Foraging for Communion
There are things seen and things unseen and inbetween are people like Diego Bonetto and Oliver Brown. The pair recently ran a seaside foraging workshop in Clovelly, Sydney, a beachside suburb known for its rocky coastline and beautiful bays. Walking back home after the informative day, a whole new world revealed itself before my eyes. Suddenly, I could spy a patch of saltbush by the showers. Over there a lush and vibrant stand of amaranth tangled up with wild mustard by the sandy shore. Perhaps the most enlightening moment was after Oliver’s session on the rocky outcrop known as Shark Point, where he instructed us on how to gather sea salt. Walking back I noticed piles of salt left in shallow dips in the rock and I couldn’t help but smile at how simple it is to collect this abundant and free resource that we use at home everyday. What is it that stands in our way?
The answer ultimately lies in why Bonetto, also known as The Weedy One, decided to run his Wild Food workshops all over Sydney and beyond. His mission is to not only open people’s eyes to the vast variety of edible and medicinal plants growing wild in the city, but to also encourage communities to engage with their local ecology, something that Brown, an archaeologist, is also passionate about. As Brown puts it, it needn’t be more complex than enjoying a ripe pigface fruit as you wander through the dunes at your local beach, or snack on some rambling dock. These simple interactions embed the local plants into our lives and ultimately our culture, something that used to occur without thinking only a few generations ago, but which is our generation’s duty to reclaim.
Our day started off in Clovelly and we slowly wandered around to Gordon’s Bay, taking in some buckhorn plantain and rock samphire on the way. I’d never tasted rock samphire before and the taste of the crunchy, juicy seeds with that salty fresh taste that only coastal plants can imbibe still lingers on my lips. As we wondered back around the bay towards Shark Point, the pair pointed out and gathered samples of fat hen (a true spinach substitute), onion weed, purslane, sorrel, rambling dock and sow thistle. Brown suggests the ultimate way to enjoy these wild greens is all mixed up in a salad so you can enjoy the varying degrees of sour and bitter flavour. Wild greens such as these tend to be more strongly flavoured than their supermarket counterparts however the nutritional pay off is worth it and your palate adjusts quickly. Plants gathered in the wild are among the most vital and potent; including even just a small amount of wild food in the diet is better than none at all, the vital nutrients of the plants being much more abundant when freshly picked.
When we get to Shark Point, Brown takes us out to where the tide is coming in over the rocks to sample sea lettuce, golden kelp and Neptune’s pearls. Being a surfer and ocean lover since my teens I was surprised at how delicious these strands of “pearls” tasted. I began to look at the landscape in a whole new way. We sampled fresh urchin, pickled abalone but my favourite was the turban snail that Brown had gathered from the rocks just two days prior and preserved in olive oil.
As our workshop drew to a close we wrapped up by going over the plants and sea-life we had encountered during the day. Bonetto spread out some samples and there were twenty two different specimens there alone, not including the sea greens and various other weeds that we saw but weren’t in season. As Brown puts it it’s a crime of geography to not engage with our coast in such an intimate way, to be in communion with the plants and creatures, especially when they are so varied an abundant. Although the pair cautioned against foraging from areas where pollution and spraying by council occur, they encouraged people to start in their own backyards and venture out into well-known territory. Bonetto’s eyes lit up as he encouraged us to see more than just a generic green carpet in and around the city. Look closer, he urged and it hasn’t been hard putting this into practice since.
TIPS FOR FORAGING
- Forage Where You Know
- Positively Identify Everything
- Be A Steward of the Land - take only what you need