The following list of wild plants and herbs composes the bottom layer of the Playground Forest Garden in Blackrock, County Louth. The wild plants are provided through Peppermint Farm and Garden in Bantry, County Cork. The culinary herbs planted in the garden were sourced through local garden centres.

The edible wild plants are also considered wildflowers and many naturally grow underneath hedgerows throughout the countryside. The wild plants will help to retain moisture, crowd out weeds and reflect the dense planting of a natural habitat. The majority of these plants will reproduce themselves through self-seeding, with new plants emerging in the following spring, helping to further the development of a cultivated naturescape in the Forest Garden.

These plants were planted during Earth Week by local children and families using the Blackrock playground. The plants were surrounded by a grass and seaweed mulch and fed with seaweed and nettles immersed in water. The seaweed will help to generate new roots in the young plants and the nettle plant food, will help to produce new leaves. The grass and seaweed mulches will help to encourage worms, retain moisture, and suppress weeds around the plants.

The uses and historic cultural associations to the plants are referenced from the following books:

The Complete Book of Herbs by Lesley Bremmess

Irish Wild Plants: Myths, Legends and Folklore  by Niall MacCoitir

Herbs and Healing Plants  by Dieter Podlech

Good King Henry A perennial spinach plant associated with early monastic gardens. The seed heads can also be eaten when steamed. The leaves can be eaten raw when young, and steamed to use as spinach. Rich in iron, vitamins and minerals.

Agrimony Tall tapering spikes of yellow flowers with an apricot scent. Particularly attractive to butterflies and bees. The plant can be infused to make a tea, which is good for coughs, sore throats.

Borage The leaves can be used in salads when young and taste like cucumbers. The flowers are also edible and can be used to to within salads or to decorate cakes. The flowers attract bees, and the leaves can be steeped in water for an organic liquid feed for plants.

Rosemary Rosemary tea can be taken as a tonic after illness, and used for relaxation. It is also associated with increasing concentration and memory. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads, and as a decoration for cakes. Rosemary is traditionally used to flavour savory dishes. Domestically, rosemary boiled in water can be used as a surface cleaner, especially when combined with thyme and vinegar.

Wood Avens or Herb Bennet A clump forming plant with yellow flowers, its young leaves can be added to salads and soups. As a gargle is can be used to treat sore throats. The roots have a clove aroma and were used to flavour ale.”Wood Avens was often worn as an amulet, and in fifteenth century Europe it was hung over doors to ward off evil spirits” (MacCoitir).

Hyssop The purple flowers can be used in salads or as a garnish for savory dishes. It is a good companion plant near cabbages, where it deters the cabbage butterflies. The flowers can also be infused as a tea for throat and lung complaints. The leaves can be used as a poultice. The leaves are used with soups, stews, and fruit salads.

Tansy This pungent yellow flower and leaves will deter insects if grown near fruit trees. It can be used to flavour meat, cooked with rhubarb, or used to make cakes and puddings (in very small quantities). The flower produces a yellow dye. It can be used to deter mice and ants.

Angelica The leaf of this herb is cooked with rhubarb to help reduce sugar amounts. The leaf can be used for a herbal bath for relaxation. A tea can be made from this plant’s leaves as a tonic for colds. Crushed leaves in a car both freshen the air and reduce travel sickness.

Mallow Traditionally used in folk medicines, its flowers are edible and its young leaves can be steamed as a vegetable. The leaves were used as a poultice for skin complaints.

Bergamot This striking flower is edible and can be eaten with salads. The flower attracts bumble bees. Most commonly associated with making tea to relieve insomnia and nausea.

Wild Rocket This rocket re-grows each year as a perennial, and has a very sharp strong taste. It is found growing wild throughout Europe. The leaves can be cut finely and used in salads and savory dishes. The flowers can also be eaten.

Meadowsweet “Meadowsweet, with its sweet-smelling flowers, was valued for its use in flavouring beer, and for strewing with rushes on the floor of rooms to keep them fresh and pleasant smelling” (MacCoitir). Meadowsweet contains salicylate, and had a similar affect to aspirin in the treatment of colds, sore throats and muscular pain.

Sweet Woodruff  This flowering woodland plant can be infused to make a drink “to lift the spirits and create a carefree atmospher” (Bremness).  The leaves can be applied to wounds. And the leaves make a refreshing and relaxing tea.

Primrose “A symbol of vitality and strength of Spring, and a powerful source of protection of the home and farm” (MacCoitir). Traditionally associated as the May Flower, it was strewn around homes and farms by children on May Eve in order to protect the home and farm from harmful influences. The flowers are edible for salads, or can be crystallised for cake decorations. They were also once used for preserves and desserts. The early leaves can be used in salads.

Yarrow Traditionally used in love charms, for protection on a journey and fortune telling. Its leaves can be steamed as a vegetable when young. A beneficial plant for insects. Yarrow is noted for its ability to stop bleeding and clean wounds. In Ireland, yarrow tea was a cure for rheumatism, coughs, colds and fevers.

Caraway Its seed is used to flavour breads, cakes, soups and vegetables. The young leaves can be used in salads and soups.

Salad Burnet A useful plant for a herbal hedge in formal gardens. The leaf is used in salads and as a garnish. The leaves can also be added to soups, sauces and savory dishes. This herb can also be used to flavour herbal vinegars. When used as a tea it can be a tonic for general well being.

Scot’s Lovage Also known as sea lovage, the seeds are edible and can be used in soups, breads and stews. The young leaves and stalks were a traditional vegetable of outer coastal regions, where they were boiled and eaten by sailors with scurvy.

Lemon Balm Finely chopped leaves can be used in fruit salads, puddings and desserts. Its leaves can also be infused in fruit drinks and cordials. This herb can be added to baths. When taken as a tea is reduces tension, promotes relaxation and a positive outlook.

Fennel Young leaves can be chopped into salads or act as a garnish for savory dishes. A large attractive plant within both herb and flower borders. The seed can be used for sauces or fish dishes. Fennel can be use in herbal baths and can be steeped in water for eye baths. The seed can be infused for tea which can relax and reduce toxicity in the body.

Sage Sage can be infused for a tea which helps with colds and coughs. Burning sage cleanses rooms. The flowers are edible and can be added to salads. The leaf is traditionally added to stuffing, and cooked with meat. Sage tea is antiseptic and anti-fungal, and can also be added to herbal baths.

Thyme  This herb can be added to a variety of savory dishes, it can be infused in syrup for cakes and puddings, and also added to herbal vinegars. When cooked and strained and combined with vinegar, it produces a household surface cleaner. Thyme tea can be beneficial for infections, colds, and insomnia.

Lavender The flower can be used to make a tea to soothe headaches. Stems of this herbs can flavour custard, ice-cream, sauces and salad dressings. The flowers are used to make scented herb pillows.

Chives The flowers are edible and can be used in salads or as a garnish. Finely cut leaves can be added to soups, stews, and sauces.

Oregano The leaves can be chopped into salads, sauces, pasta dishes, and used with cheese and egg dishes. The leaves can also be added to herbal baths. As a tea it is beneficial for headaches and tension.

Mint (Apple Mint, Strawberry, Peppermint and Variegated Mint) This herb can be used to make a refreshing tea, and also chopped into salads, desserts, or used with vegetable dishes. Mint can also be added to herbal baths. It may be scattered indoors to deter mice and grown near aphids to deter aphids.

The photos show some of the participants at Blackrock’s Earth Week workshops. There are also pictures of Meadowsweet and pink flowering Mallow. The children made clay earth candles as part of their activities on the day.

The following is a list of young sapling trees planted in a new Forest Garden surrounding an outdoor classroom in Blackrock County Louth.

The trees are child height, and will grow along with local children. The new trees are nature in the making. They will be the canopy layer of the garden, and supply not only fruit, but the leaves of the trees will ultimately nourish the plants grown underneath.

The trees were sourced from Future Forests in Bantry, County Cork. They are different varieties of native, Asian and North American fruiting trees.

Martin Crawford’s book Creating a Forest Garden: Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops is an essential reference for growing trees, fruits, herbs and plants for an edible forest garden.

Below you will find a list of the trees currently planted within the Blackrock Forest Garden.

The book Irish Trees: Myths, Legends and Folklore by Niall MacCoitir, references the folklore associated with native trees.

The wildlife characteristics of native trees were found on the  Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland website

Recipes for cooking with hedgerow fruits can be found in Pamela Michael’s Edible Wild Plants and Herbs or Fruits of the Hedgerow by Charlotte Popescu.

Forest Garden Trees

Hazel The nuts from this tree are considered one of the earliest foods in Ireland, as nuts are an important source of protein. Besides nuts the branches were traditionally used for fences, wickerwork and furniture. Hazel is associated with wisdom, poetic inspiration and fertility. “The hazelnut with its round, hard shell, and nutritious core is a symbol of the heart, and its nourishing and life-giving qualities link it to the earth” (MacCoitir, p. 74). The yellow catkins of the Hazel tree produce early sources of Spring pollen for bees. There are 73 insects associated with hazel. Hazel provides nuts for birds and mammals.

Elder The Elder tree supplies June flowers which are used for cordial and fritters, and its berries can be cooked to produce chutney, jam and syrup. There are 19 insects associated with elder and the berries attract birds. Elder was once believed to be a powerful tree, which offered protection against witches.

Crabapple It’s blossoms attract bees and its apples are a source of food for birds and mammals once they have fallen. There are 93 insects associated with crabapple. Its fruits can be cooked to make jam, jelly, and syrup. “The apple, with its beautiful blossoms and nourishing fruit, is a symbol of the delights of the otherworld, and of fertility, replenishment and healing” (MacCoitir, p. 84).

Medlar Originating in Persia, medlars were used by the Greeks and Romans. They were also widely grown in Britain during the Middle Ages, particularly within monastery gardens. The tree produce beautiful flowers in May followed much later by its fruit, which resembles a large crabapple/rosehip. The fruits are gathered in November, and softened within a cupboard until they go soft. The contents of the fruit are not unlike a natural cinnamon flavoured applesauce. Medlars can be made into jellies.

Mulberry Mulberries are native to Western Asia, but the Greeks and Romans also grew them. The Black Mulberry produces fruit which look like dark loganberries. New trees produce fruit after about 5 years. Mulberries can be used for jams, puddings and syrups. “Mulberries are very high in potassium and are a good source of calcium, phosphorous and Vitamin C” (Popescu, p. 67).

Rowan “The Rowan or mountain ash has always been considered a tree with formidable magical and protective powers due to its bright flame red berries. An alternative name “quicken”, refers to its quickening or life-giving powers, while the Irish name caorthann derives from the word caor which means both a berry and a blazing flame” (MacCoitir, p. 28). The large flattened clusters of creamy white flowers appear in May and June, and their smell attracts bees. The berries, high in Vitamin C, ripen in August and can be cooked to produce jams and jellies that can be eaten with savory dishes. The berries are important to birds, particularly the mistle-thrush, blackbird and starling.

Amelanchier These trees are also called Juneberries or Serviceberries and are native to North America. The fruits arrive after two to three years, and are currant sized, purplish black and sweet not unlike a black currant. The fruits are eaten by birds. The fruits can be used for preserves. The Spring flowers are enjoyed by bees, and offer a beautiful display of blooms.

Aronia Also called Chokeberries, these trees are native to North America, and the fruits are high in antioxidants. The fruits are currant sized and can be eaten raw, cooked, or made into juice or preserves. The flowers of the tree attract bees and the berries are eaten by birds.

Elaeagnus Also called Autumn Olive, this tree fixes nitrogen in the soil. The fruits are edible, and are also eaten by birds. This tree is a native of Eastern Asia and Japan. The fruits are rich in antioxidants. The fruit can be made into jams and are a rich source of vitamins and minerals.

Lime Tree The blossoms of the lime tree are called Linden blossoms and are used to make tea. They make a soothing tea to reduce internal stress and relieve anxiety. Martin Crawford uses young lime leaves for salads instead of lettuce. He coppices, or prunes his lime trees regularly to further the supply of young leaves.

Service Tree A Service tree is a relative to the Rowan tree, and in the past it was famous for its Autumn fruits, used for jams, the flavouring of alcoholic drinks, and eaten as sweets by children (once the fruits had softened). It was traditionally found growing wild in England. Service tree fruits are like small apples, they are long and juicy when allowed to ripen, like medlars.

Filbert Tree An American hazel tree, a type of hazel tree grown for its edible nuts.

Hawthorn The hawthorn or whitethorn is also commonly called the Maybush or a Fairy Tree. In Irish folklore there is a fear of harming a lone hawthorn bush growing in a field or on a hillside. The fairy thorn was also found growing by old holy wells, where cloth offerings were left hanging from its branches. Hawthorn flowers are edible, and hawthorn berry or leaf tea is beneficial for the heart, kidneys, and nerves. The berries of the tree, called haws, can be cooked with other hedgerow fruits (i.e. crabapples and sloes) to make jam, jelly, and chutney.

Blackthorn The flowers of the blackthorn bloom before the leaves appear. Blackthorn means spiny plum in Latin. Traditionally used as a barrier tree around fields keeping grazing animals from venturing beyond the boundaries of its thorns. There are 109 insects associated with blackthorn. Birds like the sloe berries and use the tree for nesting. Humans pick the berries for sloe gin, syrup, chutney and jam. The sloe is the ancestor of cultivated plums. Blackthorn is a symbol of of fierceness, protection and strength.

The beginnings of a forest garden in Blackrock, County Louth, is a mixture of tree saplings surrounding a wooden outdoor classroom, adjacent to the village playground.

Three local schools will participate in the planting of wild plants, herbs, and wildflowers: St. Francis National School, St. Oliver Plunkett National School, and St. Fursey’s National School. School children of these schools will learn about how a forest garden is made, with its many layers of trees, fruits and edible plants.

Organic mulches composed of grass and seaweed clippings will be applied around the new plants. These layers of organic materials will feed the soil, retain moisture around the plants, and help to suppress weeds. A variety of plant foods made from nettles, comfrey and seaweed will be produced to nurture growth in this new planting area.

The Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail recently published an article called “The Call of the Wild Helps Children Learn” by Anne McIlroy which highlights the significance of nature on young minds. “The dominant idea about how nature helps kids learn is called attention restoration theory.” Involuntary attention, as opposed to directed attention, can be cultivated within nature. The “soft fascination” of the natural world, can restore focussed attention required for directed studies. Involuntary attention is achieved without effort by simply observing what captures our attention. Our mind wanders and takes a rest from concentrated effort, which in turn improves learning.

Creating a sense of the wild for every child, facilitates not only their imagination, but their capacity to think laterally. Expanding their gaze outwards, is the rest the mind needs in order to return to more structured learning. Without an escape into nature, the child’s attention becomes tired and overloaded.

The newly built outdoor wooden classroom offers school children, families, and young children and opportunity to participate in an interactive garden that grows along with them. The sapling trees are currently at child height, and the children can take the opportunity to play in the garden space during their visit to the playground.

The following native Irish and edible trees are growing in the forest garden offering a developing wild area around the outdoor classroom:

Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Hazel, Birch, Rowan, Oak, Willow, Elder, Crabapple, Medlar, Service Tree, Mulberry Tree, Aronia, Amelanchier, Elaeagnus, and Lime Trees.

These trees were planted with red, white and black currants, alpine strawberries, rhubarb, raspberries and thornless blackberry.