Roving reporter Catherine interviewed forager and environmental science student Flo Coleman from a field outside her university town of Bath.
It's spring in the UK and so on all my recent adventures there's tons of wild garlic everywhere. It's my favourite smell, like when you enter woodland at the beginning of spring. And that first hit of wild garlic is just heavenly.
It’s a smell that encompasses the magic and spontaneity of the seasons. The cyclical nature of it is saying, “I’m back,” as you’re submerged by this gorgeous smell. And you're thinking, “It's spring!”
This is the mark of the crossover into the new season. And I always see garlic as a symbol of warmth and the coming of summer. Garlic is such a staple, an indicator of ancient woodlands and reminds me of why I love living here. It's like coming home to my British roots, a smell you can rely on.
Pockets of beauty and abundance
Life for me at the moment is trying to find a balance. I'm at university studying environmental science and living a day-to-day routine of daily walks. As I walk I’m looking at the ground and really paying attention to the greenery. And noticing which plants are familiar and which ones are new. Then I'll smell them to see if I recognize them.
We're all on our life journey, experimenting and getting to know Mother Nature more. So instead of viewing natural spaces as wild and untamed, which is what a lot of people think, it’s actually learning to view these ecosystems as possibilities for sustenance and food. By going out into nature we can find pockets of beauty and abundance.
My life speaks
Foraging for food for dinner*
It’s so rare for me to not be preoccupied. When I forage I devote all my attention to it. I need my sole attention to be focused on all my senses. That’s why I make sure there are no distractions. Even music is too much.
Often I’ll take my phone and a sketchbook to log anything new that I find. It’s a process of respecting and learning about the plant.
Then when I come home, especially if I'm about to eat something I found, I will draw the plant. It's like honouring every part of it.
From a safety point of view I feel it's essential. For example, there’s a thin line between plants with long hairs or ones with short hairs. That small difference is what makes them toxic. That’s why you have to be especially careful with mushrooms.
So drawing for me is a really vital part of the process of foraging. And as the seasons come back round, it’s fun for me to have a log I can refer to. So I learn about their life cycles at different stages in the year. Plants change so much across all the seasons. It’s really easy to identify things when they're in flower, difficult when they're not.
* It is advisable to take a course in foraging and get expert opinion before eating wild plants.
I've gone so many walks, when I’m just walking and taking things in, which is totally different to when you're kneeling and using all your senses to learn about the plants. And then returning to the same spots and seeing how they've changed, and how you've changed. And then coming back year after year knowing, “oh, this grows here.”
One of the things I do love about foraging is you're always a beginner. There's just too much to learn in one lifetime. So you're always an amateur. You just can't master it all because you're coming across new species all the time.
Life was interpreted by
Flo Coleman, forager and student of environment sciences. She was born cross-eyed and says her eyes still tend cross when she’s tired. She’s adding new spices to her life learning the art of Ghanaian cooking with her stepmother.
Flo says to life
My goal one day is to live self-sufficiently, being in rhythm with the seasons, one day at a time. That’s the dream.
→ Randomly tagged
Flo was invited by Catherine Archer when they both attended the University’s Ecological Society set up by Catherine’s twin sister Julia. They bonded over a cup of tea and chat about becoming more ecologically aware and the everyday actions needed to combat climate change.
Cover photo edited. Original by Flo Coleman.