Forage Diary

By Jo Phillips

The Raw and Wild Beauty by Rhug Estate skincare range, founded by Lord Newborough, includes wild foraged ingredients from the Rhug Estate in North Wales.  Converted to organic farming over 20 years ago and the only farm in the UK to hold a Royal Warrant, it is a unique landscape where the air is clean and the soil is rich in natural nutrients, being free from pesticides and artificial products. Here we get an insider’s view of the head forager on his life picking raw nature for the products; enjoy Forage Diary. Illustrations Sarah Duguid.

Here is a glimpse into the diary of Richard Prideaux, Head Forager, at the Rhug Estate. Richard has been foraging since he was a child – it was something his family instilled in him from an early age and he has grown up with an innate understanding of the countryside and is passionate about what nature has to offer. We join him as he documents the harvesting of the naturally foraged ingredients over the months at Rhug: waiting for particular plants to flower and mature.

Sometimes they need to find buds and at other times flowers or leaves, waiting for the optimum time to pick each different part of the plant. Sustainable foraging is key to the ethos of the Estate, as Lord Newborough is passionate about leaving the environment a better place for the next generation.  For this reason, Richard and his team ensure that their foraging is spread across a wide area of the 12000 hectares of the estate so that no one area is depleted of their precious natural resources.

14th March

We start picking hawthorn around now and any time from February to May, as this is the time that hawthorn flowers start to bloom and I take that as a sign that spring is on its way. This abundant shrub is widely found across the UK and the young leaves in early spring have long provided a tender, slightly starchy trail snack for children walking to school and miners on their lunch break, we often graze a little on these as we are out picking. The berries are ripe from September time and can be used to make wine or into ‘leathers – a sort of fruit jerky in the Autumn months, or grazed straight from the tree-just beware the large stone in the middle!  Hawthorn is a rich source of antioxidants known to protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals. Its anti-inflammatory properties can soothe and reduce redness. Hawthorn is found in products across the range, in the cleanser, eye cream, and tonic.

1st of June

It’s Gorse picking day today, so we have got our thick gloves on!  We are enjoying a wonderfully wet and mizzly day today but hopefully, that will mean we won’t be in too much competition with the estate bees who love the bright yellow gorse flowers. Gorse is known to have astringent properties that can help to tone and tighten the skin, as well as antifungal properties that help keep the skin clean, and it is found in the wild Beauty serum and cleanser amongst other products.  

20th of June,

Elderflowers are in bountiful supply this year but the heatwave we have been experiencing has made competition with the locals even more intense! We love picking elderflowers here and often meet other residents of the estate whilst we are out foraging in the hedgerows. Elderflower cordials, jams, and gins must be bursting out of the various kitchens in the local area. You do have to be quick with Elderflowers as they go over within a single day in the recent heat, so I have been keeping an eye on my favourite patches across the estate to make sure we pick them at the perfect moment when the flowers are as fresh as they can be! Elderflowers are a powerful anti-inflammatory which helps to reduce the premature signs of ageing, they have a wonderfully fresh smell and are found in the skin tonic and the eye cream as well as other products in the range.

1st of July

The humble dandelion is ignored by many and pulled up or sprayed by gardeners across the nation, but it is rich in minerals such as Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium & Phosphorus, which help hydrate tissue and support the overall skin function. The entire plant is edible from the roots to the flowers. The leaves are easy to use as a salad leaf, with a peppery flavour like rocket, and the flowers can be used to make a syrup or essence. Found in the eye cream and serum, as well as the cleanser and skin tonic, it is antimicrobial and antioxidant-rich to fight free radicals and improve skin appearance.  I love listening to podcasts as I pick the forage, on a fine day, my job is the best in the world!

7th of July

Herb Robert is a pink-flowered herb known to have astringent properties to tone skin, it also contains antioxidants. Found commonly in gardens up and down the country, it is a very strong plant with seeds that can survive for 7 years out of the soil, germinating when they find themselves in even the shallowest depth of compost. You are probably familiar with it growing in the cracks between patio flagstones and we find it in stoney ground across the estate. It’s really quite a pleasant day spent foraging for this scented plant in the shade of one of the woodlands and listening to the birdsong. Known to have anti-rheumatic, astringent, and vulnerary attributes, it can ease bruises and swelling and is found in many of the products of the range such as the day and night cream.

10th of July

Collecting nettles today, some might think this is a dangerous task, but once you are a seasoned nettle picker, you know how to handle these tricky customers. There are hollow hairs all over the nettle plant which deliver the chemical ‘sting’ as they are fine enough to puncture the top layers of skin. The effects don’t last for long however and if you grasp the nettle firmly, it breaks these hairs off meaning that they can’t do their job.  We always pick the young tender leaves that the top of the plant.  Nettle is a rich source of iron and protein, and when cooked, the hairs wilt, leaving you with a leafy green that has a glorious earthy flavour very similar to spinach. It helps to improve overall skin health with its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, and astringent properties and contains skin radiance boosting vitamins A, C D & B. Nettle is found in many of the products including the tonic and the cleanser, and is abundant on the estate.  

16th July

Yarrow is a plant that you have probably seen in hedgerows and pastures, it has lovely white flowers and frondy leaves.  We pick it in midsummer to ensure the plants are at their absolute best. It is a natural anti-inflammatory, it soothes dry or irritated skin. It has been shown to promote the regeneration of skin cells and is found in many of the products including the lip balm and the day cream. Yarrow works best when treated as a soft herb – sautéed in butter and used as a garnish, made into a purée, or added to a dessert, I personally always have it handy in my kitchen to use in cooking crushed up with some sea salt and used to season rich meats.

20th July

After quite a bit of rain and some strong winds which gave us a chance to catch up on paperwork, we are able to get back out on the estate for Lemon Balm today, which is a member of the mint family. This plant contains caffeic and ferulic acid, which are potent antioxidants, giving it the ability to help the skin protect itself against environmental stressors. It has a wonderfully fresh smell as you can imagine and I always have some of this handy in the kitchen for seasoning or to liven up a peppermint tea. This ingredient is found in most of the range, particularly in the mask and night cream.

8th August

The weather is set fine this week and we decide to make a start on the heather harvest. Heather is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is found in all the products in the Wild Beauty range as it works to counteract damage caused by free radicals and modern pollution. It is additionally a rich source of tannins, which help protect the skin from damage. As a result, we need quite a bit of this, luckily both of the native heathers are used in the range and the foraging bags look incredibly attractive when filled with the two shades of purple. This is one of the favourites to forage as it involves going high up onto the moorland which offers views over the valley and leaves us walking through a sea of purple, popping the odd Bilberry into our mouths as we go.

10th September

Meadowsweet has a long season for picking as the leaves appear in Spring but flowers aren’t visible until June/July and the plant stays around until late August into September. The flowers are worth seeing and appear as white candy floss-like plumes atop the pinnate (meaning feather-like) leaves which line a tall stem. The whole plant contains Salicylic Acid which works to remove dead skin cells from the skin surface for a more even skin texture. It is in the skin tonic, the eye cream, the cleanser, and the serum and helps reduce inflammation and irritation, whilst its astringent properties help tone and tighten the skin. Meadowsweet prefers to grow in damp conditions and we collect it primarily from the banks of the river and a steeply banked stream, which requires some rather agile manoeuvring whilst wearing chest-high waders.   

Other Ingredients from the Estate

Organic Oats

Oat oil is rich in antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, it also soothes and promotes cellular turnover.

Spring Water

The freshest water from natural sources on the Estate is used in our products to ensure that as much as possible is local, natural, and sustainable.

Organic Honey

It is known to have natural healing properties whilst moisturising and nourishing the skin. It can also promote collagen building and helps to protect the skin barrier.

Organic Beeswax

A humectant that forms a protective barrier on the skin’s surface. It is a rich source of Vitamin A for improved hydration and cellular turnover.

Visit the site to view and buy the products Rhug Wild Beauty.com and if you enjoyed this article, forage diary, why not read Building Film Here