First published in Mango Airlines Juice Magazine Oct Issue 2019. Words and Images by Lauren McShane.
LAUREN MCSHANE JOINS WILD FOOD FORAGER AND EDUCATOR, ROUSHANNA GRAY, FOUNDER OF VELD AND SEA, TO FORAGE FOR WILD FOOD IN PREPARATION FOR
A DELICIOUS FEAST.
As we strive to eat more healthily and live sustainably within cities, there is a need to look beyond ordinary grocery stores and return to growing and gathering wild food.
Roushanna’s smallholding is an edible landscape and an excellent foraging opportunity. (Always ask permission from landowners before foraging on private land and see below for South Africa’s strict laws on picking plants and why you should grow your own).
“Only pick what you need … you never know who’s visited before you and who will come afterwards, so pick a little sprig before moving onto the next plant,” advises Roushanna Gray, founder of Veld and Sea, before we embark on our foraging excursion.
I’m seated in a rustic cabin crammed with earthly treasures, each one paying homage to Roushanna’s insatiable passion for discovering fresh wild food favours and sharing indigenous plant recipes in her workshops. Tiny seeds, sun-dried blooms, chillies, shells, herbs and delicate bowls adorn the shelves along the walls. Syrups, juices and other delightful taste infusions line the table.
Veld and Sea’s roots stem from the tea garden Roushanna opened at the Good Hope nursery where she started teaching children about foraging and introduced wild flavours to the menu. “My husband is an indigenous plant landscaper who grew up here, and my mother-in-law Gayle ran the nursery.
In the beginning, I would run behind them on the mountain not knowing what they were talking about. I’d just scratch and sniff my way up the path imagining recipes while Gayle would help me identify plants – I’d work on how best to use them in the kitchen,” she explains.
“Mine is a hobby that got wildly out of control,” Roushanna chuckles. “I still have the same childlike joy sharing all of these favours.”
Like a growing number of urban foragers and South African chefs and mixologists, more and more locals are awakening to the fact that ample food grows naturally in South Africa in the form of seaweed, fynbos and edible plants. There are compelling reasons to opt for indigenous food. It’s better for the environment, plants are water-wise and it’s far healthier.
Roushanna still gets asked if we as humans can survive on foraging fynbos
just as the San (from the Khoekhoe word Saan, meaning people who gather wild food) once did. She explains that foraging is dependent on seasons, and is unsustainable for the masses due to overharvesting and urban encroachment already being a threat on our dwindling fynbos species.
The time comes for us to rub and sniff our way through the edible plants, owers and leaves on the table. Roushanna’s face lights up, Pelargoniums in hand, as she describes our winter rainfall season as one filled with fragrance. “As soon as the rain starts falling, the plants become lush, juicy and delicious. If you go for a walk in the mountains now and brush past a bush, it releases these beautiful oils and smells and if you brush past the same plant in summer it will be a completely different experience – you won’t have these beautiful fragrant smells.”
Rose Pelargoniums have a light, oral scent and the lemon variety, an uplifting scent that escapes onto my skin as I rub the leaves. There’s citrus buchu, mint and the pungent garlic buchu which is so strong it only needs to be brushed lightly to impart its scent. I’m in awe of the cacophony of aromas I’m encountering and their uses in the kitchen.
Baskets and secateurs in hand, we alight the rocky pathway, braving icy winds sweeping the mountainside, and give our plant identification skills
a go. Our goal is to prepare a three-course meal consisting of a spekboom, citrus and avo salad, wild green soup with bread and wild garlic butter, and wood- red pizzas. Baked cheeses with buchu and a poached pear dessert and botanical cocktails will finish it off. Relieved at the familiar sight of spekboom, a favourite with elephants and rich in vitamin C, I cut a few sprigs which I’m told will add a lovely lemony flavour atop our pizza.
An hour or so later I warm myself beside the fire with a floral-infused gin cocktail after kneading gluten-free dough and adding wild herbs to my pizza, which is in the oven. With the scent of mint and citrus buchu still on my fingers, I conjure up ideas of how and where I can start growing my own wild food.
Foraging Do’s and Don’ts
1. Make extra sure you identify a plant positively before you pick or eat it. Technology is a great tool but it could easily misinform you. Cross-reference with books and friends in the know, just to be safe.
2. Plant indigenous wild food in your garden and learn about their seasons, culinary and medicinal uses as well as how to preserve and prepare them. They’re full of micronutrients, Waterwise and drought resistant.
3. The food chain is delicate. Only pick what you need; one third for yourself, one third for regeneration and one third for pollinators and animals.
4. Don’t collect plants near a busy highway or areas with lots of leafy greens and roots easily absorb anything in the air, particularly heavy metals and other pollutants.
5. Strict South African laws govern where you can forage. Private land, forests and national parks are all prohibited. Plant your own instead.
WILD HERBS FOR YOUR KITCHEN
WILD MINT: Use fresh or sun-dried. Garnish drinks, salads and baked goods. Wonderful when used in baking and preserves, or substitute for normal mint.
LEMON PELARGONIUM: Makes a delicious iced tea or replacement for lemon in water. Use the edible pink owers as a garnish, in salads and for baking, and freeze them in ice cubes.
GARLIC BUCHU: Packs a potent garlic punch but is best for infusions. Good for flavouring vinegar and oil, salts and salad dressings. Add a sprig to melted butter and baste sh or vegetables.
SPEKBOOM: Once cooked it pairs well with egg dishes and is a great addition to stir-fries.
*Veld and Sea takes no responsibility for any adverse effects experienced from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.