Foraging Special: Gorse Flower Salt Scrub

In my eternal quest to Detox my life (you’ve seen me ditch my shower curtain and hack my air fresheners), I’ve discovered the really enjoyable art of making body scrubs from coconut oil, and of course I’ve found a way to incorporate a bit of foraging into the process.  One of the few flowers around throughout the year is Gorse (Ulex europea) which makes for perfect winter foraging and (as luck would have it) has a lush coconutty fragrance.  There’s going to be more on gorse shortly, but I thought I’d share the ‘recipe’ for this awesome salt scrub:

What you need:

One 500g jar of coconut oil (tip* – get this from the TOILETRIES aisle in the supermarket where it’s less than half the price of those in the food/oils section!)

1.5 cups (about half of a 750g tub) of table salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 10-20 drops of the essential oil of your choice)

1 handful of DRIED flowers/herbs of your choice – gorse flowers in this case (tip* with the gorse you only want the petals)

Some jars to put your scrub in, mixing bowl, small saucepan

How to make it:

  1. Empty the jar of coconut oil into the saucepan and melt on the stove on a low heat – you don’t want it to boil, just melt gently.  It will look like vegetable oil.
  2. Allow to cool on the counter for 10 minutes
  3. Mix in the vanilla (this will look a bit like a lava lamp) and flowers
  4. Put the mix in the fridge and stir every 10 minutes until the mixture has got some of its gloopiness back and is turning white again.
  5. Add your salt and mix thoroughly
  6. Pot up into jars and put in the fridge for 30 mins to set
  7. All done!  Use like you would any body scrub – store at room temperature

The Small of the Wild (Part 1)

I had a microscopic adventure this week: a foray into the world of Ascomycetes fungi. Ascos (That’s what the cool kids call them – and I’m down with the kids, as you know!) are a type of small fungi that live on dead wood (or sometimes other fungi) and proliferate by expelling spores into the air (they are known as the ‘Spore Shooters’).

To study them, you really need a hand lens (although there are some large ascos like Scarlet Elf Cup and Witches Butter which are large – Elf Cups will feature in another blog post very soon!).  Delighted that I remembered to pack my hand lens and my camera with macro lens, I managed a few cool pics.  (Not all of these are Ascos, as some are fungi from different groups, and at least one is a slime mould (Which is apparently part fungi / part animal!!!).  It was an enthralling experience looking for organisms on a microscopic level – and of course I digressed into looking at beetles, slugs, snails, etc (below) I had my eyes opened to a completeley new taxonomic group!

Fishing, Aboriginal Style

For thousands of years (at least 9,000 according to archaeologists) humans have been fishing with traps, fashioned from straight rods of hazel and willow.  This style of trap has been found throughout the globe, used by a wide variety of indigenous cultures from Native Americans & First Nations to Vikings and our own British ancestors.

And its not just willow and hazel – this fantastic trap (photos and vine below) are made from bamboo!

I’ve seen a wide variety of fish traps in museum collections.  The photos below are from the British Museum in London, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and the Peabody Museum, Boston:

Making traditional fish traps has been on my list of things to do for a while now… I started with a simple two-ended crayfish trap (based on the design of standard crayfish traps with a cylinder-shape, cones at both ends and a hatch to remove caught crayfish.  I’m hoping to try it out shortly and will post the results! *You need a licence from the Environment Agency to trap alien crayfish, and a licence from Natural England to trap/survey for native white-clawed crayfish.

More fish trap designs to follow!

Viriditas, the Apocalypse and Mars

So I’m reading ‘Red Mars’ by Kim Stanley Robinson. I’ve always been a huge fan of Science fiction (particularly Hard SF and Dystopian) and after recently discovering the first Barsoom Trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs (How did I live to the age of 40 and completely miss this?!), I thought following it up with a modern Mars trilogy would be cool. What I’m loving about it most is that it is an exploration of terraforming – the greening of other worlds, and it has introduced me to a new word: Viriditas.
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Viriditas is a term attributed to abbess Hildegard von Bingen, and generally means ‘lushness’ or ‘growth’.  It is used in an ecological context and also a spiritual context, where that spiritual growth is connected to or inspired by nature.  KSR uses it in both the  spiritual context (‘that greening fructiparous power within, which knows that the wild world itself is holy‘) and also as the ‘greening’ of new worlds and the universe.  It is also the emotional and scientific imperative to see that greening occur.
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It occurs to me that viriditas is the feeling I get when surrounded by a lush forest; that thrill that I get in wild places; the sense of triumph I feel when I see nature taking hold in anthropogenic environments – the cracks in walls and bridges, the ivy reclaiming neglected buildings. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it ‘spiritual’, but certainly some kind of intrinsic connection with the wild and the ancient.
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It is a bittersweet feeling knowing that everything we do on this earth will no doubt be eventually reclaimed and erased – and perhaps my mild obsession with post-apocalyptic fiction feeds this feeling, but part of me secretly wants the wild to win, feels that it is right and good that it should happen.
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Of course if people aren’t here then I wouldn’t be able to spend my life wondering at bats, beetles, plants and bees.  The answer is clearly to find a balance, a harmony, and who knows if humans will achieve it, but I hope so.  I hope that one day life is like something from the dreams of Carl Sagan or Gene Roddenberry.  For now, I will have to enjoy the world in my own way, with my quiet moments of Viriditas giving me hope.  Whitman knew what I mean:

“Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.
We also ascend dazzling and tremendous as the sun,
We found our own O my soul in the calm and cool of the daybreak.

An Urban Fox Hunt

I am heartbroken and really angry, so forgive me for the graphic photographs, but I’m not going to pull any punches on this one. Someone was seen last week shooting foxes at Fibbersley Local Nature Reserve in Willenhall. I only found out this morning when a resident saw me litter picking with the Friends of Fibbersley and told us about it, and where to find the dead foxes. The police were called at the time, and I spoke to them today, and they are very concerned. Alas, there is very little they can do unless they catch the man in the act. Not only is this a wildlife crime, but it is also a firearms offence, so I’d like to ask the residents of Walsall to please be vigilant if you are on site and see something suspicious and report it to the police if you think a crime is in progress (do NOT under any circumstances approach anyone), and if you know anything about this or any other wildlife crime, please don’t keep it to yourself.

It also should be stressed that this means that someone is walking around nature reserves at night with a loaded firearm, so if you are on site at night, please don’t go alone, and please use caution.  I can’t imagine what type of monster would do this (many of the foxes were cubs), but this is the second incident of this type this week.

Believe it or not, it isn’t actually illegal to shoot foxes, but it IS illegal to carry a firearm in a public place, and to shoot in a public place, so a crime has been committed either way. You can get more information on wildlife crime at the National Wildlife Crime Unit and about foxes specifically at the National Fox Welfare Society.

Serotine, Serotine

This is Vlad.  If you’ve seen me do a bat talk this year, you will have met him – he has been staying with me since the summer when he came up from the Avon Bat Group to spend a few weeks in the flight cage.  Alas, he would not fly at all, and it was looking quite likely that he’d go back down to Avon to become a permanent education bat. Today he had his first chance to use the flight cage since he came out for the winter in October, and to everyone’s surprise, flew perfectly well and actually seemed to enjoy himself!

Vlad is a Serotine (Eptesicus serotinus), which is one of our largest UK bat species.  His overall size and appearance (and if you heard him, his echolocation) are very similar to a Noctule bat, but he’s actually a different genus.  Serotines are one of our rarer species, usually confined to the south (but recently been recorded in Wales – check out Sam Dyer’s blog about the North Wales Serotine Project!).  We also think we’ve recorded them in Walsall this year and will be investigating further this summer to confirm the record.

Not much is known about how the Serotine population is doing in the UK, but they are considered to be stable.  They are threatened anywhere their food source (beetles) is scarce, which means that urbanisation is a huge threat to them as they will often forage over agricultural land, where they forage for dung beetles in the summer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m delighted that Vlad’s prospects for release are looking brighter – he’s a handsome little man with a lovely personality, and its so good to think he might be flying around back at his home in Cheddar Gorge this summer!

Gretchen, Plaited and Follow-on Borders

Another brilliant day with the Middle Earth Weavers on Sunday, as we visited Chasewater for the next in our series of intermediate basketry workshops.  We were working on borders this time – and instead of making baskets before working on the rims, we were able to get straight into the (slightly baffling) world of borders by using planks with 12 holes drilled in.  We inserted our ‘uprights’ into them and then worked a ring of 3-rod wailing before practicing several different types of border.  It was a really great way to work, actually, as we were each able to do 3 or 4 borders in the morning, followed by some framed hedgerow baskets in the afternoon.

And of course, when you’re finished they make lovely crowns!

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“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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