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how to identify conifers - online workshop in tree identification

How To Identify Conifers (Online Workshop)

Learn to see the trees from the wood.

Confused by conifers? Perplexed by pines? Struggling with spruce? In this workshop you will go from clueless to confident in being able to identify between our native and common non-native conifers.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a sea of green forestry trees, one tree can look the same as another. But if you learn to look closer you will discover easy to spot signs with which you can tell species apart. Join James Kendall, creator of The Complete Tree ID Course, as he takes you through his tips, tricks, rhymes and hints for telling commonly seen conifers from each other.

Our online workshops started in the first lockdown and have continued to be a hit ever since, as people want to learn more about the natural world around them. Each month we host online workshops with a whole host of nature-based subjects including foraging, tree lore, woodcraft skills and wild medicine.

A ticket costs just £7 per household. These events are selling quickly, so grab your place whilst you can 🙂 Everyone has loved these workshops so far and they’ve been really popular.

YOUR WORKSHOP INCLUDES:

* Understand easy differences between pine, spruce, fir & more

* Get to know Britain’s three native conifers

* Gain confidence in identifying non-native conifers of forestry

* Discover conifers that break the rules

* Dive into foraging & wild food uses for conifers

* Unlock traditional and modern uses of conifers

* Workshop Giveaway: WIN a Guide to Woodland Trees, Flowers & Fungi

* Join in our Q&A Session

The workshop will last 1hr and will be hosted via Zoom. Once you book into the workshop then you will receive an email from Zoom with details of how to access the workshop a couple of days before the event.

 

HOW TO BOOK

The cost is £7 per household. So, feel free to cram as many family members around the screen as you can 🙂

Please note, tickets are non-refundable.

Event details

Date: February 10, 2022

Time: 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Venue: Zoom Meeting

Cost: £7

how to identify conifers

Your Tutor: James Kendall

James is the Head Bushcraft Instructor at Woodland Classroom, having worked in outdoor education & conservation for over 10 years. James’ approach to teaching steers students toward fostering a deeper connection with nature through understanding the landscape around us; “Bushcraft skills are an effective way to do this as we learn how to make use of natural materials and live lightly with the land, whilst also connecting with our own ancient past by seeing the land through the eyes of our ancestors.”

James previously manage the largest community woodland in Wales, 300 acres of mixed conifers and broadleaves and in 2017 James received the Bushcraft Competency Certificate awarded through the Institute for Outdoor Learning after 2 years of teaching experience and practical study. He is also a member of the IOL Bushcraft Professional Practise Group. The group aims to promote best practice in the growing industry of bushcraft activity providers.

james kendall - bushcraft & foraging tutor
how to identify UK conifers workshop - tree identification
field studies council woodland guide fold out chart

WIN This Tree Identification Guide

When you book onto this workshop you will be entered into a prize draw to win some top swag!

We will be giving away a copy of The Field Studies Council’s Guide to Woodlands; Trees, Flowers & Fungi. 

This full colour fold-out guide features 61 species of trees, wild flowers, ferns and fungi of woodland.

A woodland walk is a wonderful way to get outdoors and explore nature. And with the help of this guide, there’s something to see all year round. Beautiful colour illustrations show the key features to look out for. Concise accompanying text on the reverse side covers the height, identification notes and likely habitat of each species.

Identifying woodland trees is easiest in the late spring and summer, using leaves, fruits and seeds. But even without their leaves in their winter, many woodland trees can be recognised from their twigs, buds and bark. A concise guide to identifying deciduous trees in winter is a special extra feature.

Skills you will learn

During this workshop you will learn a range of skills, including…

null

Reading the Landscape

null

Nature Connection

null

Tree & Plant identification

Understanding Habitats

Understanding Habitats

Book now

This workshop costs just £7 per household and is open to anyone. Children are welcome to attend with their families, though please note the content will be taught at an adult level. You can read our Event Terms & Conditions here.

how to identify trees in winter - free workshop

Kickstart Your Winter Tree ID Skills (FREE Online Workshop)

Learn to see the trees from the wood.

Want to boost your Tree ID skills in winter? Do you struggle to know your alders from your elders, your hawthorn from your blackthorn? Join our FREE workshop online and let us help you.

James Kendall, Bushcraft Instructor and author of The Complete Tree ID Course, will be hosting a live webinar workshop where you can learn tips & tricks to identifying a range of tree species here in the UK in the season of winter, when the trees don’t have their leaves on to help us recognise them.

We’re offering this workshop online to anyone and everyone who is interested in finding out more about the trees around them.

YOUR WORKSHOP INCLUDES:

* Recognising native & common tree species

* Using buds, bark, leaf litter & other winter signs

* Get Tree ID cheat sheets to download

* Discover 3 key hacks to help identify any tree

* Book recommendations

* Join in our Q&A Session

The workshop will last 1hr and will be hosted via Zoom.

 

HOW TO BOOK

It’s FREE to join this workshop. So, all you need to do in advance is register for your free place in advance. Once registered you will be sent the link to the Zoom meeting via email.

REGISTER FOR YOUR PLACE HERE

Event details

Date: January 20, 2022

Time: 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Venue: Zoom Meeting

Cost: FREE!

kickstart your winter tree id skills

Your Tutor: James Kendall

James is the Head Bushcraft Instructor at Woodland Classroom, having worked in outdoor education & conservation for over 10 years. James’ approach to teaching steers students toward fostering a deeper connection with nature through understanding the landscape around us; “Bushcraft skills are an effective way to do this as we learn how to make use of natural materials and live lightly with the land, whilst also connecting with our own ancient past by seeing the land through the eyes of our ancestors.”

James previously manage the largest community woodland in Wales, 300 acres of mixed conifers and broadleaves and in 2017 James received the Bushcraft Competency Certificate awarded through the Institute for Outdoor Learning after 2 years of teaching experience and practical study. He is also a member of the IOL Bushcraft Professional Practise Group. The group aims to promote best practice in the growing industry of bushcraft activity providers.

james kendall - bushcraft & foraging tutor
win the complete tree id course

Become a Tree Expert

During this workshop you will also learn about our much more extensive online course; The Complete Tree ID Course. Go from clueless to confident on your journey to becoming a tree expert, featuring up to 35 species of native & common trees, all taught by James Kendall.

You will learn key principles of tree identification, which are easy to remember and can be applied to any tree you encounter. You will have videos, photo galleries and tree ID cheat sheets at your fingertips.

This course will take you through every native tree species in the UK in all 4 seasons; winter, spring, summer and autumn. You will learn not only how to identify trees by their leaves but also by their bark, buds, seeds & more.

We will be offering all attendees of this free workshop a special discount offer to sign up to the full course. So, if you want to know more, don’t forget to register for your place.

Skills you will learn

During this workshop you will learn a range of skills, including…

null

Reading the Landscape

null

Nature Connection

null

Tree & Plant identification

Understanding Habitats

Understanding Habitats

Book now

This workshop is totally FREE and is open to anyone. Simply follow the link to register for the workshop on Zoom and you will be sent the link so you can join the meeting.

free winter tree id guide to UK & Ireland

FREE Winter Tree ID Guide

Many of us might well be able to spot an oak in winter by looking for fallen acorns or the familiar leaves, but could you tell me the difference between blackthorn and hawthorn in winter just by looking at the buds? Or do you know which trees give themselves away in winter by their bark? We might be able to identify trees in summer when their leaves are on but winter is a whole different ball game.

For anyone looking to improve their tree identification skills winter provides us with many distinctive signs such as buds, bark, twigs and fallen leaf litter that we can use to recognise our native and common tree species. The clues are all there if you know how to look.

In this blog I’ll introduce you to some of clues to look out for in winter and break down the differences between common trees which often get confused. You can get outdoors and spot these clues for yourself with a free download I’ve created; Winter Trees Guide, which you can get your hands on just below.

free winter tree id guide to download

By the way, if you love trees, but struggle to tell one species from another, then you could enrol in my FREE Tree Identification Course online. More details can be found at the end of the article.

 

Bud Arrangement: The BIG Giveaway

One of the first things you can ask a tree when you are trying to identify it in winter is this; “Are the buds arranged alternately or in opposite pairs?”

This is absolutely key to nailing the species of tree as once you’ve answered that question it allows you to eliminate a whole bunch of species from your enquiry.

The majority of native tree species in Britain have their buds arranged alternately along the branch.

One last thing to remember; it’s important to select a young healthy twig to answer this question because as a branch matures it will often self-select the healthiest of the twigs to grow on and will drop it’s near partner. So, you can be looking at an older branch and thinking that they definitely don’t grow in opposite pairs, but then on closer inspection you might well notice the old scar left over from where it’s opposite equivalent was self-selected to be dropped by the tree in favour of it’s partner.

When you become practised at this you will begin to start noticing the bud arrangement from a distance, as you look at the form of tree. This is when tree identification can become very satisfying and you can really start showing off.

In the Free Winter Tree ID Guide I’ve grouped alternate budding trees separate from opposite budding trees for easy reference.

 

Blackthorn vs. Hawthorn

Let’s take two very common trees which often get confused. Not only are their names similar, but they also are thorny, shrubby trees which populate our hedgerows, often growing side by side.

To help confuse matters both these species have alternate buds and the buds are very small and grow in cluster at the end of the twig. So, we need to look at other clues to help us out.

hawthorn and blackthorn winter tree identification

Above: Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) on the left, Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) on the right. The difference is clear.

The first thing to look for is leaf litter below the tree. As you can see from the picture, the leaves shapes are very different. However, this method is unreliable when you’re looking at a dense hedgerow and the two species are intertwined. How can you tell which tree the leaf has fallen from? Luckily, there are other signs we can go to also.

identifying blackthorn and hawthorn in winter

Above: Blackthorn on the left, Hawthorn on the right. Bark is a feature you can use year round to identify a tree.

Looking at the bark is going to be useful here as, like the leaf litter, they are very different. The bark of blackthorn, as its name suggests, is very dark and seems to soak up the light. It is also generally quite smooth. The bark of hawthorn is much more grey to brown and fissures readily, being much more craggy.

As well as the bark you can look at the thorns, which typically you will see a lot more of on blackthorn than you will compared to hawthorn. The last sign to help us here is the autumn fruits, which can often be found still hanging on in winter.

comparing blackthorn and hawthorn in winter

Above: On the left, Blackthorn can hang on to a few withered & dried sloes in winter. On the right, hawthorns often has smaller, deep red berries on show in winter.

The autumn fruit of blackthorn is the sloe. A good size fruit, around 1.5cm diameter and purple to black in colour. In winter though they are shrivelled and looking much worse for wear, with most of them having fallen already. Hawthorn in comparison holds onto it’s berries better in winter. Look for smaller, dark red berries, with an ovoid shape, growing in sparse clusters. As they dry out they darken in colour.

 

Looking Under The Tree

Have a good kick about in the leaf litter under a tree and you might find another big hint to what species you’re looking at. The old saying goes “the apple never falls far from the tree” and that’s good news for us in this case. I’m talking about fallen fruits and nut cases, many of which can still be found in the depths of winter, if not in the best condition.

winter tree identification: fallen fruits and nuts

Top Left: Crab Apples. Mid Top: Sweet Chestnut. Top Right: Hazelnuts, nibbled by wildlife. Bottom Left: Conkers from Horse Chestnut. Mid Bottom: Beech mast and leaf litter. Bottom Right: A bract from a Lime tree.

Some trees, like the Crab Apple, have a dead giveaway with the fallen, rotting fruits. Look under an established hazelnut and you’ll most likely find empty nut shells, nibbled away by rodents and birds. Then there’s tree like out three native Limes which have special leaves called bracts, which look like nothing else you’ll find on the woodland floor and can only belong to a Lime tree. Beech mast is very reliable under mature trees and you’ll find yourself crunching in underfoot as it carpets the woodland floor. There’s much to be gained by looking down.

Now this only works if there’s something to find and also you should be wary of relying on this too heavily where the tree is crowded with others as  what you’re looking at may have fallen from it’s neighbour.

By the far the most reliable method of winter tree identification is to begin with a branch and study a healthy twig and it’s buds. That way we can be sure we’re investigating the right tree and the knowledge of bud and twig is transferable no matter whether the ground below is humous or concrete.

 

Get Your FREE Winter Tree Guide

I’ve created a handy guide you can use when you’re out and about looking at trees during winter. The guide features 18 native and common British trees which have buds, twigs and leaf litter that you might already be familiar with but also there’s other signs here that you’ve probably never noticed before. I’ve laid out similar looking species side by side so that you can easily distinguish between them.

The guide puts the focus firmly on the winter buds but you’ll also see smaller images featuring other clues you can look for in each species such as old fruits, leaf litter, nut cases, bark and catkins. Where I’ve included these they act as dead giveaways to which tree species you’re looking at.

I hope you find it useful on your journey to understanding the trees around us.

DOWNLOAD YOUR GUIDE HERE

 

Discover more About Trees

It can be so interesting to really look in to the details of our native trees and notice the changes that they undergo throughout the four seasons. That’s just what I’ve created for my FREE introductory online course called Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills. Here you will find a whole host of resources to take you from clueless to confident on your way to really knowing your trees.

REGISTER FOR THE FREE COURSE HERE

kickstart your tree id skills, free online course

When you sign up to this free mini-course you’ll be identifying common trees with video tutorials and photo galleries at your fingertips. Start your journey to becoming a fully fledged Tree Expert today. The course includes Tree ID Cheat Sheets which you can download and take outdoors with you.

“I’ve been frustrated for so long trying to learn my trees myself and haven’t gotten far. This course answered everything and has seriously upped my game.” Dr. Patrick Alexander

 

Happy tree hunting folks.

James

make boozy berry chocolates for christmas

Wild Boozy Berry Chocolates

So, you’ve made your sloe gin and your blackberry brandy back in the autumn and you’re now ready to bottle up the drinks to give as gifts for Christmas. But wait! Don’t throw away those berries. You could make divine festive chocolates that will leave you wanting more.

In this article we will show you two easy-to-make and indulgent recipes for our Wild Boozy Berry Chocolates which make great use of your spirit-soaked hedgerow fruits. This is one of our favourite recipes of the whole year.

These chocolates will be the talk of any Christmas gathering with friends or will make a perfect surprise flourish to round off Christmas dinner. You could even wash them down with a tot of blackberry brandy or elderberry vodka. Just remember, they’re not for kids 😉

make your own christmas chocolates wild food & foraging

Above: The brandy-soaked berries in these chocolates are complimented by the orange zest and cinnamon. We added some edible gold spray for a final flourish.

Making Hedgerow Spirits

As outdoor educators, 2020 saw us locked down, unable to run many of our woodland courses and forced to stay close to home for the majority of the year, consequently we have been exploring our local green spaces and (like so many people) really getting further into the fascinating world of wild food and foraging. We have been preserving wild greens, cooking up foraged meals and discovering so many edible plants all around us like never before.

In the spring we were enjoying wild garlic pesto and nettle soup, in the summer it was dandelion honey and elderflower cordial. Autumn has bought us an abundance of berries and one wild food recipe that most people have heard of is sloe gin. It’s a foragers classic and if you’ve never made it for yourself, do give it a go. It’s so simple. If you want a recommend method for making this yourself, head over to the River Cottage website for a simple how-to.

The possibilities of hedgerow spirits go way beyond simply sloe gin though. We have made all sorts of recipes, using vodka, brandy, gin and whiskey. Any of the autumn berries can be used, and any mix, depending on what you have available or an experiment of different flavours together. All of these autumn foraged fruits work well; sloe, bullace, damson, haws, blackberries, rosehips and elderberries. 

making hedgerow spirits - wild food & foraging

Above: The sloe gin and blackberry brandy is all bottled up, but we have some boozy berries left over. Don’t get rid of them just yet.

Waste Not, Want Not

Many people would chuck the alcohol-soaked fruits away once it’s time to strain out their hedgerow spirits, but this would be a BIG mistake. We used a whole host of hedgerow berries in our chocolates which has been gathered since summer; wild cherries, blackberries, wild raspberries, wild strawberry, sloe, bilberries, redcurrant and bullace. But you can use whatever fruits you have soaked in alcohol already.

Don’t use elderberries in your chocolates as the seeds can give you an upset stomach if eaten without cooking first. Be sure also to remove any large stones from fruits such as sloe, bullace and cherry too.

Any of the spirits will work for this recipe, but we love brandy-soaked fruit the best with chocolate. Rum would also be a good option.

wild food & foraging: autumn fruits

Above: Use any of these autumn fruits in your hedgerow spirits and chocolates. Sloe, elderberry, rosehip, blackberry, hawthorn and bilberry.

Recipe 1: Boozy Berry, Fruit & Nut Chocolates

Boozy fruit – stones removed from the flesh, as needed

Hazelnuts – Roughly chopped

70% Dark Chocolate – use good quality chocolate, you won’t regret it

Icing sugar – for decoration

 

Recipe 2: Boozy Berry, Orange & Cinnamon Chocolates

Boozy fruit – again, remove the stones where you need to

Grated orange zest

Cinnamon powder (to taste)

70% Dark Chocolate – use the good stuff

Edible Gold Glitter Spray – for decoration

 

Method

  1. Cut the flesh from your boozy fruit and discard any stones or inedible pips. Set the fruit aside in a bowl for now.
  2. Bring a small pan of water to the boil and rest another bowl over the pan to create a double-boiler. Break up the chocolate and slowly melt it in the dry pan.
  3. Take a clean ice-cube tray and fill each section halfway with the other ingredients; either fruit, orange zest and cinnamon or fruit and hazelnuts.
  4. Next, gently pour the melted chocolate into each section of the ice tray until the ingredients are well covered.
  5. Place the tray in the fridge for 1-2 hours to allow them to set.
  6. Push chocolates out of the tray and for a little sparkle you can either dust some icing sugar over them or give them a splash of edible gold spray.
  7. Lastly, eat them and be merry!
boozy berry chocolates

Above: These boozy chocolates contain not only brandy-soaked hedgerow berries but also hazelnuts, for an indulgent Christmas treat.

Discover More Wild Food

If all this talk of wild food and foraging has whetted your appetite then you can take your learning further with us through the range of courses we offer.

You can immerse yourself in the world of foraging through our outdoor courses hosted in beautiful National Trust estate woodlands in North-East Wales. Or if that’s too far afield for you we also host regular online workshops, live through Zoom where we focus on wild foods of the season and give you delicious recipe ideas, foraging tips and expertise from special guest speakers. If this all sounds interesting, check out what’s coming up on our Events page right here.

Another way to get instant access to a whole backlog of wild food & foraging videos, recipes and recorded workshops is to join our Tribe over on Patreon. In return for supporting our mission, our patrons get access loads of exclusive resources. You can join the Tribe from as little as £3.60 per month. Find out about all the benefits right here.

Until next time, good luck with your own foraging journey.

Lea

bushcraft skills course in north wales

My Weekend in the Woods

Have you ever wanted to learn skills that would help you thrive in the wild, from how to read the landscape to lighting a fire with natural materials? My name is Emily Fox and I was asked to write about my experience attending a Bushcraft Skills Weekend with Woodland Classroom.

Woodland Classroom host outdoor courses that cover everything from tree identification, foraging and outdoor survival skills, but in reality those lines often blur as there is so much cross-over in these subjects, so I was looking forward to a little of everything. In this blog I’ll be taking you along with me as I tell you what I got up to in my weekend in the woods. To check out what other outdoor courses we have coming up click here. 

I’m already a pretty outdoorsy person, I’m really into my climbing and love hiking, especially around Snowdonia and the Lake District.

I spend a lot of time hiking and running around in the woods wherever possible and have even managed a little wild camping, so I’m used to being outdoors. I saw the bushcraft weekend as an opportunity to really step up my skill level and become better at understanding the land around me and how to survive if I found myself short on anything on a wild camp or out in the woods. It was something I’d not really done before so I was excited to see what skills I could learn. Having arrived late on the Friday evening though I didn’t know it would be straight into the deep end!

I was offered the option to sleep out in what looked like the ultimate den of sticks… my answer was, of course, yes. My tent, stayed in the backpack.

natural lean-to survival shelter

Above: My home from home for the weekend. Notice the bed of fresh brush which kept me off the cold floor.

Waking Up In A House Made of Sticks

Waking up on Saturday morning after a full, busy week of fast-paced work and modern living to the sun filtering through the pine trees as I lay on a bed of bracken under the canopy of the lean-to shelter was the most relaxing start to the weekend I’ve ever had. It put me right in the zone. I’d jumped at the chance to come and help at a bushcraft weekend in Wales as it sounded like the perfect getaway, and I was even more excited when I was offered an outdoor shelter to sleep in for the night. My lean-to was made of just sticks, leaves and branches, not a plastic tarp in sight, but despite it having rained the whole day before this natural shelter was bone dry and I slept like a baby the whole night!

After introducing ourselves to the group James, our Head Instructor, took us into the woods and asked us to look at our surroundings and share what we could tell about the landscape around us. I was asked to read the landscape; what did I notice about the age of the trees, did I recognise any plant species, how might the land-use have changed over time and where could water possibly be found? This was all about waking up our inner-ancestor and looking at the land through ancient eyes, those people that relied on the land for their survival. We were then tasked with going and having a look to see what natural materials we could gather that could be useful to us. Spruce resin for fire building, blackberries for eating, flexible willow branches for weaving and spruce needles for natural medicine were all things students brought back.

making survival shelters

Above: Constructing a kennel shelter. The whole thing is held up by just 3 poles. No rope is used.

Sharp Tools & Shelters

The first activity was to whittle a tent peg from greenwood, something that would come in handy later. James showed us safe ways to use a knife, cutting techniques and knife grips to use in making the peg. I was pleased with my finished peg and tucked it into my backpack for tomorrow. Having shown we were safe with the knives we were allowed to keep them on us for the weekend. Next we were onto natural shelter building, similar to the one I’d slept in last night.

The group was split into two and each team was guided through making a different style of lean-to we split into two groups and got to work building different types of lean-to shelters. James showed us how to use bundles of bracken, like thatching, to make a layered waterproof covering to keep the shelters dry. Working in smaller groups let us be super involved in each activity and allowed us to get to know the people we were working with a lot better. Using these materials was time-consuming, compared to putting up a tent, but they were also surprisingly effective and I got a real sense of achievement from creating this structure. It’s an empowering experience and I can see why bushcraft skills can be addictive – the idea of being able to fend for yourself, accessing “secret” knowledge.

whittling skills on a bushcraft course

Above: Other folks on the course very happy with their brand new tent pegs.

Playing with Fire

After lunch at basecamp we went back into the woods to start on fire making. We began by looking at all the components we needed to actually light and sustain a fire. The three essential aspects of a fire are heat, fuel and oxygen. I would need all of these things in abundance to keep my fire healthy. I experimented with lighting fires using modern fire-steel and traditional flint & steel. I was given cotton wall and char-cloth (made my baking natural fabrics) and I soon saw that without any substantial fuel the flame only lasted for a few seconds before dying off.

I learned that by adding an accelerant, either something I could bring with me like vaseline or something gathered from the woods, such as spruce resin. My little fire lasted a lot longer, around thirty seconds instead. We then used this principle to find natural tinder, kindling and accelerants before building our own fires, gradually building our firewood thickness until we got from a small flame to our own roaring campfire that could sustain us through the night if needed.

It really is true that once you have a simple roof over your head and a fire going, you can feel at home anywhere. The cup of tea helped.

 

Identifying Trees in the Dark?!

Just as the sun was setting James ran a night-time tree identification walk. Now this sounds intriguing; how can we possible identify trees in the dark? We took a stroll in the darkening woods to see if we could hone our skills, with James teaching us how to recognise trees based on just the leaf shapes, texture of the bark and shape of the tree against the sky. There were some really interesting conversations about how we each recognised certain trees. For example, someone commented on the fact that the oak tree was easy to identify by its outline because it was often used on pub signs. James encouraged us to closely examine the trees we came across; see what the leaves felt like, how the branches were structured, all whilst encouraging us to draw on what knowledge we already had. I was also encouraged to engage my other senses. I discovered that I could recognise a mature beech with my eyes shut as I could hear the crunch of the thick layer of beech mast beneath my feet – result! James was giving out ‘bushcraft points’ to anyone with correct answers. I earned 5 bushcraft points for remembering that holly leaves further up the tree aren’t spiky because animals don’t graze on them, then lost another two for excessive gloating, oops!

 

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Another comfortable night in my stick home, with the tawny owls hoots for company. James had explained that by crafting a raised bed from, logs brash and bracken layered up that it raised my body off the cold ground and so added a lot of insulation. It’s said that layers below you are much more valuable than a layer on top when sleeping on the earth.

I started Sunday with a nature-awareness exercise, called the Sit Spot. James talked to us about connecting with nature by taking a moment to sit outside and quietly observe what was happening around us, without expectation or agenda. With that we each slunk off into the woods to find a quiet comfortable spot. I sat for 20 minutes to take in everything going on around me before coming back and reporting what we had seen, heard or felt. It was lovely to start the day by connecting deeply with our environment. Tis is a real contrast to the attitude I adopt when hiking where the purpose of being outdoors is to get from one place to another, rather than simply allowing myself and nature to be.

water filtering and billy can cooking

Above: Hanging out billy can above the fire using campcraft skills. Filtering dirty water using natural materials.

Making My Ultimate Woodland Getaway

The majority of today was all about putting together the skills we had learnt so far. The goal was to be able to set up our own shelters, start a fire and make a cup of tea in our camps. I would need to use my knife for cutting, shelter building skills, I’d need a way to hang my billy can over the fire and I’d need plenty of firewood. Lots to be getting on with.

The first activity was to filter water using natural materials we could find in the woods as well as artificial ones to. We would not be drinking the water we filtered aa this should only be done in a real situation, but it was good to see the principles at work. We then worked on making natural cordage using nettles and bramble. This cordage could be used for our shelters or for hanging our billy can. James showed us how to identify the most suitable bits of plant to use and how to dry and braid the strands to make a strong cord which could be used for years.

Since yesterday we all made a natural shelter, today we were given a one-person tarp (called a basha) to rig over our makeshift camps. James introduced me to a couple of knots for getting it all taught. Our group decided to combine the tarp alongside the lean-to I slept out in so we had a covered area for our outdoor fire – very cosy indeed. Our whittled tent pegs and natural cordage came in handy here and we saw how strong this natural fibre really was when put to the test of holding up our shelter.

Next we worked we turned to campcraft skills with the challenge of creating something that could be used to hang our billy can for boiling our brew over the fire. I worked with a couple of others, each of us made a different part of the frame from hazel wood before moving the various components over to our camp. Each group came up with a totally different way of solving the problem which was good to see. My trusty tent peg came in handy to anchor the pot pole. I used my wild cord to make the billy can adjustable so we could lower it down or back up depending on how intense we wanted the boil.

natural cordage and survival shelter

Above: We combined paracord with our bramble cord to tie off our shelter. Matt looking very content in his woodland home.

Making Fire… in Heavy Rain!

It was time for the big finish, practising ancient fire by friction skills. Something I had read about and seen on YouTube but not done myself yet. Now it’s very important that certain components of this traditional fire-starting kit be kept bone dry. We were all set, feeling somewhat confident… and then the heavens opened! We were to make our fires using bow drills and due to the rain coming down we decided to work in teams to increase our chances of success rather than everyone struggling individually in unideal conditions. I get the feeling this is how our ancestors would have pulled together in a real situation… so it’s not cheating.

Once James showed us the technique I was surprised how quickly we achieved smoke and the beginnings of an ember. James tressed how success comes not from powering through to eventual success but using good technique and communication with each other to ensure the best chance of making fire. Unfortunately, for a beginner like me, these were not ideal conditions. The rain was getting heavier and this made it hard for us to create any sparks or for a flame to catch in our tinder nest, but with a little help, we eventually managed to get a roaring fire going and enjoyed a well-earned hot cup of tea from our billy can. Job done! 

fire by friction skills course

Above: Me working with my group on fire-by-friction to get a good ember for our fire.

Home & Dry

At the end of the day, we had practiced the skills to go out into the woods and thrive on what we could find around us in a sustainable and nature-focused way.

There was something very rewarding about managing to make the bow drilling a success despite the elements being against us. We were shouting when we finally got it going it was an amazing feeling and even though we were all pretty tired at the end of the weekend I definitely felt like I had learnt so much. It was more than just learning skills to use outdoors, it was changing the way I thought about nature and being creative with how I solved any problems I might face if I was in the woods without certain tools. I’ve definitely caught the bushcraft bug.

 

Ready For Your Own Adventure?

I can highly recommend this course and I’m looking forward to attending more in the future, especially the Wild Food and Foraging Day. If you’re looking for a quality and fun experience like this then do check out our upcoming courses.

Woodland Classroom host outdoor courses on bushcraft skills, wild food & foraging, nature connection and tree identification all surrounded by the beautiful National Trust estate woodland of Erddig and Chirk Castle in North-East Wales. Courses are available for adult learners, families and private bookings. Get in touch if you’d like to know more.

SEE OUR UPCOMING COURSES HERE

Hope to see you in the woods,

Emily

Emily Fox is our Outdoor Activities Assistant, on placement to Woodland Classroom for 12 months. She hopes one day to run her own outdoor activity business where she can share her passion with others.

how to forage sea buckthorn - wild food

How To Forage Sea Buckthorn – Nature’s Superfood

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is one of our littlest known but most beautiful trees. Not only do they give a stunning display of colour, the berries sure do pack a tropical punch. The juice has to be one of the most memorable and refreshing flavours in the wold of UK wild food. When they fruit, the combination of the bright orange berries against the silvery green leaves make them look almost Mediterranean. So, if you want to feel like you’re kicking back on a sunny beach with a tropical drink in the depths of winter, we’ll give you the closest thing with some delicious sea buckthorn recipes. It’s a a wild food that’s well worth getting to know.

Getting these berries off the tree can be a little troublesome. You might have guessed from the name of this tree that there’s thorns to deal with. I’m here to help though and I’ve included a video which shows the easiest ways I’ve found to harvest the berries. You’ll get tips and tricks to filtering out leaf debris, so give it a watch. These are tried and tested methods so you can see how well each works for yourself.

If you’ve watched the video you might be thinking; “that seems like a lot of work for some fruit juice.” But the nutritional benefit of these little gems is unbelievable! They truly are a superfood. They contain high levels of vitamin C, around 5 times more than oranges, high levels of antioxidants as well as omega 3 and 6. Importantly they contain A, B, C and E vitamins including B12. Scientific trials have found that sea buckthorn is effective in treating tumours, lung diseases and gastric distress. They also help reduce inflammation and can treat heart diseases and improve blood vessel function, so get drinking it!

how to identify sea buckthorn

Above: This female sea buckthorn was found in an old sand & gravel quarry, far from the coast.

Where & When Can I Find Sea Buckthorn

Finding one of these amazing trees is not always the easiest thing. They are not nationally common, but could be locally common in your area. Generally, sea buckthorn is restricted to coastal areas or particularly gravelly soil so if you’re near a beach make sure to have a scout around as they have been purposely planted in many areas to help stabilise sand dunes. With that in mind they can also sometimes be found planted up in retail parks and roadside verges where they provide that stabilisation for the ground but also quick ground cover. Keep your eyes peeled.

Sea buckthorn is a deciduous shrub that has silvery-green leaves similar in appearance to rosemary. The leaves also remind us of a smaller version of willow leaves. The shrub also grows thick spines along the branches which is a good indicator of the species into the winter when the leaves fall. 

The dense clusters of bright orange berries are a dead giveaway to positive identification. Look for a silvery sheen close up on the berry skins too. The berries begin to fruit around August and September but it’s best to leave them till they’ve all turned from green to orange. As you’ll see from my video, early to mid autumn is the best time of year to harvest the berries as they are more firm and will get damaged less when picking. The later in the season you go, the more delicate the berries become. You can still harvest them into late autumn/early winter but it will be a messier job as the juice gets everywhere.

This tree is dioecious, which means it has separate male and female trees. Only the females produce the berries. So, don’t be surprised if you come across a specimen in the right season but with no berries. Look around the surrounding area for a female in fruit.

sea buckthorn wild food & foraging recipes

Above: Notice the leaves grow in a whorl around the whole twig. They have a silvery sheen to them.

How do I Process Sea Buckthorn

As the name suggests the sea buckthorn is a spiny shrub so a thick pair of gloves is helpful for one of the methods of collecting the berries. When the berries are ripe they tend to burst very easily, which does make collecting them a little tricky, but we’ve got some proven methods to remove the berries that we’ve tried so you don’t have to.

The first method, which I prefer, involves cutting off the tips of branches which are heavy with berries. Although this can seem quite destructive, this is a tree which grows back fast, so you can cut with confidence. It’s good practise to always take only what you need and leave what you can for wildlife.

  • Pop the cut branches in a bag.
  • When you’re home, put the branches on a tea towel outdoors, in a place where creepy crawlies can escape.
  • Later, place the berry-heavy bunches in a double layered bin bag and leaving in the freezer for a couple of days.
  • Once the berries have fully frozen remove the bin bag and beat it with a stick, this will separate them from the branch without bursting them.
  • Lastly you’ll need to separate the whole berries from any other debris that has been loosened in the bag. Watch the video for tips on how to do this effectively.

The second method is a little messier but is a quick way of collecting the juice of the berries. This method is best done later in the season when the berries are at their ripest. 

  • Put a clean food bucket under the branch you want to collect the juice from.
  • Wearing a thick pair of rubber gloves, squeeze along the branch in a downward motion, toward the tip. This squishes the berries as you go and avoids you getting spiked. The juice runs into the bucket below.
  • When you get home, the juice will need straining as lots of leaf and branch debris will probably fall into the bucket during the collection process. 

With either of these methods, make sure you’re not wearing anything you would mind getting berry juice on or even wear an apron.

foraging for sea buckthorn

Above: Using the “bag & freezer” method to separate the berries.

how to process sea buckthorn berries

Above: Processing the juice from the berries. I used a potato ricer.

What Can I Make with Sea Buckthorn

Sea buckthorn has a notoriously tart taste so I would recommend sweetening it before eating, unless you like an intense sharp and sour hit – I dare you to give it a try raw. If you want to get an idea of the kind of sharp citrusy flavour the processed juice of the berry gives then pick one straight from the tree, it’s very refreshing… if a little tart. The recipe I made was a sweet sea buckthorn juice and it was a very refreshing and very healthy addition to my breakfast. 

For this recipe you can get away with using the squeeze method as mentioned above, as all you really need is the juice. Make sure you strain the juice through a sieve or muslin cloth if you want to be super thorough. You will need:

  • Sea buckthorn juice
  • Runny honey to taste
  • A sterilised container with a lid for storage

In a saucepan, heat the juice and honey together on a low heat. Stir well to make sure the honey melts into the juice. When the juice is as sweet as you want, take the pan off the heat and leave to cool before bottling in a sterilised jar. 

As well as complimenting your morning eggs you could try adding the juice to some sparkling white wine to make sea bucks fizz, or with lemonade to make a refreshing cordial. You could also consider using sea buckthorn for jam, or you could reduce the juice by cooking it for longer and adding sugar to make a sea buckthorn syrup. In Northern Europe, it’s popular as an accompaniment to fish as it is similar in sharpness to lemon.

Making a fruit leather would be a good way of preserving the goodness of the berries right through the year. To do this; gently simmer the juice down to a thick syrup, combine it with hawthorn berry pulp which has been similarly boiled down, spread the mixture thinly onto greaseproof paper and then dry it over several hours gently in a dehydrator, on an oven on a low heat with the door slightly ajar to allow airflow. The purpose of the hawthorn berries (called haws) is to provide a binding quality to the leather, as on its own the buckthorn juice may struggle to hold together. The haws also have their own major health benefits. A fruit leather not only preserves the vitamins but hold the taste too.

sea buckthorn wild food & foraging recipes

Above: The juice or berries can be used to make a range of tangy foods like jam, sauce, cordial or fruit leather.

Discover More Wild Food

If all this talk of wild food and foraging has whetted your appetite then you can take your learning further with us through the range of courses we offer.

You can immerse yourself in the world of foraging through our outdoor courses hosted in beautiful National Trust estate woodlands in North-East Wales. Or if that’s too far afield for you we also host regular online workshops, live through Zoom where we focus on wild foods of the season and give you delicious recipe ideas, foraging tips and expertise from special guest speakers. If this all sounds interesting, check out what’s coming up on our Events page right here.

Another way to get instant access to a whole backlog of wild food & foraging videos, recipes and recorded workshops is to join our Tribe over on Patreon. In return for supporting our mission, our patrons get access loads of exclusive resources. You can join the Tribe from as little as £3.60 per month. Find out about all the benefits right here.

Until next time, good luck with your own foraging journey.

James

ten trees you can eat - wild food & foraging

Ten Trees You Can Eat

When you’re walking in the woods have you ever wondered which trees you could eat? Of course, I mean the tree’s berries, nuts, leaves and fruit. Chewing on wood is strictly for beavers only. Trees are a great source of wild food and in this article we’re going to take a look at ten of the best native and common British trees which you can forage from as well as giving you some inspiring recipe ideas using these natural ingredients.

Before we get going with the list, if you’re someone who loves trees but struggles to know what you’re looking at on your country walk, you could start building your tree identification skills today by signing up to our free online course, titled Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills. You’d be joining thousands of other students who want to know more about the trees around them. You can enroll for free right here.

Now, on with the top ten list, starting in no particular order with…

 

1. Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa)

Sweet chestnuts are something you typically associate with Christmas (cue Bing Crosby singing here) but in the UK you can forage for your own chestnuts around the middle of October. These really are a top nut and I don’t think we utilise them enough outside of the festive season, there are so many tasty recipes you can use them in. Our home-grown wild nuts tend to be on the smaller side compared to other parts of Europe, as in this country they are at the edge of their natural range. Shop-bought chestnuts tend to be grown in warmer climes such as Italy, Spain, and Croatia.

sweet chestnut tree foraging

Above: Sweet Chestnuts are not just for Christmas. Try roasting them in their shells in the embers of a campfire. Yum!

The casing of the sweet chestnut is easily recognisable by the long, densely packed spikes, and if you’ve ever been curious enough to pick one up you know how delicately they need to be handled to avoid being speared. You can tell when the chestnuts are ripe because the casing will be large and green, heading towards a lighter brown colour. They will also begin to split open as they ripen, and you can often see the shell of the chestnut through the cracks in the casing. The nuts grow in threes inside the spiked case. The shells are, as you would expect, a chestnut brown colour, topped with a white tuft of hairs. When foraging for these nuts make sure you use thick gloves to pry them open.

Taking a step back to look at the whole tree; another indicator you’re looking at sweet chestnut is the trunk itself. On mature trees deep fissures develop that tend to twist and spiral up the trunk. This is a more obvious distinction going into autumn when the tree begins to lose its leaves.

When it comes to cooking with sweet chestnuts the most traditional use is roasting. Firstly, pierce the shell with a knife to prevent them popping and roast them in an oven at 200°c for 30 minutes. My favourite way to cook them is more simple, and connects us with our ancestors; roasting the nut (in their shells) directly in the embers of a campfire. Once cooked, leave to cool for a few minutes then peel the shells off and eat. Other tasty uses for chestnuts are in stuffing, added into brownies or cheesecakes. They add a fantastic sweet nutty taste to anything you add them to, so alternatively you could try pairing them with something salty like a soy sauce glaze, as well as to supplement your sweet dishes.

 

2. Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

Often called the “queen of British trees” Beech are one of our most magnificent trees. They can grow up to, and sometimes exceed 40 meters height. There’s a beech tree in my village that’s so large you can see it from about a mile away, it’s loved by everyone and has such a magnificent canopy, it’s not hard to see why. You often find these trees on very chalky areas, and they can be identified by their grey-brown bark and iconic nuts that grow in October, with spiky basing that splits open to reveal the smooth pyramid shaped nuts. 

beech nuts - tree foraging

Above: Beech nuts are small but worth the effort. A great snack whilst out on a stroll. Inset: Young leaves make a tangy addition to salads in spring.

As well as being beautiful beech trees have two seasons in the year when parts can be harvested for food. Firstly, around May when new leaves emerge they can be eaten straight off the twig or put into salads or sandwiches. They have a tangy, almost acidic flavour. You’re looking for the lighter green slightly hairy leaves, before they darken in colour and develop an unpalatable, waxy surface. 

In October, it’s the beech nuts which drop to the ground and can be collected for our table. The casing (called mast) splits open and will often drop off the tree with the nuts inside meaning it’s relatively easy to collect them, although you may have to rummage around on the ground a little to find the nuts under the leaf litter. Inside the mast can be up to 3 nuts each in their own triangular brown shell.

Beech nuts are a good source of protein, contain lots of healthy oils and taste a little like hazelnuts making them amazing for both sweet and savoury dishes. It’s advised that you don’t eat too many raw as they contains tannins which can cause an upset stomach, although not everyone has a negative reaction to raw beech nuts but it’s best to be cautious. They’re small though, so collecting that many would be quite a feat. Cooking or soaking removes this toxin and makes them safe to eat en masse, so try toasting them to add to salads or using as a cake topping as an alternative to hazelnuts. I like them best as a snack on the go whilst walking.

 

3. Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Blackthorns are a favourite of many as they give us the fruit used to make sloe gin. Around autumn there’s excitement in the foraging community as everyone rushes to make their annual batch of sloe gin ready to replace the previous years which will inevitably be either drunk or given as a Christmas present. A friend proudly declared that this Christmas he’ll be opening a bottle he made five years ago! 

sloes and blackthorn - tree foraging

Above: Everyone has heard of sloe gin, but did you know you can use the gin soaked sloes to make boozy chocolates. We dare you to try it.

The blackthorn tree can be identified by their almost black branches (hence the name) and large thorns which can cause a nasty infection if spiked so be very careful when harvesting your sloes, some thick gloves are recommended! In March the blackthorn is the first tree to make its presence known as it erupts en masse in our hedgerows with a show of white blossom. The flowers make for an incredibly beautiful contrast to the black spines. Blackthorn is a tough old tree with a habit of spreading quickly into open space, making it an unwelcome guest with landowners who like things tidy. It follows that with this tough, thorny tree, that seems to be telling us to “look but don’t touch” it would bear such sour fruits that when eaten raw don’t exactly endear themselves to us. They are worth collecting though as alcohol transforms their flavour.

The blackthorn is part of the plum family so this gives us a clue that there’s some good stuff to be had from the fruits. From September onward the sloes take on a dark blue colour as they ripen. The classic recipe, sloe gin, is made using fresh sloes, pricked with a fork, packed into a jar with gin and sugar. Shake this every day to help the sugar dissolve and then after at least a month (longer is better) strain off the berries and bottle the liquid, ready for a Christmas gift or to go on the sdhelf and left for a year before drinking. Also, did you know that the leaves can also be infused with alcohol and are at their best around June and July.

Interestingly sloe stones have been found at many archaeological sites which suggests our ancestors valued this fruit highly as well; it’s lovely to think that the blackthorn has connected us to our ancestors for thousands of years. Try boiling your sloes down to turn them into a jam or syrup, they’re naturally a little tart so it’s best to have a sweet aspect to each recipe such as reducing with sugar or treacle to make a delicious tart filling. If making sloe gin or other alcohol infusion is something you want to give a go, remember this top tip; try saving your soaked sloes to coat in chocolate. This makes for a perfect present for friends and family at Christmas time.

 

4. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

I don’t know about you, but I always see the arrival of Hawthorns as the official start of autumn. The iconic red berry a sight you’re likely familiar with as they grow in abundance along roadsides and in hedgerows. Hawthorn trees are one of our most common trees as they can thrive almost anywhere and are popular in hedges as they make a thorny stock-proof barrier which has vigorous regrowth when cut back. Head out to your local green space, you might be surprised by how many hawthorn trees you can find.

hawthorn - tree foraging

Above: They might not taste like much on their own but as a cooking ingredient they work very well. We made spicy hawthorn relish.

Hawthorns in Autumn are easy to identify, with large bunches of deep red oval berries, known as haws. They can be seen from September onward and can persist on the tree right through winter after the leaves have fallen. One of the earliest identifiers for this tree in our calendar year can be seen in early spring when the bright green leaves with between 3-5 jagged lobes, looking somewhat similar to parsley, explode in our hedgerows after the white blossom of blackthorn. In April and May look for a show of beautiful flowers blooming from this tree. They resemble cherry blossom, with a strong scent of almonds, 5 small white petals and pink stamens. 

Back in autumn with the berries; you could eat a single haw and be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about as there’s not much taste to them. But that couldn’t be more wrong, this is such a versatile food source that not enough people know about. Where the haws shine is as an ingredient rather than a food on its own. Haws contain a single stone which needs to be removed before they can be eaten. This can be a time consuming process, but the reward is worth it. These berries can be used to make everything from jam, ketchup, relish and even wine; boiling and straining can be a quicker way of removing the stones than individually de-stoning each fruit. Although they’re fairly plain in flavour they have a similar texture to avocados, making them an eco-friendly substitute to use in guacamole.

As well as making some delicious foods, the haws are incredibly good for you. They can increase the blood flow to the heart, helping prevent heart attacks as well as reducing irregular heartbeats. This isn’t a new discovery either, haws have been used to treat heart conditions as early as the 17th century. If you are on heart medication, seek advice form a professional herbalist before eating them.

 

5. Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)

Sea buckthorn is incredibly beautiful when the tree is fruiting; with gorgeous bunches of bright orange berries surrounded by silvery green leaves that heavily resemble rosemary. The fruit of this tree is citrusy but does require some sweetening as it has a naturally sharp almost bitter flavour, similar to the acidity of a grapefruit. In terms of flavour, this is about as tropical as it gets for native tree foraging. If you don’t mind a bit of work and being spiked by thorns, then you’re in for a treat that packs a mighty punch.

sea buckthorn - tree foraging

Above: If you want a juice that packs a serious punch for both taste and health, try Sea Buckthorn.

Unfortunately, the sea buckthorn isn’t very common and is normally only found near the coastline or in very gravely areas. However, you might find it along roadsides and in retail parks or industrial estates, where it can be planted as cover. If you discover one of these trees locally make a note of it and be sure to give it a visit when it’s fruiting! These beautiful berries come into fruit around September to early October and are best picked after all the berries on the tree turn from green to orange as it’s when they’re at their most ripe. The tricky part of collecting the berries of the sea buckthorn is how prone they are to bursting when picking, meaning you could get juice on your clothes so make sure you’re not wearing your favourite white shirt when collecting these.

There are two main ways you can collect the berries; if you’re not too bothered about the whole berry and are happy with just the juice, which is the best part in my opinion, you can use some very thick rubber gloves to squeeze down a branch to collect the juice into a bucket. This will need straining once you get home to remove any bits of leaf or debris that you’ll also find in your bucket. This is the fastest way to collect the juice, but works best when the berries are a little softer later in the season. Another method is to snip off twigs that have berry clusters. Take them home and leave them outside on a towel or some tissue to allow any creepy crawlies to escape before putting them in a bin liner and bunging them in the freezer overnight. Once the berries are frozen beat the bag to dislodge them from the branch and then pick out the branches and leaves. This is my preferred method.

You can strain the berries to make a nutritious fruit juice, although some sweetening is recommended, try adding honey as a healthier alternative to sugar. To make a cordial, reduce the juice by simmering and add sugar. Dilute with water and serve with ice, or use neat added to sparkling wine to make a sea bucks fizz! As well as being delicious, sea buckthorn hailed as a superfood, being packed with vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A, B and C and is proven to preventing tumours, ulcers and detoxify the liver.

 

6. Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Whenever I think of summer elderflower cordial always springs to mind. Its subtle sweetness reminds me of hot breezy days. The elder tree has got to be in the top ten wild foods of the UK as it provides two delicacies for us to enjoy. The flowers which bloom in June and the berries which ripen around August to September. If you have a shrub in your garden I would recommend not taking all the flowers as you’ll then be stuck without any berries later on. Leave some to mature and you get to enjoy both harvests.

elderberry - tree foraging

Above: Elderberries are packed full of good things. Our favourite recipe is Elderberry Elixir, made with honey, brandy and warming spices.

Whilst elderberries are easily recognisable, the spray of creamy-white summer flowers are easy to mistake for other similar looking trees. Make sure you’re not accidentally picking flowers from a Rowan or Wayfaring tree as they look similar when in bloom. Get to know the whole tree. The leaves of the elder are jagged around the edge and typically have five large leaflets on each leaf. The flowers themselves are very small and grow in dense bunches that tend to grow upwards in fairly uniform, flat formation. The stems will droop down when the flowers turn into the berries. 

Elderflower cordial is an obvious classic recipe for the elder but there are so many more ways you can use the flowers. Try infusing them into Turkish delight or sorbets for a sweet treat or using them to flavour panna cotta or yoghurt. Don’t feel limited by traditional uses for elderflower cordial either, use the cordial to flavour cakes and tray bakes or add to sparkling wine. 

Come the autumn, the berries are well worth your attention. Not only does their juice taste great but they’re good for our health too, making an excellent immune system booster. Be sure to use any freshly picked berries quickly as they don’t tend to last for very long once they’ve been picked. Try cooking them to make jam, using them to make a coulis for a pudding topping, or mixing with honey and spices to make a warming elderberry elixir – this is our personal favourite. The deep purple syrup is very striking when drizzled on cheesecake. Some more unusual uses for elderberries are to make vinegar and fruit leather.

Do be aware that the seeds in the berries contain a small amount of cyanide, so you don’t want to eat the berries raw, they must be cooked. We remove the seeds and flesh by straining the cooked berries through a muslin cloth.

 

7. Hazel (Corylus avellana)

Hazel, as you can probably guess, gives us the hazelnut; something so commonly used in modern processed foods you may forget that you can forage for them yourself. How does the idea of making your own hazelnut chocolate spread sound? When identifying a hazel, you’re more likely to find one in shrub form rather than a full tree, with several stems sprouting from the base rather than one single trunk. In summer the leaves are large and round with a serrated edge. At the tips of the yellow-brown branches you’ll also see large green buds. When searching for a hazelnuts the best place to look is hedgerows and woodland edges. The nuts tend not to grow as well in deeper woodland as they get shaded out by taller trees.

hazelnuts - tree foraging

Above: Make your own nutty chocolate spread from hazelnuts, if you can beat the squirrels to them.

The best time of year for hazelnuts is the back end of August and into September. When you find them they might appear fairly green. These are unripe but can still be eaten. They are best when the shells have turned nut brown. They tend to grow in clusters and the nuts will have a frilly green bract around them, almost making them look like they’re wearing hats. Ripe nuts will fall from the tree but make sure you crack open the casing of a few nuts before you collect loads as often  the tree will discard any nuts that haven’t been successful to focus on growing others. Nobody wants to go home to find they’ve actually been carrying empty shells.

The other issue to content with is the Grey Squirrel who will harvest all the nuts from your favourite hazel tree before they ripen. Aside from the obvious solution to this problem (squirrel pie anyone?) you could try netting a small tree (easier said than done) or look for a tree in an urban space where squirrels aren’t present. This is where I’ve had the most success myself.

Hazelnuts give us so many possibilities. They make a nutritious addition to cakes and bakes. They compliment chocolate really nicely so you could try incorporating them into a batch of cookies which are sure to go down a treat. For something more low-key you could always sprinkle chopped hazelnuts onto a bowl of muesli or porridge for a healthy breakfast to kickstart your day with plenty of energy. Possibly a more unusual way of using the nuts would be to blend them into some homemade green pesto for extra crunch and depth of flavour, you could even try toasting them first. 

The good news is that these delicious nuts are really good for you as well, supporting a healthy heart and helping to reduce cholesterol. They’re also full of vitamin E which helps maintain a healthy immune system, so there’s no need to feel bad about snacking on this treat. 

 

8. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) 

Otherwise known as Mountain Ash, this tree grows not only in high places, as it’s name suggests, but can also be found in hedgerows, scrubland and urban spaces. When flowering, rowan is easily mistaken for the elderflower as they have similar sized white flowers sitting on a flat bed, called an umbel. Once these flowers mature to fruit though the difference becomes very obvious. Rowan produces striking red berries instead of the purple-black of elder. The berries are also larger and persist on the tree long after the elderberries have dried up. Another similar feature are the leaves. Rowan has more leaflets per leaf than elder. Anywhere between 11 – 17 leaflets, opposed to elder typical 5-7.

rowan berries - tree foraging

Above: The most famous recipe for these berries is Rowan Jelly, which includes Crab Apple. It goes great with game.

It’s these juicy red berries that we’re looking to forage. You can find them on the tree as early as late July. September onwards is the main season though. Don’t be tempted to eat these berries right off the tree as they need to be cooked before they’re edible, otherwise they can cause severe indigestion due to the ascorbic acid they contain. The most traditional recipe for this unusual berry is rowan berry jelly, often paired here with crab apples as the pectin tends to thicken the jelly and make sure it sets properly.The crabs are also sweetening the jelly.

To make a jelly add equal quantities of chopped apple and rowan to a pan and simmer in water for 20 minutes. Strain in a muslin cloth over a bowl for at least 4 hours, allowing the juice to drip into the bowl, if you squeeze the mix then the jam will be cloudy. Harvest the liquid and for every 600ml of fluid, add 450g sugar and the juice of one lemon and boil again for 10 minutes. You can test when it’s ready by putting a spoonful on a chilled plate; if the jelly wrinkles when you squidge it with your finger its ready to be put into a sterilised jar. This jelly is perfect to accompany meats or even something like cheesecake to add a tart splash of colour to your pate. 

Interestingly, rowan berry flour is used in Russian baking, which gives bread a slight tang and adds a lot of nutrition. Rowan berries can also be added into chutneys, soups, and ketchups to add a depth of flavour, although it is worth adding a source of sweetness to counteract the tartness they naturally have. This is one berry that I’ve not actually gotten round to cooking with myself at the time of writing, but the jelly recipe is one that has persisted through time so it must be worthwhile. Let me know how you get on.

 

9. Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris)


Crab apples are a bit tricky, as the sourness of these wild fruits tends to catch people off guard. I still remember the shock of biting into one and finding out just how sour they were for the first time! Fortunately, there are still numerous ways you can use the crab apple and sweeten it to make it more digestible.

crab apple - tree foraging

Above: From these humble beginnings, all our cultivated apples came. The crab apple deserves some respect.

Unlike cooking apples, the crab apple is small, often only reaching around 3cm in diameter. This may be why they are so tart, as the flavour is concentrated in a smaller fruit. Crab apple trees are often found in hedgerows, woodland clearings and around farmland. The leaves are ovular with a finely toothed margin. The apples can be stored for several months before they become unusable, keep them somewhere cool and dry and you can always come back to them when your other foraging projects are done.

Like the rowan, crab apple is often used in jellies to offset the sharpness of flavour and I would follow a similar recipe to the rowan berry jelly above. There are many more ways to use them though. They can be sliced and dehydrated in an oven to make dried apple slices, which tend to be a lot sweeter and make a delicious snack on walks or part of a healthy breakfast when mixed with yoghurt and nuts. They can also be used as an ingredient in fruit leather which is always very popular with kids. For grown ups, how about this liqueur? Add layers of sliced crab apples to a jar, sprinkling sugar in between each layer and then covering with vodka. Leave for a year before draining; a long time I know but you should have a bottle ready for the following Christmas.

Other ideas for the crab apple include juicing them, crab apple butter, adding them to pickles or chutneys, or in a mixed fruit pie or crumble. Their tartness adds an unexpected bite to sweet puddings, so give it a go.

 

10. Guelder-Rose (Viburnum opulus)

The guelder-rose  was previously known as swamp elder, which to me is a more appropriate name as it describes this shrubby tree much better. Native to the UK the guelder-rose can be identified in the summer by its serrated three lobed leaves, which are similar looking to maple leaves, and are slightly hairy on the underside. Similar again to the elder and rowan the guelder-rose has umbels of white flowers that bloom around May to July. Look closer and you’ll see that a cluster of larger petalled flowers are surrounded by a ring of smaller flowers. Very striking indeed. In autumn these flowers mature to small shiny red berries, similar in appearance to cranberries which sometimes gives it the nickname European cranberry bush.

guelder rose - tree foraging

Above: A less well known wild food, these berries make a tasty, tangy jam which goes great on toast.

When searching for this berry look in damp places along riversides, scrubland, and hedgerows; it tends to have a habit of spreading if left unattended. When preparing the berries make sure they’re cooked before eating them as they can be slightly toxic if eaten raw, so don’t eat them straight off the tree. The berries need to be prepared in a similar way to rowan, as they are also fairly bitter. They do work well in jellies and jams. Try adding them with rowan berries and crab apples for a tangy addition to toast and porridge or add a dollop to your Sunday roast. Often it’s best to wait for the first frost of the year before collecting the berries as it tends to sweeten them, but you could always pop them in the freezer for the same effect if you can’t wait. I made jam and although when cooking the aroma wasn’t all that appetising, the resulting jam was very good.

As well as being used as a source of food the bark of the tree has been used for hundreds of years to soothe menstrual cramps as the bark has sedative and antispasmodic properties. This is probably due to the chemical viopudial, a compound that lowers blood pressure relaxes smooth muscle, which also means it’s useful in alleviating hiccups and stomach aches. However, it is worth saying that there have been no medical trials to confirm these properties or in what quantities it should be consumed, so I wouldn’t advise just peeling off bits of bark to use, especially if you’re not confident on your identification. Seek the advice of a professional herbalist if you want to take this further.

 

Where Can You Find These Trees?

Now this all sounds good on paper but how you do go about recognising these tree species and finding the right habitats where they grow?

I have created a FREE online Tree Identification course called Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills, which you can enroll on today and start improving your skills so you can find these wild foods for yourself. The course will also show you how to identify trees at other times of the year; winter, spring and summer. Here you will learn about buds, flowers, leaves, bark and other useful identifying signs so you can really get to know our native trees all year round. Sound good to you? Register for free right here.

free tree identification course

Sign up to our free course today and watch videos, download cheat sheets and access photo galleries.

You can also download a copy of my FREE Autumn Tree Guide which you can view on your phone whilst out and about. It features many of the species in this blog with quality pictures of the fruits, berries and nuts. You can grab your copy of that guide right here.

So, there’s my list, not so much a definitive top ten, as there are a couple of omissions here of native trees which produce some fantastic wild foods at times of the year other than autumn. Perhaps I’ll make that absolute top ten list later down the line. Certainly birch sap syrup, wych elm seeds wild cherries are all worth a mention.

I hope you found this article inspiring and I’d love to hear if you make anything with the wild foods featured. If you want more good stuff from us you could subscribe to our YouTube Channel where we post videos about trees, wild food and nature connection.

Happy foraging,

James

free autumn tree guide

FREE Autumn Tree Guide

We all know that tree leaves change colour in autumn, that acorns grow on oak and conkers grow on horse chestnut, but can you tell me what the autumn fruit of the hornbeam looks like? For anyone looking to improve their tree identification skills autumn provides us with many distinctive signs such as fruits, nuts, berries and leaf colour that we can use to recognise our native and common tree species. In this blog I’ll introduce you to some of clues to look out for in autumn and break down the differences between common trees which often get confused. You can get outdoors and spot these clues for yourself with a free download I’ve created; Autumn Trees Guide, which you can get your hands on just below.

autumn tree guide - free download

By the way, if you love trees, but struggle to tell one species from another, then you could enroll in my FREE Tree Identification Course online. More details can be found at the end of the article.

 

3 Common Maple Trees

Maple leaves are quite a distinctive shape, just think of the Canadian flag. But we have several maple species commonly growing in our countryside and when it comes to including formal planting and gardens that numbers goes sky high. We shall steer clear of those for now. Let’s just look at the differences between our 3 most common maple trees which you’re most likely to see on a country walk. We will look at the difference in their leaves in autumn and also their fruits.

comparing autumn maple leaves

Left: Field Maple (Acer campestre), Middle: Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), Right: Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

So, we have 3 different maples each with their characteristic 5-lobed leaf shape. But they are also clearly quite different, especially as autumn reveals it’s colours. Let’s break that down…

Field Maple (Acer campestre) – our only native maple in the UK. Firstly, the leaves are much smaller than the other two species here and the tree itself is smaller when mature also. The lobes are more rounded than the others. But a key difference to look out for is the leaf colour in autumn, which across the whole tree will be a bright yellow. The best example is the leaf seen in the extreme left. Once they fall, they will turn brown.

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) – a commonly planted non-native maple. We’ve got a much larger leaf here than the field maple, but also the presence of Tar Spot Fungus – have you noticed those black spots? You don’t get these spots on our other two maples here, so it’s a dead giveaway. There’s something interesting about the autumn leaf colour too, in that there isn’t much to shout about. Typically you won’t see a great display of colour from our sycamores, they generally just turn a dirty/patchy brown. This is in contrast to our other two species here. Take caution though; sometimes we do get yellow leaves across the tree, but this is less common. Natures loves not conforming to simple rules 🙂

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) – next to sycamore this is probably the most commonly planted non-native maple in the UK, particularly in urban areas and roadsides. We have a larger leaf, like sycamore, but the lobes are much more jagged and dramatic in their form. We also can’t ignore the amazing display of colours we get from norway maple, which is a world away from sycamore at this time of year. Just look at those reds, oranges and yellows.

In summer, all these leaves are green, of course. But come the autumn you can clearly see the differences. Let’s not forget the fruits of the maples either, what many people call “helicopters.” These winged seed cases are a favourite of children who love throwing them in the air and watching them spin to the earth. Let’s take a look at the differences between our 3 maples when it comes to these “helicopters.”

comparing maple seeds

Left: Field Maple (Acer campestre), Middle: Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), Right: Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), Inset: Sycamore seeds in autumn

You can see the clear difference in not only the typical size of the winged seeds but also their shape. Field maple seeds typically have their wings at 180 degrees to each other, whereas sycamore wings are generally at a more down-swept 45 degrees. The norway maple wings are larger again. By the way, this picture is of the seeds in summer, when they are not fully mature so be aware that in autumn the mature wings will all be brown in colour, as seen in the inset picture.

I hope that’s cleared up any confusion between these 3 common maples. Now, let’s look at some autumn berries which can be the cause of confusion.

 

Red Berries Everywhere

To someone starting out in tree identification, it can be easy to get confused between tree species which have similar berries, especially when they’re the same colour. Just take a look at these below…

uk native trees in autumn: red berries

Top Left: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Top Right: Guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus), Bottom Left: Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), Bottom Right: Whitebeam (Sorbus aria)

Here we have four different native trees, each with red berries. So, how can we easily tell between them? Well although this may seem confusing at first glance there are differences to see once we slow down and look closer. Here’s my handy hints for telling these trees apart in autumn:

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) – this is the 3rd display of colour we’ve had from this tree over the year. The first being the flush of spring green leaves which fill our hedgerows and roadsides. The second comes in May with the white blossom, smelling of sweet almonds. This third display are the berries themselves, known as haws. They are round to oval in shape, with a matt finish. Inside you’ll find the flesh is a yellow/green colour which surrounds a large stone. You will see less fruits per bunch than you will with the other species here. Also, look out for the thorns on the branch, which these other species don’t have.

Guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus) – a common shrub of hedgerows. Firstly these striking red berries grow in umbels (a cluster of stalks), unlike the hawthorn. Also, these berries are really glossy. They have a real shine to them. The flesh inside is red, with the whole berry being much less firm than the others here. Lastly, their shape is important, which is more difficult to see from the above picture, but they are partially flattened, as if their round shape has been squashed.

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) – you may know this tree as the mountain ash. These berries grow from an umbel, with many berries per cluster. The seed inside is much smaller than that of hawthorn. The month you’re seeing these berries is also important too because they can appear on the tree as early as July and can persist after the leaves have fallen in autumn. So, they have a long season on the branch. Beware that there are many cultivars of rowan which are planted in urban spaces. You can even get orange or yellow berry varieties. But in the countryside, you’re unlikely to see these.

Whitebeam (Sorbus aria) – These are the largest berry of the four seen here. A feature which is difficult t pick up from this image is that the berries are peppered with white/grey spots called lenticels. Notice the latin family name ‘Sorbus’, this species is related to our rowan. So, it’s no surprise there are some similarities in how the berries look. Like the rowan, there are several cultivars of whitebeam which you might well see in urban areas and gardens, so we’re just talking about the wild native here.

 

We’re missing a key piece of the puzzle here though, the leaves. We need to widen our view of these trees because if we just look at the berries we’re not using all of the information available to us. Take a look at the images below and you’ll see that we have four very different leaf shapes with their respective autumn colours.

autumn leaf collage

Top Left: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Top Right: Guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus), Bottom Left: Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), Bottom Right: Whitebeam (Sorbus aria)

So, as we can now see, with the full picture things become a little easier. This is one of the big things I ask my students to practise when they’re out identifying trees. I ask them to “Tune In” so they look at the bigger picture before concentrating on the details. Clues like leaf shape, bark, or even the place where the tree is growing can tell us a lot about what we’re looking at.

 

Get Your FREE Autumn Tree Guide

I’ve created a handy guide you can use when you’re out and about looking at trees during autumn. The guide features 18 native and common British trees which have fruits, berries or nuts that you might already be familiar with but also there’s other signs here that you’ve probably never noticed before. I’ve laid out similar looking berries side by side so that you can easily distinguish between them.

You’ll also see smaller images featuring typical autumn leaf colour for each species. Notice which ones turn a distinct colour and also which ones, like alder and sycamore, don’t tend to have a display of colour at all. This too can be a useful identifying feature, once you get your eye in.

I hope you find it useful on your journey to understanding the trees around us.

DOWNLOAD YOUR GUIDE HERE

 

Discover more About Trees

It can be so interesting to really look in to the details of our native trees and notice the changes that they undergo throughout the four seasons. That’s just what I’ve created for my FREE introductory online course called Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills. Here you will find a whole host of resources to take you from clueless to confident on your way to really knowing your trees.

REGISTER FOR THE FREE COURSE HERE

kickstart your tree id skills, free online course

When you sign up to this free mini-course you’ll be identifying common trees with video tutorials and photo galleries at your fingertips. Start your journey to becoming a fully fledged Tree Expert today. The course includes Tree ID Cheat Sheets which you can download and take outdoors with you.

“I’ve been frustrated for so long trying to learn my trees myself and haven’t gotten far. This course answered everything and has seriously upped my game.” Dr. Patrick Alexander

 

Happy tree hunting folks.

James

bushcraft and mindfulness tools

Mindfulness & Bushcraft: Perfect Partners

Want to be healthier and happier? I’d say you need more wildness in your life!

by Lea Kendall (Counsellor, Mindfulness in the Woods Practitioner and Outdoor Activity Leader)

We, as a species, need to rewild ourselves. Practising bushcraft and taking time out for ourselves in nature can be our vehicle to honouring our ancient, wild selves. It’s an approach that we teach during our Woodland Wellbeing & Bushcraft Weekend which is one of our favourite events of the year. You may have seen plenty of stories doing the rounds about landowners who are letting wildlife do its thing as farms, forestry plantations and gardens are allowed to go back to nature. Whether it’s called rewilding, natural regeneration or non-intervention, the aim is usually the same; to benefit wildlife by increasing biodiversity. The results in many of these projects have seen a huge increase in the variety of animal and plant life, as well as the joy and happiness that comes to those who get to watch wildlife thriving around them. Species of insects and wildflowers have exploded and following them, all the birds and mammals that come with them. All because humans have withdrawn their input. Let’s take a step back and understand just what rewilding is…

“Rewilding is a progressive approach to conservation. It’s about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. Through rewilding, wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats.” Rewidling Europe

So, can we also apply this approach to how we live our own lives? Absolutely!

Rewilding Your Soul

The health benefits of being outdoors is one topic I find fascinating. As well as being the co-owner of an Outdoor Education & Bushcraft company, I also work in mental health as a counsellor. In my work I have always been interested in the idea of our inner hunter-gatherer. Studies have shown that our brains are still wired up to a live in the world of our ancestors where our priorities were to hunt and gather for food, build shelter, connect with our families and communities and use plants to heal ourselves. Occasionally we’d experience the stress response to run away from danger or fight to protect ourselves from harm. In the world of the hunter-gatherer these stressful instances would have normally been short lived and with the immediate danger passed we’d soon return to the safety of our tribe, an ongoing cycle of relaxation to stress to relaxation, completed and no harm done. Fast forward to today however, and our modern, fast-paced lifestyles mean we spend much of our lives in this stress state. Cortisol (your body’s main stress hormone) is racing through our systems steadily and rarely do we get much of a break from this to reconnect with our tribe and loved ones and complete the cycle, allowing the brain to get it’s much needed rest.

Society has changed in the blink of an evolutionary eye, and our brain wiring is nowhere near caught up yet. It’s still happier picking berries, whittling spoons and bonding with each other whilst sat round the campfire under the canopy of the trees and stars.

Research by Mark Berman at the University of Chicago says that if you add 10 trees to any given urban block, residents report a 1% increase in wellness, if you wanted to give the same effect using money for increasing happiness you’d have to pay each household $10,000 or make the residents 7 years younger. Trees, nature, wildness, they all increase our happiness and well-being. So, why don’t we choose to spend more time immersed in nature if it’s so good for us?

I believe that positive mental and physical health can be achieved through the art of bushcraft and being mindful in nature. Here we are doing two very simple things; we are honouring our inner hunter-gatherer and living in the present moment. We are also surrounding ourselves amongst trees in a beautiful forest. Those trees have been scientifically proven to have their own natural healing powers, but that’s a story for another time.

bushcraft and mindfulness in north wales

Bushcraft – Just What the Doctor Ordered

So, how do we start to rewild our spirit? We need to make time to nurture our emotional, cognitive and social selves.

Our good friend Nick Hulley at in2thewildwood is a fellow Bushcraft Instructor based in Staffordshire and a previous tutor on our Woodland Wellbeing & Bushcraft Weekend in North Wales. He brings mindfulness into the very core of his life. Let’s let Nick explain in his own words…

“After my ‘safety-rounds’ along the rides, the trails and the woodland fringes; I ease into the fire circle glade. I lower my rucksack, remove the kindling from home along with the tinder, heft my axe into a couple of logs, light the fire and boil the kettle – wood smoke, tea, crackling billets, fresh cut logs, the fire light flicker, the outer focus stillness and yet the inner calmness continues to enrich my wellbeing. I ground myself, cross-legged and centred. The following fifteen minutes of the breath, the inner sight, the acknowledgement and the continued return to the breath sets me up for the day: this marriage works, forest environments, Bushcraft and Mindfulness: even if it is just a short centre and pause whilst doing.”

When hosting a woodland skills session, mindfulness informs how he moves about the woods, how he uses all his senses to feel the forest, how the trees nourish him, how he pauses and calmly absorbs all about him: likewise for his learners on the courses he delivers for them. Nick continues…

“It is wonderful to now be aware that for all these years, working as I do in a forest setting, that research has been going on with the intent to establish positive links between woodlands & improved health. Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing in Japan) and its beneficial outcomes is one of the many researched avenues involving forested settings; which provide a life enhancing backdrop to the union of Bushcraft activities and primitive skills learning complimented by Mindfulness, with its slowed, peaceful and thoughtful considerations of the natural world and our impact on it.”

Rewilding Your Body

Many of us already know how to rewild our back gardens, letting nature take over or by planting native plants and bee-friendly flowers. But we can also increase the ‘wildness’ of our gut by eating healthy, fermented and ‘dirty’ wild food.

fermented wild greens kimchiI’ve recently discovered the process of fermenting wild greens. This is an ancient technique to preserve foods and to increase the nutritional value which greatly benefits the overall health of the body. This further led me to develop my understanding of how the gut plays a major role in our mental health too. It was fascinating to discover that 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, it’s like the body’s second brain. Eating fermented food is incredibly good for us and up until very recently in western history we have been preserving food in this way.

The average body contains around 39 trillion microbes & bacteria in the intestines. Our lack of exposure to dirt and animals along with the cleaning and disinfecting of our crops and environment with chemicals, has reduced the biodiversity in our guts, and like the health of the earth, our own overall health has declined as a result. We are our own ecosystems, and some scientists are suggesting we even need to rewild our intestines with bacteria from indigenous people – its sounds crazy but it’s already happening. Want to know more about this subject? Check out Mary Beth Nawor’s Ted Talk.

We can also take positive action when out in nature by getting into the right mindset. I’ve put together a bunch of simple nature-based exercises that you can try for yourself to rewild your body and soul. Take a look at my video which demonstrates 9 techniques you can use.

Immerse Yourself in Nature

So, what have we learned? Practising bushcraft doesn’t have to mean taking on extreme survival skills, pushing yourself to the edge of your endurance or eating up a dish of witchetty grubs, ala Bear Grylls. For me, bushcraft skills are about slowing down, tuning into nature, connecting with our ancient past and being present in our natural environment. Through bushcraft skills such as tracking, carving, nature awareness and plant identification we can become extremely mindful and train our brain to leave the fast-paced, modern world behind even if just for a few hours. bushcraft and mindfulness are the perfect partners to leading a healthier, happier lifestyle, enriched by nature, sharing time with like minds and learning some very old, new skills.

adults learn fire lighting skills in north walesWoodland Classroom are hosting a whole weekend of Woodland Wellbeing & Bushcraft at the National Trust’s Chirk Castle estate in North Wales this summer. You can give some time to your inner hunter-gatherer for a weekend of mindfulness in the woods accompanied by a range of bushcraft activities aimed at focusing the mind and increasing awareness & appreciation of the natural world.  If you’d like to know more about this event, just follow THIS LINK.

“In wildness is the salvation of the world” Henry David Thorough

spring tree flowers guide

FREE Spring Tree Flower Guide

Ask someone “what grows on oak trees” and most people will say “acorns” but have you ever noticed the beautiful pink flowers growing on oak? There’s a hidden world of wonderful tree flowers that many of us walk right by without giving them a glance. In this blog I’ll introduce you to some of the best tree flowers to look out for in spring. You can find them yourself with a free download I’ve created Spring Trees: Flower Guide UK, which you can get your hands on just below.

spring tree flower guide - free download

Get a FREE Spring Trees Flower Guide. Print it out or download it to your phone.

By the way, if you love trees, but struggle to tell one species from another, then you could enroll in my FREE Tree Identification Course online. More details can be found at the end of the article.

 

Which Trees Have Flowers?

The simple answer to this is that all our native and common broadleaf trees have flowers. When you get to conifers (evergreens) things get a little more tricky so let’s set those aside for now.

Most of our trees show their flowers in spring but some, like the elder, wait until early summer. Knowing what order the flowers emerge in spring can be a good skill to help you identify which tree species you’re looking at. Male flowers will become laden with yellow pollen whilst the (usually) more colourful female flowers will eventually mature into the seed, fruit, nut or berry.

The majority of our trees have both their male and female flowers on the same branch, sometimes right next to each other, but others have separate male and female trees, relying on their being a member of the opposite sex in the near vicinity for pollination to occur. I wrote a whole article about which trees are male and female, if you want to know more just follow this link.

Trees like willow and poplar don’t have flowers as we usually know them, with petals, but rather they have catkins, which fill the early spring canopy with whites and yellows. As spring comes to a close the female catkins have gone to seed and you can have sunny May days with masses of fluffy willow and poplar seeds gently floating through the breeze. If you want to find out more about catkins, I’ve written a whole article about them. You can check that out here.

 

3 Tiny, But Beautiful Tree Flowers To Look Out For

3 amazing but tiny tree flowers

3 Beautiful Native Tree Flowers To Hunt Down; English Oak (Quercus robur), Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and Alder (Alnus glutinosa).

They may be small but that doesn’t mean these tree flowers don’t pack a visual punch when you do spot them. Earlier in the season (late winter) we have the tiny flowers of the hazel (Corylus avellana) looking like red tentacled sea-anemones. They are one of the first signs that spring is on its way.

But there’s three more crimson beauties I want to draw your attention to. First we have the female flowers of our native oaks. The green male catkins are also found growing on the same branch. You will find these tiny pink flowers appearing with the young leaves in late April to early May. Look out for them as they won’t be there for long.

Hornbeam, often mistaken for beech (Fagus sylvatica), is another native which produces two very different male and female flowers, the males being catkins. The females resemble the flowers of hazel, with pink tendrils spread out to catch pollen. You will find these on the tree in April.

Lastly, the alder, a tree which favours wet ground and riverbanks. It has not only vividly purple buds and male catkins, but in early spring you might well spot the young female flowers before they turn green and begin their journey to maturing into cones. When young they resemble bright pink cotton buds, a real splash of colour in February and March. Keep your eyes peeled!

 

Know Your Tree Flowers

To someone starting out in tree identification, it can be easy to get confused between tree species which have similar flowers, especially when they’re the same colour. Just take a look at these below…

how to identify spring tree flowers

Top Left: Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Top Right: Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris), Bottom Left: Wild Cherry (Prunus avium), Bottom Right: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Here we have four different native trees, each with white flowers, with 5 petals each. So how can we easily tell between them? Well although this may seem confusing at first glance and each of these species could be found growing next door to one another, what we don’t have here is context. What I mean here is specifically the time of year we would find these flowers. The other thing we need to consider is other identifying signs away from the flowers themselves. Here’s my handy hints for telling these trees apart in spring:

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) – this is the first tree to come into flower en masse in our hedgerows. We see this in March when everything else still has closed buds.  Also, look out for the wicked thorns on the twig and trunk.

Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris) – this is the largest of the four flowers shown here. Notice how the petals are really opened out. They resemble an apple core when it’s sliced crossways, looking like a 5 pointed star. These flowers are typically out in May. Also, you will probably find rotten apples on the ground below the tree, so look out for those.

Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) – these flowers can closely resemble the hawthorn, however the flowers of wild cherry emerge before the leaves in April whereas with hawthorn the flowers come out after the leaves. Also, you will not find any thorns on a wild cherry.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) – one of the key features for these flowers is their smell. The have a sickly-sweet (though I think it’s pleasant) aroma of almond or marzipan. You will find these flower in late-April to May. An old country name for this tree is the maythorn because it traditionally flowers at this time of the year. Remember, the tree has thorns, so look for those too.

 

Get Your FREE Spring Tree Flower Guide

I’ve created a handy guide you can use when you’re out and about looking at trees during spring. The guide features 18 native and common British trees which have flowers that you might already be familiar with and flowers that you’ve probably never noticed before. The trees are laid out in the order which they come into flower so you know not only what to look for but when to look for it.

I hope you find it useful on your journey to understanding the trees around us.

DOWNLOAD YOUR GUIDE HERE

 

Discover more About Trees

It can be so interesting to really look in to the details of our native trees and notice the changes that they undergo throughout the four seasons. That’s just what I’ve created for my FREE introductory online course called Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills. Here you will find a whole host of resources to take you from clueless to confident on your way to really knowing your trees.

REGISTER FOR THE FREE COURSE HERE

kickstart your tree id skills, free online course

When you sign up to this free mini-course you’ll be identifying common trees with video tutorials and photo galleries at your fingertips. Start your journey to becoming a fully fledged Tree Expert today. The course includes Tree ID Cheat Sheets which you can download and take outdoors with you.

“I’ve been frustrated for so long trying to learn my trees myself and haven’t gotten far. This course answered everything and has seriously upped my game.” Dr. Patrick Alexander

 

Happy tree hunting folks.

James

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