How to Enjoy Your Weeds:

In conversation with Ebony Gheorghe, an Oxford-based geo-scientist, herbalist and forager on how foraging encourages us to connect more responsibly with nature.

Text Mirabella Shahidullah

When did you start foraging and what drew you into it?

I started about two years ago and recently in the last year with lockdown and everything I got more into foraging. Especially having that time [during] furlough, it allowed me to learn more about the things around me and to actually go out and pick up these plants and herbs outside, and then beginning to making infusions with them and learning what benefits and nutrients they have. I think it’s a very important thing to revisit, especially since it is kind of in our DNA, and that was what took me back to that.

How did you first learn the basics of becoming a forager and how do you find the foraging community?

When I first started, [foraging] seemed quite niche in a way, and almost privileged…only certain people can usually pay for foraging classes. It’s nice to find workshops and people who are likeminded and care about the community side of things which is [often] more accessible. I have had foraging workshops with a local forager called Justine Gens and she is trying to make foraging more inclusive. Since then, I felt I could learn more on my own using resources and books and websites and even YouTube. [I started] going out and coming back…taking photos of plants and then coming home and doing research on it which is another way of foraging… you don’t necessarily have to take the plant if you don’t know what to use it for, but you are still learning those beneficial things.

How does foraging help you connect with nature?

I am currently a Lab Technician in Oxford, and I was [always] more focused on rocks and soil [...] totally overlooking plants and plant biology. Foraging brought me back full circle to my roots, you start seeing plants more as your allies rather than something to just benefit off of. We work together with plants…and that’s what I found with foraging, it’s really allowed me to be more connected with nature, with the seasons and even with how that makes me feel. I think it’s good to have the balance of the science-y way of looking at things and also having a more connection to nature, the fusion works well.

“Foraging brought me back full circle to my roots, you start seeing plants more as your allies rather than something to just benefit off of.”

Ebony Gheorghe

What are your favourite things to forage?

In Oxford it has been mugwort, rosehips and hawthorn berries, they’re really awesome [...] and definitely nettles too, they were the first thing that got me into foraging. I’m still quite a beginner in foraging mushrooms, the thing with them that they are so different to me. With plants at least you have more of a chance, with mushrooms you need to look at the whole area because the spores can travel and affect edible mushrooms, even though they’re edible you don’t know if the spores from something else have contaminated it. I think it is interesting to learn though because you never know when we might need to go back to these things. You can’t fully count on there always being the supply of constant food, so it is good to learn how to [identify] these things.

Do you think that climate change and environmental issues will have an effect on foraging and the ability to forage?

In the long term, yes. I think even now, the seasons have been very weird; fall and winter this year came quicker than usual. [I was seeing] hawthorn berries which are wintery but came out earlier than normal. These small changes we can already see in the UK and I think over time... [the] pressures we put on the earth systems and cycles will definitely affect nature and foraging. I think it’s good to ask ourselves, ‘how can we forage responsibly, be more sustainable and not over-forage?’ The answer might be not taking more than you need, some plants are more important to populators than us and for example, if you don’t need this flower, or you can do with just a certain amount you don’t need to pick all the flowers in the area. It’s about not being a selfish forager and understanding that animals and creatures need those things more than us sometimes.

Do you have any tips for beginner forgers who are completely new to it?

Try and find some local groups, maybe a local forager, contact them on social media. If they do workshops, definitely go to one so you can speak with them. Make notes and doodle; that’s why I started my Instagram because it was a way for me to keep up with my notes and that way I can go back. I take a photo and sometimes I use plant ID apps, PictureThis is the one I am using at the moment. These apps can sometimes be very good but sometimes they are off so even if you are sure, you should always double check when you get home, sometimes I find that [the apps] tells me things are not edible but actually they are. So, I sometimes think, is it really worth taking this plant? Even if it is edible…and we can use it, it doesn’t mean we have to. I think that makes you enjoy foraging more, because it’s not always about just taking, it’s also about learning as you go along.

What are your favourite foraging resources and books that you would recommend?

I haven’t really used that many books, but I do have a really old book…called How to Enjoy your Weeds, it’s a great book for understanding weeds and dandelions. I use a lot of other resources online as well, Herbal Jedi on YouTube and also Herbal Academy as well as my local forager. 

Text has been slightly edited and formatted for clarity. Images courtesy of Ebony Gheorghe. To learn more about foraging, visit Ebony’s Etsy shop to see what she makes from foraging journeys or follow her on Instagram.

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