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Kim Smith discovers the healing powers of flora and fauna on a foraging walk
Carl Shillingford is too young to remember classic BBC sitcom The Good Life, but he has become just as big a supporter of self-
sustainability. The former Michel Roux chef developed a passion for cooking with wild food when he worked at two Nayland gastro pubs, The White Hart and The Anchor.
His habit of collecting nature’s harvest on country walks started with the usual autumn delights of apples and blackberries, then progressed to mushrooms, salad garnishes and herbs.
It became so consuming that Carl decided to open a pop-up restaurant offering field-to-fork fare at The Quay Theatre in Sudbury. With wife
Beth handling front of house as he worked his magic in the kitchen, the venture proved so popular that there was soon a three-month wait for tables.
The couple are now celebrating their first anniversary at a permanent base, The Forager’s Retreat, just across the Essex border at Pebmarsh. And besides an ever-changing menu, it offers one-day courses teaching others how to gather tasty treats from hedgerows and woods on the Essex/Suffolk border.
Topically, given this year’s devastating Corona pandemic, one of them has the theme of Hedgerow Medicine. Bury & West Suffolk magazine would never be so crass as to suggest that the antidote to the worst health crisis in a generation can be found at the side of a road or footpath. However, it seems a good time to reflect on the
ancient remedies our ancestors used to combat their ills.
I joined one such course on a damp spring morning when, thankfully, the sun eventually won its battle with the drizzle. Led by Carl’s good friend Matthew Rooney, an expert forager who specialises in taking cuttings from wild mushrooms to propagate, he explained that the idea behind the day was to learn how to make simple pick-me-ups for colds, stings, cuts, bruises and more from readily available and abundant flora and fauna.
He began with a word of warning by showing us a seemingly innocuous plant that is actually the UK’s deadliest, hemlock. If ingested, it is capable of
Anne’s lace, is far more user-friendly. It can treat stomach and kidney ailments, breathing difficulties and colds. It has also long been used as a mosquito repellent and is important for insects as an early source of pollen.
Next up was the herb cleavers, otherwise known as goose grass or sticky willy (because the small hooked hairs growing on its stems and leaves stick to anyone and anything passing by). Two dried tablespoons left to steep in a cup of boiling water and sweetened with honey if desired, is lauded as effective for cleansing the lymphatic system, alleviating edema (swelling of the lower legs and hands), bloating and water retention. It can additionally be
made into a decaffeinated coffee alternative.
Common lawn daisies, the humble little flowers much beloved by children for making necklaces, have anti- inflammatory and astringent properties and can be consumed in the form of tea to ease colds, bronchitis and other inflammations of the upper respiratory tract. Ever versatile, they can be added to salads, soups and sandwiches and preserving buds in vinegar makes a good substitute for capers.
The weed plantain, otherwise known as rat tail because the flower
stem bears an uncanny resemblance to such, has numerous benefits. It contains calcium and vitamin A and herbalists use the leaves to stem bleeding in small wounds and to soothe insect bites and stings. You can make a tincture out of it by leaving it in vodka for a week, then ‘
 Signing up: Beth and Carl Shillingford make a great team
killing a person in three hours, causing muscular paralysis, leading to respiratory failure and eventually death. The best way of telling hemlock apart from similar-looking cow parsley is by sniffing the leaves – when crushed they smell like mouse urine!
Cow parsley, also known as Queen

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