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Foraging Adventures with Mary Bulfin

Birr Theatre & Arts Centre often runs community based projects for all to get involved in. This week it was the perfect opportunity to get out in the open and at one with nature joining Mary Bulfin to trot the gardens of Castle for a foraging class.

As I walked into Birr Castle yesterday, I met a girl I knew, told her of my intention to attend my first foraging class and invited her to join me....."No", she giggled, "I'm happier taking my food from the fridge" was her reply! That made me laugh, cause really I'm exactly the same. Other than my home grown apples, plums, hazelnuts and eggs,....growing tomatoes nearly killed me (I grew them in a grow bag and forgot to water quite often!) that’s it I'm afraid. I've picked many a blackberry from a ditch and remember fondly the days we used to call gooseberries goosegogs too! I'm with that girl I met, I'm opening plastic for most other things at home!

This afternoon session was led by Mary Bulfin ( at Birr castle reception, she gave a lovely intro to what became clear was a mushroom forage. She had samples displayed beautifully, safe for us to see, examine, touch and and learn from. I was certainly going to have to pay attention here as the ones you cannot eat came apparent so much more frequently the ones you can…. Wow! this woman has fantastic skill and knowledge and in that reminded us of the amounts of species and types. Referencing her favourite authors Mary certainly had her favourites.

My own knowledge on mushrooms, I have to be honest is slim to nil so I looked at my good self being the perfect candidate to learn. A mushroom is the reproductive structure produced by some fungi. It is somewhat like the fruit of a plant, except that the "seeds" it produces are in fact millions of microscopic spores that form in the gills or pores underneath the mushroom's cap. Their brief on their eco system enthralled me and their closeness to differing trees accustomed to certain types, proved 100% accurate as I witnessed with my very own eyes.

We took off into the garden and within minutes had passed and learned of the yew tree ....totally poisonous to some animals -I do remember some farmer friends referring to that but also learned of its benefits to some pharmaceuticals particularly in recent times for breast cancer.

Our weather was fab and the weather over the weekend a pre-curser to perfect conditions to see the variety of shooms we did see....they were everywhere....small, tall, thick and thin, I know I’m bamboozling you with my facts .

What I will remember however is the ink pot ....small, dark brown in colour bulbous sporting a frilly hole in its top. This is where we had a little bit of magic. With a pinch like motion, Mary made the spores from the mushroom poof like that of a steaming pot...dark in colour...a true work of genius for this small puffy plant!

Another oooh moment was witnessing the “milk” that emerged from a simple touch to the underside gills of the milk cap variety mushroom. Touching across its gills resulted in the release of a white to the plant itself and although this type wasn't poisonous it apparently was extremely bitter.....did I try....did I hell!

2 hours flew. We had fun, we learned a lot, not only from Mary but also the other 20 odd group members that tagged along. My first foraging experience will certainly not be my last! In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I may just go and root out another trip very shortly!

Thank you kindly Wildfood Mary 😀

This event is part of The Futures Lab Programme supported by Creative Ireland in partnership with offaly County County.

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