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Hustles + Hobbies: Foraging and Plant Care With Selina Bakkar

by in Lifestyle on 20th January, 2022

At Amaliah, we’ve started a series talking to women who are championing the art of hobbies. We’ve spoken to Esra Alhamal about the art of Islamic Illumination Azeezat Adeola about mindfulness in knitting, how to get started and knitting for social issues, Neda about pole fitness, body confidence and online trolls, Chaimaa Creates about baking and cake design, Katie Haseeb about illustrating and fine arts, Brooke Benoit about jewellery design, Nur Hannah Wan about documentary-making and painting, Jannat Hussain about her journey to becoming an artist, and Firdaws Clotaire about ceramics and pottery-making.

This time, we’re speaking to Selina Bakkar about all things foraging, plants and how to be at one with nature.

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How did you get into this hobby?

I’m not sure exactly when my fascination with the plant world began but I do remember that it was something that helped my mental health. I remember when my daughter was born I would take her outside to look at the leaves and trees and it was a way for me to get some movement and fresh air into my first few days of motherhood. I spent perhaps no more than 15-20mins outside daily but I began to notice the subtle changes in the plants each day.

I know that my interest then manifested from tending to house plants and propagating them. Slowly, this extended into growing vegetables, fruit, herbs and now foraging. I still turn to the plant world when I feel a range of emotions and learn a lot from observing them, they teach me a lot. I remember seeing a ‘weed’, I don’t really like that word because a lot of ‘weeds’ have medicinal properties, but I remember seeing the dandelion flower rising from a crack in the pavement on my way to work and it reminded me that no matter your environment, you can cultivate inner beauty and strength.

What is your favourite thing about foraging?

Getting lost in my own world and switching off from the day to day to-do lists and pressures. I think we all need no brain activities where we return to a sense of play. For me, it’s the curious child-like play where I go to the forest or even my local park and see what I can find or admire. I also love that it helps me cultivate a relationship with the earth.

Allah made us from clay and to know the earth in some ways feels that I know myself.

What is the most challenging thing about foraging?

My current challenge is finding a foraging community that I can meet with regularly.

I am really thankful to my friend Lee who comes down to London every season and leads foraging walks in different locations but I think I’d love to have a foraging group almost like a book club perhaps but for now, my online Telegram and Facebook communities are a real help. I can post pictures of things I find and they will be able to identify them or signpost me. I also lead a small group of homeschooling children who are interested in nature sometimes and this can feel challenging because children want all the answers and are ready to try everything! I do love their curiosity and enthusiasm. My own children also have been amazing at encouraging me and taking interest in what I love. Also a big thanks to family and friends who are prepared to try everything I forage!

How do you stay motivated?

God’s timing.

By that I mean the natural seasons are a prompt for me and this helps me stay engaged and motivated. Nature, as it is and untouched, provides a guided course, in fact, every month, every season brings new herbs, fruit or vegetables to taste and learn about, I definitely don’t know it all and being aware of this also keeps me grounded.

Plants and nature, in general, are featured and mentioned throughout the Qu’ran and Sunnah which is also a great source of inspiration and motivation for me. Stones and trees used to greet the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ before and during his prophethood. He used to understand the language of animals. He comforted a palm tree that was crying and upset after he stopped leaning on it during his sermons.

“There is none amongst the Muslims who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but is regarded as a charitable gift for him.” (Bukhari)

I choose to look at my craft from different angles so it may be that I know a plant is edible but next I will look into the medicinal properties or how indigenous tribes and communities used that particular plant. The way you approach a hobby can be multidimensional. Most recently, I have been interested in understanding which plants are not native to the UK and tracing their history and heritage back to their country of origin. There is a lot of similarity in the movement of plants and people. May we be as accepting of people as we are plants. 

What is the work that you are most proud of, and why?

I don’t think it’s necessary a physical piece of work but the mental catalogue that I have managed to create and retain. I’m getting to the point where I probably could whip up a small meal wherever I go Insha Allah or find medicine a.ka. a plant with the relevant properties.

I think relying on or gathering knowledge from other foragers and cultivating a community is also something I am proud of. Whilst I use books and online resources, a lot of my knowledge is gathered from asking others and even randomly talking to people in parks or in the summer those tending to their gardens! I am naturally curious and inquisitive so this has helped.

Between your hobby and work, family, personal errands etc. how do you organise your time and make sure that you’re staying on top of everything?

I think quite simply if you enjoy something and have found a passion you will be committed to ensuring that you organise your time and honour all the opportunities from work, mothering to daily to do’s. I try to approach life from the perspective of living purposefully and I find something like foraging and growing vegetables are essentially daily errands as like cooking or praying. It’s very much become a part of my life and I often reflect on the fact our ancestors never saw something like this as a hobby, it was done to exist.

Who are your biggest inspirations/who are the people making waves in this field?

When I first entered I noticed I was coming across a lot of white spaces individuals who had knowledge but there often isn’t an acknowledgement of indigenous people along with Black and Brown history in this space. Below are just a few of my favourite platforms and people:

What would be your advice for someone that wants to get into foraging?

I guess just start where you are and often that is your window view or doorstep. Work on identifying the green you see around you, on your daily journeys and stay curious!

Selina Bakkar

Selina Bakkar

I'm a simply striving to be better and improve in different areas of my life through more self awareness, experiences and learning more about the deen. You'll find me talking about community, connection, planting & growing, seeking the truth in an age of propaganda and misinformation. This year I want to document more to do with food heritage and history so watch this space or reach out. Have a listen to the Amaliah Voices podcast where I talk passionately about Islam, nature, motherhooding and back home. Link in bio peeps. To join the Amaliah Writer Community email me at IG: SelinaBakkar