Oliver Moore: Great insights into growing organic

Denise Dunne's organic herb garden from last year's organic growing event hosted by Vivienne Campbell. Pic: Paul O Flaherty

This Sunday in Tipperary there is a great opportunity to attend a visit to Michael Seymour’s organic farm, to learn more about the plants that grow on it.

The Borrisokane farm is really easy to find, a sits one of the few remaining ‘town farms’ in Ireland.

The forage walk will be led by Vivienne Campbell. This column spoke with Vivienne Campbell, a qualified medical herbalist since 2003, about her series of upcoming forage farm walks.

You do lots of forage walks, and have done for some years now, Vivienne. How and why did you come up with this series of walks on organic farms?

It came from a chat with Michael Seymour at Ennis farmers’ market. He was fascinated by the medicinal properties of common plants on his farm like red clover or oat straw. 

He’d been using oat straw as bedding for the cattle. He’d wanted to know more about what’s growing on the farm. That started it really. Edible and medicinal plants are the main focus of my walks.

People are really enjoying them — they get to nibble and taste what’s seasonally growing. I only do these on clean, untreated land.

If the farms are organic, they are just filled with treasure, it’s great to point these out — people find it really useful. 

As long as the farmers haven’t used weedkillers there can be anything from 30 to 60 medical and generally useful plants that can be used, and are easy to identify.

Do you do other work with farmers?

I do private surveys on all sorts of farms. I can be hired for in-depth land surveys, where I walk the land and take photos of individual plants.

This is a very personalised service, specific to the farm — including a long, detailed report with full instructions. I do find the farms extremely interesting. And there is a big opportunity for farmers to use the plants on the land, which can enhance their animals’ diet.

Tell us about the most recent one you’ve done.

The last walk was in Clare, and again it developed from a meeting at the farmers’ market in Ennis. We did a two-hour walk, and we found lots of edible and medicinal plants. 

We made a salad, I brought pesto I’d made from typical plants from that time of year, we made fresh herbal tea, and we talked how the plants could be used.

The walks are open to the public, and the person who owns the land gets a mini-survey — a checklist. This can be the basis of a future in-depth survey.

Do you need to be an expert to attend?

No, not at all! I pitch the walks at a level for everyone to understand. And I always start with safety first — don’t assume everything is safe and edible, lots isn’t. Some plants are poisonous, and to the untrained eye, they can look similar to other edible plants. 

So many people make what they think is elderflower cordial from the wrong plant, for example.

The walks work differently at different times of year. Lots of plants only come on for a few weeks, so there’s always something new to encounter.

I also offer an online course. It’s very detailed and practical, with lots of videos to show people how to identify plants. Along with recognising different useful plants, the course covers how to make tinctures, teas, cold presses, infused oils and honeys, cordials and so on.

People in Cork can attend one of Vivienne Campbell’s walks on Saturday, June 24, in Midleton. 

All are bookable aww.theherbalhub.com/guided-foraging-walk (or via info@theherbalhub.com, or call 086 8899168); cost, €30 — booking is recommended to ensure a place. Numbers are limited to 30 participants.

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