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!
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.
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.
Above: Using the “bag & freezer” method to separate the 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.
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.
If you’re not eating rosehips already, you need to start. Not only are they really good for you, but they taste amazing… like a burst of tropical fruit. They are also very common and easy to identify. So, what’s stopping you?
I really look forward to the season for rosehips, they are one of my favourite wild foods. The bright red scattering of rosehips in our hedgerows is one of the biggest indicators that winter is settling in. These vibrant fruits stand out to our eyes and that bright colour could mislead you into thinking that you should stay away from them, but the rosehip can make some delicious winter recipes to keep you going through the colder months.
I made this short video to show you the best way to eat rosehips raw, right off the branch. They make a great ‘pick-me-up’ on a country walk. There’s a couple of essential tips you need to know, so check it out…
Where & When To Find Rosehips
Rosehips grow on wild rose bushes. In the UK there are two species which you can forage from; the dog rose (Rosa canina) and the field rose (Rosa arvensis). Dog rose is found in most parts of the UK, unlike the field rose which is only found in England and Wales. Both species can be eaten so it’s not particularly important to know the difference between the two. These plants are climbers, trailing their way through hedgerows with their stems covered in thorns.
The rosehips themselves are easy to identify as oval fruits which develop behind the summer flower, turning from green to red as they ripen. In the summer the petals for both wild roses are large, being pink to white in colour with a yellow stamen. They have a beautiful fragrance, as you’d expect from a rose.
The best spots for finding rosehips is hedgerows and woodland edges, where the hips can ripen with plenty of sunshine. Scrubland and brownfield sites are also good places to look.
It’s from September that the hips begin to ripen enough to be harvested. They should only be eaten once they are fully red, don’t eat them if they’re still a bit green. There isn’t a particular firmness they are best at; they can be harvested when squishy or hard so don’t worry if you don’t get them right at the beginning of the season. What is important though is that you’re only eating the red flesh. The hairy, yellow seeds in the centre of the hip need to be removed before they can be eaten. These hairs are very fine and can lodge in your throat, being very uncomfortable to digest.
If you haven’t watched our video above already, do check it out so you can learn how to easily remove the flesh from the hairy seeds. Another method can be used back in the kitchen, whilst processing the hips back at home using a muslin cloth (see our method for rosehip syrup below) but if you’re out in the field after a quick hot of that tropical taste then here’s what you need to do:
Look for the softer squishy ones with a wrinkled skin. These are found more so at the back end of autumn.
To remove the hip cleanly, and avoid being spiked, twist is away from you and toward the stalk. This will usually give a clean break.
Hold the rosehip between both thumbs and index fingers equally, with the stalk side facing you.
Squeeze the hip with even pressure. A ‘red worm’ of pulp should rise from the hole.
Eat the tasty red flesh, discard the squeezed hip.
Above Left: Rosehips looking perfectly ripe on the branch. Above Right: These hips are softer and more wrinkled. Perfect for the squeezing method as explained in the video.
How To Make Rosehip Syrup
A more traditional use for them would be rosehip syrup, which was a common sight in the household during the second world war. Due to the UK’s inability to import fruit from other countries, the public were recommended to collect and make their own rosehip syrup to prevent scurvy; two tablespoons of rosehip syrup would more than provide you with your daily dose of vitamin C. As well as being very good for you, the syrup is deliciously sweet and goes really well drizzled on top of hot sponges, pancakes, and other desserts or you could try adding a little to some lemonade to make a cordial. Below is a recipe for rosehip syrup so you can make your own.
To make a litre of syrup you need:
1 kilogram of rosehips
3 litres of water
450g of sugar (or honey)
Remove any leaves and the green ends of the rosehips, then chop them by hand or in a food processor and add to a saucepan with the water.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes before straining with a muslin into a clean bowl. Once the juice has been strained, re-strain in a clean muslin cloth. This ensures that all the hairs inside that cause irritation have been removed.
In a new saucepan add the sugar and simmer together until it has dissolved and the liquid has thickened.
Transfer to a sterilised jar and keep in a cool place.
As well as being delicious on pancakes and packed with vitamin C, rosehips also have a fantastic range of health benefits. Amazingly, rosehips contain 2000mg per 100g, compared with the equivalent weight of orange with just 50mg! This little fruit can boost heart health by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Rosehips also have anti-inflammatory properties and there is some evidence it can reduce pain and stiffness in joints with osteoarthritis, possibly due to the high level of antioxidants they contain. Cold pressed rosehip oil can also help protect against ultraviolet light, pollution, and cigarette smoke as well as increasing skin elasticity. They also contain high levels of fibre, vitamin A, calcium, and potassium.
I’ve also used them to make a cup of rosehip tea. To try this yourself; halve ten hips and scrape out the seeds and hairs. Cover the hips in boiling water and leave to infuse for a few minutes. You could add a little honey or sugar to sweeten your tea, but rosehips contain their own natural sweetness, so adding sugar is not essential, just see how you like it.
You could always try slicing and drying the hips to make a longer-lasting tea ingredient. If you don’t have a dehydrator, put the halved hips on a parchment covered baking tray and cook on a very low heat with the door slightly open for a few hours to remove the moisture. Rosehips can also be used to make a sweet jam to go on toast or on plain yoghurt. We added halved rosehips to a hedgerow crumble for a burst of colour and flavour amongst the apples and blackberries.
Above Left: Rosehip syrup. Above Right: Fruit leather with rosehips, crab apple and hawthorn.
Can I Eat My Garden Roses?
This is a fair question, so let’s look into it. As far as I have researched, all roses are edible. You might well be familiar with the Japanese Rose (Rosa rugosa) which is a common sight in suburban areas and retail centre car parks. The rosehips on this plant are much larger, being more rounded. They also ripen earlier than our native roses. The summer petals on this plant are a beautiful cerise pink colour. Both the petals and hips are edible, as with our wild roses. However I have found that these hips, being larger, are more susceptible to harbouring maggots, especially when they start to soften. So, I would recommend halving them to have a good look inside before using them for any cooking.
Something else you need to be aware of with foraging garden roses, including the Japanese Rose, is that they may have been sprayed with pesticide or plant food, not something you want to add to your diet. So, unless you know the garden or gardener well, it’s best to avoid Mr Jones’ prize roses from across the road. With any foraging it’s important to take a wider view and think about where you’re picking from and what forces those plants are subjected to. As always; if in doubt, leave it out.
Above: Japanese Rose (Rosa rugosa) with striking pink flowers in summer and hips as large as cherry tomatoes.
Discover More Wild Foods
Along with my partner, James, I host foraging and wild food walks and courses in North-East Wales at two beautiful National Trust estate grounds. Coming on a course is a great way to learn a variety of commonly growing plants and fungi we can use in our own cooking and also for hedgerow medicine. If you’d like to see what courses we have coming up, then head to our Events page.
I hope this blog has inspired you to try foraging rosehips yourself.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 – 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.
I’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.
Woodland 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
OUR COVID-19 METHOD STATEMENT by WOODLAND CLASSROOM LTD.
Statement updated 22rd Sept 2020
After a break from outdoor activities during lockdown we are now beginning to return to the woods with our exciting range of courses for adults and families, and looking further ahead, for children.
Below we have set out how we are going to do this so that our clients have confidence that we have considered the current situation and are acting responsibly. We will continue to monitor the Welsh Government guidance as and when it changes.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank our good friends at Woodland Ways Ltd. for their support in helping us prepare this method statement.
Here’s the essentials of what our customers need to know about how we are currently operating within the government guidance:
All organised children’s outdoor activity days including holiday clubs, birthday parties and outdoor education are currently on hold. We hope to be back with holiday clubs in the new year.
Adult outdoor courses are going ahead with restricted group sizes and social distancing & increased hygiene in place. An additional risk assessment has been written to make us more COVID-19 secure.
We will not be hosting events at National Trust properties until at least 1st September in accordance with the Trust’s own risk assessment. In the meantime, alternative venues are being arranged as appropriate.
We are continuing to expand our offering of online learning covering wild food, tree identification, bushcraft and nature connection.
Our monthly Home Education group, Pathfinders, is planned to start up again from October, but with certain restrictions in place. Contact us to find out more.
We are taking bookings from schools, event organisers and groups for the future, please get in touch to discuss what we can offer you.
All the precautions and measures put in place that we have listed below are subject to change according to the government guidance. If you have a question, please get in touch. Detailed below is what you can expect from us when undertaking courses and events in Wales.
The safety of our customers and our staff is a primary concern for us.
If you have made a booking for an upcoming course or event and you cannot attend as you are ill or shielding, then we will issue you with a 2 year voucher to use on any Woodland Classroom course, event or product to the equal value of your booking.
We have taken on the Welsh Government’s guidance given: “Sport, Recreation and Leisure; guidance for a phased return” and we have also consulted with our piers in the industry and the Institute for Outdoor Learning, for best practise, of which we are an active member.
As of 23rd July all our adults and family courses will operate with a maximum of 16 participants, using a ratio of 1 instructor to 8 students.
All courses and events will operate with government approved numbers.Note: The current advice in Wales is that groups of no more than 30 can meet for an organised outdoor activity.
Courses Specific COVID-19 Methodology Statement
Activity: Running of all education course activities and events at our established outdoor venues with adherence to Welsh Government specific advice.
Erddig estate, Wrexham
Chirk Castle estate, Wrexham
Aberduna Nature Reserve, Flintshire
Hawarden Estate Farm Shop, Flintshire
Attendance on the course
It is important for all clients that should you, or a member of your household, become or are already unwell with symptoms of coronavirus you should inform Woodland Classroom Ltd. immediately and should not travel to or attend your course. If you are at our venue already then you should cease activity immediately and alert a member of staff whilst taking steps to isolate and remove yourself.
If you are self-isolating as a result of Covid 19, Woodland Classroom Ltd. will forfeit its rights under our terms and conditions to deeming this a cancelation by the client and instead will provide you with a 2 year voucher to undertake that course, or a similar course, within that time frame from your original booking. We recognise these are unusual times, and we want you to book with the assurance that you will not lose your money.
What we expect of you, and what you can expect of us
Prior to the course
Please ensure you have read the kit list and have all items with you. FAILURE TO BRING ANTI BAC HAND GEL AND A PERSONAL FIRST AID KIT WILL RESULT IN YOU NOT BE ABLE TO ATTEND THE COURSE. Clients will be informed of what makes up a Personal First Aid Kit in advance of attending.
Your instructors will have changed into their uniform at the venue to minimise any risk of cross contamination, you may wish to consider doing the same if you are visiting shops/public spaces before the course
Clients must complete a premedical questionnaire and registration form prior to arriving at the course and have this printed out to bring with them.
Meet and greet
Effective from 23rd July until further notice all courses will have no more than 8 clients per 1 instructor, with a maximum of 16 customers in attendance. Ratios will be reviewed increase at the time the government guidance allows.
From the moment of stepping out of the car, we would request that all employees, sub-contractors, apprentices and clients at all times remain 2 metres apart (unless you are from the same household) there should be no hand shaking or other contact with people from outside your household.
Clients will place their signed copy of their registration forms and premedical questionnaire into the plastic wallet provided at the meeting point, confirming to the instructor that you have answered no to all medical questions and understand your responsibilities. Employees will not handle this paperwork for at least 72 hours and therefore we are asking you to be open to the fact that you have read it and have signed the document.
You will be welcomed by the instructor and will be expected to have read the following safety brief:
The weekend is designed to be fun and no one will be forced to do anything they do not wish to do.
Please respect everyone’s wish to practise social distancing, beyond the recommended 2m guidance, and their choice to wear a mask if they wish to.
Any rubbish that can be burnt should be burnt. If the rubbish cannot be burnt, e.g. metal or glass and plastics, this will need to be taken home with you.
For small cuts you should have a simple first aid kit with you; containing at least plasters and antiseptic wipes. For more serious injuries we have a first aid kit in basecamp and an accident book to record injuries in. All Instructors are first aid qualified. Please note due to COVID-19 our instructors have been told NOT to provide mouth to mouth resuscitation in case of collapse, but to undertake chest compressions only unless directed otherwise by the emergency services, further first aid treatments will be at the discretion of the instructor but may involve them telling you and guiding you how to treat the wound yourself.
If any medical information has changed since making your booking could you please advise an Instructor, all information will be kept confidential and we are interested in where your medication may be.
If lifting heavy items tat require 2 people, please follow good manual handling practise and share your lifting only with some from your own household. If this is not an option, the item(s) cannot be moved.
Due to COVID-19 no activity should take place that involves exertion within a 5-metre space of anyone else (e.g. fire bow)
A pegged out display of 2 metres and 5 metres will be demonstrated
Once it has been agreed everyone is aware of the safety brief, you will then be directed to basecamp with the instructor.
On arrival in camp & for the remainder of your course
You will be provided with a demonstration on handwashing with no running/piped water, everyone will be requested to wash their hands.
For everyone there is a compulsory handwash every 2 hours (using your own anti-bac gel) during the teaching day, water is available for those who wish to handwash more. Handwashing must comply with our handwashing instructions which comply with UNICEF guidelines, a jug should be used to pour the water over the hands of the client into a collecting bowl underneath and then disposed of in a dedicated hole at the edge of camp.
Please note we have provided face guards for any member of staff who wishes to use them, please respect this if an instructor puts one on. This is in no detriment to how we view you; it is the instructor’s personal choice. We are however of the understanding that the outdoors is very low risk.
Each client will be issued with their own equipment (as appropriate) as well as a water supply for the duration of the course – these should not be handled by anyone else outside of your household. This equipment will have been left fallow for 72 hours prior to your course commencing, or if a course has been held within this time frame the equipment will have been disinfected thoroughly.
Any further tools and or equipment that are used through the course (e.g. fire bow kit) should be picked up from the unused pile and placed in the used pile when you have finished with them. These will then either be left fallow for 72 hours or cleaned thoroughly before the next use. Hands should also be washed after each session.
In camps where there is a rustic table, we would request that clients do not use this area. The area will be disinfected after each use by an instructor.
All shared handheld equipment will be disinfected every two hours with the dedicated disinfectant spray, e.g. storage boxes and kettle
All staff & clients should avoid touching their face and if there is a cough or sneeze this should be done into a tissue and disposed of in the fire. If no tissue is available, it should be done into your arm
It is not practical to put up signage within the woodlands however the key messages of social distancing and cleaning will be enforced by the team if necessary. If there is a failure to adhere to social distancing measures, then we will have no choice but to remove you from the course.
In the toilet there is a blue roll and some spray disinfectant, before and after each use we would ask you to wipe down any contactable surface and burn the blue paper with the lighter provided, and then request that you wash your hands.
In times of inclement weather paper towels/blue roll should be used for drying hands when weather does not allow for drying, and then disposed of, ideally in the fire.
You may notice that if there is a rare event where an item has to be passed to you, it may be placed on the ground for you to pick up, this is to ensure social distancing. All instructors are washing their hands within a 2-hour time frame also.
If you are within the clinically vulnerable, or extremely clinically vulnerable category, or if you live with anyone who is in either of these two groups, please consider whether you wish to take advantage of our 2 year postponement offer, we will of course welcome you to this course, or one in the future.
Our risk assessment is relating to COVID-19 is available to view upon request.
In case of emergency evacuation people do not have to stay 2 metres apart if it is unsafe to do so.
Any personal litter should be burnt or removed at the end of the day and taken home.
The evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected but have not developed symptoms- however the risk is deemed to be extremely low when operating in an outdoor environment. We will leave it at your discretion should you decide to wear a facemask. If you decide that you would like to wear a face covering, we would ask you to follow the below recommendations:
wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on, and after removing it
when wearing a face covering, avoid touching your face or face covering, as you could contaminate them with germs from your hands
change your face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it
continue to wash your hands regularly
change and wash your face covering daily
if the material is washable, wash in line with manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in your usual waste
practise social distancing wherever possible
The above is about protecting our team, as well as yourself and your other course participants
Where numbers of participants and activities dictate the need, then a number of fireplaces will be established to maintain social distancing.
Clients will be refused entry on the instructor’s discretion based on appearance of potential symptoms.
Social distancing should take place during ALL sessions. Each session has been re-designed to ensure you have the safest possible experience. If you are at all unsure about how something will operate please contact us prior to the course, or ask the question directly to the instructor during the course.
Last reviewed on 23rd September 2020, using the Welsh Government guidelines updated 20th July 2020.
Woodland Classroom would like to issue the following statement to provide our customers with an update on our precautions and preparations in light of the Coronavirus (CORVID-19) pandemic.
In-line with the escalating situation and Government guidelines, we have taken the hard decision that we will be postponing ALL our courses and events, for both kids and adults, throughout March, April and May. We will continue to review the situation and advice on a weekly basis looking to June and onwards.
This is an incredibly tough time for us as a small business but it’s important to do the right thing for everyone’s safety. Over the last week, we tried to roll with the punches and keep some of our events going but things have changed so fast in just a few days and it would be irresponsible for us to now host our sessions in the current climate.
Our policy is to re-schedule all courses and events to a point where it is more appropriate. Every client who is booked on to our courses/events in March, April & May will be contacted personally over the next few days outlining our schedule, please be patient with us and respect the fact we are fighting for our livelihoods.
If you have booked onto an event or course that has been affected and you cannot attend the rescheduled date then we will issue you with an 18-month voucher to use on any Woodland Classroom course, event or product.
Stay safe, stay active and remember that self-isolation doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors, but remember that the current advice is to keep 2 metres apart from others. So it’s best to avoid travelling to access nature. Use your garden, local park or green space and please avoid “honeypot” nature spots such as popular tourist destinations. Nature is a healer and strengthener of the immune system and you don’t have to go far to find it.
Lastly, we’d like to say thank you to everyone who has already reached out to us with messages of support, we really appreciate it.
We were recently interviewed and filmed by the BBC for the popular documentary series ‘The Why Factor.’ The programme asks the question’ “Why does nature calm anxiety?” The crew came to the ancient woods at the National Trust’s Chirk Castle estate in North Wales where Lea and James, of Woodland Classroom, run their Mindfulness & Bushcraft sessions, engaging all ages in nature connection. Here they experienced a Nature Therapy session, lead by Lea, a qualified Counsellor and Mindfulness in the Woods Practitioner. Next up, the crew got stuck into some practical bushcraft skills to bring to life their inner cave-people. We had a lot of fun during the recording.
Watch the short video on the BBC News websiteRIGHT HERE or via the link below.
Lea described her experience, “It felt great to be a part of the programme. There’s so much research coming out about the power of nature to heal us, with professionals and projects from all over the world reconnecting their clients with the wild places, I’m excited to be part of this movement. It truly feels like nature therapy’s time has come.” Lea believes that the antidote to stress is found through our connection to nature and that through this we can connect with others and with ourselves, building emotional resilience and community.
The official description of the BBC documentary reads;
“As the world grows more urban, humanity moves further away from nature. Could this be the reason anxiety has become the most diagnosed mental illness in the west? The idea of mindfulness is becoming more popular as the mainstream grows more aware of how panicked we all are. How are we tackling this issue? Jordan Dunbar dives into a niche of researchers and therapists who are learning about and treating the negative symptoms of urban life with a dose of nature.”
In the programme Lea takes the show’s presenter, Jordan Dunbar, on a taster Nature Therapy session where she convinces him on the power of walking barefoot on the earth. Later, James gives Jordan a crash-course in ancient bushcraft skills including firelighting by friction. This awakened Jordan’s inner cave-man as he learned how to make fire using only the natural materials he could find around him.
The programme’s presenter and producer, Jordan, has this to say, “The video was listed in the top 5 on the BBC News website over the weekend, making the front page of the BBC website and we had over half a million views on the BBC News Instagram! We’ve had great feedback on the radio doc already and it wouldn’t have been half as good without the sounds of the woodland and bushcraft!”
Lea is interviewed about the power of nature for improving mental health and well-being by the BBC.
SO, WANT TO JOIN US FOR A ‘MINDFULNESS & BUSHCRAFT’ EXPERIENCE?
If you like what you hear in the programme and the idea of not just getting away from it all for a weekend but actually coming away with real skills and techniques appeals to you then you’ll be happy to hear that Lea and James host immersive weekend workshops in Woodland Mindfulness & Bushcraft for adults which features activities such as: spoon carving, awakening your animal senses, crafting your own woodland getaway (mindful shelter building), breathing space meditations, natural navigation techniques, fox walking, traditonal fire-lighting techniques, foraging, wildflower identifcation and more.
The aim is not just to give you a couple of days from the rat race but to enable you to come away with new skills and techniques which you can use to be more mindful going forward and bring nature deeper into your life.
Our next Woodland Mindfulness & Bushcraft Weekend is taking place in September 2020. You can find full details RIGHT HERE. Book your place now for what promises to be a fantastic weekend. To find out more about our upcoming courses and events for all ages, check out our Events page.
We also take bookings from organisations and for events to deliver our nature connection workshops to groups. Get in touch if you’d like to know more.
We’d like to say a big thanks to Jordan Dunbar and the BBC crew for visiting us all the way up in North Wales, and for spreading our message that nature is a positive force for improved mental health and well-being. Also, we could not have had this opportunity without the kind permission of the staff at the National Trust’s Chirk Castle who we work in partnership with to deliver our programme of courses and workshops.
Planning your Summer Camp program for 2019? Struggling to come up with new and engaging ideas? Don’t worry, it can be a tricky process, especially when you want to incorporate original concepts to avoid doing the same old thing.
Between managing staff, organising logistics and marketing your camp, coming up with new program ideas can be challenging. We’re here to help, with our list of 5 activities to make summer camp memorable in 2019.
1. A Minecraft™ Inspired Outdoor Adventure
It’s the video game with over 91 million monthly players and a loyal cult following. Kids love it, so why not encourage them outdoors with a Minecraft™ themed adventure? Designed to get today’s digital generation off their screens and back outdoors, Wildcraft Adventure™ takes the best bits from the video game and transforms them into an outdoor experience they’ll never forget.
It’s a brand new way to engage the digital generation in the kind of outdoor adventures that us adults loved when we were kids. This game includes outdoor classics like den building, fire-lighting and scavenger hunts and combines them with video game elements like scoring points, beating monsters and gathering magical items – it’s like living in a real video game. Plus, players will have to use bushcraft, survival skills, teamwork and problem solving throughout.
Kids love mystery and surprise so, creating original and interesting scientific experiments can be a real winner. You don’t need a physics degree make this happen either, just some common ingredients, clear instructions and the necessary safety precautions. Here’s a few cool ideas to get you started:
Make a Solar Oven Believe it or not, it all starts with a pizza box. Kids will love it!
3. If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em: Host Themed Days
Yes, you may have done this a hundred times over – but, add a twist and the kids will love it. Get together with your camp counselors and have a think about recent kids movies and trends. From Deadpool and Marvel to Disney and Lego – there’s always a new craze you can get on board with.
Whether you decide to hold a fancy dress day or create activities based on a theme – the options are endless. You can also easily add educational elements in like languages, geography and performing arts.
4. Incorporate Mindfulness
Mindfulness and wellbeing are hot topics for adults at the moment, so why shouldn’t it be for kids too? With the modern pressures of social media and the internet, children need to learn the power of mindfulness just as much as adults. Schools across the US are increasingly incorporating it into the curriculum through a range of activities, so here’s how you can do it at summer camp too:
Combine Mindfulness with Bushcraft
This practice combines nature and ‘rewilding’ to help kids reconnect with the outdoors. By assisting with nature conservation and learning bushcraft survival skills, there are proven benefits that kids’ mental health can improve from the experience.
Practising bushcraft requires children to adopt a mindful approach to their actions as patience, awareness and concentration are all key to mastering activities like knife craft and ancient fire-lighting.
Pair Up Mindfulness and Yoga
Not only does yoga enhance stability and focus, it also aids relaxation and mental wellbeing. Plus, it’s a great way to take a break between daily activities and inject some calm into your program.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Whether you decide to do a seated, walking or guided meditation, it can have a surprising impact on behaviour and mental wellbeing for kids. Here’s a handy article from the ACA (American Camp Association) on how to get started.
“Kids are accustomed to using their senses to experience life. They look, touch, smell, and even taste their way through the world. This natural inclination toward mindfulness makes teaching kids to meditate easier than we thought. In fact, it’s a no-brainer.”Laurie Palagyi
Mindfulness and Roleplay
Get the kids to become the animals that live in the woods! Why not use roleplay to introduce kids to mindfulness through engaging them with nature? Check out our handy video on how to use animals as a starting point for practising mindfulness in nature. It’s proven to work with kids and adults.
“Animal Form Games invite participants to empathize with animals, to imitate their attitudes, and, to the best of their human-bodied ability in the throes of a game, practice animals ways of moving.”Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature
5. Get Creative with Campfire Cooking
New flavours and foods can be a real treat for kids. Explore world foods, host a mini street food festival and at the same time enhance outdoor cooking skills with new and original recipes. No need to go gourmet with this one, simple yet tasty will be a winner every time.
Here’s a few delicious ideas to add you to your Summer Camp program for 2019:
Hopefully, these activities will give you food for thought when putting that all-important program together. If you’re still stuck for ideas though, head to Pinterest which offers a goldmine of tips, tricks and activities, perfect for camp.
If you’re interested in the Wildcraft Adventure™ but aren’t 100% sure about how to implement it, contact us here and we’ll be more than happy to give you all the details you need.
James & Lea Kendall are the creators of Woodland Classroom. “Through our passion, enthusiasm and experience we help people connect with nature, feel healthier and have meaningful experiences through positive activity and creative play.”
“We are experienced outdoor educators with a background in bushcraft, forest school and nature therapy, who love what we do.”
Are you looking for a simple but tasty treat that could go head-to-head with marshmallows as the number one campfire snack with kids? Well look no further…
We cook A LOT of marshmallows over the campfire with kids when we host our Forest School sessions and Woodland Birthday Parties. We know children love them, but they are not exactly a nutritionists best friend. They also contain gelatine made from pork or beef and we’re getting a lot more requests from parents who want vegetarian or vegan friendly campfire snacks for their kids when they come out to the woods with us. Last but not least, they’re sticky residue is a nightmare to get out of your clothes. Luckily, we have the solution.
Toffee Apple Slices are our alternative to marshmallows and kids love them! Granted they’re still coated in sugar but kids are getting some fruit down them and this recipe is vegan too. Our favourite sugar to use is coconut blossom sugar, as it less refined and less processed than regular sugar but any soft brown sugar will do the trick. They make a great hot campfire snack anytime of the year, especially in the autumn when you can walk out to an apple tree and pick the fruit straight from the branch.
Light or Dark Brown Soft Sugar
Cinnamon and Nutmeg – add to taste
To get a fire that really makes the most mouth-watering toffee apple slices it’s best to let your flames die down and roast your apples over the hot coals – just like you would with a bbq. This will save them from burning.
First gently roast your apple slice over the fire until it begins to go soft and the pulp starts to bubble up.
Next, dip your hot apple slice in a tray of soft brown sugar until it is well coated. Be careful it doesn’t fall off the stick.
Roast your coated apple slice over the fire again until the sugar starts to melt.
Now for the final touch… let your apple slice cool for a minute and the sugar will harden up and give your apple a crispy toffee coating – simply delicious.
Eat and repeat!
For a slightly spiced variant on this snack then try sprinkling some cinnamon and/or nutmeg into the sugar. Ginger would work well too.
Which Wood Should You Use?
For your roasting stick we would recommend using either a hazel, willow or sycamore stick. At Forest School this can be a whole activity in itself, identifying the tree in the woods, cutting a suitable branch responsibly and reducing the damage to the tree, then practising some basic whittling skills by slicing away the bark near the tip and making a sharp point.
We would recommend using green (fresh) sticks from a tree as they are more resistant to the fire than dead twigs, so will last longer.
Sycamore – the winter twig and full leaf.
FUN FACT:Sycamore (Acerpseudoplatanus) actually contains it’s own natural antibacterial and antiviral properties, which is one reason why it is very sought after for use in kitchenware. This makes it a really safe wood to use for roasting sticks when out in the woods with kids.
Full disclosure, I personally can’t stand marshmallows, even though I cook so many, so I was very glad to discover this tasty alternative. Thanks to the Forest School Leader who shared this cooking idea with us at a skill share training day in Derbyshire last year, I can’t remember your name but we’re forever grateful 🙂
Happy cooking everyone.
James & Lea Kendall are the creators of Woodland Classroom. “Through our passion, enthusiasm and experience we help people connect with nature, feel healthier and have meaningful experiences through positive activity and creative play.”
“We are experienced outdoor educators with a background in bushcraft, forest school and nature therapy, who love what we do.”
Nature heals us, builds new connections and improves our mental health. Many of us know this instinctually, that walking in woodland is somehow good for us, at the very least we know it helps us to relax. There are also now many scientific studies that provide evidence of why woodlands and forests are so beneficial to human health… aside from the obvious production of life-sustaining oxygen of course 😉 What I’d like to talk about though is my own personal experiences and how practising mindfulness outdoors and hedgerow medicine has enriched my life, and how it could benefit you too.
There have been a whole range of positive differences, on top of an improved state of mental health, that have manifested in my life since practicing Mindfulness in the Woods. My anxiety levels have been much reduced after a difficult period, which I’ll explain in more detail later. I also find I am eating a more plant-based diet and have discovered a renewed passion for natural remedies and herb lore. My knowledge of tree & wildflower identification is getting much better and I am also considering my daily impact on the planet more than ever; I’m buying products without palm oil, reducing my waste and buying more organic foods from small local businesses. My latest venture is lacto-fermentation, an ancient way of preserving whilst increasing the nutritional value of wild foods and vegetables. I no longer eat intensively farmed meat or dairy produce. In a nutshell, I just care more about myself and my natural environment, as if we have become one, or maybe the journey isn’t about becoming anything, maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that’s not really you, so you can become who you were meant to be in the first place. A natural part of the forest.
I have been running courses in Mindfulness in the Woods for a while now and during this time I have met all sorts of people who decided to attend for different reasons. As they introduced themselves around our campfire circle I would get an insight into their stories; some said they were looking for ways to reduce their anxiety, some were keen on outdoor pursuits and wanted to bring something new and meaningful to their time in the great outdoors, whilst others were just curious, knowing that they loved being in a woodland and that mindfulness could possibly help towards reducing stress in their lives.
“Lea is a lovely, warm person who quickly put the group at ease. We practised engaging with nature with all our senses and learnt some strategies to deal with stress and anxiety. I am a walker so this will really enhance my walks and make them more meaningful.”Course Participant
My sessions act as an introduction to the subject and last three hours. Activities can include mindful walking with the senses, reflecting on the Seven Principles of Mindfulness and what nature can teach us about them, making art in nature, Sit Spots and more. The feedback has been great, with many participants asking for a longer version of this course… more on that at the end of this blog.
“I have to say it was a fantastic introduction to mindfulness and meditation. We were immediately made to feel welcome and secure, she created a good nurturing space. We learned new skills and the practical work was really eye opening. Lots of things to take away, and I will certainly be actively practicing what we learned. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to step out of their hectic lives for a couple of hours.” Course Participant
Becoming a Mindfulness in the Woods Practitioner has led me to reflect deeply about my own relationship to nature and how it has developed my connection to self in the process. I now see that when I connect with nature I am also connecting with my body and spirit and don’t see these things as separate but one and the same. Practising mindfulness whilst out in nature has allowed me to connect with the very essence of who I am, the building blocks of my body and the spirit of generations past before me.
Mindfulness in Nature Healed My Own Anxiety
Last year I qualified as a counsellor and life coach. During my study for this I spent four years trying to ‘find myself’ and connect with my body, feelings and authentic self. I did not find this easy. Years of social conditioning and self-protection led me to construct a sense of self that was about other people and their opinions of me rather than my true nature.
Qualifying as a counsellor and leaving college was a difficult transition for me, it coincided with a home & business move from Mid to North Wales, leaving family behind in the process, all the while I was still feeling very much on my journey to self-discovery, peeling away the layers to often difficult and painful aspects of self, but without the weekly Personal Development group I was used to having at college, as a support and space to discuss, cry and reflect, I was beginning to find myself overly anxious with a real fear of slipping into depression.
I love to learn new skills and take positive action, so on completing my counselling training I then went on to complete training as a Mindfulness in the Woods Practitioner, which for me, brought my love of nature, my Forest School business and my love of personal development and therapy into one neat package. Being able to deliver this all together into a beautiful combination, so others can benefit too, continues to be very rewarding.
I knew it was important to practice what I was teaching to others, so I made regular time for yoga, meditated at home and developed my knowledge of woodlands by noticing and deepening my observation of my natural surroundings; watching the birds and just being still in nature, drinking in her essence and being at one with this place that was also inside of me. For me this was my cure.
Science Agrees: Nature Is Good For You
There are studies that show the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in a person’s saliva is reduced when spending time in nature and studies in Japan show cancer rates being higher in people living in towns compared to those living near a forest. In Japan, mindful time spent in nature is called Shinrin Yoku which translates to “Forest Bathing.”
In their article, Science Agrees: Nature Is Good For You, The Association of Nature & Forest Therapy says that stress is dramatically reduced by both gazing upon a scene in nature and by walking in nature. Again, cortisol levels, sympathetic nerve activity (your body’s reaction to stressful situations), blood pressure and heart rate were all reduced in participants. The article also talks about the increase in immune functioning and creativity. One study showed a group of outward-bound participants scoring 50% better in problem-solving tasks after 3 days of wilderness backpacking.
Amazing Things Happen When You Just Sit Still
When you let yourself relax with nature, become present with it with both body and mind, amazing things start to happen. I’ve seen the evidence first hand, during my mindfulness sessions. The activity I asked the participants to take part in was a Sit Spot, which is time spent looking on a scene in the woodlands, being present in the moment and watching nature. During the Sit Spot, woodland life becomes at peace with us. Insects, birds, even mammals begin to accept us as we slow right down, no longer pose a threat to them but becoming part of the landscape.
On coming back to the fire circle after our Sit Spot one participant told me she had glanced at her Fit Bit whilst sitting and her heart rate was reading lower than it had ever been. Quite a positive result I’d say!
“it seemed the animals accepted me as a natural part of that place. Going there felt like going home. Even the song sparrow who hung out in a nearby patch of knotweed eventually stopped chipping its alarms at me; instead while I sat, it would come to the bush behind me and sing its beautiful song right over my head…. I had so many amazing, unforgettable experiences, just sitting quietly in this place until I became part of the other world of wild animals and nature. You can do the same thing.”Evan McGown, Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature
I recently had two wonderful experiences myself using the Sit Spot technique. The first was with my husband as we sat in the woods, leaning against an old oak. A dead tree stood close and in the forefront of our view. We were privileged to watch a woodpecker fly to the dead tree and busy itself for the next forty minutes as it drilled, pecked and flitted in and out of holes in the search for insects, seemingly unaware of our presence just below. My most recent experience was a half hour Sit Spot spent in woodland in Derbyshire. Here, amoungst the bluebells, two little woodmice appeared right next to my foot. They were rustling under the leaves and going about their business, paying me no attention at all, leaving me free to watch them up close with absolute wonder and amazement, feeling such gratitude for this experience. My smile reached my ears after this very special encounter.
Want to try Mindfulness in Woodlands for yourself?
I run Mindfulness in the Woods events regularly in North Wales and occasionally in Swansea, Cardiff and Lampeter. If you are interested in attending one of these then you can find upcoming dates on our Events page HERE or you can email me if you’d like to know more.
I am also excited to be co-hosting the Woodland Mindfulness & Bushcraft Weekend in North Wales this coming June, along with three other tutors, each with their own specialism in either mindfulness or bushcraft skills. It’s going to be a fantastic event bringing these two disciplines together.
Lastly, following the beginning of my private counselling practice and running Mindfulness in the Woods events, I have now started offering one-to-one nature therapy sessions. This came about naturally due to a demand from course participants who wanted more and wanted to know what else I could offer them. One woman asked whether she could have a ‘monthly top up’ of Mindfulness in the Woods whilst also having the space to talk privately and focus on herself for a couple of hours with a trained counsellor. If you would like to know more about this service, please get in touch.