Foraging in Lovely Leitrim
Tina Pommer is passionate about nature and for many years she has studied the local landscape, aware of the best places to find local delicacies. She hosts guided walks in the Leitrim countryside and also teaches about wild mushroom foraging at the local Organic Centre in Rossinver. She also holds a diploma in Archaeology and so she is able to incorporate her love of the bounty of nature with an keen awareness of local heritage.
There is a species of Willow, the leaves of which are edible and delicious and it is particular to North Leitrim. The leaves of common willow trees can be bitter- due to the presence of the chemical from which aspirin is produced, however, according to Tina, this special breed of willow has leaves that are delicious in a salad“. At Belhavel in Leitrim there is an incredibly well preserved crannog Promontory Fort”, she says. “There’s a little jetty and you can bring a boat and pick some of these leaves from the boat.” Early Irish settlers in this area would have planted such trees in close proximity to their homes to ensure a ready supply of foods. Today, Tina is keeping this knowledge alive and opening people’s eyes to a to nature and encouraging a newfound respect .
“I am more about teaching people how to forage than gathering baskets of stuff” she says, “more of a guide than somebody who takes heaps of stuff out of nature. When I started collecting stuff – I quickly realised your taking more than you need most of the time” Now when I bring out a small group into nature, I encourage people to be respectful, everybody can take a handful and have a look. It is all about being sustainable.” says Tina.
Leitrim is definitely a hot spot for wild mushrooms. They have a preference for certain soil conditions and the company of certain plants and will only grow when conditions are right. On the continent where summers are hot and dry, the mushroom foraging season is far shorter than in Ireland where mushrooms can be foraged from late June until December. Few realise, however, that the mushroom is only the fruiting body of what is quite an intelligent organism called a mycelium which can grow for kilometres underneath the earth. Mushrooms are neither plant nor animal, and in Tina’s opinion they are closer to the animal kingdom than plants. When it comes to mushroom foraging, if people pick all the mushrooms and trample the mycelium – the organism is likely to just decide to fruit somewhere else instead.
When out walking another good tree to know is the Larch. This is the only coniferous tree (needle tree) that loses its leaves every year. These larch sprigs are edible and are very aromatic. When used sparingly they can really be a treat. Their flavour is a mix between resin and lemon. If you are going through a forest with nothing to drink, Tina suggests that you put a few sprigs in your mouth. The lemon flavour is so refreshing that it takes the thirst away!
Did you know that you could eat the leaves of the birch tree? In early spring when the first tender leaves come out Tina collects these young birch leaves. “These ones are most delicious”, says Tina,” when they are just unfolding they are bright green in colour and thin as paper.” What is Tina’s favourite way to eat these leaves ? ”I put them on buttered bread like a good ham”, she says. “Scrunch them up and cover one side of buttered bread. They give a beautiful flavour. This is an absolute delicacy, so simple and so good. The leaves stiffen up after a few days, you have to get the tender ones, so they are not chewy.”
Tina Pommer is available for guided walks in Leitrim. Bookings can be made by calling 00353 (0) 87 9172143 or by e-mail, email@example.com or visit www.tawnylustlodge.com.