Given the opportunity, my children love to be out in the woods or in a field, searching for bugs and sticks, flowers and rocks, or throwing sticks into the river for our dogs to retrieve. When I decided to start learning one new edible wild plant a week I realised that it would be fun for my children to join in too. With a little caution, and plenty of encouragement, my children (and I) will – I hope – soon be able to positively identify many common and safe wild edibles. This skill is nothing new of course; as children our ancestors would have done this for generations, yet traditional knowledge and instinct have been lost within this modern world of ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ a phrase coined by Richard Louv in his 2010 book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Our nation’s children are missing out on the pure joy of connection with the natural world; and as a result, as adults lack an understanding of the importance of nature to human society and are disconnected from the food that they eat.
Yesterday I gave my children a couple of poor quality pictures I’d printed off the internet, along with descriptions, and my camera, and sent them off into the local meadows to try and find the plants. I was impressed when they came back having positively identified both of the plants.
Also called flatweed or false dandelion is usually mistaken for a dandelion, perhaps because of its bright yellow flower, which also ends up releasing its seeds as windborne “parachutes”. There are a few major differences: cat’s ear has hairy leaves and its leaves have round-dented lobes, while dandelion leaves have sharply toothed angles.
Cat’s ear leaves are not as bitter as dandelion leaves and can be more easily accepted in salads, stews, soups. The root of this plant can be roasted and used to make a coffee, the same way as it is done with dandelion roots.
This is one of the plants that can be harvested as food almost the whole year through. It will be my first plant to get to know better and more updates will be posted during the week as we discover the taste and ways to prepare this natural food.
“Every child needs to learn how to cook, needs to learn how to cultivate a garden, plant seeds, learn about sustainability, be taken to a garden, and be able to put hands in the Earth.”~ Alice Waters.
The other plant the children correctly identified was plantain (pictured top). No relation to the tropical, banana-like plant with the same common name, plantain is a common weed with edible leaves and seeds. It is also one of the best herbal remedies for scrapes, bug bites, and bee stings. This will be number two on our list!