Food foraging makes walks rewarding

Keen Dunedin foragers Danie Erickson and Josh Urquhart forage for wild onions. PHOTOS: GREGOR...
Keen Dunedin foragers Danie Erickson and Josh Urquhart forage for wild onions. PHOTOS: GREGOR RICHARDSON

Getting out and exploring the city has two benefits for Dunedin couple Danie Erickson and Josh Urquhart - improved mental health and some tasty finds.

Urquhart has been sold on the idea of foraging ever since doing a paper on it while studying for a culinary arts degree.

Erickson was a bit of a harder sell. She grew up being told not to eat berries or toadstools or anything found in nature.

‘‘It’s hard to undo those rules you learn [as a child].’’

But during lockdown the pair got serious about exploring more, especially as walking was good for Erickson’s mental health as well.

‘‘We were a bit lost without things to do so we went for long walks and we’d find lots of things along the way.’’

Even close to home they discovered St John’s Wort growing, which is known to be good for treating depression.

‘‘I’d been looking at this plant with its yellow flowers and berries. So I looked it up, researched what it was and how to use it. Now I see it everywhere.’’

Wild onion.
Wild onion.

It started another hobby - making tea blends from their foraged plants. They have found wild chamomile and pineapple weed.

Another discovery of elderberry trees led to sessions making elderberry cordial and cider.

She is quick to admit she is still learning about what plants are and goes by the golden rule of foraging — not to eat anything until it has been identified as safe.

‘‘I’ll never know enough. It’s. . . taken a year to be confident in the knowledge I have.’’

Onion weed can look similar to snowdrops which can make you sick if you eat them, but by smelling the plant it is easy to tell, she says.

‘‘You’ve just got to slow down.’’

On another of their jaunts, this time around Evansdale, they discovered some wild spearmint and a piece of honeycomb fallen out of a broken tree hive.

‘‘That was a nice wee treat.’’

 

The couple make a variety of preserves, teas and ciders from their finds.
The couple make a variety of preserves, teas and ciders from their finds.

A discovery of fuchsia berries led them to try making jam with them.

‘‘We keep them in the freezer, topping it up until we have enough of them or mix them with blackberries or elderberries.’’

Urquhart has been keen to find different ways of using the finds including having a go at a fruit leather made from tree strawberries.

‘‘It was a bit gritty but the preserving has been amazing.’’

They have learnt to always have containers with them when on walks as they never know what they will find.

‘‘Our walks will take an hour longer than normal as we get waylaid by some horopito berries or something.’’

They discovered by drying out the horopito berries they can use them as peppercorns.

‘‘We’ve harvested enough for a small jar. Once you know what to look for, you spot it quickly,’’ Urquhart says.

The peppery horopito.
The peppery horopito.
Their finds have made them increasingly curious about plants used by Maori as medicine as well as food. Erickson says discoveries like a berry patch are a treat on long walks.

‘‘It’s like being rewarded for going on a walk. We found some bush asparagus and munching on that it was like a burst of liquid in the mouth.’’

The pair are also conscious of not frequenting paths which are popular with dog walkers as nearby plants can be contaminated.

Their walks have given them a new-found appreciation for food and how hard it can be to source it.

Trips to other parts of the region always have the pair coming home with bunches of plants hanging in the cabin of the car to dry.

‘‘We must look a bit suspect.’’

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