How to forage and gather in your own backyard

Food foraging

Alex White

Posted September 13, 2021


From mussels to edible ‘weeds’, here’s how to forage for Mother Nature's best.

Empty supermarket shelves and delays in delivery times have many of us thinking about how to be more self-sufficient. You know, live 'off the grid', if you will.

And why not, because foraging for your supper with the sun at your back, in the forest or even beside a suburban creek is an altogether more rewarding experience than plucking provisions from a fluoro-lit supermarket aisle.

But before you indulge your inner hunter-gatherer, it’s essential to know not just where to look, but more critically what you’re looking for. Some wild greens and wild mushrooms are highly toxic, so be sure you can identify what you pick and, if in doubt, leave it out.

Here’s our guide to where the wild things grow.


How to get the best out of your bounty.

 

Edible weeds

When: Year round.

Where: Merri Creek, Dandenong Ranges, Balnarring and Daylesford.

Look for: Dandelions growing in open fields, nettles, mallow and chickweed among the weeds on creek banks. “The secret to nettles is to be rough to damage the fragile silica,” says Reade Smith of Reade’s Weeds tours. “Take a pair of gloves.”

Try them: Dandelion flowers make an edible garnish or can be crumbed and fried, while young leaves are good for salads. To prepare nettles, remove the leaves from the stem, blanch or fry with oil until leaves are wilted, and add to gnocchi or risotto.

Beware of: Poisonous weeds. Never eat any plant you cannot identify.

Pine mushrooms

When: The season runs February to June.

Where: Red Hill, Yarra Valley, Mount Macedon and the Dandenong Ranges. Check under pine trees where they are often concealed under a carpet of needles.

Look for: Their distinctive burnt-orange colour and inverted cone shape.

Try them: Sliced and sauteed with butter and garlic on a pizza.

Beware of: Poisonous wild mushrooms including the innocuous-looking death cap. Reade Smith says pine mushrooms are easy to identify but recommends avoiding other varieties.

 

parent surrounded by toys in lounge room

Mushrooms can be hidden, so make sure you have a good look!  Image: Getty. 


 

Coastal delights

What: Pigface, samphire, purslane and wild mustard.

When: Summer for best harvest. Where: Black Rock, Beaumaris and the Mornington Peninsula.

Look for: Plants hidden among the shoreline vegetation and on seaside rocks.

Try: Purslane and samphire blanched or fried with butter and added to potato salads, stews and soups. Pigface produces a reddish-purple fruit that tastes like a salty strawberry. The leaves can also be eaten and have medicinal properties similar to aloe vera.

Beware of: Foraging plants is restricted in some areas so obey local signs and council rules.

Blackberries

When: Late summer and autumn.

Where: Dandenong Ranges, Mount Macedon and Mornington Peninsula.

Look for: Green bushes sporting healthy-looking fruit.

Try them: Baked in a pie, made into jam or eaten fresh.

Beware of: Some councils and farmers spray chemicals on blackberries, so avoid bushes with signs of damage including yellow leaves, and plants growing by the roadside or in state forests. Healthy-looking plants in gullies or near a natural water source should be fine.

Mussels

When: Summer.

Where: Lakes Entrance and the Mornington Peninsula.

Look for: Clusters on rocks at low tide. Take a bucket of salt water and pull off the mediumsized molluscs by hand.

Try them: In soups, pastas, on the barbecue or steamed in wine.

Beware of: You'll need a recreational fishing licence, which can be bought online. Follow daily bag limits and foraging rules or risk a fine. Collecting mussels in Port Phillip Bay is prohibited in waters less than two metres deep (the intertidal zone), so it’s best to head to coastal regions unless you have scuba diving or snorkelling gear. 

 

Remember, when it comes to berries, look for green bushes - it means the fruit is healthy. Image: Getty. 


 


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