Five food foraging favourites

Living Well | Alex White | Posted on 29 March 2019

From mussels to edible weeds, here’s how to forage for wild foods.

Plucking dinner provisions from the fluoro-lit supermarket aisles can be a soulless experience. But foraging for your supper with the sun at your back among coastal rocks, in the forests or even beside a suburban creek is an altogether more rewarding pastime. 

Nonnas and yia-yias have long known the fresh and delicious bounty to be found, gratis, in Victoria’s great outdoors. Now the rest of us are catching on. 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.

close up of Carpobrotus glaucescens also known as Pigface or Angular Pigface is a member of the Family Aizoaceae

The fruit and leaves of pigface are edible. Photo: Getty Images. 


scattered concentration of pine mushrooms

Find pine mushrooms from February to June. 


Yellow Dandelion flowers and seed puff with leaves on grey slate background

Dandelion flowers can be crumbed and fried. Photo: Getty Images.


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 from Reade’s Weeds Tours says pine mushrooms are easy to identify but recommends avoiding other varieties. “The general rule is don’t pick the white ones, there is more risk and they don’t taste as good.” 

Edible weeds

When: Year round

Where: Merri Creek Trail in Northcote, 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. “Take a pair of gloves, but it’s like being a beekeeper, sometimes you are going to get stung.”

Try them: Dandelion flowers make a lovely edible garnish or can be crumbed and fried, while young leaves are good for salads. Reade also uses the roots to make a root beer. 

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.

Coastal delights

What: Pigface, samphire, purslane and wild mustard.

When: Summer provides the 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, when in flower, 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.

“Purslane is in season at the moment,” says Reade. “It has a lovely lemony zing and has more omega-3 than krill oil, so it’s good if you want to reduce your cholesterol.”

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

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 medium-sized molluscs by hand.

Try them: In soups, pastas or on the barbecue. Pour wine over the mussels and steam them on a high heat for five minutes or until the shells open. 

Beware of: You will need a recreational fishing licence, which can be bought online starting at $10. Familiarise yourself with the daily bag limits and foraging rules or risk a fine. 

Collecting mussels in Port Phillip Bay is prohibited within the intertidal zone, which includes two metres below low tide, so it’s best to head to coastal regions unless you have scuba diving or snorkelling gear. 

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 showing signs of damage including yellow leaves, as well as plants growing by the roadside or in state forests. Healthy-looking plants in gullies, on creek banks or near a natural water source should be fine.