Sonairte , The National Ecology Center

For those who dont know or who have never paid a visit, Sonairte is an interactive visitors centre promoting ecological awareness and sustainable living. The name itself is derived from an old irish word meaning positive strength. Sonairte is spread over 10 acres on the banks of the river Nanny near Laytown Co. Meath. All sorts of interesting courses are run here from jam making to foraging.

A couple of weekends ago I hoped on a bus from Parnell St in Dublin which brought me right to the front gate of Sonairte in less than an hour. Once there I joined a group of about 10 others and  spent a most fascinating couple of hours rambling round the ten acres and being introduced, by the very knowledgeable Zaneta Wright, to different plants both cultivated and wild that live there.

Zaneta started the day off for us with a little taste of some of the delicious treats she has made from the autumn abundance surrounding her. We had a cordial made from elderberries, a spicy Hawsin sauce made from haws, nasturtium seeds in brine ( very much like capers) and some dandelion root coffee. This was followed by a stroll around the gardens with multiple stops along the way  for talks  on a fantastic assortment of plants including, sumac, hazel, apples, nasturtium, fuschia, horseradish, sea beet, nettle, alexanders, blackberries, haws and rosehips. 

I asked Zaneta a couple of questions about what she does.

1, How did you get into foraging?

I got into foraging because I am a bit of an opportunist. I like to find uses for the things that are around me. I read stories about blackberries as a kid and on coming to Ireland saw all their bounty and abundance around me. It was very inspiring and inspired me to explore nature and find connections between things. I started reading foraging books and other plant books, observing nature and then confirming what I saw through books.

2, Name some books that have inspired you,

Food for Free is the most useful book for beginners it is by Richard Mabey and is also available as a pocket guide. Another book that I find useful, although it is more specialized and about forrest gardening, is Martin Crawfords Creating a Forrest Garden.