It is that glorious time, the point in the year when the hedgerows are bursting with flowers and plants full of healing and taste. About a week ago the wonderful A.S Apothecary team headed out on our annual hunt for Elderflower. This has become something of a ritual for us, a moment in the year to come together and celebrate the sheer abundance of the Elder and to marvel at how it grows in the least hospitable places, often on the far side of deep ditches surrounded by thickets of the largest healthiest nettles to be found anywhere.
For plants we wild harvest, we are very mindful only to take a small portion of each plant and never to have more than a passing impact on the local environment where we are picking. Elderflower however has so many natural defenders it need never fear over picking.
Last year Catherine Cridland from Inviting Spaces came along with an umbrella, it was a stroke of genius, the handle helped to gently ease branches within our grasp and we used it to push the nettles to one side, we even held onto it for balance whilst spanning the ditch.
This year we forgot it.
We jumped, stretched and ultimately flung ourselves at the trees. We were nettled and we cursed. A lot. It was a sight indeed. Four middle aged women hell-bent on filling at least one basket clambering through nettles, laughing and spurring each other on to ever more precarious picking. En route we met a much better prepared chap coming in the other direction with a bag bulging with blossom. There was a brief discussion about daylight robbery but we let him pass unhindered, bag in hand.
Because here’s the thing – wild foraging is not really romantic; it is messy, often muddy, occasionally thankless. We are stung, pricked and on rare occasions sunburnt. But if you go out with a group of friends it is fun… all of it… every blossom, bud and bite of it.
It is part of the ASAPOTH year, a delight that the seasons are slowly turning, a reassurance that in its own small way, all is well. Nature has yet again prevailed offering at least some solace for all the rest of the horrors that afflict the world. It brings a little respite, a moment of distraction from what Tagore describes as the 'pitiless mirth of day'.
This year the Elderflower has been magnificent, big creamy panicles of flowers have enveloped the trees. The dry spell has given it a really strong scent and as we have laid it out on the drying racks at the farm it has delightfully scented the room.
We have picked enough to grind up into our Mineral Powder and sufficient to make a cordial that we served at an event at Rolls Royce in Mayfair. I love that about Elderflower it has so many uses – it is brilliant for the skin, it makes a tea that reduces fever, a refreshing cordial and then later in the season the berries are literally a wonder tonic for Winter.
We also look forward to this particular foraging event because it ends up with the most magnificent afternoon tea at the Beanstalk Café – a place where the scones are perfect, the sandwiches have their crusts removed and the lemon drizzle really means business. We end our day sitting in the sun, having eaten ourselves to a standstill in the company of the peacocks and roses satisfied that we have at least one basket of elderflower. Even Julie managed to find her phone that she had dropped mid leap and my eye soon recovered from Tara poking it with a stick whilst lunging at a particularly stubborn panicle.
Roll on next year when we can do it all again.