foraging

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Edible Invasive Plants and Biodiversity

As a keen forager, it is safe to say that I love all things wild food related, including the invasive species that climb onto, grow on and invade our native landscapes. When people see hear about my foraging adventures or join me for a trip outdoors, they are often worried if we are damaging the environment around us. I never claim to be an expert.

When it comes to wildlife, nobody is an expert. However, if you take the time to learn about the environment around you, the plants that grow in different seasons and the invasive plant species that are causing trouble than foraging for wild food and learning about the landscapes is the ideal way to brush up on your knowledge and avoid damaging the environment. If you would like to forage for wild foods go with somebody who knows their region, bring the right equipment and enjoy spending time outdoors.   

I have been following fellow foragers and food enthusiasts for a long time now and there are a few that have increased their focus on invasive plant species. So what are invasive plants, how can we identify them and how can we use them in our everyday lives? 

Invasive plants are introduced to their surroundings by foreign means and usually spreads generously around us. When they start to thrive they often cause harm to native eco-systems. Depending on your location you may be familiar with some non-native plant species. For instance, Japanese knotweed thrives in the woodlands and marshlands of Ireland. 

Here are just a few common invasive species you can find in Ireland:

Zebra mussels

Zebra Mussels can cause changes in water cycles and impact on the native mussels we love and the fish stocks. These guys originally come from Russia and the Ukraine. Many people won’t eat these mussels as they pick up pollutants easily. However, so does all shellfish so more research is needed here and they are used by chefs in some parts of the world. 

Sea Buckthorn

One of the hardest to pick but the sweetest taste if you can manage the picking. We finds lots of these berries spiking from their branches along the east coast shores of Ireland. Full of anti-oxidents and Vitamin C, this berry hangs around the shorelines of the UK, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. These guys are considered an invasive species so pick away. 

Japanese Knotweed

It is highly likely that you have heard of or seen this invasive plant in a park nearby or even your neighbours garden.  It was first brought to Europe in the mid 19th century by a botanist. Japanese Knotweed grows at an incredible rate and is capable of significantly damaging properties as it can squeeze through gaps of concrete.

There are three methods that are commonly recommended for helping to prevent the spread of Japanese knotweed. You can either spray it with chemicals that will eventually damage the environment around the plant, you can choose to bury it so deep that the plant is prevented from growing up out of the ground again or you can burn it. A less known method for getting rid of this disturbing plant is eating it. Yes, knotweed is edible and tastes similar to rhubarb, maybe a little more sour in taste. Not all parts of the plant are edible. Eat the shoots in springtime before they get hard. Enjoy them in dessert dishes and experiments.

Chickweed

Chickweed is a commonly foraged plant in Europe and it is native to the region. It can be varied in appearance but once you identify as area of it you will see it appear in the same place each year. It’s oval shaped leaves grow in pairs and it is abundant in Springtime. Best eaten fresh and raw, it has a mild flavour. It is considered an invasive species and often plagues land owners in North America. Instead of tackling it with pesticides, try picking some for your salads. 

Garlic Mustard 

Considered an invasive herb in the US it can be found in forests and the edges of woodlands throughout the world. If you are based in the US or Canada than please feel free to go on the ultimate picking spree with this tasty plant. It takes over woodland spaecs and blocks the light and water resources from nature species. It grows on roadsides, forest edges and open forest floors. The young stems and leaves are delicious. They can be steamed with other vegetables to add a garlic mustard flavour or cut them up to add them to soups and salads. Garlic mustard pesto and hummus are great recipes too. Treat your dinner guests to a special dip with their chips.

Hairy Bittercress

This is a popular member of the mustard family and well known by foragers around the world. Tiny white flowers develop at the tip of the stems. The leaves and seeds are popular additions to salads and stir fry dishes. It is a welcome peppery flavour. Bittercress likes open, disturbed spaces and you will often find it popping up near the garden or along pathways. Like a lot of edible green weeds, the leaves from hairy bittercress wilt quickly so it is best to consume it fresh.

Purslane

This sweet wild treat comes into its own in the summer months. It contains fatty acids and vitamin E. It is known to help treat digestive and urinary issues. Purslane has thick purple stems. You will notice the small yellow flowers that sprout from the tips of the plant. It is an invasive plant in North America and had been used in traditional dishes and salads in the 18th century. 

Feel free to have a listen to this short invasive rant here!

Learn more about Invasive plants on one of our foraging adventures.

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What’s in Season? Foraging in February

There are wild treats to be found throughout the year but as we make our way into the Spring months the forests start to come alive. In February the snow capped slopes will start to appear green again and we can venture outdoors to get closer to nature.

So what’s in season at this time of the year. Foraging in February is fruitful if you know what to look for and where to find them.

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Hairy Bittercress

A common plant that grows year round and is the perfect replacement for cress or rocket in your salad dishes. Pick the leaves when young; February is an ideal time of year to collect these.

Nettles

This versatile stinging leaf is one of the most undervalued wild edibles around. From warming nettle soup to fresh nettle pesto there are so many ways to use this ingredient in Springtime.

Pennywort

Another underestimated small plant is pennywort. Often found crowded at the sides of forests and trees, this wild gem is said to help lower blood pressure. Eat it raw in salads or add it to dishes like you will find is some cuisine of Sri Lanka.

Wild Garlic

You will find this pungent plant growing in large patches in dense forests. Both the leaves and flowers are edible and chefs around the world will be out and about for wild garlic season. Follow your nose instead of your eyes for this wild plant as the smell will guide you to its location.

Watercress

As the name suggests this wild plant can be found near the water sides. It works well in soups and the raw leaves are packed full of nutrients and anti-oxidants.

Salad Burnet

As a member of the rose family we love this refreshing wild plant species. The leaves are small and delicate and often hard to identify. Many say that it tastes like cucumber which makes is a perfect addition to all winter salads.

Gorse

This is one of our favourite flowers. It has a mild coconut flavour and works a treat in salads and smoothies. Remember to leave some for the bees as they love these bright yellow flowers.

Be sure to wash all of your wild foraged foods carefully under luke warm water, never uproot the plant, be gentle and don’t forget to enjoy the journey along the way.

Now that you know whats out there you can begin your foraging in February adventures.

Enjoy learning about the wild foods around you and join us for a local forage in Ireland if you are nearby. You will find our guided day tours here.

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Springtime Foraging Tours 2020

Join us for a taste of the wild as we embark on unique adventures in Dublin and Wicklow for some Springtime foraging fun. We will enjoy learning about the land around us, getting a taste for foraging and making some new friends.

We are pleased to announce three public foraging tours for the coming months.

Friday 21st of Feb – Dublin

In February we will walk the trails, sample the wild food and discover the wild foods around us.

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Friday 6th of March – Dublin

In March we are planning our wild greens outing to the coast of Dublin where we pick some wild learns and get to know about the plant species living near the capital.

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Friday 13th of March – Wicklow

In the middle of March we will make our way to the heart of Wicklow where the mountains greet us and the forests house lots of hidden treasures for foragers to enjoy.

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We recommend that all participants bring a small picnic on the day as we will stop for a break to discuss the wild plants that we discover.

Some Foraging Rules:

  • Never taste anything that you cannot identify correctly
  • Wear gloves when picking
  • Never pick from the root as you will kill the plant
  • Always forage with a friend (preferably one who has knowledge of wild plant species).
  • Do not pick endangered species
  • Do not take more than you need

If you have any questions about your tour please contact one of our foraging team at info@orchardsnearme.com

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Bespoke Workbooks for Wild Food Lovers

Every season we try to keep track of all of our wild food finds. We write them down, put them alongside new recipes that we try out and try to remember the locations of the plant. It is difficult to remember every trail and every outdoor adventure throughout the year so we have designed bespoke worksheets for our foraging adventures and our herb garden.

Each pack contains everything you need to start planning your wild food adventures. It should allow you to get organised and keep a record of your progress when you are learning about the herbs and wild plants around you. Each workbook contains 15 pages that are downloadable and reusable for your seasonal experiences.

The foraging planner workbook includes a journal, a trail tracker, a seasonal worksheet and goal setting worksheets. GET YOUR FORAGING WORKBOOK HERE

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The Herb planner workbook includes seasonal herbs, recipe sheets, a trail tracker, a herb journal and a herb diary. GET YOUR HERB WORKBOOK HERE

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We hope that you enjoy our bespoke workbooks for all of your wild food adventures.

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Best Wild Herbs for Anxiety

When you are feeling stressed or anxious you will take anything to make this panicked feeling disappear. Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. Whether its an interview you have to do, an exam you have to take or the stresses of work. However some people suffer more than others and find it difficult to manage their levels of anxiety.

You may already be familiar with the big drugs like zanex or valium but many do not know that natural herbs growing all around us can help us to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. Why not give a mixture of exercise, meditation and herbal teas a try to tackle your inner demons?

What are the causes of anxiety?

It is usually a combination of factors that include environmental factors and genetics.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Every person is different and we all react in different ways. A feeling of panic, an increased heart rate, sweating, rapid breathing, restlessness and a lack of focus are just a few of the many common symptoms of anxiety.

Here are some of the best wild herbs for anxiety:

St.John’s Wort

Dried St.John’s Wort can be a calming tea substitute if you want to relax at the end of your day. The active ingredient of hypericum in this herb is said to interact with the hormones of serotonin and dopamine which are associated with depression. One study by the Cochrane Review Group found that it was as good as standard anti-depressants. However like all things we consume, this herb interacts with all other chemicals in our body so if you are best to consult your doctor if you are taking other medications before messing around with this powerful yellow plant.

Valerian

Used as a medicinal herb since ancient greek and roman times, this bright flower has become well regarded for its treatment of nervousness. Taking a cup of Valerian root tea can help the mind and body to relax, therefore aiding stress and anxiety. Herbalists sometimes use it as a tincture.

Lavender

Lavender has traditionally been used for its calming and therapeutic properties. In some countries a bunch of lavender is placed under a pillow at night-time to improve sleep and you will commonly find lavender scented candles in spa resorts to enhance a calm atmosphere. Evidence suggests that lavender oil taken orally is an efficient mood stabilizer, may be helpful in treating neurological disorders and contains neuroprotective properties.

Lemon Balm

This sweet scented herb has been used for over 2000 years and it is believed to be a mood enhancer. It has the ability to improve cognitive function and has proved effective in the treatment of anxiety. One study published in the Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that administration of 300 mg lemon balm extract for 15 days showed to improve symptoms of anxiety and insomnia in participants.

Why try natural remedies for anxiety?

Why not! If you are feeling anxious or stressed sometimes a walk in nature is all you need. Other herbs that we love that you may have access to are ginger and tumeric, both have natural benefits. You can also try cleansing the air of negative energy with some DIY smudge sticks. However if you want to try herbs or other remedies there are plenty of ways to try and tackle those negative feelings and herbs may be one of many things that people have used to sooth the mind since ancient times.

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6 Tasty Food & Foraging Experiences in Europe

At Orchardsnearme.com we only partner with the experts. From food filled adventures to local foraging experiences, each trip is designed to reflect the true landscape and production in a region. If you are a food and nature lover than there are some mouthwatering foraging experiences in Europe.

A Taste of Ireland: Coast to Coast

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We always start at home. As we are based in Ireland we can guarantee a fun time on this action packed food adventure. From coastal foraging along the Wild Atlantic Way to mountain walks to meeting the local historians, every activity on this excursion is unique.

WHEN TO GO: When you visit Ireland at any time of the year you can expect all four seasons in one. However, the tides do need to be considered when planning any coastal foraging adventure. We are planning expert guided tours for April and May 2020. If you want to organise a private group trip outside of these days please get in touch with us directly.

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Italian Foraging Experience

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Real foodies will be in heaven on this bespoke foraging experience. This day long tour is packed full of natures delights. You will enjoy learning about the wild produce of Italy, sample pasta making, taste the wines and meet the local experts.

WHEN TO GO: Italy can be extremely hot in the summer months so we are recommending the Spring and Autumn months for guided foraging adventures in Italy.

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Do Emporda Wine & Orchard Adventure

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The untouched beauty of Do Emporda region in Catalonia will leave you wanting more. From famous tapas to orchards bursting with fruits, this area is waiting to be discovered. Visit stunning apple orchards, taste the local wines and meet the fruit producers.

WHEN TO GO: Catalonia is blessed with the beautiful sea breeze from the Mediterranean. Even in the middle of summer if you are by the Costa Brava you should enjoy a nice summer temperature. Any month from March to September is good for this tasty adventure.

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A Taste of Slovenia: The Mountains are Calling

Untapped and ready to be explored, Slovenia is rich in nature, making the perfect partner for our team. From those who love to combine outdoor adventure and food filled trails, the Julian Alps is the perfect spot to sip the local wines and get a true taste of outdoor life.

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WHEN TO GO: There are snow capped peaks in the North west of Slovenia from December to March each year. From May to October you will enjoy warm weather and perfect conditions for getting outdoors, visiting the local food producers and experiencing the landscapes.

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Discover the Douro Valley

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Our friends in the Douro region of Northern Portugal are looking forward to welcoming you to one of the most famous wine regions in Europe. On this unique trip you will have the opportunity to visit an olive farm and several vineyards to get a true flavour of the land.

WHEN TO GO: The Douro Valley experiences warm summers and cold winters. From May to October you will enjoy sunshine, warm winds and the ideal months for witnessing the harvest activities of the region.

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A Taste of Croatia: Gourmet Adventure Break

Now renowned as the home of Game of Thrones, Croatia is a magical country to visit. From the crystal blue waters of the Adriatic coast to lush waterfalls of the interior, we will connect you with every aspect of nature. Truffles feature heavily in all aspects of this farm-to-table adventure.

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WHEN TO GO: From November to April many of the tourist accommodation and facilities close for the winter season. Between May and October you can expect dry, warm weather weather and lots of activity around all of the major towns.

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To book your next food filled adventure or learn more about the wonderful foraging experiences in Europe talk to a member of our team anytime.

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Wild Recipe: 3 Cosy Wild Tea Recipes for Winter

Nothing warms the heart like a hot cup of tea in the winter months. Sitting by the fire with a mug of your favourite wild tea will bring a smile to your evening. We love to forage for wild tea ingredients. From calming chamomile to energy boosting dandelions, there is inspiration everywhere in nature. Here are three of our favourite wild tea recipes to try out at home.

Sweet Rosehip Tea

Rosehips are a ripe winter fruit that contain large amounts of Vitamin C.

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Dandelion Delights

This little yellow weed never fails to surprise us. We use the flower heads for tea, starter snacks and additions to our pies. The leaves and root can also be used in your wild dishes. Dandelions contain anti-oxidants and are said to reduce cholesterol and inflammation.

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Soothing Yarrow Tea

Yarrow is a relaxing herb. It helps your muscles and improves blood circulation. Note: do not use this herb if you are on other medication or pregnant.

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To learn more about Wild herbal teas and make some delicious blends you can download your own Wild Herbal Tea Recipe Collection.

For more information about foraging for wild tea ingredients contact the team or join us on one of our foraging experiences.

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What’s in Season? Foraging in Winter Months

Sometimes foraging in winter feels like a secret adventure. Wild foodie treasures don’t fully disappear after the fruitful summer months. Fresh green leaves, nuts and berries may be a little harder to identify but they are there for the taking. Sometimes it feels as though nature knows more about what we actually need than we do ourselves. You will find plenty of sources of vitamin C and other immune boosters during the winter months, helping you to keep cold and flu symptoms at a distance.

When the evenings are dark and there is frost in the air you have plenty of time for playing around with your wild food finds in the kitchen. Every season is a time to get back to nature and reconnect with the landscapes around you. When you look at the winter hedgerows, drooping, grey and glistening with frost, it’s hard to imagine there is much life around. But the truth is, even in the depths of winter, plenty of foodie treasures can be found.

Grab your hat and scarf and head out for a local forage with friends. Here are just a few of the wild treats you can hope to discover in winter.

BERRIES

Rosehips

One of our favourite food sources in winter is the Vitamin C packed rose hip. These are plentiful in parks and woodlands at this time of year. Be sure to wear your gloves as they come with thorns attached to the stems. Enjoy sipping rosehip tea and mixing them for syrups.

Hawthorns

Used as a herbal remedy to tackle high blood pressure in ancient times, the hawthorn berries and stems are high in antioxidants.

Juniper Berries

These tree berries are deep purple in colour. You can infuse them in drinks and the stems have a wonderful fragrance that can be used to clear any nasty odours in the house.

Sloe Berries

Gin infused with sloe berries is now one of the most popular drinks on the market and it is easy to see why. Sloes are sweet and pack a punch when it comes to flavour.

WILD GREENS

Pine Needles

These spiky needles that come from scots and spruce pine trees contain high amounts of vitamin C and are often used in winter herbal tea recipes.

Wood Sorrel

Available year round this healthy woodland green is a wonderful addition to warm salads in winter. They have a bitter but pleasing taste that will leave you wanting more.

Jack by the Hedge

Often known as garlic mustard, Jack by the Hedge is a winter gem. They have distinct heart shaped, hairless leaves that sometimes look like nettles but they won’t sting you. The leaves have a natural anti-freeze and so they are worth foraging in the winter months.

Honesty

With its radish flavoured leaves Honesty is a lovely little leaf to forage in winter. Try a taste of the root and the leaves.

Ground Elder

Smelling and tasting a little like parsley we can think of lots of dishes for this wild weed.

Dock

If they are picked young they have a nice lemon flavour that goes well with any fish dish.

MUSHROOMS

To our amazement the woods are still packed with different mushroom species this year but there are some types of mushrooms more commonly found in winter than others. These include wood blewits, velvet shank mushrooms and oyster mushrooms.

Join one of our next foraging tours or find out more about winter foraging with our free foraging guide.

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Wild Recipe: Pickled Plantain Seeds

Ever thought about cooking with plantain? This common weed is full of nutrients and so versatile. We are having a lot of fun experimenting with this wild weed and cooking up some tasty wild recipes.

WHAT IS PLANTAIN?

Broadleaf Plantain (aka Plantago Major) is a common weed, medicinal plant and natural herb. It can now be found growing in most parts of the world. It contains vitamins A, C and K. The oval shaped leaves can be eaten raw and the seeds are packed full of nutritious benefits.

HOW TO PREPARE AND USE PLANTAIN

Leaves can be added to salads and all parts of the plant can be mixed in with your homemade vegetable soups. Plantain seeds can be used in salads, stir-fry’s and curries. Today we are making pickled plantain seeds.

INGREDIENTS

  • Red Cabbage
  • Coriander
  • White wine vinegar
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Curly dock Seeds
  • Plantain seeds
  • Chilli
  • Garlic

INSTRUCTIONS

Carefully wash all of the ingredients.

Use a pestal and mortar to grin the chili, garlic cloves and sugar together.

Finely chop two handfuls of red cabbage.

Add all of the ingredients to a large jar, throw the seeds on top of the mixture. Add a pinch of salt and pour white wine vinegar over the mixture until it is fully covered.

Leave the closed jar to ferment for two to three days in the fridge.

Enjoy your pickled plantain goodness! If you have more sweet or spicy plantain recipes we would love to hear from you. To start planning your foraging adventures you can download a copy of our Foraging Workbook Planner here.

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Why eating local is the future!

Do you know where the food that you eat comes from? If not than maybe its time to find out. Eating locally produced food has benefits for both us and our fragile eco-system.

By 2050 the UN experts predict that we will  have 2.5 billion more people living on our planet. The UN believes that we will have to double our food production but wait, let’s take a closer look at our current system and see if there are some areas of improvement. If one third of the food we grow is never eaten than there is surely room for lots of improvements in how we consume our foods and the way we learn about the food around us.

This is one of the primary reasons foraging for food became a passion for us. We wanted to see how the plants were growing, what environments they lived in and how other plants interact with them before we decide to use them in our dishes. Experimenting with food has to be one of my biggest passions and heading out into the wild to source invasive wild produce is like going to a toy store as a child.

WHY WE SHOULD EAT LOCAL

NUTRITION

If you buy locally grown food than the food should arrive on your plate shortly after it is produced, thereby holding more of its nutritional value. The quality of the food will be better and we will eat more seasonal produce.

INVEST IN THE LOCAL COMMUNITY

As well as helping your local environment you are also helping the local economy. Buying local means that the money you spend on food goes back into the local economy, spreading the wealth around the local area.

REDUCE FOOD WASTE

This is something that we are all guilty of and with the prolific use of plastics in our supermarkets it is difficult to avoid all waste after you do your shopping. However if we begin to shop locally and organically we can significantly cut down on our weekly waste.

In addition to composting we can find alternative uses for our food waste and this is starting to become a hot topic of conversation. Farms are experimenting, using compost as feed and biofuel.

SAVING ESSENTIAL WATER RESOURCES

Our natural water sources are being depleted. A sustainable future requires a collective appreciation of all of our water sources.

WHAT CAN I DO?

Here are four simple changes that you can make to your daily routine to help secure a brighter, sustainable, local future for your community.

  1. Take time to understand where your food is coming from and how it is produced.
  2. Adopt a composting culture. Recycling has become the norm for most households today, composting needs to be the same.
  3. Save water whenever possible.
  4. Join us for a foraging adventure and learn about the wild edible species around you.

Some people are concerned that foraging or extracting sources of wild food could damage the environment. However, let me introduce you to invasive plants. Everywhere you look you will stumble upon an invasive plant species. Not all are edible but some are simply delicious and not only is it okay to forage these wild plants, you are assisting the environment by tackling the large amounts of these non-native species and allowing the true natives to flourish.

After a number of years in the making, the Invasivore Movement is catching up and people are starting to realise that eating local doesn’t have to be expensive. Eating local may mean both organic farm produce and wild invasive species like some weeds that can easily replace a number of our refrigerated green leaves. Using weeds as a source of food can be nutritious and benefit the environment at the same time.

In fact many environmental groups agree that invasive species can damage and change a landscape. According to the Woodland Trust “invasive non-native species are one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss” and over 30% of important plant areas contain invasive species. How do we tackle this issue? Well, will I be so bold as to suggest foraging! Yes, foraging is one way that we can help to reclaim the natural eco-system and improve the quality of life for our native plants and trees.

Let’s think about other ways that we can begin to think locally, eat locally and create a sustainable environment that feeds future populations. Do you eat your local fruits and plants? If you have a local food story to share we would love to hear from you.

Feel free to listen to the podcast version of this article on our YouTube channel

Join in our wild food experiences and come foraging for invasive plant species on one of our guided foraging experiences.

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