The Botanist.

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Foraged Island Botanicals
The first and only Islay dry gin


RSPB Foraging Walks along the woodland trail

28th July 2017
by Carl Reavey in Mindful Foraging.

Responsible foraging is at the heart of how The Botanist is made at Bruichladdich Distillery and RSPB Scotland recognise that this is a tasty and inspirational way to connect all our visitors with nature and conservation.

Working together, we have started what we hope will be a long term programme of carefully managed walks on the RSPB Reserve at Loch Gruinart during which guests are introduced to the excitements of foraging for flavour.  On the afternoon of 27th July Mark Williams, Scotland’s only professional foraging tutor, working with the RSPB’s Dave Maynard, conducted the first of what promise to be really interesting events.

Mark and Dave set out with a group of sixteen guests along the Woodland Trail starting out from the RSPB Loch Gruinart Visitor Centre.  Anyone who has accompanied Mark on one of his forays will understand that ‘walk’ is a bit of a misnomer.  There is so much of tasty interest to be found along the average hedgerow that it can take a very long time to cover short distances.  I have personally experienced a foraging walk with Mark that started at the front gate of the distillery and ended up at our Academy two hours later - having travelled a total of around three hundred yards!!

After an initial welcome involving a glass of Mark’s excellent ‘elderflower champagne’, the pace was a little quicker yesterday, but it was still an extremely relaxed and very informative experience.  Plants discussed, and sometimes tasted, included various members of the carrot family, mugwort, nettles, meadowsweet, pineapple weed, rowan, vetch, elder and sticky willie.

There was also a  timely introduction to the first rule of foraging, “If you are not 100% sure of the identification then don’t eat it”.  Everyone was made aware of hemlock water dropwort, a plant that is abundant on Islay (and in wet areas across much of Britain).  All parts of this member of the Umbellifer family are extremely poisonous, but happily it is easy to identify and avoid.

Dedicated members of The Botanist foraging flying squad had created a pop-up bar in the woods to greet folk at the end of the walk, but sadly the Islay weather was to conspire against us.  Just as Mark and Dave were wrapping up the wind dropped, the rain fell and the midges swarmed in.  We all beat a hasty retreat to the very comfortable RSPB Visitors Centre at Aoradh where we were able to marry some of the foraged twists collected with a Botanist and tonic. Mark also produced a various tinctures, infusions and cordials made from a wide variety of plants gathered both on Islay and in his native Galloway.

We trust all our visitors enjoyed this new initiative.  The next walk will be on the 17th August.  Happily, from our point of view, it seems it is already fully booked but you could always contact Dave and the team at Loch Gruinart (01496 850505 or to see if any places have become available….

RSPB, Foraging, Mark Williams



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