Wild plant forage with Friends of Ilkley Moor


A Friends of Ilkley Moor (FOIM) event was organised so that people could discover the many edible and medicinal plants which can be found on Ilkley Moor.


‘Wild plant food forage’ took place on Saturday July 24, led by Tracy Gray the FOIM Project Officer. The group discovered that many of the common plants around them are powerful medicines and also provide great nutrition.


Talking about the event, Tracy Gray said: “It was a glorious day and the group slowly ambled along the lower slopes of the moor, climbed up to White Wells Cottage, across to the upper tarn and back down, across the middle slopes of the moor, stopping often to learn about the plants around them. People learnt of the berries and nuts they could eat: bilberry, blackberry, raspberry, elderberry, hazel and hawthorn. They learnt that in the past people used to use acorns to make an edible flour and that heather flowers were used to make beer, as is still practised in some parts of Scotland today. That bracken was collected and used as animal bedding and for thatching. That the different vibrant colours of lichens were collected for dyes and that they are also still used to dye some woollen clothing in parts of Scotland. That hazel and willow trees were coppiced, and the poles used for constructing shelters and fences. That the fibers of nettle were used to make cloth and paper. That the sap from birch trees can be collected to make wine.

“They learnt about the medicinal properties of yarrow, cleavers, nettle, hawthorn and meadowsweet and how modern-day aspirin is derived from meadowsweet. They also learnt how the inner bark of the white willow was also used as pain relief. People discovered the importance of Sphagnum moss during World War 2 and how on Friday afternoons school children were sent to the moor to collect this. This was then sent to the war medical camps and applied to soldiers’ wounds. Sphagnum moss is very absorbent and when applied to wounds it soaks up the blood and infection and its naturally antiseptic properties helped heal these wounds.


“People were taught how modern medicine, even though it arrives to us now as a little pill, starts out as a plant. The active medicinal properties of these are then isolated and often synthesised to produce modern medicine. And that the wisdom of herbal medicine is once again being increasingly practiced by people, as people once again start understanding the healing properties of plants.


“As well as admiring the plants the group also learnt about the ecology, conservation of and management of Ilkley Moor.


“The FOIM’s regular volunteers have been out each week this month undertaking habitat management on Ilkley Moor for the benefit of wildlife conservation, and helping to restore and maintain footpath networks. They cleared more bracken from areas important for wetland plant species and invertebrates and helped to maintain some footpaths.


“Everyone had a great time on the event and look forward to attending more events from this year’s events and learning programme.”


The events programme and heritage walks can be downloaded from the FOIM website www.ilkleymoor.org