Saturday, 14 April 2012

Hedgewalking

I HAVE BEEN out wandering the lanes in the early mornings and the not-yet-evenings as the sun lights up the last of the daffodils' muddied yellow skirt-hems, which bow out now to the shyest of first bluebells and a whole green dancehall of hedge-fellows.


My heart is heard singing along beside these hedgerows of Devon, as I peer in between the hazel-knots and ivy-mats, where grow the most cheerful and interesting of plants: those roadside weeds and stubborn stragglers, always overlooked, yet springing undaunted every year and offering us a quiet libraryful of magics, medicines, folklore and food.


Spring has been beautiful, and as every year, it opens in me a small door of plant-longing; a kind of yearning to learn the true names amongst the walls of unknown green along our lanes. And this year I've taken that longing and begun to follow it. For years I've learnt the wayside plants in a haphazard way, my knowledge full of gaps; but now I take my copy of Roger Philips' Wild Flowers of Britain, a notebook and a thermos, and follow where the hedge leads. 


I'll notice a new unfamiliar plant, perhaps flowering, perhaps not, and kneel down by it, identifying it if I can, and draw it roughly in my sketchbook (thereby fixing the plant in my head). I'll take a small sample of the plant to press between my sketchbook pages after photographing it. And at home I am turning a quarter leather bound book with blank pages (which I made whilst studying bookbinding at college and have hardly opened since) into my own ramshackle herbal. 


There's no order, except perhaps the year's passing. I'll make a page for each plant and write all the things I can learn about it - where it grows and when, what ails it heals, and so on. This I'll add to over time, and bit by bit, I hope the carpet of unknown green will become like a crowd of friends, all shouting their names at me as I greet them along the way. 


I come by this herbarium-habit well: I have a book of pressed flowers collected by my Grandmother Lois as a little girl, almost a hundred years ago and long before the seeds of my own plants' great great great great grandmothers were blown across the fields. 


Tom and I were inspired at the end of last year by a foraging walk we took with Robin Harford of Eat Weeds. In late autumn and just a short mile or so he showed us many plants which could be eaten or used in cooking, and he told us their stories with such joy and passion! We learnt about the indigenous plants whose seeds would have been used to spice foods before exotic spices were shipped in from far shores, like Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium).  


The tiny seeds taken from a dried seed head can be ground and sifted to obtain a powdered spice. This can be used in recipes to add a flavour unlike anything you've ever tasted, though it could be likened very loosely to cardamom. Be very careful with identifying Hogweed - Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is poisonous, as are many plants of the same umbellifer family, like Hemlock (Conium maculatum). Here below we are shown Hemlock and Hogweed leaves side by side - the Hemlock has more deeply etched lines and a purple blotchy stem. 

Hemlock leaf, left (Conium maculatumagainst Hogweed leaf, right (Heracleum sphondylium) 
Robin finds Ivy-Leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis)
We saw Ivy-Leaved Toadflax and Mugwort, Plantain and Herb Bennet (also called clove-root for the spicy nature of its roots) amongst many many others...

Herb Bennet / Wood Avens root (Geum urbanum)
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
Plantain (Plantago major)
I made Spiced Hogweed Seed Biscuits when we got home, and they were loved by all who ate them. Robin Harford has made a great little illustrated Wild Food Recipe Book (the first of a series) containing many of the plants he teaches on his foraging walks, which he shall continue as he makes his way round the UK this year. If you're interested in hosting him and holding a foraging walk in your corner of Britain, give him a shout




And on I walk, slowly tracing these lanes, edged on both sides in the Devon way with high hedges which have been there for centuries, and which stitch our hillsides with patchworks of fields. 


The blackthorn is blossoming, though the hedgerow still hangs with the dying embers of last year's leaves.




The catkins are blooming, and the spiders mock the holly with their spinning...




Some mornings, Macha and I walk the lanes as cloud-lanes are drawn across the sky, and the dew steams in the new day's sun.




 She looks for interesting things through gaps in the hedge,



like cows,


or views,


or dead badgers...


Sometimes the hedgebanks are inhabited...




And on we go, marvelling at the beauties by the roadside: Bittercress and Dandelion, Violet and Celandine, Stitchwort and Primrose and Jack-by-the-Hedge. A merry list of lasses and lads, all invited to the Spring Ball, waiting shyly by the lane for their sweethearts...





I find that my walking is teaching me; each time I go out one more stranger has become friend. I look at the wayside plants through vehicle windows with longing as I zoom by. I've had my nose in a most excellent book of Hedgerow Medicine, which has taught me all sorts of things I didn't know, like that Goji berries grow in England's hedgerows! This year things are flowering early, and in the last few days the plants have been tumbling over each other to bloom. Yesterday I picked a bunch of Ground Ivy, White Bluebells and Yellow Archangel for a friend's birthday. Even the mud in the middle of the road sprouts tiny plants, determined, unnoticed and driven-over. As time goes on, my book will fill with green learnings, as I make my apprenticeship with the hedge.


These hedgerows are my home, and in time they'll be my food and my medicine too. A little while ago, I was interviewed for the wonderful Plant Healer Magazine. It was a long and in depth interview with lots of photos and a focus on wilderness. Do order a subscription, it's lavishly presented and packed with herbal wisdoms and wonders.


We return home to a garden path spattered with primroses. I take such glee in this season's earnest springing. How very beautiful every delicate unfurling of a new and never-before-seen leaf from its bud-cocoon. Dew bejewels the trembling-delicate wing fur of each green hedge-bird learning to fly, and I am glad.


 "The Earth laughs in flowers"
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

59 comments:

Bodhi said...

Thank you for taking us along with you on your walks. Oh how I yearn for some quiet lanes to walk. Too much car traffic here. I'll keep looking.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Edward, Apple and I were doing precisely the same thing this evening. So many wonderful smells here along the pathways. Jasmine is blooming, as is honeysuckle and some wild roses. I do love this time of year. Oh but if Apple had seen either that hole in the ground, she would have dived right in!

the wild magnolia said...

This post, ahhh, a book of beauty and words, ideas, knowledge, spirit, a tag along on your woodland wander observations.

It was a thrilling post! I love Macha, I love your country.

Thank you, so much.

Valerianna said...

Wow, goji berries in the hedgerows? Amazing!
Wonderful walk, Rima, thanks.

Anne said...

What a beautiful part of the world you live in. The landscape is so different from the Australian bush where I live.
Thanks for sharing your links.

Ms. said...

Friday night on my side of the pond, and oh, you made it so rich! Nothing, absolutely nothing so delights me as talk of the natural world...and your hedgerow world is a primitive original, ancient, sacred. I've been to the true church, and simple worship fills my whole being. I think I'll wander there again in my dreams tonight.

dinahmow said...

I will in England next week! Too late for many Spring things, but I am so looking forward to being back. Home, says my heart.
Not sure if it's out of print, but you might like to look for for Mabey's book (published in the 70s)about free food. I think it was called "Food for Free. If I can find my old copy I'll get back to you.

pRiyA said...

Some time ago while looking through my own sketchbooks I wondered what Rima's sketchbooks must look like. I assumed the pages must be very beautiful and unique like everything else she does. Now I am so happy to read this post and get this small glimpse into the pages of your sketchbooks. The way you've created them is exquisite. Seeing a glimpse of your grandmother's book is very moving and heart warming, to think that all these years later, her granddaughter has interest in the very same things and has made her own books on collected plants too.
The cottage in one of the pictures is straight out of a fairytale and to me it seems seems too beautiful to be real.
Thank you for yet another glimpse into your world. Please show us more pages of your sketchbooks if you can. Your life and your blog are a huge inspiration which shakes me out of my complacency.

Ronnie (RR) said...

Such a lovely post, its as if we were with you on your ramblings. Your book will be wonderful when you finish it, as was your nans. Something magikal to pass down through your family line. Beauiful photos and words. Enjoy your hedgerow learning.

Charlotte said...

A beautiful walk through a wonderful corner of our beautiful world. I love your journal of leaves and learning; would it be publishable?

You have the most wonderful drover lanes to walk, just think of all the footfalls that have pressed the earth below the hedgeline? I have always loved these natural tunnels and the magic they contain.

gz said...

We have lost so much of our forbears' knowledge.
Beautiful to walk and learn at those times of not yet day and not yet night.
So much more is happening then .
It is the time that our cat really comes alive!

Heather said...

A truly magical post with stunning photographs Rima - I can almost feel and smell the fresh damp morning air. I have always loved tangled hedgerows, mosses, lichens and wildflowers. As children, my cousins and I spent half our time making dens in hedges and trying to identify the plants.
I am interested in herbs and recently learned that there were nine that the Anglo-Saxons regarded as sacred. I made a textile book of them and grow most of them in my garden.
Your book will be very special and become an heirloom. Thankyou for sharing all your springtime delights with us.

De Bron van Urd said...

I really love reading all of your posts, you are a true artist !
Just one little remark, if you don't mind: in the picture of the Hemlock leaf, left (Conium maculatum) against Hogweed leaf, right (Heracleum sphondylium). I think the Hemlock is right and the Hogweed is left on this picture.

Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing your lovely hedgerow pictures and prose. so very different from the desert southwest US, where i live. however, i have had the privilege of walking in the hedgerows in Glastonbury while i visited there for a few days once. you filled my heart with memories and your loving heart. i am full... thank you again

Pixie said...

Beautiful words and beautiful photos Rima,,,as always...Thank you for your sharing.xx

Rima Staines said...

Thank you, friends, I really am always so delighted to hear of the joy with which you read my posts!

Dinahmow - yes, I have a copy of "Food For Free", as well as Richard Mabey's wonderful tome of wild plants "Flora Brtiannica" :)

Priya - thank you, I will post more sketchbook pages in time, these are a little different from my imaginative scribbles, and all in all, I'm not as good a sketchbook-keeper as you!
(PS - that cottage is where we live!)

Heather - yes, I was just reading recently about these sacred nine herbs - I picked Yarrow yesterday, which I think is one of them.

De Bron van Urd - thank you, hm, I was pretty sure, but now you've got me unsure. I'll get Robin to check and verify for us! It's such an easy area to go wrong! Please, no-one take my identifications as gospel!

With warm wishes from the lanes and thanks as always,
Rima

Hita Hirons said...

Classic! What a great post! Really felt that I was wandering along the hedgerows with you, holding the straining Macha on a lead and making friends with each plant and insect. Beautiful photos; my favourites were Macha in the misty road ahead, the spiders mimicking holly and that beautiful little pink white flower unfolding it's petals, but every photo of moss and root was a page from the book of your love-story with Devon! Perhaps you should have a Hermitage Hedgerow tour : ) Oh, by the way, thanks for pointing out the differences between Hogweed and Hemlock; being a fan of detective stories, which inevitably use murder by Hemlock masked as herbal misadventure at some point, I have always wanted to know how to tell them apart, just in case!

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

I am so excited for you learning to identify all these special plants and loving the business of recording them. Here in NZ where so many English plants have naturalised and become pests, I still rejoice to find them in my garden and wild places. I remember that my earliest interest in the English wildflowers was triggered by an Enid Blyton story when I was about six! At the time that I was preparing to leave my adult time in England (1991) a call went out for people to contribute observations about their local flora and I think this was Richard Mabey's ground work for Flora Botannica. I was sorry not to be staying around to make my own contributions. Roger Phillip's books are wonderful: a strength of his is to give the natural background to cultivated garden plants often with fantastic photos of them in the wild.
A note to Dinahmow that the north of England shows its spring growth two weeks behind the south if she is travelling that way, and also that I would agree with your identification of the hemlock seedling being the finer cut one. I have grown up with Conium maculatum in the Secret Garden. My father used to battle it as a classified noxious weed here, but now I remove seedlings or let it grow as necessary enjoying it's high flower heads full of predatory wasps amongst the fruit trees.
Joy in your studies :-)

Charlotte said...

Thanks to your inspirational walk I took my eldest and I off this morning. We walked one of our local pieces of ancient woodland and found a plethora of wild plants there. The whole place was scented with wild garlic and there was ground elder everywhere. This was a roman import used to treat gout and aching joints. Apparently very similar to spinach. John (my boy) is now very inspired to try making soup from the wild garlic in our own garlic.
You are welcome to come over to the blog and see what we found as John and I have posted up the photos now.
PS Ground elder is also known as Bishopsweed, presumably because Bishops suffer from the gout!

skycarrots said...

Hello, you may not remember me but we met at Dark Mountain. I enjoy your blog :)

I don't think that pic shows hogweed at all. Hemlock on the left and cow parsley on the right maybe?

I do love how the spider's web you photographed echoes the shape of the holly leaves, haven't noticed that before. Lovely!

greensleeves said...

Lovely post! For once I can say that I've beaten you too a great idea. I've been keeping a sketchbook to identify wildflowers and herbs for a couple of years since moving here to Wales. Carefully writing in the uses and folklore of each plant. I think this learning will never end! No matter how often you walk the lanes there is always another plant to learn about!

Br. Jay said...

Thank you for allowing us to accompany you on this journey. I am blessed to have gone with you even if virtually. Thank you for sharing this.

MelBee said...

Lovely...lots of these plants I know and their uses too as my interest has always been herbal folklore....I know their names as taught by my Nan and Mum as folk names ie 'Granny's toenail' and 'Belly buttons' and I have since found their uses relate to the old country names. Love that don't you? Good luck with your gathering and thankyou for sharing xx

Adam M. Smith said...

These are the loveliest photos. I can almost smell the crisp morning air. Thank you so much for sharing!

Snippety Giblets said...

Fabulous photos Rima ! I always loved the tall hedges when I holidayed in Cornwall as a child.I remember collecting flowers for my flower press. I love your herbal book, and your gran's. Your cottage is amazing too ! Much love to you xx

Purpletreebird said...

Seeing those photos of Macha in the dimmed sunshine, I can smell and feel Dartmoor so clearly! This is the most magical place for me and what a place to discover sweet little treasures along the roadside! I too have pictures of wild flowers in my sketchbook with the intention of adding to them as I go. I love to see wild flowers growing and encourage them in my own garden too. There's nothing so satisfying as eating things you've picked yourself. I hope you've had a chance to plant some seedlings now you have a little garden space. :)
Jess xx

Trish said...

Thank you Rima...
Much love to you, lady and keeper of the beautiful hedgerow. If only everyone cared like you...

Lynn said...

Such heart-singing way-side loveliness.
Thank you, Rima.

Jacqueline M. said...

Perfect.

Nanita said...

Ahh, this post swept me right back to my childhood, my grandmother used Maria Treben's herbal dictionnary combined with her own herbal knowledge to cure so many little and not so little pains. I still use her homemade Swedish bitters and vividly remember gathering Shepherd's Purse which she used for a potion to rub on my legs for the muscular problems I had as a child. It's amazing how there's an entire world of potential and knowledge in the little plants and flowers humankind nowadays seems to prefer to ignore. Sadly, in disconnecting ourselves, precious knowledge which used to be common is getting lost beyond recuperation for most of us... Thank you for sharing your herbarium-walks :-)

Betty said...

I love this and feel so connected - in my little pocket of woodland in semi suburbia I see these beautiful things too, how I wish I was in a time gone by where camp fires and foraging, cooking from nature and simple pleasures were everyone's way of life. My brother went the way of the road, but I remained suspended in modern world, like something caught on a cobweb wiggling to get free, controlled by time and not by will, you always bring a little bit of what I am deep down into my world with your posts. Bettyx

Martin said...

As ever, I really enjoyed this post. A gentle, guided tour of the lanes and hedgerows, reminding us of the joy in paying close attention to our surrounding countryside.

Carolee said...

Thank you for another breathtaking post, and a glimpse of such a wondrous and magical place...Your blog never fails to renew my determination to one day see your beautiful country in person.

~ Carolee

Velma said...

what a lovely sunday spring morning walk i had over here today, rima. it's a very overcast morning, springing in earnest. i've been particularly happy with the bloodroot this spring, bloodroot and great blue herons and woodcock are capturing my imagination. hurrah for your herbal. a beautiful and useful book, indeed.

Velma said...

oh, i meant to say it's overcast her in the north country today--
v

Velma said...

here! i can't type today!

mansuetude said...

it would be wonderful to taste some new mysterious "spices." and I love your Grandmother's hand written "E"!

Rusted Wings said...

love this hedgeside walk with you and for all the lovely wisdom you share rima.
springing blessings abundandant~
abigail

Lily said...

Just came here for the first time and felt a(r)t home!
Thank you!

Raggle Taggle Gypsy Girl said...

Wow, it looks like you have some wonderful places to walk too and fall into the dreaming of that place......Thanxs for taking me on the stroll......

Genna Byrne said...

Rima, your photos and words are beautiful! My partner and I enjoy going foraging in the Devon countryside, there is nothing more satisfying than eating things you have discovered. Wild garlic is everywhere at the moment and the leaves are just amazing in everything!
I will have to check out Robin Harford's book- a great present for my partner me thinks! :)

Crafty Green Poet said...

hedgerows are so wonderful to explore, thanks for sharing these lovely photos. Your herbarium is a wonderful project too

Maggie said...

Hi Rima,
Thanks for sharing your spring ramble with us. I shall have to take my own in our bay-scented coastal hills. Although I know a few of the plants where I live, not as many as I'd like. I guess it's time to start (yet) another journal for plants!

Robyn A said...

Beautiful post, Rima, the countryside there so unlike my own in Australia except that food we don't even know about grows in abundance in our wilderness as well. England in Spring is unbelievably green and lush and I do miss it although I longed for our grey eucalypts and red soils.
Thank you.

michael said...

Rima,
I love your website.
I so love your art.

Lisa Igo said...

Aah Rima, your walk took me back to when we lived just outside Bovey Tracey, to holidays in Devon and Cornwall and then further back to my childhod. There is something magical in the hedgerows. Thank you for sharing.

ramona said...

Oh look at all the lovely things you are finding!

The photos that accompany this post were well chosen and so, so lovely!

A worthwhile pursuit. I join in your enthusiasm as you become more in tune with your environment.

acornmoon said...

What a very pretty cottage with its little embroidered path. I am sure your hand bound book will be a gem filled with your lovely observations.

Jenny said...

Inspirational! Thank you so much for sharing such beauty.

elizabeth said...

I hadn't visited for ages and ages --since we lived in Morocco and I wanted glimpses of England

Gosh, I'm happy I did.
This was all I love about the English countryside all in one go

Thank you
thank you!

ashley faye said...

I love your pictures. So nice to take endless amounts of pictures of things that are all around you. Love the one of the spider web :)

Zen Forest said...

Rima! ---Hello!
So delighted to see your handsies in the hedgerows. I've been foraging and identifying plants here, too. Dutchman's Breeches and Wild Leeks, even our own variety of Bluebell. There are lots of snakes around here and some very risky ones so I've also been taking the time to get to know those guys, it's fun to observe my comfort zone widen :]
I hope to see your herbal as it progresses - if you sold an herbal, that would be very amazing (and very useful!)
Anywho, I hope you're well. We're very busy here working on the homestead in all sorts of strange ways.
Take care of yourselves and each other.

x- Tiff
(Zen Forest)
(Wonderful Wonky Wood)
etc.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rima, so lovely - thank you - but very worried about hopscotch grids being laid out in the sky. Please do a search for Chemtrails.... Thank you...

Ciara said...

Oh how perfect, Rima. Is that an illustrated herbal I see over the horizon?

On this wild. wet afternoon, it was so lovely to take a walk with you along country lanes in the spring sunshine. Thank you!

Jay was in your part of the world a few weeks back, on retreat just outside Newton Abbot. He was completely bewitched by Devon, and promises to return. I may just have to tag along!
C xx

Ronnie (RR) said...

Thank you Rima for my latest purchase from your Etsy shop, it arrived this morning and I love it. Thank you for your well wishes with my TK (its slowly getting there). Please forgive me for not leaving feedback on Etsy but I am afraid I do not know how to.
Hope your hedgewalking is going well, tried some dandelion drop scones this week and they turned out lovely :)

jen said...

a lovely post, thank you for sharing. I love the British countryside, its where I grew up and where my heart belongs. you have inspired me to start a notebook, something I have been meaning to do for a long time, thank you. looking forward to seeing your book as it progresses, if you will share it with us. jen x

Liara Covert said...

I discover your delightful blog through our mutual friend Stacey Matthews. Love frolicking in the countryside with enchanted creatures. Being still and holding no expectations allows their worlds to reveal themselves.

Terri Windling said...

Lovely post (as always), Rima.
I can't remember if you've read Graham Joyce's wonderful novel about hedgerow healers, The Limits of Enchantment:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/jan/15/featuresreviews.guardianreview19

See you at the Gypsy evening later this month, if not before. xxxx, T.

the wild magnolia said...

it is now 2013....i just found this post.

enchantment for the earth you wander, it looks of fairytale, and i think it is.