Foraging for our food.

Contributor: Yvette van Wijk.

This is how mankind lived for millions of years before the advent of agriculture. After about 10 to 20 thousand years ago, if you were a farmer or later lived in a town or city and bought all your food (that is us!),  foraging was looked down upon as a distinctly primitive way of living and was only for poor uncivilised peoples, however, the tide is turning. With all our present day anxiety about Global Warming and Climate Change, many modern people are taking a good look at just how healthy and sustainable foraging was as a way of life, and reviving it as a healthy addition or alternative to our modern mass produced junk food. It is easy to be over-the-top romantic and esoteric about an idea like this, but at the same time it is a fascinating and relevant way to go. It is important however not take it to extremes, and also keeps in mind that the way one lives and acquires food, has to be sustainable into the future, and into our children’s future.

All this is encapsulated in the foraging courses run by Roushanna and Gail Gray of Good Hope Nursery on the way to Cape Point. I attended one of their “Fynbos Foraging” days in September and then a “Coastal Foraging” day just recently at the end of November. A lot of the wild food plants were those I brought to the recent talk I gave to your Leisure Isle Garden Club at Eastford, we chatted about how to recognise and use them for food and for medicine, so I thought you might be interested to read about this. I do urge anyone planning a visit to the Cape Town area to look up to see what courses and events are on offer, you need to book quite far in advance as they restrict numbers and are very popular.

Good Hope Nursery is part of a larger farm-garden cum indigenous nursery, set in the Cape Peninsula Fynbos. It is a beautifully wild, rambling place, with veggie patches, Fynbos, thicket clumps and an assortment of animals. It all forms a charming backdrop to a fun day of learning, foraging, cooking and mixing, which culminates in a truly delicious lunch. The food gets prepared in what seems like a haphazard fashion, but it is actually very well orchestrated by Roushanna and Gail. Out of the bits and pieces that each participant chose to pick as we chattered and wandered around the large garden and wild areas, a variety of colourful and tasty dishes emerged. Not all of it was fynbos, but it was a mix of wild plants, flowers, leaves, weeds, tame salad leaves, and odd seeds and fruits. We even had cocktails a la Fynbos which were amazing and suitable decorated by the wonderful flowery ice cubes in the picture below! Instead of finishing at 2.30pm we left there at about 4pm having made new friends and had a wonderful thought-provoking day.

Beautiful flowery ice blocks Photo: Yvette van Qijk
Beautiful flowery ice blocks
Photo: Yvette van Qijk
Pools full of nutritious sea weed Photo: Yvette van Wijk
Pools full of nutritious sea weed
Photo: Yvette van Wijk
Foraging for seaweed at Scarborough Photo: Yvette van Wijk
Foraging for seaweed at Scarborough
Photo: Yvette van Wijk

The Coastal Foraging day was a must for me having enjoyed the Fynbos day so much. This was held at Scarborough where the pools are chock full of wonderful, healthy looking seaweeds at low tide. Again we were given a short lecture and very good notes and recipes, after having to show our seafood collecting permits to the SanParks rangers who turned up just as we were starting. Each person collected enough seaweed for ourselves for a meal and some alien Mediterranean mussels. We were shown how to tell the difference between our indigenous black, ridged and brown mussels and the alien invasive Mediterranean ones, which are the ones we should always try to pick. The sea was a wonderful range of turquoise to purple and the pools and rocks endlessly fascinating with their masses of living creatures and seaweed plants – seaweeds are classed as plants and are full of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and even protein.

Lunch nearly ready Photo: Yvette van Wijk
Lunch nearly ready
Photo: Yvette van Wijk
Sushi with Nori and Kelp Photo: Yvette van Wijk
Sushi with Nori and Kelp
Photo: Yvette van Wijk
Enjoying the foraged food Photo: Yvette van Wijk
Enjoying the foraged food
Photo: Yvette van Wijk

Once again we chopped, cooked and mixed up a wonderful spread for lunch – some people even enjoyed soothing seaweed facemasks, mashed up and applied by Roushanna. The pictures tell the story of the delicious food, the stars of the show being the Nori and Kelp shushi and the Nori chips. Not forgetting the scrumptious Mussel pot with cream, and a couscous salad made with the bright green Sea Lettuce. I am not giving recipes here, you must go to one of the courses to get those! However if I can find enough seaweed on our part of the coast I will share my own experiments with you later. It is difficult to find much seaweed here due to our sandy beaches, and seasonal pools which often fill up with sand. Interesting facts I did not know – there about 700 different species of seaweed growing around our coasts in South Africa, and only one is not edible though not poisonous – also seaweeds do not become inedible during red tides as other seafood does.