Foraging in your own backyard

20 March 2018
Foraging is all the rage these days. There are guides, tours and blogs dedicated just to foraging. I think it's a great concept - find food that nobody else is using and use it. What I really like is how it pushes us to rethink where food comes from and the fact that edible things are all around us. It challenges the perception that something must come from a shop or market to be edible.

I have dabbled in a little foraging myself. I especially love a good fruit find - a wild tree/bush or an unused suburban specimen. My first experience with preserving olives involved myself and daughters going on 'olive hunts' through our neighbourhood to source our goods.

I have also dabbled in the occasional foraged greens but I must confess I find most of these to be a little bitter. I'm probably also pretty lazy about trekking around to find them when there are so many greens you can easily grow at home. And also so many things you can 'forage' in your own veg garden to use as greens.

And so I'd like to introduce the concept of 'garden foraging' (an oxymoron perhaps but let's go with it for now as it sounds a little better than 'foraging for lazy people') - using parts of the plants you already grow that you haven't thought of using before.


Pumpkin leaves - a great 'greens' option for summer.

Leaves

So many edible plants have edible leaves. As a general rule the smaller younger leaves are better to use but if you add enough garlic, olive oil and lemon juice most greens can be coaxed into tastiness (even those bitter wild foraged options).

  • My favourite find here is pumpkin leaves. They have a really nice flavour and best of all they are available at the end of summer when most other greens are looking decidedly sad. Use liberally in place of spinach/chard.
  • Other edible leaves I've used include sweet potato, brassicas, beetroot, nasturtium, fig and grape. I have tried carrot and radish leaves as well but they didn't really do much for me personally.
  • Of course you'll also find all the weed greens in the average garden too if you haven't yet given them a go - chickweed, stinging nettle, mallow and purslane to name just a few.


Stems


  • Chard/silverbeet is probably the big one here. You can chop finely and add along with their leaves to the dish you had planned or use as a veg filler in soups and stew. Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion features a very tasty stem gratin and also stem chips (I haven't tried the chips myself).
  • Young sprouting broccoli stems make great crudite if you have them growing in the garden.


Rainbow chard stems are both beautiful and delicious.

Shoots


  • Pea and broad been shoots are great additions to salads and stir-fries in the spring when there is not much ready for harvest yet.
  • Shoots from the squash family (zucchini, pumpkin and squash) can be used similarly. I've mostly utilised these in pasta dishes. I remember reading once that the first sign of spring in an Italian market is the appearance of the very young leaves and tendrils of squash plants, called tenerumi.


Flowers


  • The squash family feature here again - stuffed flowers are a delicious, if fiddly, addition to the menu plan. You can also just chop them roughly and toss in many dishes along with their vegetable counterparts or solo. I've tried them in pasta sauces, on top of pizza and in gratins (eg. zucchini flowers in a zucchini gratin).
  • Nasturtium flowers can add a little pepper and colour to a salad.
  • Herb flowers can be used anywhere you'd use the leaves or as an addition to herbal teas.


Nasturtium leaves, flowers and seeds are all edible.


Seeds

Saving your own seed is a great gardening habit if only for your next year's crop but there are many ways you can put these foraged goodies to use aside from sprouts and microherbs.

  • Once roasted, pumpkin seeds are delicious as a snack or as added crunch to any number of dishes. Definitely my most utilised seed in the kitchen - I can't believe how many I threw into the compost before I knew of their tasty goodness.
  • Nasturtium seeds are also garden gold as they can be turned into a substitute for capers. I finally made these last summer and have found them just as good as capers themselves. Which is handy when you have managed to kill at least two caper plants (even though they can apparently grow wild out of rocks and thrive on neglect).
  • Herb seeds can also make a nice addition to homemade teas. My favourites to use are fennel and coriander.


So there you have it, a crash course in 'garden foraging'. The easiest way to increase your garden yields without increasing your gardening efforts.

Have you tried foraging in the wilds or your own backyard?
Any interesting bits of plants that you use in the kitchen?

9 comments

  1. Laura, lots of great tips there. Have you seen Morag Gamble's blog, 'Our Permaculture Life' as she also makes the most of what is growing in her backyard which some of us would consider weeds. Also Linda Brennan has a lovely book 'A Delicious Bunch: Growing and cooking with edible flowers'. It is amazing what we have growing that we don't realise is edible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I love Morag's posts on this topic (and her other great stuff). I must check out if my library has that book, sounds interesting.

      Delete
  2. There's always seems to be something around for eating and getting our daily quota of greens. Pumpkin vines, the tender ends, are very popular in the Asian countries, where I first experienced them. A wonderfully educational post Laura. X

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's interesting to see what other cultures use and to see how much of what we eat (and when we eat it) is because of what our culture says is the way to do it.

      Delete
  3. I've recently learnt that the tender shoots of hop plants can also be eaten. We will be planting our hop bines as a screening plant for the hot Western sun next summer, so I hope to try them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This could be a good use for my hop plants as I'm yet to actually grow any hops! Maybe the plants will be more successful in Canberra....

      Delete
  4. I've been learning about edible weeds in my area. I learned that I have elderberry, bidens alba and spiderwart.
    :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jealous of the elderberries Nil. I've got grand plans if I ever stumble across one.

      Delete
    2. Regarding elderberry, I've read that only the flowers and berries are edible so you may want to be careful on that weed.

      Delete

Thanks for taking the time to comment. It's so great to hear from people who stop by and to know I'm not just talking to myself!

I review all comments and will not publish spam or comments that don't add to the conversation in a constructive and respectful way.

Search This Blog

2018. Powered by Blogger.

Follow by Email