WILD FOOD AND MEDICINE
The Equinox has just passed and the turn is palpable here in Pathhead, thank goodness. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hunker down creep into winter dark but by this point in the year, I’m craving birdsong and blossom and light.
I’m marking this Spring with some fresh learning via Grassroots Remedies, an Edinburgh and Glasgow based workers’ cooperative which is rekindling the tradition of herbal community healthcare. Or, as they put it: Folk Medicine for All Folk! That’s folky enough for me.
One of my favourite late summer and autumn season pursuits is gathering fruit. I make elderberry syrup (I’m down to my last bottle in the fridge now) and sloe gin and I boil up jellies and other concoctions using brambles, crabapples, haws, hips, rowans and sea buckthorn. I love it, but it requires a degree of seasonal awareness and timekeeping organisation that sometimes escapes me. I miss the raspberries every year. And beyond the summer and autumn harvest, I always mean to do something with the wild leek and garlic, the wood sorrel and the dandelions.
I’m enrolled on Wild Things: A Year of Wild Food and Medicine. And I’ve signed up for a series of local Edinburgh based herb walks that begin this Friday. I’ve put all the dates in my diary, and carved out some learning time, which feels great.
Plant Medicine has a long history and much if it is bound up with the knowledge and of care and women whose contributions have largely been erased from history. But there’s a striking link to one of Edinburgh’s most beloved institutions too.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was founded in the grounds of Holyrood House in 1670, by Robert Sibbald and Andrew Balfour, two of the leading physicians – and botanists – of the era. It was designed as a ‘Physic Garden’, a collection of fresh plants for medical prescription and for the teaching of botany to medical students. Sibbald was inaugural Professor of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, but he was also keen to ensure that plant knowledge was not confined to the privileged.
In 1699, in response to ‘The Ill Years’, a series of successive crop failures and widespread hunger across Scotland, he published ‘Provision For The Poor in Time of Dearth or Scarcity’, a 24-page plant field guide to foraging. It is subtitled ‘Where There is an Account of Such Food as May be Easily Gotten when Corns are Scarce, Or Unfit for Use: and of Such Meats as May be Used when the Ordinary Provisions Fail Or are Very Dear’.
The connection between plants and health has been somewhat breached by the industrialisation and compartmentalisation of modern medicine. I’m deeply grateful for the modern NHS that we have. But I’m fearful too. We’re in a period of history when we, as ordinary people, will need more knowledge and agency around how to look after ourselves and each other. And whilst we’ll still need specialist expertise and care, for those that can access it, we’ll need much more than that too. And we’ll need to share what we know, and what we have.
Next month, I’m hoping to do a day of solo filming with the brilliant Ormiston-based videographer Sandy Butler. Let’s just say my own house is not quite for this purpose right now! So, I’m reaching out to folks locally in Midlothian, East Lothian or north Borders who might be willing to host me for a day in a spacious, quiet, bright living room or studio space in exchange for a bespoke wee household song offering and two free tickets to my next Edinburgh show (which will be in November – more on that next time).
If you’re free during the day on April 21st, all you’d need to do is take some phone snaps of your room to give an indication of size and feel and let me know where you are!
Thanks so much to everyone who’s bought tickets for my solo tour south of the border in June. Shoreham is sold out already and several dates are shifting towards limited tickets. So please don’t leave it too late!
I’ll also be playing three dates with Dave Milligan – What A Wonderful World Festival in Alnwick in June, and Milton Keynes International Festival and Yn Chruinnaght Celtic Gathering on the Isle Of Man in July.