Free and fresh wild food

Dandelion tea.
Dandelion tea.

Foraging is the act of gathering wild food free - what our ancestors once had to do as a necessity is almost a novelty nowadays as it gives us the opportunity to explore and appreciate our surroundings, writes Deanna Copland.

Deanna Copland
Deanna Copland
There always seems to be a pride in giving something you know is oozing with freshness and love when you have taken the time to make a chutney or jam to enjoy the flavours of summer later.

Summer and autumn in Otago are the perfect time to enjoy seasonal produce and what better theme for a gathering right now but BYO produce, either intentionally grown in your own backyard or foraged for further afield.

A menu might include quiche made using free-range eggs, mushrooms and thyme, served with colourful salads, or pickled cucumbers and zucchini and basil and tomatoes with pesto made using walnuts and rocket leaves.

If you are based around the sea, then there are all the wonderful things that can be found around the coastlines such as pipis and seaweeds to add to the mix. Plums, pears, figs and greengages would complement all of the fresh, seasonal finds to finish the feast.

Homemade kombucha, rosehip or elderflower syrup may be the perfect drinks to accompany the affair or if you happen to know a Central Otago vineyard owner, then the more the merrier around the table. Dandelion leaf herbal tea, which can reduce fluid and aid the digestive system might cap the day off nicely.

With the abundance of fresh fruit available at the moment, it is incredible to think that some children in New Zealand and Australia are still diagnosed with scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency from diets that are severely lacking nutrients.

Rosehip syrup used to be made and given to young children to support immunity but the practice has fallen out of favour in lieu of modern vitamins.

Rosehip syrup

Studies have shown that rosehip helps to strengthen the circulatory system and energetically the rose is said to be uplifting. The taste of the fruit is slightly sweet, with a slight tang.

Hips are high in vitamins C, A, B1, B2, B3, and K, as well as flavonoids, tannins and pectin. Honey and maple syrup can be used in place of sugar when making this syrup and also to improve the health benefits. To make rosehip syrup, you just want the fleshy outer part.

If cultivating or wildcrafting your own rosehips, garble the seeds away from the flesh of the fruit.

Preserving herbs

Woody herbs such as thyme and rosemary freeze well so if you have an abundance, you may save some when clipping it back to enjoy later.
Just clip fresh herbs, wash and dry them well.

Place in freezer-safe bags or containers with a paper towel to soak up any remaining moisture. To use, chop frozen herbs with a knife or use your hands to crunch and crumble softer herbs.

Zucchini pickle
Zucchini pickle
Note: When foraging, avoid areas that are sprayed and exposed to car fumes. Make sure you do know what you are picking as not all plants are safe to eat.

Dandelion tea

To make dandelion tea, just make sure the plants have not been treated with any chemicals before harvesting them. Also, harvest the plants when they are young, preferably.

After cleaning and preparing the plant, pour hot water over the top of green leaves, steep for 5 minutes and then strain. Roasted dandelion root is also used in herbal medicine for its bitter properties, which may aid liver function.

Quick zucchini pickles

Dissolve over a low heat in a pot: 1/4 cup white vinegar, 2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt.

Shave zucchini lengthwise using a peeler, into ribbons.

Pour hot mixture over the top and allow to soften for 5 minutes before serving on the side of a meal.

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