Grow, Gather, Give
Witchcraft is, I believe, the practice of entering into relation with the world, of exerting your will in it and among it, and learning how to work with it in ways that are fruitful for yourself and the world.
Spring is in full swing in Scotland, and while you can never trust the weather here, winter has now fully retreated. The setting sun now casts long, Chirico-esque shadows well past 8pm, and I feel a sense of replenishment in my energy levels as spring returns what winter has taken. I can no longer see the soil in undisturbed ground, as the earth is cloaked in the verdance of the season's first foliage.
Spring time foraging is full of anticipation and reward. Many of my favourite edibles return like old friends, and the process of restocking key larder produce begins. I have been nibbling on new plants this year, trying the unusual and trying to broaden my palate. Foraged wild garlic pesto pasta with cardoons and Solomon’s seal shoots was a particular treat. I made an enormous batch last month, using just one pot, by chucking the veg in with the pasta right at the end before draining and mixing in with ramson pesto. Having never eaten (or even heard of) cardoons before, they were a fabulous revelation, and I look forward to cultivating my own soon. The Solomon’s seal shoots are something I come back to every year: picked at the right time they are delicious and nutritious, though like all foraged food, you need to know what you are looking at, as the adult plant and berries are bitter and poisonous, so stick to the tender young shoots.
At the allotment, the weeds are jumping, which is not a problem for me, as I eat most of them (comfortable in the knowledge that fewer things are able to pee on them here). I compost the rest, thereby returning the nutrients to the soil. To be perfectly honest, they do often get quite out of hand, these wild visitors, but I have made the effort to get to know them, and now we coexist without much friction. And what I don’t use, the insects and other beasties appreciate, and I am grateful for the ground cover, which improves water retention, so I use less water from the hose.
The feeling of providing for yourself is something special, especially when it's practically a whole meal. And because the information is so readily available, I really can’t recommend it enough. To go foraging you only need to go outside armed with a little knowledge. I am almost exclusively self taught, in that I’ve learned from books and blogs, rather than in a class or with a guide, although I am conscious that the knowledge I am using was gathered and passed on by someone, so I am grateful for the generosity of the gardeners and foragers on whose work I am relying. I will share that knowledge at any opportunity as a way to give back what I receive.
The processes of growing and gathering my own food has become a foundation of my self-care routine. The more time I spend on it, the more rewarding and therapeutic it becomes. Just being outdoors is almost enough, but the activity of interacting with the world on that level is part of us, and I just cannot come home without something in my pockets. I think of all that we have been through in the last few years, and all that we face now, and I have to be ready to look after myself to the best of my abilities.
Self-care isn’t just an indulgence, it is absolutely the key to living a good life. What is out of our control is practically infinite, so I cherish the things I can do myself. Once we are old enough to start to care for ourselves, it becomes a necessity of life, the good news being that much of it I can be full of pleasure. So don't let yourself be an afterthought: give to yourself. Self-care is how I acknowledge my value, and show myself that I am worthy of time, care, and attention.
We all know that (say it with me now) a healthy balanced diet with lots of leafy greens, staying hydrated, adequate physical exercise and good sleep hygiene are the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. Now put your hand up if you can’t realistically achieve all that all the time because we don't live in an ideal world? Yeah, same here. We have heard it all before and in some respects it has become a platitude, it’s just not as simple as it sounds. But when I get it right, I feel wonderful, full of energy and I can do all the things I want to do, not just the ones I have to.
Much of the knowledge I have acquired as a product of my investigations into the natural world have also helped me grasp my skin and hair care routine better too. I know all the ingredients in my bottles of oils, I’ve seen them in life or in pictures: they’re tangible, living things I can grasp, smell, and understand. I have sloughed off products that contain ingredients like parabens, good only for extending shelf life, and sold by the millions as they tell you that your own shelf life is about to expire. The pressure to conform to societal and cultural norms of beauty is intense. I cope with it by making informed choices, and I try to claw back my agency through the application of knowledge, and with a heavy sprinkle of indulgence.
I don't rely on foraging or the allotment to feed myself or provide for all my skin care needs, I go to the supermarket and greengrocer like most of us do. However there are some things you’ll never find there. If you have ever had so much as a fleeting thought that you might like to try foraging I urge you to try it now, I will even recommend a gateway plant. Enter the humble but mighty Nettle Urtica dioica, unmistakable and nutritionally outstanding at this time of the year. I have carefully gathered, processed and stored enough nettle to last me until next year. I have turned my flat into a witch's hut as I dried bundles of it on string, ate the best soup of my life (and put a dozen portions in the freezer), and made enough nettle tea to save me a lot of money at the shops, all without making the smallest of dents to the population of this plant or the animals that rely on them, at least 40 species of insects, and the birds and other animals that eat them in turn. So don your gloves and brave the stings. You will be richly rewarded!