Welcome to my new Explore section of my website. In this series I will take you exploring to inspiring places, on a search for beautiful flora unique to these locations. My aim is to show you the flowers and plants that grow in these areas as well as showcase the amazing locations. In association with The North Face at Call of the Wild, and with photographer Colin Gillen at my side, I aim to explore and capture what makes these places truly unique and special.
For my first Explore column we find ourselves in mid April in the Leckaun area in County Leitrim, in the North West of Ireland. This area is heavily steeped in history and when we climb the mountain there is a truly ancient feel of this land. Everywhere you look the softly sloping fields, grasses, mosses and ferns are still russet gold at this time of the year. On a quest to find the April flora in this location we climbed up steep banks, jumped fences and battled the changeable weather that this region is so well known for!
I came to Ireland when I was seven and I grew up in this region where the wild fields and rugged mountains were my playground. Years after I last visited this hill the flora looks different and yet also the same. Ferns have grown larger, small hazels that were once our castles now taller and dense enough to block the small paths. The smaller flora is as it always was though, slowly waking to life at this time of the year. These are the plants we found in this amazing location.
The first flower we find is the Primrose. A beautiful native flower this ancient primrose is the sacred flower of Freya, the norse goddess of fertility and beauty and are delicate yet strong in style. The leaves and flowers of the plant are edible, I actually made frozen ice lollies with them last year. The flower has a wide variety of uses ranging from salads to tea and even primrose wine which I would love to try. Interestingly, the Primula is still used today for medicinal purposes as well as jams, desserts and even perfume. There is also a lot of folklore attached to primroses and some say that eating the flower allows you to see fairies!
This delicate plant, which is considered a good luck gift, has pretty heart shapes leaves and has many uses in the kitchen and beyond. The plant in its simplest form, can be picked and just added to salads, onto soups or on cakes. There are so many varieties and colours to choose from, making them the perfect finishing touch to any homecooked meal. The wild growing purple Viola odorata which we found here, which is native to Europe and Asia, can even be used to make candied sweets, such as the famous Violettes de Toulouse as well as syrups and delicious purple liquors.
Violas are also very healthy and are used in many medicinal cures. Many contain anti-oxidants and are said to stregthen blood vessels. Viola herbal remedies stimulate the immune system and they are used to make cough syrups, their anti-microbial properties making them useful in the treatment of acne.
Historically the Greeks and Romans treasured violets and made wine out of the flowers. There are some wonderful recipes out there for making your own violet syrups and wine if you fancy getting creative. If you do decide to make the wine then it will be handy to know that the Romans also believed that the flowers could prevent drunkeness and even cure hangovers! Handy. Another interesting fact is that the ancient Persians and Greeks used the violet to cure a broken heart.