It's elderflower season again. Their frothy heads springing up in backlots and lost corners, the air heady with their strange scent - somewhere between floral sweetness and cat piss. I learnt to recognise them a handful of summers ago; on a whim I took a day-long foraging course in a Victorian cemetery and found myself falling headlong into a world of unknown treasures. With my eyes opened to the plants surrounding me in my urban existence, the parks of the city were no longer a computer game background of flat green nothingness. Here was an ancient mulberry tree, here a patch of wild rocket, lime trees in blossom, cherries hanging tantalisingly out of reach. The connection to nature that I hadn't felt since I left my homeland rekindled in my gut (heart? soul?) and, strangely, learning the edible plants of my new home deepened my sense of belonging. The highway to my heart runs decidedly through my stomach, it seems.
Since I learnt to read the greenery around me I move through the city greeting plants like old friends. Sometimes literally, much to the amusement of my mates. It brings me a connection to the earth in amongst the concrete and bustle. A reminder that London is not an island hovering disconnected, that our pulsing metropolis sits on the Earth and that there are interlacing ecosystems and cycles weaving their way through the fabric of the city. Things that we humans are inescapably a part of.
It's an easy thing to forget, that we are nature. That nature is us. That every copy of the Metro flapping down the Tube station platform, every iPhone, every Marks & Spencer ready meal comes from somewhere. Has had to be mined or grown or built or created out of the Earth, if you trace it back far enough. It boggles the mind, doesn't it? We live in a closed system, everything on this planet is finite and yet our economy is build on infinite growth. There's a serious problem with that maths.
When I started foraging for food I came on too strong, took too much. If only out of enthusiasm. Now I know to reign it in, know what to take and what to leave. I know that I actually don't like elderflower much, though their appearance cheers me every year as summer stutters to a start. I would rather bide my time, wait for them to droop into elderberries. Learning to see the cycles of things. Learning to take what I need but not more.