I am a huge fan of foraging. It’s not just the free produce, though I take great joy in magicking food from an afternoon spent in the countryside. It is also innately connected to storytelling and fond memories for me, as I was lucky enough to learn stories of the hedgerows from my family growing up.
My dad taught me about trees and wassailing, cooking, gardening and country traditions (along with Celtic and Slavic folklore, archetypes that appear across cultures and much more myth besides). Grandad taught me about wildflowers and wildlife; foraging sorrel and giving me my first taste of wild strawberries. Mum showed me how to craft fairy gardens and acorn dolls. Gran taught me how to make apple dolls – and tried to teach me how to make corn dolls (I was too young and impatient. I may try again soon.)
Foraging takes me back in time as I encounter fruit, nuts and natural crafting materials that remind me of times foraging with my family – and the stories and recipes they have passed on to me.
Damsons remind me of mum, as she loves their sour taste. They have long been used as a natural dye (using the skins) as well as used to make damson gin.
For the latter, prick the damsons, then add to gin and sugar and leave in a dark place until Christmas. Damsons can also be used to make a port-like wine, or jam.
I like to think that nature guides us towards what we need. Damsons are ideal to eat as the nights draw in because they are high in iron (which I’ve found useful as a mood-booster to fight the winter blues) and Vitamin C, and have a host of other health benefits. Some people say they are a sleep aid too – I’ll be testing the theory when I next have some damsons.
When it comes to myth, apples are the storyteller’s fruit. The apple tree is a sacred symbol of rebirth and beauty in Norse mythology. From Adam and Eve to Venus and wassailing to fortune-telling with apple peel, if you want to lose an enjoyable afternoon, search the internet for apple mythology.
Wassailing helps ensure a good harvest by scaring away evil spirits and waking the cider apple trees. It will forever conjure up images of my family crowded around a small apple tree with bread and cider as my dad recited the appropriate words:
‘Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An’ all under one tree.
Apples are also tasty. If you have apples in abundance, fruit leather is delicious and easy to make (recipe coming soon). Apple juice, apple pie and apple dolls (technique coming soon) will also help you deal with a glut.
As with damsons, apples are great to eat at this time of year (and any time). Recent research suggests that they may affect gut bacteria, as well as providing roughage and vitamins. Given the links between gut bacteria and numerous conditions, there could well be truth in an apple a day keeping the doctor away.
Foraging and folklore may seem like odd bedfellows but the hedgerows hold many stories. It’s well worth a little research.
If you like folklore and myth, check out #FolkloreThursday each week, and follow @FolkloreThurs. There are endless fascinating stories and pictures shared each week: a must read for storytelling fans and practitioners.