Several years ago I remember watching a programme about Australian aboriginal people. The presenter was pointing at the scrubby bush landscape and questioning the value of the land. The two elderly aboriginal women glanced at each other before laughing out aloud, saying “You may see this as wasteland, but to us this is one free supermarket!”
Today I passed the day pleasantly, making the most of the free materials provided by nature in NE Scotland. I was attending a bushcraft course given by Willow Lohr. The theme was plants and cordage. So we stripped nettles with our bare hands (well, I chickened out and used my coat to protect my soft skin). Using parts, prepared earlier by Willow in true Blue Peter style, we then made cordage from the nettles. Later on we went rooting! We had to find fresh roots from pine and larch trees of a specific diameter. These were scraped down to the inner root below the bark layers. The finish product looked remarkably like dental floss!
After lunch we went for a gentle stroll down the country lane, stopping and examining copious plants. From sweet cicely to elder to tormentil, we learned about the myriad of uses of local plants. Fireweed or rosebay willowherb, is surprisingly sweet and edible in parts including the pith, the roots and young tender shoots.
Our countryside weeds are our own free food market. In this current economic climate, the additional food source provided by natural area may be a useful free addition to our dinner plates. More than that, food is one of our basic necessities. Giving children opportunities to learn about, taste and experience free food will help make the vital connection between the natural world and their own lives. Interestingly, research by Wells and Lekkies (2006) found that childhood participation with “domesticated” nature (e.g., picking flowers or planting seeds), while having a significant, positive effect, did not have as great an influence as that of “wild” nature on environmental attitudes and had only a marginal effect on environmental behaviours. In other words, let children experience wild food as well as cultivated food.
Wells, N. M., & Lekies, K. S. (2006). “Nature and the life course: Pathways from childhood nature experiences to adult environmentalism.” Children, Youth and Environments, 16(1).