I had been invited a few times as a guest of The Botanist Gin to attend one of their foraging excursions for influencers, trade and media however due to scheduling issues I was never able to attend. And so, with the past few weeks a blur of airport waiting lounges, hotel suites and the back seats of cars crisscrossing the Western and Northern Cape I had just found my land-legs when friend and co-owner of Mother’s Ruin (@royalrant) messaged me asking to join her this past Saturday for a foraging and cocktail masterclass.
And so at the crack of dawn, when polite society usually gather at the trendy hotspots along Bree Street to brunch, the awesome foursome piled into her car and headed out towards the Cape peninsula to spend the day under the tutelage of Roushanna Gray, proprietor of Good Hope Gardens for a masterclass in foraging and cocktails. The lullaby rattling of bottles of booze gently rocking us into a quite meditative slumber as we hugged the shoreline of our beautiful city-state. Before I begin, I have to make a confession. While the concepts of sustainability, eco-friendliness and biospheres are not foreign concepts to me they tend to not be the weighting factor I use when making purchasing or lifestyle decisions. Just like I know smoking is bad for me (I still smoke occasionally when drinking), not be distracted by my cell phone when driving (I still occasionally check the playlist on the entertainment console) and that pretty people will most likely be bad in bed (I still occasionally think that maybe they’re having a bad day rather than being a bad lay).
The same applies to anything within the tree hugging and bunny fucking categories.
However, the more I engage with these knowledgeable people and learn a little more I seem to be slowly changing my perception. Take for example Kobus van der Merwe known as a chef’s chef he has created something truly magical at Wolfgat in Paternoster. Friends and I had lunch there a few weeks back and experiencing his coastal foraged lunch was sublime. Truly something magical and worth the drive out. And so, everywhere I seem to turn I have come to realise that foraging is slowly crossing over from being a fad to becoming a true way of life not just in Cape Town but the world. The transition from hipsters to mainstream has already taken place and pretty soon the commercial potential of foraging for small, craft-based brands will be the new ‘new’ staple. But back to Caitlin. And Rohshanna whose passion for wholesome food has been in her blood since she was a little girl.
“I had no plant knowledge. Everything I know now, I learned through research, exploration and my love of food. I grew up with a mixed heritage, so there was a lot of ‘fusion food’. My life out here, and my passion for wild edibles started when I fell in love with my husband Tom. My mother-in-law, Gael, is a botanist so we would go walking and she’d teach me how to identify plants. This nursery has been running for 30 odd years.”
But in an odd twist, as the rise of the artisan is on the ascent so seems to be a way of getting back to nature. Organic farming replaced the mass-produced farms and now we are almost full circle with foraging which was essential before the introduction of agriculture. And there we all sat, a group of strangers around a quaint farm style table learning about the difference between cordials, tinctures and syrups. How to infuse and how to let your imagination run wild before we … Uhm … ran wild foraging our own leaves from the nearby nursery.
Usually, I go into great detail about how amazing the food was (truly amazing!), try and convey every detail of the occasion (informative, entertaining and engaging!) and how it made me feel. The truth is that I was overwhelmed. My senses were overwhelmed. My mind was overwhelmed with so much information that seemed to make sense. Something inside me seemed to click into place. Understanding how dependent we are on things that are so unhealthy, not just for us for the environment. How we need to get back to basics. Back to the things that we, as an evolved species somehow lost.
But before we all slip on our Hunter boots and rush out to the nearest rural pasture and try and be a modern urban Bear Grylls and think we can live off berries and bark and squirrels, here are some of Roushanna’s important tips on how to eat wild:
- Identification is the most important part! Ask an experienced guide or local. Observe, taste, smell, touch, make notes.
- Plant the edibles in your garden. It will teach you how to identify them more easily out in the wild, as well as to develop a taste for them.
- When in doubt, leave it alone: be 110% sure of edibility.
- Know which parts of the plant are edible and which aren’t. Also, know how to prepare the parts.
- Never forage in a polluted space.
- Tread lightly. Only take enough. The rule of thumb: harvest 1/3, leave 1/3 for re-growth and 1/3 for other animals.
- Indigenous edible plants are ENDANGERED; this is why it’s so crucial to tread lightly and to grow them yourself whenever possible.