Tag Archives | Wild edibles

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!

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

Spring flora in the woodlands



It is lovely to be out walking on a beautiful Spring morning. The sun is out, the day is warming and flowers are springing up in the hedgerows.

Todays walk is in Hodgemoor, a woodland on the edge of Chalfont St Giles. Entering the woods, I’m met by the first primroses I’ve seen this year. They are such a familiar flower, so common in many gardens.

Wild Cherry Blossom

Wild Cherry Blossom

Here in the woods, the primroses are so special, it’s their true home, wild and free to grow unchecked.

When there is an abundance of primroses, it’s nice to pick a few leaves and flowers to add to and decorate a fresh Spring salad. The wild cherry trees have large clusters of buds, pearly white and many already bursting into beautiful blossom.

Spring Brambles

Spring Brambles

The brambles are now sprouting out their long green, spiky stems. They are reaching out across the other plants to get out into the sunshine. Bramble buds and early leaves make a lovely, delicate tea! And of course, the brambles are promising us a lovely crop of blackberries in the Autumn.

Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celandine

When walking in woodlands or along hedgerows, especially those with damp soils, you may see the bright yellow flowers of lesser celandine. Those flowers  have 8 to 12 narrow, slightly oval petals. They have long thin stems creeping and sprawling across the ground, note their glossy, heart-shaped (cordate) leaves.

Ground ivy in flower

Ground Ivy in flower

One of my favourite herbs is ground ivy. It’s leaves have a distinctive smell,  rubbing a leaf between your finger tips will release a smell similar to mint. Also known as alehoof; before the introduction of hops it was used to brew ale! And why one of my favourites, Ground Ivy makes a lovely refreshing tea. Their blue flowers remind me of jelly-babies, although I’m not so sure we ever had blue ones. This is another plant that spreads out, low across the ground, tending to like damp, moist soils and a little shade.

Common Nettles

Common Nettles

The nettle, we all know this one, childhood memories perhaps of being stung makes us very wary of the common nettle. But it truly is a wonderful plant with many uses. The young fresh leaves, especially those at the top of a stem are packed full of vitamins, and probably better for us than spinach! I like to chop them up and stir them into a hedgerow risotto, give them a wash first and don’t worry, the heat will ‘kill-off’ the stings. In the Autumn, the fibres from the stems can be used to make string, they make a very strong cordage. The nettle tops also make a slightly earthy flavoured tea, another of my favourites, do try some!

Oak buds

Oak buds

Taking a look at the trees, the buds of some formed over Winter are beginning to  burst into leaf, others are waiting a little longer. Being able identify trees by their buds, the shape of the tree, the textures of the bark makes for a fun alternative to just considering their leaves. It’s a little like being natures detective. I guess most are familiar with the leaf or the deeply fissured bark of an oak tree. But have you ever looked at their buds? Note the clusters of buds at the end of the stem, not unlike those of the wild cherry.

Wood sorrel

Wood Sorrel

Wood sorrel is now abundant. It’s three, inverted, heart shaped leaves, initially folded back make it look a little like a clover to the uninitiated. It has a delicate white flower and if you get down close, not only will you see it’s yellow centre, but you will notice the purple veins that radiate out across the five white petals.

BluebellsThe bluebells, a true sign of Spring, those early pioneering flowers. It’s as if the first few flowers check to see what the weather holds and then communicate with the others and  suddenly they all spring into life too. We are lucky here in the Chilterns, so many woodlands have bluebells and when the weather is right, there are vast numbers of beautiful blue flowers spreading across the whole woodland floor.

Wood Anemone

Wood Anemone

In a shady spot, near my favourite place to find wild garlic, I found a single wood anemone. It has quite distinctive foliage and a small white flower. In large numbers, wood anemones, as do bluebells, are an indicator of ancient woodlands.

You may see the common dog violet, with its purple-blue flower almost anywhere. They are common in woodlands, but just as common in the corners of the garden, at the bottom of walls and peering out from under other more dominant plants. They appear to like a mix of sunshine and shade and will spread out to find the right conditions.

Common Dog Violet

Common Dog Violet

Historically the these and other violets were gathered and preserved in a sugar solution, to make pretty decorations on desserts. Once familiar with this lovely little flower, you may suddenly see them all over the place. There are quite a few around my garden and at my local allotment too.

Goat Willow Blossom

Goat Willow Blossom

Back with the trees again, have you seen this strange looking blossom? Almost like a candy-floss, this blossom springs from the buds of the goat willow. The buds of most willow are slender, and lie flat against the twig, with a tip that points slightly inwards. The bark of the goat willow has what I describe as ‘peck’ marks. Those markings are at regular intervals around the tree trunk, it’s as if a woodpecker has visited the tree and decorated it by pecking those holes (they haven’t).



On my walk home, looking along the hedgerows I found some stitchwort. This plant tends to grow erect and tall amongst the grasses, reaching out to get its share of the sunshine. The stitchwort has long slender leaves and produces white flowers with split-petals.



And to the final flower of what was a lovely Spring mornings walk. The cowslip, I think of it as a Primrose that hasn’t quite reached its full potential. The flowers are smaller, but similar in colour. They are delicate, often with many flowers on a single stem. Locally, the cowslip is found out in the grassy fields, gaining more sunshine, whereas the primrose  likes a mix of sunshine and shade found in the woodlands.

Homeward bound I look forward to the next woodland walk. If you are interested in learning about the woodlands, then you may be interested in the guided Woodland Walks. Please feel free to have a look and check the events calendar to see when and where the next guided woodland walk is happening.