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Thought we might have a change of pace this week and discuss foraging. For those that don’t know what foraging is – it involves going outside and enjoying the great outdoors while you collect a variety of plant foods that can be found growing all around us. Now before anyone rings up to tell me how dangerous this can be – you are right, you do have to know what you are doing!

But incredibly foraging has become quite fashionable again – rather than out of necessity, which was certainly once the case – but for a number of reasons.

One them is a Danish chef called Rene Redzepi, considered to be one of the world’s finest chefs at present – he has an award winning restaurant called Noma.  The food produced by Redzepi  is all about  rediscovering the ancient art of foraging, putting wild edibles that many consider weeds back on the plate.

I have seen some fantastic sounding recipes from foraged food including Nettle and sorrel soufflé omelette with feta and purslane pies – just to name a few.

But it’s not just a chef thing, just in case you were thinking it was a spin off from all those cooking shows…. There are now people in Melbourne, a lady called Doris Pozzi is one who now makes her living hosting edible weed walks around Melbourne and the Yarra Valley along with some permaculture and cooking workshops.

She has some good foraging tips – that will also help to keep you safe

  • Learn to identify the weeds in your area using a field guide and photographs – when in doubt ask!
  • Avoid wild mushrooms unless you are experienced
  • Take gloves, a hat, scissors, field guide and a basket
  • Head off the beaten track – although for starters check your own backyard
  • Don’t pick weeds in urban waterways
  • Avoid anything you cannot identify
  • Try not to cause damage when harvesting – pick a few leaves from each plant
  • Take only what you need
  • Pick leaves just before serving – wild edibles wilt quickly
  • Wash the leaves well to remove grit

Culturally it is something that many Europeans, particularly southern Europeans are familiar with and even many of us with an anglo saxon background will probably remember doing a bit of foraging as a kid.

A lot of us can probably remember falling into a patch of stinging nettle as a child and spending the whole day in severe pain. But don’t let those memories put you off gathering the weed which is readily available around here. .

There is an art to picking nettles, it’s wise to use long gloves when handling raw leaves – and not wear shorts when you forage. If you do get stung by the plant’s acidic hairs, apply alkaline dock leaves ”or bite into a really, really hot chilli and that’ll take your mind off it”.

The payoff is the flavour. Nettles make intensely green, soups, sauces and pasta dishes.

There are books and courses that people can do these days as well. I am sure there are plenty of local foragers who can tell us what they have picked up over the years – some of the native foods that spring to mind include quandongs – if you know where the wild stands are, wild olives are another common one – particularly near olive plantations, along some weeds like purslane, dock, dandelions etc