Dreaded about feeding plants and not sure where to start?
I felt the same way 10 years ago.
Then I found an online community of plant friends and gradually increased my knowledge over time.
Now some amazing plant ID programs, incredible plant and forage search books and also Online schools like Herbal Academy here you can really develop your knowledge and gain confidence. (This newsletter contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase after clicking the link, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you.)
Admittedly, I’m more confident in collecting paint plants than food. But when it comes to collecting any wild plant, there are key features to look for in proper identification and a list of lookalikes to avoid, so it’s entirely possible to learn the skills safely!
A new plant for me this summer…
It was a plant that emerged for me this summer Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) – a member of the carrot family whose Latin name reveals to us. It is also known as wild carrot and “queen of herbs”.
Can you spot the black-purple flower in the center of the white flowers? This is a useful feature for identifying Queen Anne’s Lace. It doesn’t appear in all flowers, but it does in many. Legend has it that Queen Anne was making lace and a drop of blood spilled into the center of the lace.
Other plants in the family include cow parsley and hemlock, which is poisonous. I’ve always been extremely wary of touching anything in this family because I know hemlock is highly poisonous, but it’s helpful to learn the characteristics of all the plants so we can tell them apart.
Herbal Academy has excellent herbal monologues for learning properties. Read more about Queen Anne’s lace
Have you dyed with Queen Anne’s lace before? Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try it this summer, but it’s something to look forward to next year!
To increase your herbal knowledge, try going on local foraging walks or taking a knowledgeable friend and asking lots of questions.
Since I didn’t grow up knowing about plants from a young age, I understand that my nervousness towards plants is probably cultural. In some countries, children are immersed in foraging and it plays a large part of daily life. I imagine your plant story is very different from mine – we are all unique!
If you want to boost your confidence, Herbal Academy has a fabulous online courses and seminars.
I am currently doing their work Foraging course – I love the juxtaposition between edible herbs and dye plants!
Did you know that almost every aromatic plant produces a dye? The smell indicates the presence of aromatic oils and acids, indicating that the plant has dyeing potential. Make a mini paint bowl and see for yourself! It’s like making a strong cup of herbal tea.
One of my favorites is rosemary. Check out this fabulous burgundy-purple paint color I made last week!
The next one The Herbal Academy course I want to do is a Botanical Drawing course. Imagine painting plants with homemade plant inks! This will work especially well with the tannin-rich fall plants I’m foraging for now – oaks, acorns and walnuts!
Are you scared of plants like me?
As I hinted above, I kind of grew up with it plant fear. Plants and foraging played no part in my formative years growing up around London in the 90s.
Rather than studying the properties of plants, I avoided touching anything in case it was poisonous. To my eye the hedges were just a mass of greenery and I couldn’t pick out any individual plants other than the dandelion, and even then I was confused by all the other yellow flowers. Hawkweed and cat’s ear looked a lot alike to me, but now I know that a dandelion has a milky white liquid in its stem and can see the serrated leaves of a dandelion from a mile away.
After my first child was born this fear of plants was stronger than ever and I wouldn’t let him touch any plants! In my case, this fear came from a lack of knowledge, and I was determined to learn more in order to pass that knowledge on to him.
Our local dye plants
Right now, in terms of my native dye plants, I’m foraging for alder cones (photo below)oak and oak leaves.
There are still some nettles there and the long thin forms of the mature leaves make interesting hammer marks – Learn the method in the Plant Dye Zine.
What are you currently looking for in your local area?