Many people are struggling financially. Food bank use is rising, and there are no easy answers. However, nature can provide at least a little solace when money is tight. Here are a few ways to make the most of what’s freely available to add a few more home comforts to life.
At this time of year, you can get food for free by foraging. Young dandelion leaves can be added to salad, along with common chickweed, dead nettle leaves (pictured below) and many other abundant plants. These add extra taste, as well as being loaded with vitamins. You can also use them in fridgetata, stir-fries or wilted through cous cous or pasta (if you have dried up ends of cheese, grate them into pasta too).
Nettles or dead nettles can be used to make an iron-rich soup (wear rubber gloves when picking nettles and only use the top 4-6 leaves), that can be even tastier if you add wild garlic. Bulk it up with potatoes and throw in any other leftover veg for a hearty lunch (get a thermos if you have lunch at work – home made soup is tasty and it can save you a fortune if you buy lunch each day).
You can use nettles and wild garlic to make pesto – just add pine nuts or ground nuts, oil and finely grated cheese. I get ground almonds when they’re on special offer – you only need a few spoonfuls to bulk out the pesto (and can skip them entirely if they’re too expensive).
Elderflower season is imminent, and with it the opportunity to make cordial to save money on squash; or elderflower champagne (just pick 50 or so elderflower heads, sniffing them first and avoiding any that smell of cat pee, strip the blossoms off, add lemon zest and juice, sugar and boiling water, leave to ferment and bottle – remembering to let the gas out regularly. Exploded elderflower champagne is a nightmare to clean up.) You can also add ginger, orange zest or other edible flowers such as borage or rose petals to mix up the flavour.
If you’ve got a wedding or special event coming up, it’s a great way to add luxury for little expenditure, and can also help you save money on buying gifts over the course of the year. Raid the recycling bin for bottles and sterilise before use: bottles are the biggest expense when making elderflower champagne.
You can make edible herb oils too, using a mixture of foraged and home grown herbs. Pizza with a home made bread base, a basic tin of tomatoes simmered down with herbs and whatever cheese you have on top, plus a drizzle of herb oil, is a cheap dinner that can easily be bulked out to serve lots of people. Top with young dandelion leaves or other foraged leaves.
Make sure you avoid anything poisonous when foraging though, and ‘if in doubt, don’t’.
Obviously, foraging takes time which may be hard to find if you’re working two (or more) jobs, but if you’ve got kids, it can be a fun weekend activity that keeps the family entertained while helping supplement your store cupboard. Getting kids involved in picking dinner can make them more inclined to eat their greens too.
Herbal toiletries can be expensive but making your own needn’t break the bank. A well stocked herb garden (or selection of containers indoors if you don’t have outdoor space) can provide rosemary to make your hair shine, mint to make refreshing scrubs and lavender for relaxing bath salts. You can buy seeds from the pound shop, and a few pounds should give you enough herbs to last the summer – and beyond – along with compost to grow it in.
You’ll need some basics: shea butter, coconut oil or mango butter for moisturising; bicarbonate of soda for bath bombs; and sugar or salt for scrubs. Essential oils can add more aroma – though you can make your own herbal oils if you’re patient and don’t mind the milder smell.
Pooling resources with friends can help reduce initial outlay. A £7 tub of mango butter made enough moisturiser, body lotion, lip balm and conditioner to last me almost two years, including sharing with two friends at a make-your-own gathering. It’s much cheaper than the most budget toiletries, and better quality (with less risk of allergies) too.
Sunflower oil can be used as a base for massage oils – and packaged in pretty recycled bottles, these can make great gifts. With menthol added, you can make a basic muscle rub too. Rosemary can be invigorating, and looks pretty left in the bottle too, as does lavender.
Birthday and christmas can be a challenge when you’re short on funds. While you can agree to a ‘no gift’ pact with friends and family who are similarly skint, nature offers the opportunity to treat each other on a budget.
Press wildflowers between pieces of paper in a book, to make your own greetings cards. Leave them for a few weeks then attach to card using spray glue (or a glue stick if that’s too pricey.) You can also use wildflowers for decoupage: cover an old frame or tatty notebook with flowers. Be warned, you’ll need patience – though pressing leaves to cover large spaces will help you make a larger decoupage item faster. Cover with several layers of glue, letting it dry before applying the next layer.
Dried flower bouquets can also be beautiful. Dry flowers upside down. Grasses and twigs can be mixed in with dried herbs and suitable wildflowers to create aromatic and attractive gifts. I save ribbon from presents to use to tie bouquets.
Any foraged food such as wild garlic pesto, rose petal jam or elderflower champagne can be used in ‘create your own’ hampers (use recycled bottles/jars and cover a cardboard box with recycled gift paper to put everything in).
Nature can help extend a tight budget. There are also increasing numbers of initiatives that combine reducing food waste with tackling food poverty. Gleaning gets vegetables that would be wasted to people who need them. Hisbe is a new type of supermarket designed to reduce food waste and provide affordable food, ethically. Community garden schemes can provide you with free fruit, vegetables and entertainment. And it’s not just food: going searching for ducklings can be as much fun as going to the zoo (feed them oats or other bird safe food not bread though). Watching tadpoles turn into frogs can be great fun too: you can make your own mini pond in a bucket.
It may not be able to solve all our problems, but nature can help make life on a budget a bit more fun. Sign up for #30DaysWild if you haven’t already and you can get free wildflower seeds to plant too.