When is the last time you saw a spaghetti tree? In an age where many of our meals come from boxes and consist of food unrecognizable in nature, foraging for wild food is an eco-friendly alternative. It goes back to our hunting and gathering roots and re-connects us to nature!
For Mary and Robert, the owners of Blackstairs Eco Trails, which offers foraging tours, their passion for environmentalism is a lifestyle that permeates all areas of their life – not just their eco-tourism business. They’re authentic – and not just when eco-tourists are around!
In 1988 Mary led a group of committed citizens to save Leinster Mountain from being mined. After that she served as a Green Party politician and even served as Minister of State for for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration.
When they renovated their barn, which is bookable for seminars, workshops and family events, it was made as eco-friendly as possible. The organic building only contains materials sourced in Ireland and even the cement is green with 60% less carbon than in regular cement.
They both swim daily, even in winter – brrrr, in this natural pond as a way to connect with nature and get exercise!
They also grow most of their own vegetables – organically of course!
What really intrigued me though, were their foraging workshops in the Blackstairs Mountains.
Although I am a regular hiker and even spent seven days walking the Wicklow Way in Ireland, I confess to not knowing much about how to find and prepare wild food. Unless you count stumbling upon a berry bush and popping juicy berries into my mouth!
Blackstairs Eco-Trails offers six hours hands-on foraging workshops called Find It, Pick It, Cook It, Eat It. Not only do you get a three-course lunch, but you will also get treats to take away.
Depending on the time of year, that may include nettle scones, fried dandelion leaves, nettle pesto or even a Christmas feast if you’re there in November!
So what can you expect to find, and more importantly eat on a foraging workshop? Take a look at the wild food you likely never knew you could eat, and the surprisingly flavours they offer:
Primrose: You pick this flower, then paint it with castor sugar to crystal it! Voila, you have gorgeous foraged and edible cake decorations! So pretty – and tasty!
Navelwort: This plant adds a crunch texture to salads and is also good in stir-frys and stews. Wild Food Tip: Be sure to pick the younger species, as it becomes more bitter tasting as it matures.
Stitchwort: Also known as chickweed, this plant can be used to cure a stitch in your side – simply by chewing on the leaves. It’s also good in salads or as a snack by itself!
Blackthorn: This is a strange species in that the flowers come before the leaves. It’s a sacred tree of the Celts. The Irish consider it unlucky to bring indoors, so you’ve been warned. The thorny tree is often used as a natural hedge in Ireland to enclose cattle. You can also make preserves from the fruit!
Wood Sorrels: The leaves are more commonly eaten than the flowers. Historically they have been use to treat ailments ranging from fevers, urinary infections, mouth sores, nausea and sore throats. It’s also good in salads, as a seasoning and makes a great tea!
Gorse flower: You can find this indigenous flower allover Ireland. You’ll never believe what you can make from it – ice-cream! It has a rich coconut aroma and Mary says that it tastes exactly how it smells!
While you will be snacking along the way on your foraging tour, the real treat is learning how to prepare what you’ve gathered and to taste what goodness comes from wild food. I was fortunate enough to eat lentil soup seasoned with foraged herbs and gluten-free scones at Blackstairs Eco Trails:
Besides the foraging workshops, you can also also do a guided Eco Trail Two-Hour Tour through the foothills of the gorgeous Blackstairs Mountains. On these low to no-hill walks, you’ll look at the natural topography of the landscape and learn about the local archaeology. You’ll stop to observe the flora and fauna found in the area. Keep your eye out for the elusive Irish Stout, which resembles a weasel!
Take a look at the type of the landscapes of the Blackstairs Mountains that you’ll be walking through:
In order to make the most of your visit to Blackstairs Eco Trails, I’d highly recommend planning a day of the Eco Trail Tour and foraging workshop. You can also spend the night in one of their Shephard’s Huts.
I guarantee you that after a visit to Blackstairs Eco Trails, you’ll never look at wild food the same. Now, whenever I see the Gorse flower, I see ice-cream!
If you’re interested in more ecotourism activities in Ireland, be sure to check out Super Easy and Fun Ways to Be an Ecotourist in Slane, Ireland.
Note: Thank you to Blackstairs Eco Trails, EcoTourism Ireland, and Tourism Ireland for making my visit. As always, all opinions are my own.