If you want to include more organic and whole foods in your diet, you might have to look no further than your own backyard and neighbourhood. Foraging is not a new concept but it is fast becoming a trend because people want to go back to basics and enjoy the beauty that nature provides while embracing our natural history.
Foraging is the act of searching for and gathering food that grows in the wild, from a wide variety of leaves, and herbs to fruit and vegetables that grow in your garden, parks, farms, bushes and even around beaches. Many of us get our food from the supermarkets, not knowing that food is growing abundantly around us. Loubie Rusch, who is an award-winning indigenous food activist, urban forager and author of Cape Wild Foods: A Growers Guide, shares with us that foraging is a way for people to reconnect. “What drives my work is to see our local and indigenous foods being eaten again because we have lost connection with them since we do not eat more of the food grown in our own country.”
Not only is foraging a great way to identify with our rich history but it also helps reduce our carbon footprint. By taking foraging walks and collecting wild plants, you are driving less, reducing plastic usage, decreasing food waste created during production and distribution, and eating fewer animal products (which have a high carbon footprint). Loubie takes regular Wild Food Walks outside Stellenbosch where she accompanies groups and teaches them about wild plants and how to forage sustainably.
Although it is encouraged to explore your surroundings, we still have to practise it in a sustainable manner and not cause damage just because it is accessible. Loubie says: “If you set a standard and say you will collect only 20% of indigenous plants, then the next person comes to collect 20% and the next until there’s nothing left. It is better to educate people about indigenous foods until they can plant them on their own while teaching them that there are common plants that you can forage away without threatening the ecosystem.”
There are many wild plants to collect in abundance. These include morogo, wild garlic, dandelions, spekboom, num-num fruit and many wild leafy greens. They can be made into delicious stews, wild teas, pestos, pastries and salads. But before you embark on your first foraging adventure, here is a list of five things to consider.
1. Don’t break the law
Foraging where it is illegal will get you arrested, so ensure you are not on private property and do not remove a plant without permission. Rather speak to a farmer and ask to forage on their land or visit your local foraging groups beforehand.
2. Be aware of poisonous plants
Ensure what you pick is actually edible. For example, some mushrooms are exotic while some are poisonous – this needs a trained eye.
3. Be mindful of where you’re picking
If you are picking near busy roads, the car exhaust fumes can affect the taste, while some plants around traffic areas are sprayed with chemicals.
4. Pick with discretion
Some wild food is for the wild and you could be interrupting the ecosystem by taking food away from animals. Loubie adds: “Our natural environment has been significantly reduced by agriculture and urbanisation, so it is our responsibility as foragers to not add more pressure.”
5. Find a group or expert
For all of the above reasons, it is better to speak to others who have more experience than to go at it alone.
For those in Cape Town and the surrounds who want to join Wild Food Walk to learn about indigenous as well as weedy wild foods, you can buy tickets here.
For people wanting to discover more about Local WILD, a non-profit that is promoting the reintegration of local indigenous foods into our lives and food ways, click here, or visit the Local WILD Food Store here.