Monday, June 3, 2013

Foraging Workshop

The first day of winter heralded not just a change of seasons, for me, it was the start of learning and exploring the natural, local world of edibles around me. I have always been interested in finding out what's edible and what isn't. I suppose the fear of being lost and starving in the wilderness has fuelled some of this curiosity. I am known to wonder out loud if the ducks and swans in the lakes are edible. Channel Living (Woodbridge's not-for-profit community organisation) put together a foraging workshop with the help of the knowledgeable and passionate Paulette Whitney from Provenance Growers recently. 

My first introduction to foraged foods go back to high school where I remember vividly an Indigenous bush tucker chef came to demonstrate to our Home Economics class a lesson in Indigenous foods. We tried all sorts of bush tucker – Davidson's plums, warrigal greens, lemon myrtle, quandongs, macadamias and a few wriggly specimens. I remember the fat, creamy Witchetty grubs being flash fried in butter. Not wanting to be squeamish, I tried one and then a second one – they tasted a bit like prawns I remember. Rather delicious! I have not forgotten that Home Ec lesson and have always longed to be able to repeat that day of experimenting with food that was completely alien to me. 

The foraging workshop took place in one of the Co-op member's property. The property is up in the hills of Birchs Bay with stunning views overlooking d'Entrecasteux Channel and Bruny Island. From above we could see clouds rolling in on the horizon and down below, in the calm waters were floating big pens of salmon where aquaculture, I believe is thriving. Paulette had brought some samples with her and laid out on the table were specimens she had picked from her property and from nearby parks. These were then passed around so we could all try. 
(view from the hills of Birchs Bay)
(beautiful day for foraging)

These were some of the plants we tried:
sea celery/sea parsley
sea blite
chick weed
flick weed
sheep's sorrel
corn spurry
shepherd's purse
fat hen

(table full of edibles)

(the blackberry nightshade)

Some of the plants that stood out for me were sea celery with its lovely salty flavour, samphire – little pops of salt and texture, sheep's sorrel with its refreshing lemony aftertaste, fumitory for its bitter effect and nettles for its slight buzzy tingling in my throat. I must say after a morning of trying all sorts of plants and weeds – the herbaceous, grassy green after-taste lingered long in my mouth.

(silver wattle)

We walked around the property to see what we could forage and we did find a few things. Some of the edible things we found on our walk were: buckhorn plantain (a common weed in lots of gardens); blackberry nightshade, Hawthorn, red native currants, Kangaroo apples (make sure the berries are super ripe before you eat them). Silver wattle flowers, according to Paulette make a good sweet addition to pancake batter. She continued to tell us that Spanish heath flowers were being used to smoke mutton birds as part of the Savour Tasmania food festival. That would have been an interesting combination! I learned that tree ferns are edible although at the expense of the plant – as to crack open its starchy heart would mean killing the tree. Native cherry berries are also edible, reeds. clumps of miners lettuce and sticky weed were among some of the found edibles in the property. There were a few more edibles I didn't quite catch unfortunately. A few helpful tips cropped up too in Paulette's workshop. Fumitory is used in cheesemaking to curdle milk. Plantain is good for healing cuts and wounds, petty spurge's milky sap is used to treat skin cancers and eczema.

Another important thing to note with foraging is that with some plants look like other plants and one can easily mistake a poisonous plant for an edible one. I certainly made that mistake – in certain section of our own property I've seen a mass of what I thought to be comfrey, luckily I checked with Paulette. These turned out to be the not so edible Fox Glove. She also made us aware of the fashionable trend of restaurant chefs foraging for ingredients - with Tasmanian chefs leading the way - and it makes sense when we have such a variety of edibles right on our doorstep.The good news is I have buckhorn plantain, Spanish heath, sticky weed and fumitory growing everywhere, a ton of forget-me-nots and nasturtiums and a good-looking silver wattle which I intend to add to my pancakes. I don't think I'll look at 'weeds' the same again but now, at least, I don't just have the sole option of composting them – I can choose to eat them as well. Imagine eating more than a dozen herbs and plants all collected from your garden – give your lettuce and rocket salad a break and your body will thank you for the diversity of minerals and vitamins you're introducing to your system.

For more information on the good things that Channel Living do - visit:  

For a thorough read on Tassie's wild grown and cultivated foods, and thoughtful writing, read:

(of course, i couldn't resist taking a pic of this cute fungi growing out of this piece of dung)

No comments:

Post a Comment