Nourishing weeds you didn’t know were edible (and how to use them)
Foraging in Australia is seeing a comeback, as more and more chefs discover the need to ‘get back to the source’ of where flavours, textures and ingredients come from.
The notion that foraging is a short-term trend isn’t entirely true. Restaurants and chefs have turned a page. They are beginning to understand that menu creation starts with ingredient selection, seasonality and the discovery of new ways of eating and preparing ingredients.
As a wholesale supplier of locally grown, fresh and foraged produce, we work with a number of local farmers and growers to help chefs achieve their creative ambitions. We also work exclusively with our friend Wild Forage Australia who is at the heart of driving this change to source and develop a selection of boutique wild herbs, flowers, coastal succulents, leaves and algae for restaurants and cafes across SE Queensland.
We’ll take you through some of the species commonly collected around the Sunshine Coast coastal and hinterland environments, and now these hand-picked foraged wild ingredients are becoming important components on menus around Queensland and Australia.
Wild Radish (Raphanus Raphanistrum)
Also known as Wild Kale, this flowering species of Brassica is found throughout Australia. It pops up frequently along farmland roadsides and pastures. It is highly adapted to disturbance events such a regular mowing.
The whole plant is edible, the leaves produce a peppery taste similar to watercress, while the delicate yellow flowers have a spicy horseradish bite with honey undertones. Small delicate buds and new season shoots are prized and eaten raw in comparison to its outer green leaves that can be hot. Small clusters of yellow flowers are fragile and must be picked and stored with care. It’s a common species seen in the cooler months especially throughout the Southeast.
Sea Celery (Apium prostratum)
Also known commonly as sea parsley. The two names are used interchangeably in the industry. There are two common species of Sea Celery: Headland Sea Celery and Mangrove Sea Celery. Both species share a similar botany however their leafy texture and flavour is slightly different. The flavour is a direct reflection of the environment in which it’s found. Headland Sea Celery is hardier due to its need to adapt to exposed weather conditions, salinity and erosion activity of headlands. The mangrove species is more protected, hence its leafy texture is softer and delicate.
The name Apium comes from the Latin word for ‘celery’ while ‘prostratum’ comes from the word to ‘climb’. Its unique flavour is similar to regular parsley, yet it carries a “hint of the ocean”.
The trend in top kitchens around the country according to Nick from Wild Forage Australia is to move away from the use of simple garnishing as a way to include native produce and, instead, to explore wild flavours common to our landscape as actual components supported by technique. “It’s about using the familiar to gain trust while presenting ingredients in a new light that’s engaging, emotive, an expression of season and local geography.”
Heart-leaf Ice Plant (Aptenia Cordifolia)
Also known as Baby Sun Rose, this hot pink flowering succulent grows naturally along the coast and behind dune vegetation where it is protected and moisture available. Its green waxy leaves are prized for its crisp texture and lemony flavour. The flavour is a direct reflection of where it grown by the beach, often described as having a briny flavour. The species pairs excellently with seafood.
Ice Plant is a localised species, originating in southern Africa and has found favourable conditions in Central and South East Queensland, eastern New South Wales and even in some parts of Victoria and South Australia. Rich in vitamins A, B and C and mineral salts, the leaves can be used raw or cooked in salads to add a salty note. The juice in the leaves is said to have antiseptic properties, relieving infections and digestive issues, so pop a few leaves into a green juice for some added anti-inflammatory action.
Availability is generally 9 months of the year, with limited availability after dry periods.
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)
Watercress is notorious as being one of those “hard to grow” plants yet take a stroll along the banks of any creek in the cooler parts of Australia and you’ll find it growing in abundance. It’s high in calcium, iron and vitamin C, with the peppery, mustard-like bite to watercress lending well to winter salads and pesto.
Being a water loving species, it’s flavour is a reflection of the water body and catchment where it is found. Take care when harvesting watercress as high-nutrient loading and run off from farmlands can cause algal blooms and contaminate the water with liver fluke, a parasitic worm hosted in the liver of livestock.
Watercress is only found in slowly creeks and in shaded areas. It is commonly seen in local waterways where conditions are favourable in the cooler months. From August to late September, Wild Forage Australia collects both the leaves and the flowering heads for its delicate white flowers before it goes to seed.
Purslane (Portuluca Oleracea)
Walk into your back yard and you’ll likely find purslane thriving when all else is dying. This delicious and highly nutritious weed has been consumed since ancient times around the world. Indigenous Australians call it Munyeroo, using it as a salad green and even grinding its seeds into flour, while it’s embraced as a longevity herb in Chinese Traditional Medicine. Like many wild greens, it has high levels of oxalic acid, which can be poisonous when consumed in excess.
It’s crunchy, it’s tangy, it’s lemony and it can be cooked or eaten raw. As a foraging tip pick it in the early hours of the morning this is when oxalic acid content is at its highest before the sun coverts cellulose into plant sugars. We’ve even heard of chefs using it as the star in their purslane tzatziki.
Foraging sustainably and ethically
Being a forager is not simply about accessing ‘free food’. These are gifts from nature that must be shown respect. Foraging comes with a responsibility to protect the surrounding ecology of an area whilst ensuring the ongoing survival of plant populations.
Foraging remains a contentious issue with much needed education to ensure those foraging have the right
skill set, knowledge and appreciation of the resource that they in turn become advocates and role models.
With increasing interest in wild foods comes increasing demand. Foragers and the supply chain have an inherent responsibility to source sustainable and ethical volumes to supply market needs. Foraged produce is highly seasonal; this should be celebrated and its limitations recognised. Changing foraging locations and only collecting 20% of the population as a general rule of thumb ensures ample recovery.
There are a number of publicised ‘do’s and ‘don’ts’ that include foraging etiquette and collection technique and principals. Only foraging what you can 100% identify is a key rule, not eating what you don’t know cannot be stressed enough. Foraging is not a skill set you can quickly develop. It takes time and patience and a deep love for the landscape to collect seasonal gifts from nature.
Suncoast Fresh have a strong focus on sourcing the best wholesale produce for the best price each season. Along with farm-direct bulk fruit and vegetables, we offer a boutique produce range including our wild foraged coastal mix for restaurants, cafes, schools, food festivals and more. Stay up to date with our Fresh Produce Update or apply to be a customer.