Planting Trees for the future: an inspiring soulful journey


When I moved to Corn Helyg in July 2010 I felt a calling to plant trees, lots of them!

image1The 6 acre field that came with our cottage was inhabited by sheep and
when the sheep left five months later for pastures new, we were left with a compacted (and in some places) a very waterlogged piece of land. 

As I slowly engaged with the empty field, I tried to image how the land used to be in ancient timimage1es and started to dream of a dense forest with Ravens calling overhead. 

The reality however, was a hard, course pasture under my feet and heavily flayed hedgerows coupled with feelings of urgency… a land screaming out to be healed. 

Today, nearly six years on, my partner Richard and I (with some help from our children) have planted over 5000 trees. Our trees are mostly Welsh native woodland trees, a high percentage of wild fruit and nuts to aid future wild plant projects. We have also planted new hedgerows where old ones have been grubbed out and willow fedges that act as wind breaks.

As time has moved on, the once tired and sick land where a monoculture reigned has now shifted into an amazing and diverse polyculture of “forest gardens”, Welsh fruit orchards, a large pond, an edible car park and pockets of organic vegetable beds… a truly self-sustaining eco-system which is full of life.

Planting so many trees has indeed changed the landscape considerably and people often ask curiously why we did it. Well apart from having a passion for trees, we now have so many new species of birds and other wonderful creatures visiting the land such as yellow hammers, lizards, bats and newts. We have many owls that like to hunt in the tussocks which have formed in between the trees and on the small areas of land we left untouched. Our trees attract a huge amount insects and honey bees. Some trees such as Willow and Oak are home to over 300 different species of insects. 

The trees and the surrounding wild plants are also integral to my wild-crafting workshops and the ingredients for the many fruit leathers and other hedgerow goodies I make. 

We have an abundance of future fuel for our wood burner and the ash is used around our fruit trees. The willow is used for creating structures and for weaving into baskets and also biochar we create is used in our thermophilic hotbox compostersMoreover, we are currently looking at biochar as possible protection for our Ash trees as I have heard that it may help to prevent Ash die-back which is currently affecting many Ash trees in Europe. 

The other day we had to pollard an old Crack Willow as it was literally cracking down the middle and just from one tree we have filled an entire wood store. The tree will grow back but we hope into the style of the Whomping Willow as seen in Harry Potter… You see those wonderful trees also increase my creative juices and inspire me to write children’s books too!

Over the past years, I have come to understand the importance of observation and how the land, when left alone, knows exactly how to heal herself and if you really listen, she readily shares her medicine with you.  

There is a real sense of communication between the trees and the surrounding land. Observing the bare ground as she slowly recovers herself with a green skin is a wonderful sight to behold. The wild succession of plants, such as thistles that arrive soon after tree planting or land disturbance, restores and re-mineralises the soil to a beautiful crumbly friable material ready for the next species to colonise and continue with the ongoing health of the soil. 

I also find that the more time I spent with my trees, the calmer and grounded I become. Then we also have the whispers from the hedgerows! A whispering of stories offered to me… to take and to weave into fables and songs. 

Engaging with trees also brings to light the many food realms that flow through in and around them. These kingdoms can be seen not only from the nourishment they provide us with in terms of food and medicine (leaves, nuts, berries and bark) but a whole host more regarding our holistic wellbeing. 

Within the soil, there is an amazing network of mycelium that connects with the surrounding life-forces and which gives us edible fungi too which in itself is a powerful food source. We can also give thanks for the good bacteria in supporting the fermentation of our fruits, a wild alchemy we stumbled upon in ancient times for wine making and sauerkraut. 

The elemental food such as sun, wind and rain that we receive when we wander through the woods is so good for us. Our barefoot contact with the soil or just engaging with the wildness of trees!

Trees also give us a sense of community as they are social beings, they love human contact, and those who hug trees know this! As they naturally sway in the breeze and sing their songs through the chatter of their leaves, they fill us with a sense of happiness, inspire us to move and dance and sing and deepen our spirituality, this is our experiential food given to us by trees.  

I believe we are all born with a sense of purpose and mine is to plant trees and tell the world how wonderful they are!

Blessed be the blessed Tree!

In the News…

Jules was recently featured in the Daily Post, talking about the Little Hedgewitch book.

“At Corn Helyg, the hedgerows are around 400-years-old.

“They should be capable of producing a great wealth of healthy food and medicine, as well as wildlife corridors and magic and mystery.

“But around Anglesey I can see that not all the hedgerows are healthy, due to intensive management, which leaves them vulnerable to disease.”

http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/local-news/hedgewitch-anglesey-casts-spell-over-10645110

The October Hedgerow

The Warm Orangey-Red Glow of the October Hedgerow

Originally published in Network News

Beautiful brambles from Corn HelygIt’s October and our lovely earth is calling to us to prepare for the long cold months ahead. The hedgerows are shimmering with deep red Hawthorns and radiant orangey-red rosehips that glow like beautiful Jewels against the cold blue sky. These fruits along with Elderberries, Blackberries and Sloes are high in vitamins and minerals which help to strengthen our blood the cold months ahead.

During the season of winter we are supposed to slow down and keep warm by eating nourishing stews which are strengthening and nourishing. Winter provides us with wild roots such as Dandelion, Horseradish, Burdock and Evening Primrose which become sweeter in the winter and can be added to stews or sliced thinly in stir fries.

The roots of Dandelions can be also be roasted and used as a caffeine free alternative to coffee and with the addition of dried citrus peels, fragrant spices such as cinnamon, black pepper, star anise, we can make the most wonderful warming winter Chai. This is a favourite at my workshops as the aromatic ingredients are slowly infused in Almond milk; the fragrance in the Geodome is warming and magical and gets our creative juices flowing!

Jules Cooper, amongst her beloved hedgerowsAs the low sun sits in the winter sky, we feel a natural pull to turn inwards; this is a wonderful inspired period as we reflect on the past year and make plans for the new. I am also mindful however, of how the shorter days can affect our emotional wellbeing as many of us find coping with seasonal affective disorders rather challenging. So it is important that we take advantage of the few hours of sunlight and get outside and take brisk walks for that fresh invigorating air.
So with basket in hand, and cosily dressed, I go out and enjoy a spot of wild crafting… digging roots and gathering berries.

NB Remember that our wildlife will also be dependent on the berries for their own survival and nourishment, so only take what you need.

Here are a few warming recipes to help us really enjoy this wonderful creative period.

Rosehip Syrup Recipe

This Rosehip Syrup recipe is packed with hedgerow goodness. Drink like a cordial or serve drizzled over desserts. Rosehips contain twenty times more vitamin C than you find in oranges. As a result and due to the lack of citrus fruits, the British government during World War Two encouraged the nation to make rosehip syrup; children were given a penny for every pound in weight they collected!

Ingredients:

  • 1kg rosehips
  • 3 litres of water
  • 500g dark brown soft sugar
  1. Bring to the boil 2 litres of water.
  2. Chop rosehips in food processor until mashed up then add to boiling water.
  3. Bring water back to the boil, then remove from heat and allow to steep for 20 minutes.
  4. Pour rosehips and liquid into a scalded nylon jelly bag and allow the juice to drip through. Gently squeeze the jelly bag to extract as much liquid as possible.
  5. Add rosehip pulp back to a saucepan containing 1 litre of water and bring back to the boil. Then remove from heat and allow the contents to steep for another 20 minutes before straining through the jelly bag as in Step 3.
  6. Add sugar to the strained rosehip liquid and dissolve, allow to simmer for five minutes, then pour into hot, sterilised bottles.
  7. Makes: Approximately 2 litres

Rosehip Vinegar

Rosehip Vinegar can be used for sore throats, colds and is great in salad dressings and is the perfect accompaniment to vegetables and salads.

Ingredients and equipment:

  • Rosehips – 20 to 30
  • White wine vinegar/apple cider vinegar
  • Bottle & Cap/Cork

Instructions:

  1. Gather your Rosehips (preferably after a frost or you can instead freeze them, then defrost and use later)
  2. Slit the skins of the hips with a sharp knife
  3. Place hips in a jar and cover with vinegar.
  4. Leave on a sunny window sill for about a month and them strain and bottle.
  5. For sore throats: mix a tablespoon with a little warm water and then gargle and swallow.
  6. For Colds: Add a tablespoon to a hot mug of water and sweeten if desired.

Sloe and Apple Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 900g sloes
  • 900g apples (can be a mixture of cookers and eaters)
  • 200ml water
  • Sugar

Instructions:

  1. Wash the apples and sloes and drain well
  2. Cut up the apples without peeling or coring them
  3. Put into a large pan with the water and simmer until the apples are soft and broken
  4. Add the Sloes and continue simmering until they are soft. Press through a sieve or Mouli then weigh the puree.
  5. Allow 450g of sugar to each 450g of puree. Stir in the sugar over a low heat until it has dissolved completely. Bring to the boil, stirring well, until the mixture is thick, about 1 hour.
  6. Pour into sterilised jars and cover immediately

Elderberry SyrupElderberry Syrup

Elderberries are particularly rich in the antioxidants that are often found in red, blue or purple foods.

Antioxidants help to heal all our cells and are particularly useful where there is peripheral degeneration like in diabetes. This most commonly affects circulation to the toes and eyes but a diet rich in antioxidants can help to heal damaged blood vessels and restore function. Elderberry is also thought to be able to lower blood sugar levels, so making it into a tea or a tincture should be beneficial.

Elderberry Syrup is an excellent immune booster and very effective in throwing off sore throats, congestion, coughs, colds and flu.

  1. Place 2 cups of elderberries in a pan with 2 cups fresh water.
  2. Simmer gently for about 30mins with the lid off until the water has reduced to about half its original amount and the berries have released all their juice. Set aside and allow the syrup to cool.
  3. When cool, strain through a jelly bag into a measuring jug.
  4. Add approximately the same quantity of sugar to the elderberry juice and stir until dissolved.
  5. Bottle in sterilised bottles and label and store in the fridge.
  6. Take half to one teaspoon, 3 times a day.

Roasted crab apple and winter squash soup

Ingredients:                                                                                                                    :

  • 1 large winter squash peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 200g crab apples, leave skin on cut into quarters
  • 70ml olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 litre vegetable stock.
  • 50g chopped hazelnuts, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 450f/230c/ Gas mark 8
  2. Mix squash, apples, olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper in a large bowl and spread evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Roast for 30 minutes, stirring half way through. Stir in sage and continue roasting until very tender and starting to brown and cook for a further 20 minutes.
  4. Make hot stock
  5. Remove pumpkin from the oven and tip into a large saucepan and add hot stock and leave to cool slightly, then either blend in batches in a food processor or using hand blender and puree until smooth.
  6. Season the soup with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and heat through over medium-low heat, stirring constantly to prevent splattering, for about 6 minutes.
  7. Serve each portion topped with hazelnuts and a drizzle of hazelnut oil.

All recipes can be found in Jules’ forthcoming book “The Amazing Gifts of Wild Plants”.

 

Not Just a Prickly Thistle!

Don’t be afraid of the prickle of the thistle,

Drink down the juice, it will make you want to whistle

Like a wild seed winging through the air

 Waving its arms like it just don’t care. (Katrina Blair)

Thistle (C) Troy Cooper

Thistle (C) Troy Cooper

On seeing field of prickly thistles, most people would let out a heavy sigh, especially if they have designs on the landscape…when I see a field of thistles, I see healing!

Thistles are one of the first wild plants to fly in and colonise disturbed or compacted land. On my small holding, we have large thistle patches growing around the areas that we have developed and dug. For example we have an abundance of them growing around the edible pond and edible car park areas…it’s because they are edible hehe!

Because my thistles are so plentiful, I can only really view them as what they truly are, and that is, a wonderful crop of healing plants. They are actually doing amazing work and providing nourishment and medicine for me and my family and for the wild animals that share our land too.

We have to live in harmony with these special plants, as we observe their work in nursing the land back to health, knowing that once they have done their job of re-mineralising the soil, they will move on and other wild plants will replace them. So whilst they are here with us, let’s enjoy them!

Thistles are rather like nettles; they have a unique way of getting our attention. They are covered in prickly spines making themselves known to us when we accidently sit on one or brush past them. What they are actually doing is raising our awareness of our surroundings and making us conscious of our personal space, and to help us respect our boundaries and those of others.

Thistles are nutritionally dense and contain great medicine; their prickles act as protective armour, without them they would be consumed by everything!

All thistles are edible (Thistles Cirsium spp) some more than others and they are the wild cousin of the hybridized Globe Artichoke which is sold in most delicatessens as antipasti, yet although a great delicacy, it contains only a fraction of the nutrition and medicinal value of its wild cousin.

The flowers are edible too and can be added to salads or just eaten straight off the plant but be mindful that the flowers are a major honey bee and butterfly attractor so leave some for them too!

The roots when young can be eaten raw and taste like potato and when they are older the roots can be dried and used throughout year and used as healing nourishing tea.

Milk thistle which grows everywhere is considered the most medicinal of all and has a great many uses. One of its current uses in America is supporting HIV positive patients to protect the liver from hepatitis.

Although Milk Thistle is abundant in the UK, it is sold in health food shops at an expensive price which I find very difficult to understand especially when it grows all around us including the more common Creeping thistle (Cirsium vulgare) thistles that are also considered to have a high medicinal value.

Sadly, we have become disconnected from our natural wild food and medicine and overtime we have lost our ability to trust in our instincts. As a result we end up paying  a high cost for something with attractive packaging, harvested from the other side of the world rather than something  that grows right on our doorstep.

Moreover, when we harvest from our own locality, the plant contains the energy that is connected to its own local ecosystem, it understands our needs, and it is an indigenous plant. We also need to think about the carbon foot print or the food miles that it takes to get here, is it grown organically and more importantly, the energy of the person employed to harvest the crop, are they happy in their work?

When I harvest wild food, I try to be in a positive frame of mind, I always say hello and thank the plant for its food and medicine that it is sharing with me.

When I teach, I recommend that when we are seeking healing from a plant, to go and sit with the plant first and get to know it. How does the plant make us feel when we are sitting with it? Often we are in such a rush to heal ourselves; we are not really seeing the underlying cause. Thistles have a wonderful way of calming us, really slowing us down, we have to handle it really carefully otherwise we end up with spines in our fingers!

On a recent wild plant walk, I took a thistle from the hedgerow and demonstrated how to eat a thistle by peeling it carefully and slowly. It was really lovely to see the children trying to copy me, there were no cries being let out as the children carefully peeled away. They listened as I reaffirmed, that the only way a thistle could be peeled was very slowly and that is why there were no casualties.

There many ways thistles can be utilised for food and if we want to eat the green part we do it before it starts to flower. So with a pair of scissors carefully snip of off the leaves and pop them into the blender for making lemonade and then carefully peel the outer layer of the thistle stem until you find the succulent inner core, it tastes like mild celery. I find the medicine in thistles very powerful, you don’t really need to consume that much. Often when harvesting stems for making a raw pickle, I get carried away with snacking on the end bits and then after a while, I start to feel a shift in my body, telling me when I’ve had enough.

Troy Cooper (C)

Troy Cooper (C)

Thistles are the best liver cleansers in the whole of the wild plant kingdom and are used to restore vital core health for the whole body. A quick way to get the liver cleansing benefits of thistle into your body is make Thistle lemonade, a recipe inspired by my lovely friend Katrina.

Take five thistle leaves and put them into a high speed blender with a couple of chopped up apples, the juice of a lemon and filled to the top up with spring water, blitz on high until well blended. You then need to sieve the liquid to remove any thistle prickles (this is important) and then enjoy! I drink this in the morning, as I find it wakes my whole body up and really gets things moving!

Information source: Katrina Blair 2015: The Amazing author of The Wild Wisdom of Weeds

All recipes can be found in Jules new book:The Amazing Gifts of Wild Plants: Re-wilding the body, mind and soul, to be published soon, with illustrations by Troy Cooper.

 

 

Corn Helyg Permaculture to become a ‘Zero Waste Project’.

We are delighted at successfully obtaining a “Sustainable Development Fund “to become a Zero Waste Project. Some of projects we will be experimenting and developing in 2014 are Thermophilic hotbox composting, Bio-char and building a straw bale walled garden!

The Zero Waste (ZW) project at Corn Helyg Permaculture (CPH) centres on the importance of creating healthy soil. Without this, balance of the land cannot be achieved.

“Soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, and death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”   Wendell Berry.

The ZW project will be achieved by developing, healthy sustainable systems such as eco-sanitation by utilising all waste products to produce nutrient rich compost. This will be used as an optimum fertilizer/soil conditioner to grow nutritious and healthy food. The system uses a thermophilic process to produce super fast compost, designed to give disease free crops thus resisting the need to use chemical fertilizer, pesticides or fungicides. For more information on super fast composting, have a look at Richard Higgins (Well End Permaculture) pioneering work at www.suaglon.co.uk

Experimental Biochar will also be made from brash waste, a bi-product from sustainable woodland management and hedgerow maintenance that will be added to the compost process as integral part of the compost ingredient. We will be working with Dave Chapman from www.ancient-arts.org using recycled materials to building a prototype “rocket kiln” to make bio-char all which is very experimental! 

The ZW project responds to the core ethics of CPH, which include the following:

1. ‘Reconnection to nature’: Wild food: uniting people with the origins of their food/reconnecting with nature, consequently promoting a greater respect for the environment. Moreover, when we live in partnership with nature and eat seasonal wild food (including organically grown fruits and vegetables) this is by far, the best way to achieve optimal health and re physical and emotional wellbeing.

2. ‘Sustainability of rare species’: Preservation of the hedgerows and endangered species: valuing the hedgerows as an important habitat for wildlife within areas of intensive farming and their role in enriching cultural heritage and traditional rural crafts. At present, we have planted a native woodland and fruit trees that are indigenous to the area, such as the Trwyn Mochyn apple tree. 

3. ‘Future food Security’: Encouraging the use of no-dig/zero till growing methods to increase soil fertility thus resulting in higher yields, producing healthy and nutritious food for the overall wellbeing of the community.  The method is also good for growing food in small spaces and which can be designed to meet the needs of older people and people with disabilities and additional needs.

2013 – what a year for the Incredible Edible Hedgerow!

Well 2013 has certainly been a very busy year for the Incredible Edible Hedgerow Project; here are some of the things we got up to!

Following the success of the Geodome Workshops funded by Delyth Owen from The Age Friendly Community Project (AFC) we secured additional funding from the AFC to provide a number of free Wild Food Workshops across the Isle of Anglesey.

The workshops were provided in different locations using ‘doorstep’, woodland and coastal sites to highlight the diversity of wild food and the sheer abundance Anglesey has to offer.

These are some the people and organisations we worked with this year:

Anglesey Show with Age Friends Communities

Fern and I live on the stage with the Anglesey Council at the Anglesey Show 2013 (yes you guessed it- we are juicing nettles!)  And at the same time we were pitched over at the Coed Cymru marquee with our lovely Geodome

Geodome at the Wood Fest!

At the woodland festival 25th and 26th September we were foraging, presenting, story telling and serving nettle soup and other wild food delights to the visitors. This was probably one of our busiest events as crowds of people flocked into the Geodome to learn and talk about wild food.

Wild Food Workshops

Demonstrating how to make nettle string with retted nettles with The Oyster Catcher Cadets!

Chefs and edible flowers during a wild food day at Corn Helyg

Wild Food days at Swtan Summer Fate August 2013

Young nettles ready for juicing

Blackberries and nettles a great combination for juicing!

Harvesting Sea Buckthorn at Corn Helyg

Geodome Workshops

Raising the geodome

Our lovely 21ft Geodome with friends and volunteers.

Community Dig with local Scouts

1st LlanfairPG Scouts and 1st Menai Scouts having lunch in the poly tunnel.
The Scouts spent the day at Corn Helyg helping to dig a the first 3 dimensional growing bed. It was a fun and active day where the scouts volunteered 3 hours of community service as part of their Community Challenge Badge.

A great end to the day!

Wild Food Event/ Digwyddiad Bwyd Gwyllt: Aug/Awst 3 and 4

August/Awst 3 and 4
Wild Food Event/ Digwyddiad Bwyd Gwyllt

Swtan Summer Fair/ Ffair Haf Swtan
Church Bay, Anglesey.

 

 

 

 

Come and visit the Incredible Edible Hedgerow in the community geodome and learn about some of the edible delights that can be found in our hedgerows.

Contact: Jules Cooper 01407 731 115