I realise that for most people growing food in your veggie patch and foraging wild food are completely separate and different things. And for a lot of the time, they are. Yet the more I do both, the more similarities I see between the two, and the more I find that they use the same skills set of understanding plants.
I love foraging for wild food. I also love growing fruit & veg in my little veggie patch. So today I thought I would explore the differences, similarities and benefits of doing both.
Wild food, bush tucker, freegan.
Foraging is relatively new to me. It has really only been 3 years that I have been actively seeking out my own wild food. The joy and connection with nature it has bought me has amazed me (you can read this article about it if you’d like). I love discovering strange new foods that I’ve never tried before. Living in Australia, the driest inhabited country on earth, I also love that they are suited to this environment (unlike many if the “European” foods of our cultural heritage). But the biggest advantage of foraging over harvesting cultivated plants, is that there is no outlay in energy to get them growing. You just arrive, and collect your meal. As of yet I don’t have expectations of crops being at a place at a certain time of year, so there is no chance of a let down if, say, there was a bug infestation. This may change over time, but I still never expect it to reach the kind of hopes you pin on fruits and veg growing in your garden as wild food is exactly that, and doesn’t require care or maintenance.
What I didn’t realise about foraging before I dove into it, was the large amount of “urban foraging” there is to be done. Weeds & house hold plants that are grown as ornamentals turn out to be edible (eg, hibiscus). My previous conception of foraging was that it happened in the bush, and would be mighty helpful if you were lost (also not true. Do this course if you think that. Food is comparatively LOW on your priority list). I soon realised that there was forging to be done pretty much everywhere… Including in my veggie patch, so overnight a few plants changed from “those weeds I gotta get to” to “salad”.
Harvesting from the Veggie Patch
Veggie patch, home grown produce, gardening.
I’ve had some type of herbs or salad or something edible growing for about 10 years now, including a small stint working on an organic farm. Although my love for foraging has blossomed (pun intended), the veggie patch has not wained or been placed second by any means. So with the necessary outlay of energy (and sometimes monetary) cost, why do I still do it? The biggest reason is because I like those foods. The familiar foods. The ones I know how to cook with and that other people know about too. I also love spending time in the garden, tending the plants and watching them grow. Since they are all in one small spot a few meters from my house this is easy to do regularly.
Foraging for wild food has increased the amount of knowledge I have about identifying plants and plant families. Gardening already provided my with an understanding of different soils, different conditions that plants like and how plants act when they are healthy or stressed. The two activities compliment each other very well.
“that which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet”
As my understanding of plants expands the terminology I use to have didn’t make sense anymore. If foraging was including eating garden plants that were deliberately cultivated as ornamentals, this was not by any means “wild food”. Similarly, many of our wild weeds in Australia are garden plants elsewhere, even grown in veggie patches in other countries. It quickly became apparent that the category I was putting plants into said more about my cultural understandings of a plant, than the plant itself.
It is also worth considering that long term foraging leads to caring for plants, and creating environments in which they produce more food. This large scale ‘farming with nature’, such as the traditional aboriginal techniques such as burning, is a further example of where the lines between foraging and harvesting cultivated plants becomes blurry.
I decided that with Forage & Harvest I would look at all edible plants whether they are wild, cultivated, ornamental, weeds, introduced, or native. If you can eat it, I want to know about it so that we as a community can keep this information alive and teach people how to eat from the Earth.
If you have any thoughts about this topic, I’d love to hear them, use the comment section below. And if you haven’t joined the Forage & Harvest community yet make sure you add your email at the bottom of the screen so you don’t miss out on information to help you eat from the earth.