Tag Archives | nettle tea

Family walk through Penn Wood

One of my favourite times each month – the opportunity to guide a few families through a local woodland in the Chilterns. Blessed with wonderful sunshine, it was a lovely May afternoon to be exploring Penn Woods. Managed by the Woodland Trust, it is one of the largest ancient woodlands in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) totalling over 435 acres!

Tree hugging - using our senses to recognise a mighty oak

Tree hugging – using our senses to recognise a mighty oak

We started our woodland walk from the church car park – heading out along the main foot path past the beautiful flint clad church and the newly installed Woodland Trust signage, welcoming visitors to the woods. Our first stop, stinging nettles – a plant that so many fear and yet, it wasn’t long before everyone was keen to look at them closer, especially the children.

Having demonstrated how to pick them without getting stung, I quickly showed how to juice the doc leave, the green liquid being used to relieve the inevitable stings! Many of the children were keen to try, the younger ones being guided to the doc leaves and the older ones picking nettles and then applying doc!

Tips for using stinging nettles

  • Always pick vibrant, healthy nettles, avoid areas that may have been polluted or fouled, be that by dogs being walked, farm run-offs or similar and gather the nettle tops – the top 4 to 6 leaves are usually best
  • To pick them with bare hands – seize the nettle, hold it firmly, should you be tender handed it will sting you for sure – gloves are probably a good option
  • Cooking will kill off the stings and stop them from stinging you
  • There are lots of vitamins in stinging nettles (more here)
  • Nettles make a lovely earthy tea – I like them when they are green, but you can dry them if you wish
  • They are good stirred into a classic risotto or as a vegetable, a soup or gazpacho
  • Stinging nettle tempura – I was serving them up at the recent Great Missenden Food Festival

Tree hugging – developing a relationship with a tree

My favourite tree, the mighty oak. I love it’s strength, the way it spreads its limbs out wide, reaching out across the sky. There’s the deep furrows in the gnarly bark and the beautiful curvy leaves that look like clouds as you hold them against the sky. A wonderful tree and great to see the children giving it a big hug.

Amazement at the amount of pond life - loving the tadpoles and water boatmen

Amazement at the amount of pond life – loving the tadpoles and water boatmen

We spent time looking at the many beech trees. Most of the buds have burst open to reveal their soft new leaves, oval in shape with a little tail and hairy around the edges. They are good to add to a woodland salad and a few were sampled by the children and their parents.

Fascination with the water boatmen

There was excitement around the pond, as one-by-one many tadpoles were spotted in the water, and then fascination with the water boatmen, as if by magic, they were skating across the surface of the pond.

Exploring the pond at Penn Woods

Exploring the pond at Penn Woods

Whilst some of the children explored the other side of the pond, keen to get closer to the waters edge and find routes that would just about support them, we climbed across the newly formed log-jetty. It was more solid than before, with the end staked to hold the logs in place. Still we didn’t want the children falling in – it’s not that deep but they would have got very muddy (none this time).

Identifying trees - using smell to recognise the fallen cedar

Identifying trees – using smell to recognise the fallen western red cedar

Climbing in the trees

One of the large western red cedars had fallen, not far from the pond, it had lost a huge part of its trunk which had crashed down on the surrounding trees. The children were quick to spot an opportunity for climbing and enjoyed playing along the long branches now just a foot or two above the ground.

Here was a great opportunity to engage our sense of smell to recognise this cedar – the foliage was crushed and the citrus smell revealed, just one of the ways to get to know this wonderful tree. Western red cedars have with a deep red-brown bark that is relatively soft to the touch, almost sponge like, a deep green foliage, and they tower above other trees, like a lesser version of the great American sequoias.

Identifying plants - checking that it's wood sorrel before eating!

Identifying plants – checking that it’s wood sorrel before eating!

On our return journey through the woodlands, we spent time getting to know the lovely larch – it’s foliage in little tufts, that are soft to touch. Unlike the spruce, fir and pines, the larch looses its leaves in winter, leaving the characteristic little stubs along the twigs.

Getting to the heart of wood sorrel

And then in an opening along the woodland path, there was an abundance of wood sorrel. Another opportunity to engage our senses. Many of the children recognised it’s shape as being similar. We carefully examined the plant, looking at the three heart shaped leaves and the lovely white flowers, with faint pink lines within. Then it was time to taste a few – first checking each one was the correct plant and not eating to many, just in case the oxalic acid (found in many plants) unset the stomach – moderation is a good thing!

More woodland walks

Thank you to the families who join me on this lovely May walk in Penn Woods and for granting permission for a few photos – much appreciated. If you’d like to join one of my family friendly guided woodland walks with your family, please check future dates and register here!

Home Education Group

Following on from our fun sessions throughout the summer holidays, David has been running more Environmental Learning and Bushcraft sessions at Shortenills Environmental Centre in Chalfont St Giles. The morning sessions are with children aged up to 7 years and those in the afternoon for age 7 and above. They have proved to be very popular, with sessions regularly fully booked.

Making natures dream-catchers with home-education group

Making natures dream-catchers with home-education group

In this weeks session, the younger children made dream-catchers, with a little help from their parents who are actively involved throughout. We gathered pieces of green-hazel and bent them into hoops and then created a web of jute string and wool – the n fun began with weaving in things found in the woods: leaves, feathers, pieces of bark and more. It was lovely to seem them turning in the breeze.

We finished off with cups of nettle tea, with the kettle boiling over the campfire and nettles foraged from the edge of the woodland.

The older group were introduced to the safe use of knives. Each child was shown how to whittle a tent peg, with the younger ones receiving one-to-one instruction and supervision to ensure they had fun and successfully made their tent peg! More nettle tea followed!

Making fat lamps with home-education group

Making fat lamps with home-education group

Other weeks activities included making fat candles. We used a variety of fats, pork lard, beef dripping and vegetable. The children found interesting pieces of wood with shallow holes or crevices in which to place their candles. Then we filled them with fat and each child lit a match to light their candle.

Bread baking with home-educator group

Bread baking with home-educator group

And yes, we baked bread too. The children made the dough using string bread flour, milk powder and baking powder. With a little help, they wound the dough around the sticks and cooked them over the campfire.

David is looking forward to running more Environmental Learning and Bushcraft sessions – if you’d like to know more the by all means do get in contact – thanks!

Campfire cooking in the woodlands

This short film was recorded during one of David’s Fire and Feast (formerly Backwoods Cooking) courses – set in a private Chilterns woodland in Buckinghamshire. So what could you expect from a day of backwoods cookery? As you will see in this film, you can expect to be baking, steaming, roasting and cooking on a campfire!

Google review “Can’t be a much better way of spending a day outside than learning … and trying … different campfire cooking techniques. Lamb roasted in a fire pit accompanied by foraged wild garlic and salad leaves, sea bass steamed in moss, ponassed trout and two different types of bread … all prepared, cooked and consumed in the one-day course (Backwoods Cooking) set in beautiful private woodland (currently carpeted with bluebells) in south Bucks. I am an experienced “bushcrafter” but have never managed to persuade my wife and daughter to join me in the woods for weekend (or longer) courses, but they were made to feel really comfortable and had a very enjoyable day … it might not be so hard to persuade them to go again!” from Bill

Thank you to those who joined me for this Backwoods Cooking course and for agreeing to be in this film and Dean Butler for filming and editing.

Find out more and book a place on Fire and Feast

Lovely nettle tea

Spring has arrived and so have those lovely nettles – oh yes they are lovely! We have been conditioned as children to avoid their painful sting, but nettles offer so much and this is why they protect themselves from animals, including us that will forage and consume these wonderful plants.

Why should you see nettles in a new light? Well for one they are really good for you, nettles are nutritious and even better than spinach! Nettles are a source of protein, have traces of fat, contain more vitamin C than oranges, have quantities of vitamin B, calcium, potassium, iron and more.

Nettles springing up in the woodlands

Nettles springing up in the woodlands

It is possible to pick nettles with your bare hands without suffering the sting, but using gloves will probably be a more satisfactory experience. If you fancy trying, just follow this verse by the 17th century writer Aaron Hill – “tender-handed stroke a nettle, and it stings you for your pains, grasp it like a man of mettle, and it soft as silk remains”. Firmly grasping the nettle really does work, however there is every chance that you stroke one of the nettles next to it, so be warned!

When out foraging for nettles, it’s best to pick the nettle tops; pinch or snip off the top 4-6 leaves. You can safely harvest nettles throughout the year, but choose young nettles shoots in shady, ideally damp spots. Later in the year, it will be best to look for new growth, perhaps where earlier tall nettle stalks have been cut back. Obviously, as you would with any foraging, please avoid areas that may have been polluted or fouled, be that by dogs being walked, farm run-offs or similar.

How do you avoid the sting when eating? Just applying heat will ‘kill’ the sting and produce leaves that are safe to consume.

For your first experience of nettles, why not try a cup of nettle tea? Pick a few nettle tops (3 or 4 should be fine) and place them in a mug. Then add boiling water, leave for a few minutes to steep. I usually leave them for 10 minutes to get a deeper flavour and enjoy a cup of refreshing, slightly earthy nettle tea. You may wish to wash the nettles first, but I am happy to just add the boiling water to make it safe to drink.

A lovely mug of nettle tea

A lovely mug of nettle tea

What else can you do with nettles? I love to fold them into a risotto or use them as a vegetable, rather like spinach with a knob of butter or to make a gazpacho. Later in the year, I use the fibres from the long stems to make string or rope, there are many other uses for this ever so versatile plant.

Next time you’re out for a walk, consider picking a few nettles to make a cup of tea, pan fry them with a little butter or fold into a risotto – if you do, it would be great to hear your experiences and / or perhaps share your pictures!