Foraging for my mental health has awakened my senses and offered precious mindfulness, says Katie Scott, as she shares her love of foraging…
If you knew me, you’d never think I was someone who took up foraging for my mental health. And yet, the power inn this simple activity is infinite.
When the gentle but unmistakable waft of wild garlic hits my nose as I wander down our driveway, I know that summer is on the way – despite the mud. Swirling leaves, rosehips and falling apples mark autumn; as does the quiet delight I get discovering courgettes nestled among prickly leaves in my raised beds after the bright bloom of yellow flowers.
I grew up in a village and so have always picked blackberries, foraged sloes and made hundreds, if not thousands, of apple pies and apple crumbles. In the early summer, I went foraging with Fern Freud, whose knowledge of plants is encyclopedic, and whose book Wild Magic will be published in February 2023.
It was a day of slow wandering and seeing many tiny plants that I have never noticed before. The abundance was stunning. Many of the plants have been used medicinally for centuries – plantain balm for cracked hands and nettle stings; lavender, wild chamomile, mugwort and lemon balm for sleep. We ate nettle cake and talked about the power of these plants to heal and the little-known folklore that speaks of their magic.
It was a day in the sunshine in which I felt enlivened by the vivid colours around me, awakened by the tang of green leaves as we nibbled on our discoveries and comforted by the warmth of the sun and the conversation.
As we move into rainy days, cold winds and dark nights, I have noted how the seasons are marked by changing moods and changing energy levels. ‘No matter how far from the Earth’s natural cycles modern society may pull us, our bodies respond to seasonal change on every level. If we try to deny the fact that we naturally slow down for winter, for example, we can easily burn out,’ says Freud.
She has noted a rising fascination with not only foraging but also the rituals that punctuate the harvesting calendar. ‘I like to think of these purposeful and slow activities as “gateway” rituals. Many have come through the gate and are looking to see what else is growing in the garden.’
While not all of us will head to Stonehenge to mark Samhain or rise in the dark for the Vernal Equinox, rituals such as apple picking, carving pumpkins, drying seeds and planting seedlings mean that we place our hands in the soil. They also ground us – these are the rituals that have been carried out at this time of year, in this very place, for centuries.
Now, as I walk, I can smell the damp leaves and hear the squelch of saturated soil. The last of my autumnal harvest sits in the fridge while evergreen branches – with the odd shock of colour from a berry – adorn my vases.
Mornings are harder now in the dark and cold, but evenings are cocooning and drowsy. I will try to slow down over winter, despite the joyful chaos of Christmas, and take stock before the rituals of planting and tending in spring begin. As the seasons change, so too do my needs and so too what nature can provide. Accordingly, the rituals around growing and foraging change throughout the year. As Freud says: ‘Rituals allow us to listen to the changes that are happening within us and around us, so we can live in harmony with the Earth’s cycles.’