De­li­cious ar­ray of food from na­ture

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS FEATURE - By SIMON ED­WARDS

You’re not likely to view fo­liage on the sides of streets and in re­serves in quite the same way again if you ever get the chance to go for a stroll with Jo­hanna Knox.

While most of us would see trees, bush and other ‘‘green stuff’’, this Welling­to­nian sees po­ten­tial in­gre­di­ents for a salad, leaves and seeds to give an in­ter­est­ing twist to a curry, or some­thing to flavour a very dif­fer­ent cup of tea.

Those aren’t weeds smor­gas­bord!

Who knew there were plenty of recipes for pine nee­dle tea, or that savoury pine vine­gar was es­pe­cially tasty. Or that the chick­weed fed to bud­gies is not only a healthy and yummy salad or stir-fry in­gre­di­ent but it is a bit of a su­per-food, with vi­ta­mins B, C and D and a re­spectable source of iron, cop­per, cal­cium and sodium.

Jo­hanna is a for­ager, and in-be­tween work as a writer (she’s on the com­mit­tee of

that’s

a the Welling­ton Chil­dren’s Book As­so­ci­a­tion and with de­signer hus­band Wal­ter is work­ing on a chil­dren’s book se­ries), she mod­er­ates the Wild For­agers Aotearoa google group and pens a highly in­for­ma­tive blog Wild Pic­nic – a gallery of ed­i­ble and use­ful wild plants in Welling­ton. It should be a first port of call for any­one in­ter­ested in the topic.

For­agers should not be con­fused with free­gans. The lat­ter are a dif­fer­ent breed, folk who are into all sorts of scroung­ing and waste use, in­clud­ing ask­ing restau­rants for kitchen left­overs and – at the ex­treme – ‘‘dump­ster div­ing’’.

As she took us on a tour of the cul­verts and hill­sides at McAl­lis­ter Park in Ber­ham­pore, the site of her first for­ag­ing ad­ven­tures be­fore she moved to Karori, Jo­hanna said she can’t quite re­mem­ber what got her started.

‘‘I’d al­ways been in­ter­ested in gath­er­ing plants and see­ing what I could do with them as a child.’’

Do­ing re­search for the MORSE Fu­ture of Food road­show was an­other eye opener and – in com­mon with many other for­agers – her in­ter­est in the en­vi­ron­ment and sus­tain­abil­ity was part of it too.

‘‘It def­i­nitely has links to my val­ues sys­tem.’’

That en­thu­si­asm for wild things ‘‘kicked in again’’ when she had her own chil­dren. It was good to ‘‘re­cap­ture that, get out­doors and do stuff with them’’.

She’s traced a his­tory of ‘‘ups and downs’’ in in­ter­est in for­ag­ing, with spikes at the time of the 1930s De­pres­sion and again dur­ing the hard times in the 1970s. She thinks that’s prob­a­bly why it’s on the in­crease again now.

‘‘Re­ces­sion­ary times and en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness: for­ag­ing speaks to both of those things re­ally.’’

An­other driver was that she wasn’t a par­tic­u­larly good gar­dener and didn’t have Wild fen­nel doesn’t have the kind of bulbs you’d find in a su­per­mar­ket, but just about ev­ery part of the plant can be used, even the pollen, says Jo­hanna Knox. that much gar­den space. It’s a per­fect past­time for apart­ment dwellers who want a con­nec­tion with the out­doors.

From feed­back and ques­tions to her web­site, it’s clear in­ter­est in for­ag­ing spans all ages.

‘‘There’s a lot of young peo­ple be­com­ing more in­ter­ested but there’s also a lot of older peo­ple who were do­ing it back in the 70s, and they’ve got in­ter­est­ing things to say,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s like the craft scene that is also go­ing through a re­vival.

The older peo­ple are say­ing you so long’?’’ Jo­hanna taught her­self from books. Two of the ‘‘clas­sics’’ are An­drew Crowe’s A Field Guide to Na­tive Ed­i­ble Plants and She­lia Na­tusch’s Wild Fare for Wilder­ness For­agers.

‘what took

But there are plenty of oth­ers, many of them out of print but able to be picked up sec­ond­hand.

She’s learned to ‘‘cross ref­er­ence’’ a lot.

Even with pho­to­graphs, it’s some­times dif­fi­cult to iden­tify var­i­ous plants and weeds – un­less you can go out with some­one who knows what they’re do­ing. There’s a for­ag­ing group in Manawatu, and a Kapiti cou­ple run tours.

An­other ex­cel­lent re­source is Lisa Johnston’s web-based Ed­i­ble Welling­ton – A Gath­erer’s Guide. With Google maps point­ing to ex­act lo­ca­tions and other for­agers’ in­put, peo­ple can view en­tries such as: ‘‘. . . Loads and loads of flatleaf pars­ley grow­ing wild by the road up to the Brook­lyn wind tur­bine’’, or at an­other lo­ca­tion ‘‘. . . Pear tree in the front yard, owned by an old for­eign gen­tle­man, who is happy for them to be taken. Knock on the front door first and ask . . . speaks lit­tle English so ges­tic­u­late.’’

Jo­hanna’s ad­vice is to go a lit­tle bit off the path to find ar­eas that haven’t been sprayed, or where dogs and birds have pooed. Look for lush growth rather than the first crop you come across. What about the dangers? Jo­hanna says peo­ple can’t go too far wrong with greens, but if you can’t pos­i­tively iden­tify it, don’t eat it. Ask coun­cil work­ers what they’re spray­ing; ‘‘ some­times it’s just hot wa­ter’’.

Even an ex­pe­ri­enced for­ager like Jo­hanna steers clear of fungi. A re­cent case in Bri­tain in­volved a man putting his en­tire fam­ily in hos­pi­tal with se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions af­ter feed­ing them what he thought were ed­i­ble wild mush­rooms. Do some re­search and check the Wild Pic­nic web­site.

Clover flow­ers are ed­i­ble, and when dried make a tasty and medic­i­nal tea. Like­wise dan­de­lions. But­ter­cups are poi­sonous.

‘‘Most peo­ple who start out for­ag­ing are very timid about wild carrot; there can be con­fu­sion be­tween it and hem­lock,’’ Jo­hanna says. ‘‘Once you know what you’re do­ing it’s fine, you can recog­nise the dif­fer­ence eas­ily.

Don’t in­gest too many wild herbs and show ex­tra cau­tion if you’re preg­nant.

But what a great ex­cuse to get more ex­er­cise. Get­ting out for a walk can sud­denly dou­ble up as food gath­er­ing.

Road­side har­vest:

Free food: Rob Jones gath­ers nas­tur­tium from the road­side. He likes the en­vi­ron­men­tal/ no-waste as­pect of for­ag­ing, and says it’s per­fect for cooks who like to ex­per­i­ment.

Din­ner is served: Rob Jones’ salad in­cor­po­rat­ing beach spinach, cheese, straw­ber­ries and nas­tur­tium flow­ers is ac­com­pa­nied by a nas­tur­tium pesto spread on salmon.

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