Herb Walk

A wonderful herb walk this week, with Nigel Pinhorn of www.devonnaturewalks.co.uk to give us the bigger picture. We walked in the Hoopern Valley, and it’s changed a good deal in the eight years since I first went there. Then, cattle grazed the whole valley, but since part has been fenced off and planted with trees, a lush wildflower meadow has grown up. Yarrow and dog roses, lime and ribwort are all in flower, but things are a good three weeks early, so docks, nettles and even hawthorn are already fruiting.
Other wildlife has benefitted from the new management, too. We could hear the calling of young woodpeckers in their nest, and the muttering of ravens somewhere down by the river. I’ve seen badgers, foxes and hedgehogs – though not in full daylight – and although there are no obvious signs of deer, it would be no surprise to find them there, almost in the heart of Exeter.
But we were looking for minibeasts; the insects that are associated with various herbs, the rusts and fungi that live on them, and what they can show us about the properties of the plant. It’s an interesting apparent paradox that herbs like docks and nettles, so vigorous and full of virtues, also play host to many different insects and micro-organisms, and at this time of year it can be hard to find healthy-looking leaves to work with from a herbal point of view. But of course, there’s really no contradiction here. It’s natural that these strong, rich plants should support a wide variety of other lives – including our own. We just have to be choosy about the time (earlier in the year for leaves is best) and particular plants we pick. And with such abundance, that is never a problem.