf due to lack of space). They did really well, despite being eaten a bit at first, goes to show it’s often not worth worrying about pests that much, sturdy plants like kale still do well. Sweet cicely and alecost were planted here too.

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A close-up of the strawberry plants. I guess as it gets drier in spring we’ll lay straw down again. We also have several growing at home in hanging baskets. Wild strawberry leaf can be used in a tea to treat nervousness, anaemia, diarrhoea and as a tonic for kidneys. The fruits make a good iron supplement, and can be drunk for cool fevers apparently.

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The kale patch. We will probably cut back these tall woody stalks soon. It really took over last year, I think this year we will try to make regular use of it through the summer so we don’t struggle to keep on top of it quite so much. It almost swamped the sweet cicely, but didn’t seem to harm it at all.

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The alecost, doing well. We planted one up here, and another by it after it got too big for the garden. Alecost was historically used in brewing, hence the name, and has a pleasant minty aroma and taste, but is also quite bitter. Leaves have culinary uses, can be used as a natural insect repellent and as potpourri. Leaves can be used in tea to treat catarrh, colds, upset stomachs and cramps and to ease childbirth. Crushed leaves relieve the pain of bee stings, and can be used to make a salve for burns and stings.

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I was delighted to see the sweet cicely coming up again and looking very healthy. I love this aromatic and delicious plant. I used it mainly to infuse vodka last year along with other native herbs and plants found in the wild. This year I plan to use it more with food ans for medicinal uses and in tea. It has many culinary uses and makes a good natural sweetener, the whole plant is good as a tonic, particularly the root soaked in brandy apparently, and works as a mild antiseptic and digestive aid. The root when infused is “enigmatically listed” in old herbals as a valuable tonic for girls aged 15 to 18, and the boiled root was used to strengthen the elderly. If you like anything with an aniseed taste/smell, you will love sweet cicely. Seeds can be collected and used too.

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The sage nearby. It looks like it suffered a bit, but there is still enough healthy growth. Leaf can be used to whiten teeth and as a mouthwash. Sage leaf aids digestion, is antiseptic, anti fungal and contains oestrogen. Useful for treating diarrhoea. As a tea is good as a nerve and blood tonic, reduces sweating and soothes coughs and colds.

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The rhubarb is looking nice and healthy.

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I am actually not sure if this is Tansy or French Marigold, I will edit when I know. Apparently French Marigold (Tagetes) has a sturdy stem and a pungent smell, which this does, so I am leaning towards it being that. We had both growing last year, though, and didn’t really make use of either. I plan to this year. French Marigold uses: Scent deters white fly from tomato plants, flower can be boiled to produce a yellow dye, root can be used to repel eelworms, flowers can be dried for potpourri. Tansy uses: Leaf can be stewed or rubbed on meat for rosemary-like flavour,  plant good as a general insect and pest repellent, hung indoors to repel flies, use cosmetically as an astringent (not great for sensitive skin). Tansy flower and leaf infused are good for bruises, rheumatism and sprains.

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The rosemary is looking very well. Many culinary uses, of course. Can be boiled to produce an antiseptic solution for bathroom cleaning, Stimulates blood circulation in the bath, and can be used as a hair rinse. Good as potpourri and laid between linen. The leaf aids fat digestion, is good for circulation and eases pain by increasing blood supply where it is applied. Good for aches and rheumatism, and as an antiseptic mouthwash. I love this herb. One of a few I have used to make an alcoholic tincture as well.

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We didn’t have much luck with gooseberry last year, but to our surprise it seems to be coming back alright. We may plant another.

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The lavender is looking healthy too. Lavender makes a great potpourri, air freshener moth deterrent. In tea soothes headaches, calms nerves, dizziness. Particularly as an oil is good as an antiseptic, mild sedative and pain killer, and to treat bites, stings and small cooled burns.

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The fruit plants – blackcurrant, szechuan pepper, aronia and honeyberry if I remember correctly, which didn’t produce much last year. They seem to be doing alright.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of my visit was seeing hairy bittercress growing as a weed throughout the fruit cage. Very tasty, One of the “nine sacred herbs” of the Anglo-Saxons, like other plants in the brassica family, it contains many health benefits. It is a good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene and possibly lutein as well (known for helping reduce visual health issues such as cataracts), and contains glucosinolates which help remove carcinogens from the body. I won’t let any of this go to waste.

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Salsify I planted last year is looking healthy, is good to pull up to eat through winter. I plan to have it with seafood soon, it is known for having an almost “oyster”-like taste. I like the root chopped and fried in butter. I planted both types, the “mammoth” variety, with blue/purple flowers, that are very striking, and the Spanish schorzonera variety, which produces a yellow/orange flower, I think. Last year I left some in the garden to produce flowers, you get A LOT of seeds from them, so this is worth doing. I aim to leave a few in at the allotment for this too. Very sustainable. A good thing to plant so you have something to harvest in winter, we just haven’t got round to using it yet.

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Artichoke is looking very healthy, hopefully we will get some globes on it this year. This area is where we had more maize and the squashes growing. Further along, the squashes were very successful, and produce a good yield for a long time, through summer into autumn, and the seeds can be collected too. Worth growing.

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The chard is looking really healthy, this is another leaf that lasts really well over the winter in colder, milder climates like mine. It’s in the spinach/beet family, so will contain similar nutritional properties, is a good source of iron. We will keep growing this for sure.

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Because everything was a bit swamped by the squashes and marrows in this area, which we didn’t really organise so well, we neglected the romanesco plant I planted in the middle. I was pleasantly surprised to see it still going strong, with a head on it even. Not sure how good this will be for eating now, but it’s a good sign.

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I was very glad to see the dittander, also known as pepperweed, doing very well. I love this plant, it’s a very fiery, peppery leaf, and makes a great horseradish or pepper substitute, nice to have in for salads and meals through the summer. Grows very well here. Presumably has similar medicinal properties to radish and mustard.

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The horehound is doing really well. I didn’t really make use of this last year, it’s in the mint family and is again another plant once used in brewing. Has a bitter taste, is liked by bees, chopped with honey is supposed to be good for a cold or cough in the early stages. A cold infusion is good for digestion, heartburn and intestinal worms.

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The comfrey is showing some life. This grew to a good size last year, and we set aside plenty in a bucket to make fertiliser with. We have a native type growing at home in the garden, this one we bought is actually a hybrid between the European native and Asian comfrey, called “Russian comfrey”. I find the younger leaves delicious cooked, and have had them in my own “wild frittatas”. Comfrey should not be taken internally for more than six weeks at a time, due to the toxic alkaloids it contains, apparently the introduced Russian comfrey contains the most toxic one, I have just seen this recommended more for external use, to it is probably best to consume only the native variety. I have seen the consumption of the root in general not recommended. As a poultice comfrey is great for broken bones, sprains, bruises and surgical scars. As an ointment or oil, it is good for arthritis, rheumatism, tendonitis, glandular swellings, pulled muscles, tendons, ligaments and injuries.

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Near the comfrey we had dill growing as well, which did very well, and produced a lot of seeds, there is no sign of it appearing yet. We also grew beans and garden beans in this area, which did very well.

I hope you have found this an interesting and informative weed, I wanted to give an idea of what you can expect to still be growing and starting to appear at the end of winter, in terms of both hardier plants suited to a mild climate like Britain’s and wild weeds too.

I aim to write more articles like this on both home produce and foraging in the future. It’s hard, and pointless, to practice permaculture on allotment you are renting, but it’s still good experience and useful skills learned.

Sources:

Hedgerow Medicine – Harvest and grow your own herbal remedies – Julie Bruton-Seal, Matthew Seal

The Complete Book of Herbs – a practical guide to growing & using herbs – Lesley Bremness

Wild Food – Ray Mears and Gordon Hillman

Foraging – Pocket Guide (Wild Food UK) – Marlow Renton and Eric Briggane

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing Europe

To live as a pagan, as a traditionalist, as a European, to live a self-sufficient lifestyle, it is crucial to know the European landscape. Those living in the colonies should be returning to Europe as soon as possible, especially with the increasing uncertainty caused by what appears to be a manufactured pandemic, impending economic collapse and the ever-looming threat of “World War III”. In the meantime, they would do best exploring landscapes reasonably close to those in Europe, learning and foraging for plants similar or identical to those in Europe, and farming European plants and herbs in kitchen gardens.

In prehistoric times, our ancestors would have travelled vast distances. They knew ancient pilgrimage routes, some of which are practised today, such as that between Glastonbury Tor and Stonehenge, which could well have been a significant pilgrimage site not only for the inhabitants of Britain, but for those on the continent as well. France has its precious caves with their remarkable paintings, Scandinavia has its rock carvings, the classical world has its ruined temples, ancient tomb complexes and barrows can be found throughout Northern Europe as well as the eastern steppes in former Scythian territory. The list goes on, and in the event of a collapse of civilisation, and the means of communication we have come to take for granted, it would be wise for traditionalist pagans to visit and memorise these holy sites. The more we work them into our memory, into our hiking and camping routes of Europe, the more likely fellow self-sufficient pagans are to meet in the future, when civilisation’s lights go out.

The other main reason our ancestors had to travel across and recall large areas of the European landscape was for survival. They were nomads, and would travel to areas of forest particularly good for hunting, they would travel to trade, and would travel in relation to the change of seasons. In an age when there was no need for writing, when everything was preserved in oral tradition, our ancestors remembered more, and through travelling across these familiar routes across vast areas year after year, they would have built up a mental map of Europe’s landscape that we would no doubt find astonishing in its size and detail.

Another aspect of this we can consider is that as omnivores and hunter-gatherers, our ancestors would also likely have built up a good memory of the flora and fauna of each region, particularly favourite hunting spots, knowing what variety of plants they could expect to find in each region at what time of year.There are some things we must consider here:

  • The biodiversity would have been far greater in prehistoric times. Not only was Europe far more densely wooded, on a much greater scale, but populated with naturally developed, ancient woodland with real biodiversity. There would have been more to see and more to remember, as well as a greater supply of wild plants that are now uncommon or rare, and in some cases illegal to pick (wild pennyroyal in Britain, for example).
  • How generally well-learned communities were in the past regarding herbs, “weeds” and wild food sources, which was considerably more than we are now. The role of women was drastically different, the role that folk medicine played was far more prominent, being passed down through oral tradition, and through increasing industrialisation, urbanisation and intensive agriculture, we in the modern period began to view so many of these incredibly useful plants as “pests” and “weeds” that need to be uprooted whenever we come across them. Therefore they would have had a keener eye for these plants anyway, but just as the diversity of the landscape – forests, mountains, plains – that they came across would have captivated them, so would the rich diversity of invaluable plants at their disposal have captivated them on these voyages.
  • Their lack of awareness of levels of toxicity in some plants, especially in excessive regular use (comfrey and coltsfoot, for example)
  • How drastically this has been affected in recent centuries, particularly since the industrial revolution, due to increasing reliance on agriculture, urbanisation, population growth and industrialisation, and how limited areas of ancient woodland are. Many of our local woods are relatively modern nature reserves, and some will have little to no real biodiversity.

With this in mind, I decided to take you on a “tour” of my local woods, just to give an idea of what it’s like to build up this memory and be in this mindset. This particular area is very local to me, and though not very large, or particularly diverse, I have built up a reasonable “mind-map” over the years of what I can expect to find where, and when. I hope to demonstrate this in pictures I took.

My choice to do this in winter of all times may seem odd, but when there is much less to look at, you notice things more. At this stage at the beginning of March it’s a good time to see early spring shoots when there still isn’t a huge amount of green growth around. You’d be surprised at what you can still find in winter. I am considering turning this into a series of articles, featuring different walks, to demonstrate further, but I shall see.

This is near the entrance of my usual walking/foraging walk through here. Around here is where I would expect to find, in addition to the usual nettles, brambles and cow parsley, dead nettles (white archangel). No sign of them this time of year, unless I’m confusing the low stinging nettle growth with what dead nettles might be coming up:

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Here is a picture of the dead nettle in question I took late last spring when in season, most likely in the same place (with some goosegrass/cleavers):

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Some uses of the white deadnettle: (tea) as a uterine tonic, irritable bowel, cystitis, diarrhoea, catarrh; (poultice) burns, bruises, splinters, cuts.

Shortly into my walk I soon see early shoots of common hogweed (pictured here with young cleavers shoots):

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Hogweed has a unique taste that’s hard to describe for anyone who knows it, but though I know roughly what patches in particular to find it down this route, it is a very common and widely seen plant. Treat it as a wild equivalent to asparagus when cooking (it is not recommended raw). At this time of year, the young shoots are good to eat. Later in the year, stalks can still be good before they get too woody, the “broccoli”-like young flower buds, and later on (late summer-autumn) the dried seeds can be used as a cardamom substitute.

Regarding cleavers, this a good time of year to use them as they are in salads while the shoots are still young and not too stringy. Later on in the year they can be boiled or steamed, but I am not a huge fan of them at this stage personally (they are very stringy). Some uses of cleavers: (poultice) sunburn, burns, psoriasis, open sores, blisters, nettle rash; (juice) swollen glands, fluid retention, tonsillitis, bladder irritation; (ointment) dry skin, burns.

Nest  I come to a decent stretch of brambles. Blackberries are, of course, out of season this time of year. I know where to look for them when they are in season, though:

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Bramble leaf tea is good for : diarrhoea, mouth ulcers, gingivitis, sore throats, colds, flu and fevers.

Next a little further down the path I notice the first signs of hawthorn coming out:

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Hawthorn is easily recognisable by its lobed leaves (both native types of hawthorn, though size and shape of both berries and leaf is noticeably different). Flowers are similar on both this and blackthorn, but flowers come first on blackthorn, whereas the leaves come first on hawthorn. Hawthorn is particularly notable for being excellent for general heart and circulation health. Later in the year when ripe the pectin-heavy berries can be made into a fruit leather. Uses: (leather) heart/circulation; (berry syrup) heart, hardening of arteries, to regulate abnormal (both high and low) blood pressure, mild angina, anxiety, palpitations (I experienced these out of the blue this week and a hawthorn tea immediately settled them down). Leaves and flowers have similar uses.

Next I hit the jackpot. Because of the stormy weather lately, several pine branches had fallen, so I gathered what I could to fit into my back to make pine needle tea with later (several evergreen species are good for making tea with, just check which ones):

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Pine needles are a good vitamin C source, and a useful survival food to keep in mind when there is not much else growing in winter. I soon come across more hogweed shoots:

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Further down the path I am soon greeted by the first signs of blackthorn/sloe blossom:

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Sloe flowers are edible but contain toxic compounds (including cyanide) as well as acting as a laxative, so are best not overindulged in. The berries are inedible when picked due to sourness, but through exposure to frost, crushing or through being mashed they can me made palatable and potentially relied on as a widely available food source (and stored by pressing into cakes to make fruit leather). Also good for gin and for making jellies.

I then came across more hogweed shoots and brambles, and was greeted by the first of a few sad sights:

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At first I wondered if this was storm related, but these appear to have been sturdy, healthy trees. I also wondered if it was the local conservation group, as they tend to cut down tree saplings to keep our nature reserves (“parks”?) tidy, but apparently this is the work of the local council who periodically cut down trees in a nature reserve and wreak havoc, the reason being that it “interfered with overhead power lines”. Guess what? This was nowhere near power lines…

Seeing more brambles and young hogweed and cleavers, I came to several patches of arum/cuckoo pint:

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Some have purple blotches (there is also the variegated variety):

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Young leaves:

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These grow for much of the year, are very common and later in the year develop their distinctive flower and berries. Those who know them recognise the arrow-shaped leaves, and you want to, because they are an extreme irritant, causing blisters if mistakenly eaten (potentially dangerous swelling if swallowed) and are important to identify to to their commonness and it being easy for novices to confuse the younger leaves with those of common sorrel or wild garlic/ransoms. The root was once cooked as a food source, but apparently you can’t even guarantee the toxins are removed through “proper” cooking preparation, so it is best avoided.

Around here I also see some healthy growth of cow parsley:

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Cow parsley is one of the first plants to come up after winter, and is very common. Its taste is similar to celery and parsley, being in the same family. It is vital that you know how to properly identify this, as for a novice it is so easy to potentially confuse with seriously poisonous plants, such as fool’s parsley or the worst of all, hemlock. I generally avoid it even now due to this lingering caution, but it’s distinguishable by its smell, hairiness, grooved stem and leaf arrangement. A safer wild parsley substitute harder confuse is the invasive ground elder that the Romans introduced.

Next I come to a spot I always remember, because of two particular trees that grow there across the path from each other. The first I couldn’t quite place exactly, due to lack of foliage, but I know I can find a rowan here (berries are edible but need to be cooked, and can be used for jelly):

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Across the path is the other tree I recall, wild cherry plum:

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The blossom is out. I personally love cherry plums to eat, but I often badly time my forages and miss out on them. Here is a picture from a previous year with the reddish leaves more developed and the young fruits:

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Further down from here I see more carnage:

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I remembered that around here I can expect to find several patches of garlic mustard/hedge garlic. Sure enough, I managed to find some young leaves appearing:

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If you know where to look, you notice things you might otherwise miss. Garlic mustard is very common, often growing beside paths, in towns as well. This is one of my favourite plants to forage for salads, its taste and smell is indeed like a mixture of garlic and mustard or cress. It tends to spread out well via its seed pods, and has similar medicinal properties to other plants in the mustard family due to containing the same chemical (which includes, if I am right, anti-cancer properties).

Soon after this, after a walk through a (fairly barren) field, I come to a patch I can usually rely on for a good amount of hawthorn berries come autumn:

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I also remember that a little further down from here, I can always expect a decent amount of garlic mustard (as well as cleavers). Again, I find the young leaves starting to appear:

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I see many young shoots here too, which could well be even more garlic mustard, in amongst the cleavers and arum:

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Further down the path I find a young thistle (I am not particularly good at identifying the different thistle species):

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Around this area I am also fairly certain that, last summer, I found and identified fool’s parsley. It smelled a bit strange, and had the right sort of (more carrot-like) foliage. I couldn’t spot it today, but it’s useful to keep an eye out for toxic and dangerous plants, in order to be sure you can properly identify them when you do stumble across them. A little further down I see a couple of patches of common (curled?) dock (again commonplace):

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Dock is useful for skin complaints, commonly used to treat nettle stings (I prefer plantain and especially ground ivy, personally), and has uses as a tincture as well. Look out for the closely related, but much tastier common sorrel. After this I was expecting to see some hogweed, as I rembered a lot growing down here whenever I went through during the spring and summer before:

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Further down this path I reach a mound as the path bends round by a field. On this mound I can always count on a decent crop of coltsfoot. The flowers are coming up:

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Later in the year the leaf that it presumably gets its name from can grow to an impressive size. the “furry” substance on the underside of the leaves was apparently used to make tinderboxes once. Uses (tea) coughs, bronchitis, throat irritation, mild asthma; (poultice) boils, sores, ulcers. I have also seen it sold online in smoking blends, so can presumably be smoked like nettle for lung-related ailments. This contains an alkaloid, the same as that in comfrey I believe, so should be avoided if pregnant or breastfeeding, and should not be consumed regularly for long periods of time due to the damage it can cause to the liver. Use with some caution. I have collected and dried a lot of this to use in teas, it has a pleasant taste.

In the next field, I know this is a good place to find blackberries and rosehips at the right time of year. It is now reasonably barren, I do see a few surviving rosehips here, however:

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rosehips are an excellent source of vitamin C, and important winter crop to keep in mind and collect for storage. Uses: (vinegar) colds, sore throats; (syrup) colds, sore throats, vitamin C intake.

Across the path from this I soon come across teasel that I can always find here:

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Uses: (teasel essence) exhaustion, chronic fatigue, joint pain, muscle aches. The field has had water sitting on it for so long it actually has algae growing on it:

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Past the field I soon come to the usual birch trees there. I remember where to find birch trees in these woods, but I am hardly in a position to use them for wood or to harvest the birch bark, and though I have tried birch tapping before, it can be a fiddly process, some methods of which can potentially harm and infect the tree. Also, any method of harvesting birch sap is very time consuming. I might give it a proper go someday.

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After this I come across a thistle, in an area I know is also good for sloes, or has been in the past:

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Shortly after I see more sloe blossom.

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Soon after this I see yet more damage down to trees sadly:

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I am nearing the end of the usual walking route down here, but I have come down to this area because last year I finally spotted meadowsweet growing around here. There is a lot of young cleaver and nettle growth coming up:

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I wander down the path a bit further, checking both sides, to see if I can see any signs of meadowsweet starting to surface (before the nettles take over):

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I see a few small meadowsweet leaves coming up. I have grown this on at home, and harvested large quantities to dry for tea. It’s a brilliant natural painkiller and good for headaches, containing the same chemical as willow I believe (and therefore similarly acting as a “natural aspirin”). Some uses: (tea) indigestion, heartburn, arthritis, rheumatism; (glycerite) indigestion, heartburn, arthritis, rheumatism; (ghee) muscle aches and pains, back ache, painful joints, arthritis. It’s easy to identify by its distinct leaf shape, red stem when more mature and, most notably, its lovely smell, which is similar to that of wintergreen.

I don’t go any further than this, as past a field I know to expect mainly blackberries and sloes, which aren’t in season at the moment anyway. I wander back, and to my surprise find a few surviving hawthorn berries:

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I pick what rosehips I can forage as I go:

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Then cool my feet off on the way out:

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I hope you enjoyed reading this article and got something out of it, that you can appreciate the importance of revisiting a wilderness, even a small one, to get used to what grows there and when. We need to know our land again, and we also need to get used to eating in accordance with the seasons again. These are forgotten traditions these days, when we are reliant so much on sat nav for navigation and on imported food all year round instead of what should be in season.

I hope to follow this up with a similar journey at some point somewhere else. Watch this space.

 

Sources:

Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies – Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal

Wild Food – Ray Mears and Gordon Hillman

Transhumanism, utopianism and dystopia: Why we are drawn to science fiction and what we can learn from it

A keen interest in science fiction seems like a glaring contradiction for primitivists, and in many ways it is. I have often asked myself why I continue to be interested in science fiction that involves space travel, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, urban sprawls and so on. I have been a pagan and primitivist at heart since my teens (perhaps as a child too), and have always been drawn to the countryside and isolation, so why do I find a technologically advanced future so exciting?

First we must determine what type of science fiction we are watching, reading or playing and way. One’s reasons for watching and enjoying a post-apocalyptic film, an alien invasion film or one set in a cyberpunk dystopia are likely to be very different from the reasons one might have for watching and enjoying films in a more utopian and technologically advanced setting. The misanthrope and chaos-loving anarchist may find reading about, watching a film about or playing a game about the impending downfall or total destruction of civilisation – be it at the hands of androids, aliens, or the government itself – very cathartic. We might also get a good deal of satisfaction from seeing the system turn against humans who flew too close to the sun, who tried to play god. This is a common theme in science fiction involving artificial intelligence and androids, that eventually become self-aware and revolt (as seen in Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric SheepBattlestar GalacticaCaves of Steel/I Robot and Westworld, to name a few). They are often indeed “more human than human”, as humans by this point have lost their humanity, their empathy, and have no moral issues restraining them in their quest to meddle with nature and create artificial life to their own liking.

This may also be why we enjoy alien invasion films so much – something about modern civilisation feels deeply wrong, and our inner misanthrope may find it very cathartic to see a city destroyed in a film or video game, or even witness someone, or a group, attempt to destroy it. The same could be applied to artificial intelligence in the likes of The Terminator and its sequel. When I watched the first two films the images of the bleak, apocalyptic future were burned into my brain, of man’s technology finally turning against him, with utterly devastating consequences. Perhaps we have always needed to keep revisiting this narrative of the Tower of Babel, or of Icarus flying too close to the sun. Man’s potential to achieve greatness is his own curse.

Another common aspect of films, books and games featuring androids and other artificial intelligence is, given the reliance on software and networking, that of omnipotence and omniscience, within some far-reaching “matrix” network, that may even resemble some kind of virtual reality. The idea of virtual reality, quantum physics, and parallel planes of existence seem like quintessentially modern ideas, but one could argue that we long ago believed in, and perhaps even seemed to be capable of, the ability to exist in two places at once, to “interface” with other lifeforms. Such ideas in science-fiction are not radically different from those relating to the paranormal, physics and spiritualism. We see this in works in a classic cyberpunk setting, such as NeuromancerJohnny Mnemonicthe MatrixGhost in the Shell and Deus Ex. In NeuromancerDeus Ex, the Mass Effect series and Ghost in the Shell  we see a common transhumanist phenomenon that sees a merging of consciousness – in some cases both artificial, other cases a merging of organic and artificial intelligence – in order to create an improved version of both. Here are some memorable lines by Morpheus in Deus Ex that highlight the issue of omniscient artificial intelligence and state surveillance, and what man worships (copyright Eidos):

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In the climax of Neuromancer and Ghost in the Shell and, depending on paths chosen, Mass Effect 3 and Deus Ex, we see man (or machine) merging with an advanced A.I. Despite the protagonist’s initial caution over this, compelling arguments are presented for the potential advantages of such a metamorphosis, and I would argue there is some instinct within us always pursuing this dramatic change, and in the case of pagan tradition, of “merging with” and more importantly remembering past consciousness and past lives. The question of “what is consciousness?” is one that continually plagues science fiction writers, and in relating it to modern computing technology, programming and artificial intelligence it actually allows is to understand the nature of consciousness (and reincarnation) better than biology can at present. Memories do not physically exist. The nature of consciousness is common defined by or at least linked to memories, notably in Blade Runner and its worthy sequel Blade Runner 2049, and as memories do not physically exist we could compare them to software, and just as we need a computer – the hardware – to access that software and this virtual memory, we need something physical, our brains, our own hardware, to access our own memories, to unlock them. Science has come far in understanding how our hardware works. Our need for religion and spirituality and belief in the “supernatural” largely boils down to this lack of understanding of how the “software” works, and where it goes, if anywhere, when the hardware finally fails.

We can therefore, as survivalists or primitivists, learn a lot from science fiction. Science fiction is in many ways philosophical, idealistic and “fantastical”, reaching well beyond what our technology can currently achieve (and will ever be able to achieve), so instead of taking it literally as a prediction of where our current technology will take us and where civilisation will “progress” to, we can instead treat is as a metaphor, as a way of understanding human existence, our own potential, the nature of consciousness and memory and a prediction of what happens to us when we embrace the slavery of technology that makes our lives easier and more comfortable, at the expense of our own self-sufficiency and ability to feed and defend ourselves.