An introduction to finding edible plants in the suburbs & city
What is urban foraging?
You don’t need to be in the bush to forage your dinner. The term urban foraging refers to gathering wild food growing in the suburbs & cityscape. Edible weeds, ornamentals, and native plants on public land are all on the menu. With a little know how you can find food on your morning walk, or on your way to the shop.
What do you need to know to stay safe?
The first rule, as always, is never eat anything unless you are 100% sure of what it is. The deadliest plants I have seen have been weeds growing on council land. Please forget any notion you may have that because the landscape has been urbanised that it somehow is safer than wild bushland. I personally suspect the opposite may true.
This is because unfortunately in the urban environment you are much more likely to encounter pollutants, herbicides, or other chemical catastrophes introduced by humans. Be aware of poisons that might get into the plants you are foraging such as lead in the soil, traffic fumes, polluted waterways, industrial contaminants or herbicides sprayed by council. Common sense and a little research is a fundamental of urban foraging.
Don’t let these points put you off. Chances are there is lots of delicious, free, fresh food growing around you. Not only only will urban foraging feed your body, it will also change your relationship with your local area.
What kind of food can you find?
There are lots of edible plants in the urban landscape if you know what to look for. Edible weeds are incredibly common and a great addition to your plate. Take Stellaris media (chickweed) for example which is found in backyards, parks, cracks in pavement, veggie gardens or pretty much anywhere it gets a chance. It is identified by its mohawk style hairs that grow on one side of the stem. This way it will not be confused with another similar looking enedible weed, petty spurge. Chickweed is a great addition to salads, sandwiches, or any dish you want to add a light green to. To learn which edible weeds you can eat I would recommend the Weed Foragers Handbook. It has the most common weeds, how to identify them, and recipes.
There are also trees that people plant because they look beautiful, and many don’t realise they are edible. One example of this is hibiscus. You may have seen the flowers in the occasional salad or perhaps in syrup for champagne, but did you know the leaves are also edible?
There is also a large amount of native food that has been deliberately planted. Creek lilli pillis have become a popular hedge tree in recent years, while grevillea are very common in suburban gardens and have edible nectar. Councils sometimes plant dianella, midgem berries or other bush tucker because they are low maintenance plants that need little water. You can find them outside libraries, at roundabouts and crossing etc. Two great books to help you become familiar with Australian wild food are: Bush Tukka Guide by Samantha Martin & Wild Food Plants of Australia by Tim Low.
How to get started?
The best way to learn is by doing a course or workshop with a professional in your local area. They can show you what grows commonly, what to look out for, and will most likely know how your particular local council deals with things such a herbicides (e.g. perhaps they put up signs or publish warnings in the local paper). We also recommend doing plenty of research particularly if you have allergies or are pregnant.
As always be sensible, and responsible for what you are putting into your body. This information is intended as inspiration for further research and should not be used as a stand alone guide. There is not enough information here to safely identify these plants.
Happy urban foraging!