This week ‘MAIL’ reporter Graeme Cousins got back to nature at Oxford Island and was given an education in food foraging and living off the land.
Most importantly he learnt which mushroom to avoid at all costs and which creepy crawly to seek out should he get a toothache.
He met with Sandra Currie, a wildlife enthusiast and an expert on ‘mini beasts’, and Greg McAleenan, a man who once cooked a whole buffalo in an underground oven.
As part of European Week for Waste Reduction, Council’s Environmental Services department will be hosting a food foraging event on Saturday, November 23 from 10am at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre. Foraging involves gathering and eating food that grows wild and, by doing so, living in harmony with our environment. Food foraging is gaining popularity in the food world with a growing number of menus feature hand-picked forest greens.
Sandra Currie will be on hand at the event to educate those in attendance about how to live in harmony with their environment. She’ll be giving tips on how best to grow your own veg and herbs at home and how to encourage nature into your garden.
Sandra told how she fell in love with nature as a child and has been extremely encouraged by the number of school children who year on year take an interest in wildlife and the environment.
With a host of activities which allow students to get up close and personal with the natural world, Sandra said visitor numbers at Oxford Island were very encouraging. She said: “We’re getting more schools every year. From nursery school right up to university students.
“The ‘Mini Beast Hotel’ is really popular. I’ve been asked to bring children here who are scared of creepy crawlies. By the end of it they’ve got spiders crawling up their sleeves.”
In terms of the medicinal properties of the natural world, Sandra told how she’d once put a slug in her mouth to treat a sore tooth.
Sandra said: “I heard that Indian tribes put slugs in their mouth to numb their gums when they have a toothache. I tried it myself one night and it definitely worked.”
On the subject of natural remedies Greg told how he chews on willow to relieve headaches.
Bushcraft guru Greg McAleenan will play a big role in the food foraging event as he explains to those taking part how their ancestors would have lived off the land. He said: “I’ll be taking them on a walk among the hedges and woodland, talking about the plants, berries, fungus and animals that our ancestors made use of for food, medicine and shelter. I’ll show them how nothing was left to waste and they used only enough for need, not greed, so that we had little impact on nature.
“I talk about the tools used to hunt, forage and cook with, all made from what grew and roamed around them, and the knowledge of what bounty was in store through the seasons and what to store away for winter, when the bounty was scarce.
“Then I’ll be showing outdoor cooking skills, with a hands on workshop, cooking up some of the hedgerow foods that many today have lost the knowledge of.”
Speaking of mushrooms in particular, Greg said: “People have a fear of mushrooms, but it comes from a lack of education. It’s case of identifying which mushrooms are which so you know which ones you can eat. The worst the poisonous ones will do is give you vomiting and diarrhoea.Except for the Death Caps.
“If you eat them, you get ‘flu like symptoms then once you think you’ve recovered you drop dead.”
Craigavon man Greg has been a bushcrafter for 20 years and has been all around the world learning the secrets of living off the land from native tribes.
He said: “I’ve spent a bit of time with the Lakota Indians in South Dakota. On one occasion we cooked a whole buffalo in the earth. It took a team of us to lower it into the pit. When it was cooked it was so succulent, just falling off the bone.”
The foraging event will not involve any roast buffalo, but promises a fascinating insight into outdoor living. It is suitable for anyone from eight years and over. Places are limited so booking is essential. For more information or to book your place please contact Sandra at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre on 3831 1678.