I’m pretty confident with my botanising but I have a mild (but healthy it has to be said) fear of the carrot family. I certainly never point them out when I do herb walks! What if someone got it wrong when they picked on their own?! So when I saw a course called “Confidence with Carrots” on the Galloway Wild Foods website, I thought “that’s the very thing for me!” I was fairly certain that I wasn’t the only one with mild paranoia about these plants and, sure enough, when I posted up the link on the Scottish Herbalists facebook page, there was plenty of interest.

And so, 6 months later, me and my man, along with 8 lovely Herbalists (and a little baby Herbie), headed South to Galloway. And what a stunning weekend Mark chose for us. After a dismal, cold start to May I was beginning to wonder if I should look out my thermals for the camping trip! But the weekend of the 26th brought a heatwave and the South West shone in the sun. The last time I was down this way it was 1976, I was three years old, holidaying in a caravan at Kirkcudbright – happy (if hazy) memories and another heatwave. Maybe it’s always this nice in Galloway…

After meeting at The Mill on the Fleet for introductions and cuppas, we headed off – first stop Ground Elder

03 - first plant - Ground Elder
Little baby Herbie more interested in man with shiny red camera than man with plant

We all avidly made notes and took pictures as Mark led us round the hedgerows of Gatehouse of Fleet.
04 - taking notes

His common sense advice was reassuring as was his knowledge and passion for his subject which was obviously distilled from long experience. We looked at the sometimes purple stems of Cow Parsley and made a note to compare it with the purple stems of Hemlock later. We discovered Wild Angelica, Pignut and the edible young shoots of Hogweed (a big hit of the day!)

A sober pause at the bridge, as we saw our first Hemlock Water-dropwort, leaving us all incredulous at how this seriously poisonous plant looked so edible. It looks just like celery! Even smells a bit like it. People have died from eating a meal of the roots as it even tastes good! It was one of the really lovely moments of the day for me though, as we all confessed our fears and experiences – a little bonding moment of trust…

It was great to chat and share experiences with people who know what it means and what it takes to get to know the plants and the habitats, to build confidence one season at a time, accumulating knowledge and constantly learning. This was Mark’s patch and he clearly knew it intimately and loved it well. By the time we reached the field to turn back towards town I think we had all quite fallen for Mark and for Galloway.

The midday sun had wilted us all somewhat so we decided to stop for lunch at Gatehouse before we did anything else. Water bottles refilled and shade sought, lunch was a revelation which perked us all up no end. We had been gathering edibles in the lunch basket as we went but Mark had pre-prepared some little wild-greens sushi rolls drizzled with his homemade Elderberry vinegar. I wish I’d taken a picture, they were so pretty, but they were gone so quickly! We filled up on delicious cheese and homemade bread whilst Mark prepared our next treat – young Hogweed shoots, fried in butter with Sweet Cicley seeds and Ground Elder – we’re still talking about it in our house. Some locally smoked mussels and salmon to finish and, replete, we rested in the shade.
07 - picnic lunch

If that had been the end of the day I would truly have gone home happy. But Mark had very generously offered to take us to the coast in the afternoon. So, refuelled and ready for more, we hopped into the cars and headed to the Isle of Whithorn to meet the next ‘baddie’ of the day. It was a long drive to get there but seeing a plant up close and personal is invaluable – how can you get to know it if you’ve never met it? Hemlock was indeed worryingly similar to Cow Parsley but the purple on the stem was distinctly ‘blotchy’ and the smell was rank!
08 - Hemlock - purple blotches

We also met Sea Radish (hot!) and Orache before moving on to St Ninian’s Cave. What was supposed to be a quick walk through the woods to get to the beach took much longer than anticipated as this kept happening…

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Has anyone seen this before?
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What’s that? What’s this?

Floras at the ready (Paul Sterry’s Collins guide and Francis Rose being the popular floras of choice) impromptu IDs were established and we were all in our element. Much excitement over the finding of another Wild Carrot – Sanicle (sorry my picture didn’t come out – too blurry) and we eventually made it to the seaside…

14 - heads down - watch yur feet

Mark’s enthusiasm for his plants was impressive before but now that he had coastal plants to play with, his giddy excitement was infectious. Sea Campion, Rock Samphire and Sea Kale all hit our taste buds with explosions of flavour – sweet, pungent, aromatic – carrot, broccoli, honey – intense, surprising and moreish!

Much consternation amongst the Herbalists as we found the flattest Hawthorn in the world with what seemed to be little satellite outposts of Blackthorn. The coastal habitat was seducing us all and we started to make plans for a full Coastal Foraging day next Spring…

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Mark was still raring to go and pointed to the hillfort we were to climb next to find Scots Lovage and Wild Carrot but the Herbalists had all gone limp in the heat. I sooo wanted to see the Wild Carrot but climbing that hill in the heat would have finished me off (I was already a bit headachy) and the others still had a 3 hour drive back home ahead of them so, sadly, we decided to make our way back to the cars. But Mark had more! He showed us some Sea Holly (tasty), a sample of Giants Hogweed (another baddie) and some Monkshood he had found (the baddest baddie). One last stop to have a tantalising look at the Bay of Herbs and an impressive display of Mark’s beloved Sea Kale…

We drove back to the campsite mostly in silence, each of us digesting the feast of information, experience and sensations of the day. An occasional “those Hogweed shoots!”… then a  “My favourite bit of the Sea Kale was the flowers… no the shoots… no…” or a “Sea Campion flowers – who knew?!”…  all met with satisfied little happy nom nom noises of agreement.

Writing this now just makes my heart so happy. It was such a beautiful day. We slept well that night and headed back North in the morning, truly in love with Galloway and desperate to come back as soon as we can…

A final note to say an enormous, heartfelt thank you to Mark Williams for being such a knowledgeable, enthusiastic and generous host. As well as giving us all a memorable day, he has given me the confidence to embrace the Carrot Family and opened up a whole new world of plants. To top it all off he’s a genuinely lovely guy and a great Hedgerow companion to have.

Get yourself over to http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/ and book yourself some time with him.

Wild Carrot ID Day (falling in love with Galloway)

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