Family Fun: A Hedgerow Gathering

Dragged through a hedge forwards, happily.

Here’s a great blog from a famous author and personality who’s based in the Brecon Beacons.  Adele Nozedar, has just written a book called: The Hedgerow Handbook: Recipes, Remedies and Rituals which will be launched in March 2012.
You’ll never struggle not to find a hedge in the Brecon Beacons, so we thought it would be great to get some advice from Adele on how we can make the most out of our local hedgerows.  It’s certainly been a learning experience for us having spoken to Adele, here’s some advice from her:  

Ok, so it’s halfway through half term. The weather is unseasonably mild and lovely, but the kids are pale and heavy-eyed, faces blue from the light cast by the laptop or mobile phone as they update their status updates, and what’s more, they’re probably still in their pyjamas.

What can you do that costs nothing, well get them out into the fresh air, and for most people in Wales, this won’t even require a car journey? The trickiest bit is getting the kids away from those screens, and at this point I would recommend a little judicious tinkering about with your household fuse box. Once the ‘powercut’ hits you have a five-minute window of opportunity to hustle them into coats and wellies and head off outside…for a tour of your local hedgerow. Don’t forget to grab a couple of plastic bags.

For the next hour or so, the only tweeting that you need countenance will be those made by the actual birdies, which are starting to piece together their nests a little earlier than usual right now.

For many, the hedgerow is such a commonplace sight as to be almost invisible. But in reality, it’s an overlooked miracle, a World of wonder on your doorstep. You think I’m exaggerating? Give it a go. The Brecon Beacons have some of the best hedgerows in the world, ancient and yet beautifully maintained, and I can guarantee that the views, the sounds and the scents that you encounter as you meander your way along them will give wings to your soul.

The hedgerow is a piece of living architecture and archaeology, telling a tale of human progress and endeavour throughout many centuries. There are several ways of guessing the age of a hedgerow, and the method of doing so is fun for children to get involved in. The first indicator is the depth of the hedgerow; those with steep banks are the oldest. The presence of certain plants gives us a clue, too. The life history of many plants can stretch back thousands of years. Bluebells and primroses, for example, are old woodland plants and if you see them in a hedgerow, there’s a good chance that the hedge was probably once part of ancient woodland.

Otherwise, there’s a useful rule of thumb, published by Dr Max Hooper in his 1974 book, Hedges: Take a thirty-yard length of hedgerow and then count the number of woody species in. it. The number of species equals the age of the hedge in centuries. Easy. Try it.

Next, what might you find in those hedgerows that you can usefully do something with, that’s not only pretty fast, but fun? In mid February there’s not a whole lot, but there’s a good early crop of one common plant right now; the lovely nettle!

Although the sting is meant to be effective in counteracting rheumatism and arthritis, it’s best to wear a decent pair of rubber gloves when harvesting nettles. Go for the tender young leaves of the first young shoots, which you can use exactly as you would spinach – in soups, in Greek-style filo parcels with feta cheese, or as a soup with a splash of water mint raita swirled in if you feel like going wild. As they gather the plants, you can tell the kids that nettle fibres were used to make the uniforms of the German army during the First World War, when there was a shortage of anything else. There’s a particular kind of nettle that grows in the Himalayas that’s used to weave a beautiful, lacy, dull golden-coloured fabric called ‘Aloo’, which softens as it’s washed. Oh, and you can also make string out of nettle fibres!

Nettle syrup

The concept of nettle syrup might sound bizarre, but please do make this. You can use proportionally fewer ingredients if you don’t gather enough nettles and you shouldn’t need to pop out for anything else. The only tricky bit might be managing to tinker surreptitiously once more with the fuse box so that the oven works.

– 1kg young nettle tops
– 2 litres water
– 80g white granulated sugar for every 100ml strained liquid

Put the nettle tops and water in a large pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 1 hour or so and then strain into a measuring jug, removing the nettles. Return the liquid to the pan and add the appropriate amount of sugar (see above). Simmer for another 30 minutes or so, until the liquid thickens and turns syrupy. Leave to cool, then siphon into sterilised bottles. The large amount of sugar will give the syrup a long shelf life, but you can also store in the freezer, either in small freezer bags or even in an ice cube tray. You can drink the syrup diluted with hot water, or chilled, with sparkling water and a chunk of lemon or lime.

Adele Nozedar is an author and photographer who lives in the Brecon Beacons. Her forthcoming book, ‘The Hedgerow Handbook – Recipes, Remedies and Rituals’, is out in March via Random House.

Adele is available to take small groups on hedgerow tours. Contact her for details at

This entry was posted in Activities, Food, Outdoors and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s