Wildlife Watch

with our in-house forager

We want to encourage people to make the most of their daily walks and to embrace the nature that surrounds us. Each week Natasha, our in-house forager, is going to share a plant, tree or bird for you to look out for on your daily walk, or even from your garden.

September: Rowan

“Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) is part of the Ogham in the Gaelic alphabet. It is credited with keeping witchcraft, the evil eye and ghosts at bay. It is often seen growing near houses for protection. A small piece or cross was put above the front door to avert evil. The berries were also distilled to create a protective charm spirit.

Rowan berries are bright red and easily distinguished. They can be used to make jelly or chutney, but must be frozen or boiled to make them safely edible. They contain parasorbic acid that is broken down on freezing or boiling into sorbic acid. In recent studies, sorbic acid has been shown to prevent the breakdown of collagen in the skin. The berries also contain a significant amount of vitamin C.”

29 June: Heather

“Heather grows in abundance around Braemar and many other parts of Scotland. It is iconic for making the Scottish hills glow pink and purple at certain times of the year. There are two different main types of heather, Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) has purple flowers and Ling Heather (Calluna vulgaris) has pink flowers.

Historically it was used as a waterproof thatch for black houses and for making strong ropes. The tough springy stems have to be soaked first to make them pliable enough to bend into shape. Remains of an alcoholic drink with heather in it was found on a pottery shard from 3,000 years ago and it is still used as a flavouring in commercial beers today. 

There are interesting old stories of a heather beer being consumed before going into battle. A bit more than dutch courage according to the stories, as at certain times of year a white fungal bloom grows on the heather flowers and this is supposed to be mind altering. This was utilised as a way to help the mind when going into battle. Please do not try this at home!”

8 June: Chickweed

“Chickweed is a low growing plant found in many gardens and cultivated areas, often seen as a weed. But for me I really like the refreshing taste and use it in salads and sandwiches. The leaves contain 14% protein, 2% fats, 63% carbohydrates and Vitamins A, B1, B2 and B6.

Medicinally its traditionally used in a topical cream to help with skin irritations and is excellent at relieving insect bites. I’ve seen chickweed work wonders for skin where other treatments have not managed. 

Insects love this plant to feed on and wild birds love the seeds.

Its latin name, Stellaria media, comes from its delicate star-looking flower with five petals.

20 May: Hawthorn

“Hawthorn is a common shrub often found in hedgerows. It is also known as the Mayflower and traditionally it’s said that summer hasn’t started until the hawthorn has flowered. This year in the Scottish Highlands we had snow in the second week of May and the hawthorn was yet to flower.

A traditional name for its leaves is ‘bread and cheese’, although they don’t have any distinctive taste. The name is thought to have originated from WW2 when rationing meant that people looked to nature for food a bit more and hawthorn leaves were eaten.

You can pickle the leaves for later in the year. You can dry them and add them to teas. I find preservation techniques interesting as it would have been how we provided food for ourselves before supermarkets. Pickling, chutneys, jams and fermentation are our main ways of preserving. 

Later in the year, the fruit are called haws and they’re refreshing, easy to eat and taste mildly of apples. The large seeds in the fruit are not to be eaten as they contain a small amount of cyanide. The fruit contains lots of pectin which can be added to homemade jam or jelly to help it set. 

Please do not eat anything you are not 110% sure of it’s identification and respect the plant and the surrounding environment by only taking what you need and no more than a third of a patch. Your friend and neighbour may want to harvest as well and it’s good to leave some for them and for the plant to continue to grow and thrive.” 

22 April: Sweet Cicley

“Sweet cicley is part of the carrot family (apacaeie), which contains many familiar plants and even some of the most poisonous in the UK – carrots, parnsips, cow parsley, parsley, coriander, aniseed, fennel, ground elder, hemlock, water dropwort hemlock and monkshood. However, what distinguishes sweet cicley is its aniseed smell andtaste. It also has white/cream spots on the apex of the leaves. It likes to be near water and can often be found next to riverbanks.

The whole plant is edible and contains a chemical called Anethole which gives it its sweetness. I like to make a lovely cordial or syrup which can be added to cocktails. The stems can be candied to preserve them for later use and used as toppings for cakes or just eaten as a sweet treat. Traditionally the plant had been used to help calm the digestive tract, reduce flatulence and increase appetite. It is wonderful in a rhubarb crumble where it complements the tartness of the rhubarb and you don’t need as much sugar in your recipe.

Please remember to not pick or eat anything unless you are 110% sure of what it is.”

15 April: Dandelions

“You’ll find dandelions in many a crack in the pavement and in plenty of lawns. These days we have lawns of grass but originally lawns were different plants of one kind. Chamomile lawns, for instance. Dandelions were grown as a lawn and you can see how successful they would have been!

The flowers are an early food source for bees and the leaf has serrated edges and gives rise to its name in Dent de lion – Lions teeth. There are over 10,000 different species of dandelion and they are all edible. In France the young leaves are used in salads and have a sweet bitter flavour. As the year goes on the leaves become more bitter. The flowers can be made into tasty wine and a vegan ‘honey’. The roots can be made into a coffee substitute. Please do not dig roots from anywhere but your own garden as you need land owners permission to dig up roots.

There are no other plants that look like Dandelion but please don’t take more than you need and leave some for the bees.”

7 April: Wild Garlic

“Wild garlic likes to grow in shady hedgerows and open woodland, particularly damp areas. The whole plant smells of garlic and the leaves are spear shaped and pointed. It is one of the early Spring plants and is often out by March with large patches abundant with the leaves.

All parts are edible and the buds and flowers can be pickled for later in the year. The leaves are great in pesto.
As with all foraging don’t take more than you need and allow the patch to thrive after you have gathered.

Plants that are similar and often grow alongside wild garlic are lords and ladies, bluebells and lily of the valley. All of these are poisonous and not to be eaten. So be careful when you are harvesting check every leaf at the time of harvesting and double check when you get home. Please be careful and don’t eat anything you are not 100% sure of what it is.”

1 April: Nettles

“Nettles grow in loads of places. They like roadsides, waste ground, urban areas and on the edge of fields. They particularly like newly turned soil.

They are identified mainly by their stinging hairs that give a mild irritation often described as a burning sensation to skin. These grow in one direction all along the plant. The leaves grow opposite each other along the stem of the plant. The stem is 1-2cm tall and is hollow and ribbed and covered in stinging hairs. The leaves are serrated and start with a wide base and have a pointed tip.

Plants they can be misidentified with are white dead nettle and red dead nettle. Neither of these have the charateristic stinging hairs on them and instead have white and red flowers respectively when they flower. The stinging nettle has small string like flowers that grow out from the stem just under the leaves and do not look like a typical flower. Stinging nettles grow in a patch where there are many plants whereas red and white dead nettles often grow in single plants separate from each other.”

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