Foraging for Health

By Dr Ailsa Care

I have been interested for some time in the health benefits of the foods we eat and grow but have recently discovered the world of foraging for health. I recently took part in a foraging walk guided by a medical herbalist. This meant that not only were we taught to identify plants we could use safely and where to find them, but were also advised which plants might be confused with them and be less safe or dangerous. Some of the plants are well known and easy to recognise, others less so. We learned about their medicinal properties and how they can be used i.e dried as teas, as tinctures, made into creams etc.

An easy one to recognise at this time of year is the elderflower. Elder trees are commonly found in most woods, hedgerows and around rivers. The flowers come in late spring/early summer and are clusters of small white flowers with a slight lemony smell. We learned that the flowers which produce the best flavour are those that look slightly creamy and have a stronger smell (this is before their pollen has been harvested).

Try not to harvest plants in areas where there are high levels of pollution as the plants are likely contaminated with those pollutants. Also choose plants which look healthy to harvest from. If they don’t look healthy it may be the plant is growing in poor or contaminated soil so will not provide the same health benefits.

Elderflowers can be easily dried and made into a herbal tea which has calming, anti-anxiety properties and can be used as a sleep tonic before bed. The tea also has anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic benefits helping to reduce irritation and inflammation in the gut. This means it can be helpful for easing heartburn, acid reflux, gastritis, bloating, gas, colic and wind. It is also a good herb to turn to at the first sign of any respiratory infection when it can be made as a tea and sipped throughout the day.

Elderflower is considered very safe but as a precaution is best avoided if you take any immunosuppressant medication.

To make elderflower tea add 1 tsp of dried herb or 2 tsp fresh herbs into a cup and pour on boiling water (or make it in an infusion teapot) leaving to infuse for 5-10 minutes. A little raw honey can be added for extra immune stimulating and anti-viral benefits.