15 Acres of Adventure in the Heart of Leicester

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Identifying Plants during the Pandemic


Weeds- it's all a matter of perspective. By Chris Murnin

Taraxacum or Dandelion

Its Early May and Spring has well and truly sprung in Leicestershire The woodlands, fields and boundaries are in full flow, bursting at the seams with different shades of green. As the old adage goes, you can't see the wood for the trees and the same can be said by the hedgerows surrounding our estate.

These swathes of green shades and hues can seem like a blanket of growth rather than a get together of different plant species. This can be a bit off putting for those getting into plant identification and foraging. But what better time to learn than spring, and in the midst of the Government advised “Lockdown”.

I started self isolating mid March 2020, after completing my Level 2 in Survival and Wilderness Living with Peak District Survival School. This was swiftly followed with being furloughed from my full time employment. Not wanting to view this as a negative, like most people I created a self improvement action plan which included ways to improve my plant identification. Primarily with the personal emphasis of foraging, which seems to be a bit of a buzz word during the pandemic. As the shop's shelves started to dry up, nature's larder’s doors were opening.

On a professional level this supplementary knowledge could be drip fed into most outdoor activity sessions, on the river, hill or at the crag.

With a bit of a mental archive already, my first step was to create a framework to aid my learning (as 
I get distracted quite easily), so to aid some quick results my first point was:

1. START WITH WHAT YOU KNOW
We should all have a handful of plants we recognise, as they probably appear in our locally and/or we encounter them regularly. This makes them ideal to get the hang of identifying, as we can probably recognise them in most seasons and stages of their life cycle.

2. USE A RANGE OF ID FEATURES
Basic colours and getting to grips with leaf and stem shapes along with petal arrangements can really help you focus your identification process. These can also help make sense of the descriptive language used in reference books. (I’ll list a few sources I use at the end of the article)

3. CROSS REFERENCE
“One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”Initially how do you know what or who to listen to? By using a few different reference sources, you can make an educated decision. I have found
professional level this supplementary knowledge could be drip fed into most outdoor activity
sessions, on the river, hill or at the crag.
this particularly useful when I've been stuck with an “it's either A or B” situation, as some sources may hold that little gem that sits perfectly with the specimen you have. True story; after watching a video on Youtube of the merits and benefits of eating Dock Leaves, I finished off the evening’s viewing watching a survival show where the host had a very crappy experience after doing just that!

4. TELL SOMEONE (WHETHER THEY WANT TO HEAR IT OR NOT)
My long suffering wife can now identify every Lime (Linden) tree in our village, as after first finding out you can eat the fresh spring foliage we couldn’t leave the house without me stating “Do you know what tree that is?”. Now I do it just for fun. But seriously, to be confident enough to share your knowledge with someone else, will reinforce what you know, and could even spark a deeper understanding as you may be questioned on what you're saying, or even learn something in the conversation.


5. PUT INTO ACTION/ USE
Now this one comes with a public health warning. Before eating anything, you need to be 110% sure you have positively identified the plants you wish to use. Mistakenly using Yew for your Spruce in tea or putting Hemlock in your salad could have DEADLY effects. Luckily there are many wild edibles that are very easy to identify and some are even quite tasty. By using what you have picked it takes your learning to the next level as you get to understand what makes a good specimen for the use you want. A long leggy nettle that has flowered can have great fibres that can make some high quality string but wouldn't be as good as the spring fresh tops for putting in a soup.


This image was taken during our 1hr daily family exercise as we walked along the edge of our estate. Within this small patch there were at least a dozen different species, almost all of which we could use in some shape or form, even if just as “Pandemic Poo Paper”.


Once you have a few under your belt, you will start to notice them everywhere. And you should challenge yourself to do so, as you will be starting to build up a mental picture and associate environments with certain species or types.

Being aware of a few basic foraging guidelines is as important as identification. No plant can be uprooted without Land owner’s permission, and some are even protected. But if you follow the 4 F’s you are onto a good start.

On common land you may gather moderate amounts of Fruit, Flowers, Foliage and Fungi for personal consumption. Other ethical considerations are for the wildlife that are dependent on the plants and other foragers. Never pick all what you see!

Other than the ethics there is the consideration to personal safety, so I like to remember W.E.E.D when i'm out and about:

W- Water, is the plant growing in, or nearby water? My area regularly floods, so ensuring what you harvest is above flood zones to prevent contamination is a good idea. Some of the U.K most deadly plants grow near the water’s edge (Hemlock Water Dropwort). Also disease
On common land you may gather moderate amounts of Fruit, Flowers, Foliage and Fungi for
personal consumption. Other ethical considerations are for the wildlife that are dependent on
the plants and other foragers. Never pick all of what you see!
carrying animals use riverbanks as highways. Last summer I watched a rat (Known carriers of Weil's disease) merrily munch away on a bramble patch that we visit often on canoe trips.

E- Emissions, Consider where your plant is growing. Is it on farmland that could be exposed to chemicals, or next to a bin compound that could have seepage? I have found a tomato plant growing on the site of a burst sewage pipe. No guesses how that got there!

E- Exhaust, Similar to the previous, whilst collecting from the road side consider that plants next to a traffic light will have had more exposure to exhaust fumes than those half way down the lane.

D- Dogs and other animals excrete outdoors. My Mum always warned me of picking berries below my belly!



Crataegus or Hawthorn.


INTERMEDIATE 3- Sticky weed (Goosegrass/ Cleavers) Hawthorn, Blackberry ADVANCED 3- Rosebay Willowherb, Plantain, Hedge Garlic
Bonus Points. Wood Avens, Thistle, Hogweed

Lamium album, commonly called white nettle or white dead-nettle

Sources of Reference;
  • ●  Food For Free .......
  • ●  Wild food Uk, have produced a sturdy field guide, but also have information on their
    website, plus countless videos on Youtube. https://www.wildfooduk.com/wild-plant-guide/
  • ●  Robin Harford is a wealth of knowledge https://www.eatweeds.co.uk/plants

  • ●  Plants for a Future. Google any plant followed by PFAF for a brilliant fact rich resource
    This is just a tip of the iceberg, the information is out there for you to take in, in whichever medium suits you.     

  • Stay safe.

For more information about Bushcraft courses 
https://www.lopc.co.uk/training-courses/bushcraft-and-wilderness-skill/



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