Spring’s Elixir

Ok, I admit it, I didn’t spend the winter up in the Westfjords, but for those that did, it has been pretty gnarly and long-lasting. In my defence I did spend it in the farthest reaches of northern Sweden where light levels were even lower than here and temperatures prohibitively warm for enjoying the winter landscape. I need a defence, because being from the British Isles, I am given to moments of romanticising, even lauding, suffering!

When I did arrive in the Westfjords, the snow still heavy and thick on the ground, the people I met with a slightly dazed and shell shocked appearance told me they’d been through a winter of hell: months of howling winds, horizontal snow and the predictable, yet, at times, insidious darkness. 

Spring’s ElixirMoody skies in spring, Keflavik lighthouse from a recce on a part of the North Section.

Happily, I can report spring is well under way and signs of summer are upon us! How do I know? Well, for one, the birds have started their mating rituals, shedding their feathers on the beaches to make nests (Eider ducks), guillemot eggs are for sale, if you know the right person, and plants have put out their tender and juicy young shoots! 

Spring’s ElixirViðar Kristinsson with the philosopher's egg and Tanja Geis and Camilla Edwards with foraged Rhubarb, Ground Elder and Horsetail

Guillemot eggs:

All dashes of turquoise and splodges of black ink, formed in a perfect conical shape which helps prevent them from rolling off the perilous cliff edges where they are laid without a nest. They also have self cleaning properties, courtesy of a conical shape design which appears as a kind of mountain range under the microscope. Every year a few select mountaineers rappel down to collect the eggs. Laying only one egg per pair, the collectors try to minimise their impact by collecting eggs after they've just been laid and so allowing the females enough time to lay a second egg. The local we bought them off said he’d never seen so many eggs which is a welcome sign the birds have fed well on their favourite food source – sand eels. 

Plants:

Two members of the carrot family which are pushing through the friable rock substrate to offer their sweet and aromatic flavours: Angelica and Ground Elder. Angelica has a long history of use in Iceland, most notably in flavouring the country’s oldest spirit, Brennivín. They’re also considered a good remedy for digestive disorders. Ground Elder is an import to northern Europe form Roman times and the leaves can be used a leaf vegetable, much like spinach. 

Spring’s ElixirAngelica growing next to an old whaling station, Westfjords, Iceland. Photo by Tanja Geis

Horsetail  is a primitive plant and has been around since the age of the dinosaurs. Its Icelandic name is draumagras which means dream grass; it is/was said to provide knowledge, through dreams, of whatever the dreamer desires to know. I shall be trying it out tonight though I shall hold off telling you what I desire to know. For that, come to Iceland and enjoy exploring the world of dreams and landscape with Wildfjords this June! Care should taken when eating this plant as high quantities can be toxic and special preparation is required. A plant strangely synonymous with Iceland is Rhubarb! Introduced in the 1900's, it grows prolifically in cool temperatures and poor soils which Iceland has in abundance, and it is a staple of most people’s spring and summer desert menu. Jams, wines, compotes, salads all benefit from this versatile plant. Use only the stems, the leaves are toxic.

With a final spring in the step, forestry in Iceland is on the increase with a mixture of native and non-native species being planted for their conservation value, grazing and potential commercial value and as shelter forests. A part of Wildfjords vision is to support the re-forestation of native birch forests along the trail’s route. To do this we are partnering with local landowners and government forestry organisations.  We are also eating our way through the non-native species being planted in an act of ecological vandalism. Hope you are having a good day x

Spring’s Elixir

 

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