Teacher gives up decade-long education career to become professional city forager


A Bristol educator who swapped her schoolbooks for plant guides by becoming a professional city forager says her newfound passion has given her inner peace.

Maria Fernandez Garcia, 31, from Bristol, always enjoyed the art of gathering.

However, it wasn’t until the country was thrown into a global pandemic that she took up foraging professionally, quitting her job as a teacher in April 2021.

Maria now spends her days cooking up mushrooms and sipping on nettle tea – all found at her local park – and attributes her success to the recent lockdown causing a ‘boom’.

‘Foraging is my way of finding peace,’ she said. ‘It’s a way to connect with nature and take time out from the stresses of the day.’

She added: ‘It’s not going to fill the food cupboards, but it will add nutrition and peace into your daily routine.’

Maria spent 10 years working as a teacher for children excluded from school or with additional needs, and became intrigued in the learning more about the plants she walked past every day.

‘I did some courses and I was blown away with how little I knew and how powerful plants could be,’ she explained.

However, it wasn’t until last year that Maria decided to leave education and start her company, Healing Weeds.

Having saved some money from her teaching job, she took the plunge to see if anyone else wanted to ‘nerd out’ with her about plants – and business has been booming ever since.

Maria credits this to the ‘daily walks’ many took during the pandemic, saying: ‘I think lockdown made people slow down.

‘They were doing the same walks every day and realising that they don’t know much about the plants around them.’

And Maria insists city living shouldn’t stop you from exploring the natural world.

She said: ‘The plants are going to come through just like they are elsewhere, and the city gives them loads of different environments.

‘Yarrow likes dry soil, you find this plant everywhere in the city, as well as plantain weed which are often found near park paths.’

According to Maria, this time of year is one of abundance in city parks despite the cold weather, due to a ‘second spring’.

‘It actually happens across Europe,’ she said. ‘The moisture comes back, and it becomes a little bit cooler, causing plants to regrow.

‘So plants that you might assume are spring plants are coming back now like cow parsley and dandelion leaves.’

It’s also apparently a great time for foraging roots, though ‘legally you can’t uproot a plant in your local park’.

Maria added: ‘But you could dig up dandelion or burdock roots in your garden.’

The full-time food finder claims that certain immune-boosting plants can help people stay healthy through the winter months.

She explained: ‘Rose hips are rich in vitamin C as well as hawthorn berries, which are out at the moment.

‘There’s a common mushroom called Turkey Tail mushroom, which is an incredible immune boosting mushroom.

‘These work like supportive aids and build your body’s resilience.’

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