Will there be a positive public health legacy from the forced outdoor socializing of the past two winters? Are we perhaps more resilient people, aware of the blessings of our temperate climate where it is rarely too cold to be outside?
September is a great time to make like a squirrel and look for food. Mary Bulfin’s rides are for everyone, “from the three-year-old to grandma,” she says. She calls herself Wild Food Mary, but the walks are less about finding and gathering wild foods than about seeing how connected we are to the world around us. Mobs don’t come back with baskets full of loot. Wild ecosystems are too fragile to support groups of people looking for their lunch as they might in the prepared food aisle at Dunnes.
“The walks are more about a sustainable approach to landscape,” says Bulfin. She wants people to see hedgerows with a new lens, think about pollinators, and be amazed at how many edible plants surround us in a wilder landscape. These plants have an agricultural and folk medicine heritage, as she explains.
“Two of our most reviled weeds are amazing medicinally. Dandelions can jump-start your liver, help you digest fat, and help deal with allergies and inflammation. Stinging nettles are packed with protein and are also amazing for rheumatism and arthritis.” At the Night of Culture, she was showing schoolchildren how to make fiber material from nettles.
Based near Birr in Co Offaly, Bulfin offers weekly walks in and around Laois and Offaly and also works with transition students and one-off groups. She will explain how dandelions are vital in early spring to feed queen bees that have overwintered and are teeming with the next generation of pollinators. “Every day is different. I go out to find food with people and I also learn something. I recently learned that parts of our very poisonous yew tree are being used for cancer treatment.”
Since the pandemic, his audience has grown to include many more family groups. “I took my grandson to his first forage when he was only one year old. He is now three years old and he loves it,” he says.
It also gets a lot of people who just bought their first home or have a garden for the first time and want to better understand gardening “a little wilder”. His dream would be for every new student at the national school to plant a wild apple and a hazel, so that when they leave school, that tree is producing food for humans and animals. Now, that would be a positive legacy for public health.
Catherine Cleary is co-founder of pocket forests