Fiona Gallagher knows her onions — and a huge range of plants growing wild all around us. Fiona, from Tumble, led a group of Llandeilo Food Network members and friends on an off-beat tour of Llandeilo on Sunday, February 16th.
Potential edibles even in a supermarket car park
Starting in the car park of CK’s supermarket, Fiona (right) quickly found lesser celandine, also known as pile wort, which in times past was used for an anti-wart tincture, and some people would dry the leaves for a tea. The tubers can be cooked — apparently stir-frying is good — but one would need a lot of them to make a meal. We tried soup made with lesser celandine root, wild parsnip and nettle, tasting like a tangy green parsnip broth.
Fortified, we strolled down to Llandeilo station via a footpath which crossed a disused play area. The play equipment has gone, a couple of old mattresses have been dumped, and the area is full of weeds.
Disused play area in the heart of Llandeilo, complete with old mattresses: plenty of wild plants, but it seems an unloved space
For Fiona, virtually every plant has at least one use, and that includes thistle, which normally I would not be tempted to try.
Between the station and the swollen river Tywi, we failed to find any shoots of wild garlic, also called ransoms, but on the path back up towards St Teilo’s Church we learned that dock roots provide a yellow dye, and that birch trees can be tapped for sap between mid-February and mid-March. If the sap is boiled and reduced by a third, the resulting liquid is sweet, apparently, but I have not tried it.
Young thistle root can be cooked and eaten
Fiona had a tip about using ivy vines. Cut and split, and leave to dry, she said. The sticks when rubbed together will spark — great for lighting a bonfire. Useful knowledge when you have neither matches nor firelighters.
King Alfred’s cakes are also flammable and usable as barbecue fuel. They live on dead ash trees, said Fiona, and are not baked goods but dark fungi which look like burnt cakes. We saw several on the path up towards St Teilo’s Church, easy to spot once you know to look for them.
King Alfred’s cakes — in an emergency, can be used as fuel on a barbecue
The churchyard has a rich variety of trees, Llandeilo’s own arboretum, and among the different types of yews and cypressus, the stranger specimens include a large monkey puzzle tree, native of southern South America, and a maidenhair tree, the ‘living fossil’ officially called Gingko biloba, the nuts of which are reputed to help prevent dementia, Fiona told us.
The little park adjoining the churchyard has been newly planted and primroses were enjoying the sun, which emerged for at least some of the walk. Many thanks to Fiona for being a walking encyclopaedia of wild plants and their uses. Always best to be in the company of an expert!
Not raining, even some blue sky: exploring the churchyard at St Teilo’s Church. Did you know that wood from the Irish yew, like the one by the church porch, made the bows which Welsh and English archers used to win battles in the Hundred Years War against France, during the 14th and 15th centuries?
Pat Dodd Racher