FORAGING WITH DR TWIGS WAY

Following the success of her book, Foraging for Rabbits, Dr Twigs Way ran two foraging days at her home in May. Kathy was very excited to attend the first of these.

Like the Frances Harcourt-Brown Owners' Programme (which is running again in September, see here), the day was a fantastic opportunity to connect with other rabbit owners, and share stories and experiences. Also like the FHB Owners' Programme, the food was delicious, and special mention needs to be made of Steve's Amazing Banana Cake. 

I have to admit, that whilst I have had Twigs' book since it came out, my plant recognition was largely limited to plantain, groundsel, grass and dandelions. These grown in my garden, and Waffles and Dumblepaws like them, so it's a good, but incredibly limited, start. As I live in an area with lots and lots of dogs, I'm also very apprehensive about picking things in most nearby public places for risk of contamination from dog faeces. So my aim for the session was to learn to identify more plants, and to try and use the session to inspire me to make foraging for my rabbits into something I actually did.

We started off looking for common weeds in Twigs' garden - and found Herb Robert, Cleavers, Campion, White Dead Nettle, Plantain, Avens, Hop, Hogweed, Cow Parsley. I was particularly excited at recognising Campion as it was one that my dad used to point out to me on walks when I was a child. Between us, the group was able to recognise a lot of things, and all learned a few more.

We then went on a tour of the village, to try and find these things in the wild, and find some more including Comfrey (not good for rabbits unless they've got broken bones as it's super high in calcium), Speedwell, Chamomile, Mayweed, Hedge Bindweed, Vetch, Hedge Garlic, Silverleaf, Willowherb, Willow, Hawthorn, Field Mouse Ear, Birds Foot Trefoil, Scabious, Wild Mustard, Teasel. So we saw lots and lots of plants.

After lunch, we split up into groups and went out unaccompanied to see what we could find, and then regrouped to share and discuss our findings.

I'd never heard of Dead Nettle before, so enjoyed the excitement of deciding whether a nettle-y thing was a Dead Nettle or a Nettle, and seeing if it stung me when I picked it (it didn't). When Twigs subsequently identified a plant I have at home which was also in her garden as Variegated Dead Nettle I thought it was great as I could get Waffles and DP to munch through that overgrown section of the flowerbed. Unfortunately, which they can eat it, they're largely uninspired and so I have to do actual weeding :(

I was also fascinated by the similarity between Hemlock (deadly poisonous) and Cow Parsley (great for bunnies) so will be careful when I pick this.

We also got to look at Twigs' amazing set up for her 30 bunnies! Great spacious accommodation with lots of fox-proofing and beautiful bunnies. The lodges she has, made by Granddad Rob Designs, can be seen here).

On returning home, I had a look around my garden, and found something that looked a lot like Cleavers but wasn't sticky. Consulting my Foraging for Rabbits guide, I ascertained it was Woodruff, and it was a hit with the bunnies, so they have been helping me with that bit of weeding. I also found Herb Robert and what I thought was Hawthorn until it started growing gooseberries, so I still have a lot to learn.

I'm still worried about the prevalence of dogs in all my local parks and the woods seemed to be all nettles and evergreen - so foraging is not yet part of my routine. But I am enjoying recognising more plants when I walk to work, and I can recognise more than I could previously - even though looking back at my notes now, I'm noticing that what I've been mentally referring to as Chamomile is actually (Pineapple) Mayweed. And I kept getting mixed up between Vetch and Speedwell on the day.

In summary, a wonderful day, with a lot to learn and take in. It has succeeded in raising my appreciation of my local environment and improved my knowledge of plants - I now need to make the effort to check out other local places to find a suitable foraging ground, and to keep looking at my books and notes and continue to identify plants in the garden and the parks/woodlands etc to continue to expand my knowledge.

Huge thanks to Twigs and Steve, and to the day's Official Chief Forage Taster, Parsley Piert Parcels.