About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Foraged Food Friday: Rosebay willowherb leaves

My foraging post got a bit derailed this (last) week. On Friday, whilst gathering dead bracken to feed the terrace, a piece of bracken hit back. It splintered off the stalk and hit back so hard that it went right through my thumb. Ian was out at the time, so I went next door and asked my friend Gill for help. She was wonderfully calm, sat me down, asked if I had any great attachment to my gloves (no, luckily) and cut the glove thumb off to inspect the damage. We agreed that this was not a first aid job, and she took to me to A&E, where they have anaesthetic. Several hours later we returned, my splinter replaced with a couple of stitches and a large bandage. I was in no state to cook dinner, so Ian and I ate at the pub that evening. On Saturday I went to a party (having replaced the large bandage with a rather smaller dressing) and on Sunday we went to another neighbour's for dinner, and I drank far too much wine.

So, here we are on Monday and I have no desire at all to drink the beer I was planning to tell you about. I'm going to cheat and tell you about it anyway, even though I didn't drink it in the relevant week.

Bay herb ale

Following my success with the heather ale, I wanted to experiment with other flavourings. When I ate rosebay willowherb stalks, I found it necessary to discard the growing tips as their flavour is far too strong for me to enjoy as a salad. I wondered whether they might be just the things for bittering ale. Having learnt that ale needs both bitter and aromatic flavours, I cast around for something to complement the taste, and settled on bay leaves, and not just because they also have bay in the name.

Following a similar recipe to the heather ale, I used two 370g jars of malt extract and 350g white sugar to make two (imperial) gallons of ale. I gathered about a saucepanful of rosebay willowherb tips (young leaves with some stalk) and supplemented these with a handful of bay leaves from a tree I've had since I was a teenager. Since neither herb has delicate flavours that might be ruined with excessive boiling, I put them all in a pan together, covered with water and boiled for half an hour or so. The liquid was strained onto the sugars, topped up to two gallons with cooler water, and yeast (probably from oak leaf wine) added. As usual, I left it to ferment in the bucket for 4-5 days (it might have been a week - my note-taking isn't very good) before bottling with a little more sugar in each bottle.

The resulting ale has a nice reddish colour (well, it does in good light) and is surprisingly frothy. It tastes pretty good, too, though not as much like beer as the heather one. One friend said it was more like cider - I'd say it's distinctly herbal. I suppose it's fairly acidic, and a refreshing sort of a drink. I'll definitely make this again, even if it isn't really beer.

Also harvesting this week

Also eating
Pumpkin, including roasted seeds (not mine)
Mint sauce
Rowan jelly

Also drinking
Blackberry wine

Foraged food challenge summary page here.


  1. I am sorry you hurt yourself—but at least it wasn't too serious.
    But I wondered if you'd noticed in that photo a spirit-like, blurred image of a cat hovering behind the ale?

    1. Haha, yes, Pebble the ghost of Christmas ale! She likes to keep an eye on what I'm up to, so she often makes an appearance in my blog photos. In the low December light, I didn't get a clear photo of her as she moved.


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