Senses, Taste and Smell

Last week we looked at touch, sound and sight. If you can just stop and listen, really listen and be in the moment you might almost feel your senses tingle.

Last week I recorded birdsong and this week I am attaching the sound of a stream, just close your eyes and listen.

Or maybe you found a small patch of ground and made some discoveries. There is so much to be gained from really engaging with nature.

So this week we are looking at taste and smell which are intrinsically linked. We are lucky, it’s Spring and natures larder is packed with delicious and healing plants. Once we would have known all about these wild plants and used them in cooking and medicine. Now few of us have these skills but just learning a few and showing children which can be eaten will capture their interest.

There are brilliant stories too (see resources below) about the plants many of which have a variety of names, some place specific. For example, wild garlic was known in Somerset as ‘Onion Stinkers’ and Cleaver is otherwise called Sticky willy. Children love to find useful plants around them. It is much easier to remember a plant that has a funny name or you can eat from the hedgerows. With that in mind I have chosen 3 of the most common plants for this week and provided recipes for each.

Story of the week “The Wild Swans” by Hans Christian Andersen

This is the outline of the story. You can use puppets or just elaborate on the detail. Read from a book or have props. Rig up a curtain or sheet in the house or garden and suggest children put on a play.

This fairy tale, “The Wild Swans” by Hans Christian Andersen, may suit older children better. However I often take stories and adapt them to suit the audience. The short summary provides you with the detail to create the right story for your children. For the fuller version see resources below.

 “In the fairy tale the heroine’s brothers have been turned into swans by their evil stepmother. A kindly fairy instructs her to gather nettles in a graveyard by night, spin their fibres into a prickly green yarn, and then knit the yarn into a coat for each swan brother in order to break the spell — all of which she must do without speaking a word or her brothers will die. The nettles sting and blister her hands, but she plucks and cards, spins and knits, until the nettle coats are almost done — running out of time before she can finish the sleeve on the very last coat. She flings the coats onto her swan-brothers and they transform back into young men — except for the youngest, with the incomplete coat, who is left with a wing in the place of one arm. (And there begins a whole other tale.)

The story confirms that courage can be as painful as knitting coats from nettles, but that goodness can still win out in the end. Spells can be broken and gentle, loving persistence can be the strongest magic of them all.”

Week 3: Senses (2)

Smell and taste are so important to our daily lives, can you think why? Some people say that a side effect of Covid 19 is a periodic loss of taste and smell.

Getting Ready   Eat something small and focus on the taste. Now hold your nose and do it again. Is the taste stronger or not?

After that try the ‘smell test’.  Get your child to close their eyes and hold different foods under their nose (hot chocolate powder, marmite, toothpaste etc). Can they guess what they are? Who has better sense of smell?

Action   Go to a green space and ask them to find out which leaves smell different. They will need to rub the leaves between their fingers Check they are not picking stingers and wash hands afterwards.

See what can be found in wild spaces; a hedge, cracks in a wall, an unweeded flower bed. Pick one of each type of plant, how do they smell, which can you eat. Here are some real treasures you might find. 

Cleaver or Sticky Willy, Wild Garlic and Nettle plants . Make sure you are 100% sure about the plant you are eating and only pick on public land and where the plant grows in abundance.


Garlic looks like a few other plants but has a very distinctive smell when picked. The garlic flowers are now out too which helps with the identification. Pick the garlic and make garlic pesto which can be frozen for later use or just add to soups and salad or chop up and make garlic bread.

Ingredients for Wild Garlic pesto.

  • 100g wild garlic
  • 50g Parmesan grated
  • 50g pine nuts
  • olive oil
  • lemon juice, to taste
  • salt and pepper

After thoroughly washing the garlic leaves place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend to the desired consistency. Store the pesto in a sealed jar in the fridge. Keeps for a week or so or can be frozen if made in batches.

Cleaver or sticky willy

Cleaver is another plant for games and fun.

This was the forerunner of Velcro and with its tiny hooks it is great in a game of non-contact catch. If you are the catcher you can throw the sticky weed and try to stick it on another person. Then they are catcher.

Cleavers with their Velcro hooks originally migrated around the world by getting stuck in animal fur and being carried and eventually dropped on their journeys. They were also eaten by livestock and germinated well by going through the digestive system.

Ingredients for Cleaver Tonic

  • Lemon juice
  • Glass of water
  • Top 10cm of cleaver plants ( enough to fill the chosen glass)

Pick the upper part of the cleaver, wash and add to a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon. Leave in the fridge overnight. In the morning, strain out the weed and drink. The health properties are extensive for this plant and support the lymphatic system and kidney function. A great drink to kick start the day, and perhaps add some apple juice to taste for children.

The common nettle

Nettles have been used in medicine for hundreds of years. Their health enhancing qualities include, hormonal balancing and anti-inflammatory properties.

Nettle soup is simple to make and delicious and not an exact science. So feel free to add extra veg or more or less nettle leaves. Pick the nettles carefully wearing gloves and long sleeves and be careful not to lean over them and sting you nose. They are the best for the next few weeks and the flavour the strongest. You can pick and blanch them and put them in the freezer too to use later.

Ingredients of nettle soup

  • 1/2 large shopping bag of fresh nettle tops (the top 5cm or so)
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil ( or butter)
  • Wild garlic leaves or 1 garlic clove
  • 1 onion
  • 1 potato, more if you want a thicker soup
  • 1 carrot
  • Litre of stock
  • Salt and black pepper to taste ( you can add thyme and a bay leaf if wanted)
  • 1 tbs lemon juice
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of double cream or sour cream to serve, optional

Add the oil to a pan and add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook for a few minutes then add the chopped potato and carrot. Cook for another few minutes. Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes or until the veg is soft before adding the nettle leaves and simmering for a minute or so. Add salt and pepper and lemon juice to taste.

Serve hot adding a dollop of cream in each bowl.

Nettle tea is also simple to make pouring boiling water over a handful of leaves, add mint if you have it and a little honey to sweeten..

Extension ideas:

  • For looking at the sense of smell, watch a cat or dog move around. They will sniff things, and like many animals, use their sense of smell to detect danger. A badger can’t see much but it’s sense of smell makes up for that. Its sense of smell is meant to be 700-800 times more sensitive than ours and they recognize each other by smell. Do you think you could recognise your friends and family through smell?
  • A great demonstration about animals smelling power for Age 10 + is provided in this footage of the  wolverine with a comparison to how we smell
  • How do bugs and animals smell? Insects don’t have noses like we do but they do smell things in another way using their antennae. Stink bugs or shield bugs produce a bad smell to scare off predators.
  • Can you find out how spiders smell? They have sensitive hairs on their legs which detect smells.


A monthly guide to foraging responsibly:  There are also numerous books and courses on foraging. One of my favourite is The Foragers Calendar by John Wright which has plants from inland a coastal regions. Another good one is Food for Free by Richard Mabey

Provides useful info about sticky weed and other useful plants;

This gives brilliant facts about insects smells.

For great recipes see:

Over the coming Wildwood Adventures will look at the following themes:

  • Senses
  • Bugs and small worlds
  • ID activities
  • Simple arts and crafts
  • Teen activities
  • Whittling
  • Maths and Literature focus
  • Wet and windy activities

All feedback welcome and do get in touch if you have ideas of what you would like to see covered.

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