Last Saturday this little city dweller donned boots and a lovely brown felt/fur hat and headed out for a spot of urban foraging. The word foraging may conjure up images of frolicking in verdant fields with a basket full to the brim with mushrooms and berries of many hues, or chic restaurants such as Norma that produce plates of delicately hand-gathered herbs. Urban foraging however probably produces memories of bin-diving possums or scrapping, sneaky urban foxes. Well, I certainly wasn’t going to be bin-diving in this outfit but I guess you can’t blame the hungry critters when we throw out such amounts of perfectly edible food. Anyway that’s another matter for another day. What our little group of well-dressed urban foragers wanted to know was what tasty little morsels of leaf, herb, fruit and vegetable can be found in our suburbs and perhaps in our very own gardens.
Who better to guide us though the delicious discoveries and pitfalls of the urban palate than Mr Permablitz himself, the aptly named Ben Grub. I say aptly named because as Ben tells us, he’ll eat almost anything. Luckily he also carries around a little reference library in his manly black pull-shopper: Food Plants of the World and Mind-altering and Poisonous Plants of the World. He clearly knew his stuff and the strip of urban turf we were wandering.
Brisbane’s inner city suburb of West End is the perfect patch for pilfering and poking around for edibles. Mr Grub had no shortage of material to demonstrate how a fruitful garden can be cultivated in an urban environment. The suburb’s rich immigrant population combined with a higher density living and community spirit results in streets of tamarind, guava, loofa, olive and curry leaf trees and sweet potato vines. West End gardens are full of paw paw, fig, citrus of all shapes and sizes, spikey dragon fruit cactus, towering coconut palms and mammoth jack fruit which look as though they could kill a man but whose sweet yellow flesh tastes of gummy bears. Fences are laced with grapevine or creeping spinach or Brazilian cherry.
There are also the greens: the wild basil, the carotene-y thickhead weed, the unstoppable mottled all-spice plant and the delightfully named pig weed. It’s all there, alongside the neighbours who’ve jointly planted up their kerbside and housed beehives on rooftops. Truly inspiring.
Ben Grub believes the streets are for the people and the more we make use of them the more richly textured our lives and our plates will be. Luckily he and his permy pals have made a map to help us.
We ended our journey by wending our way downhill for a meal at Tukka, a restaurant that celebrates Australian native foraged flavours. I’d been longing to lunch there for a while but what I didn’t know is that their open-air dining room hides a little walled plot. Raised beds and a gravel path planted with herbs, rosella, lemon myrtle, Davidson plum and a very mean and spikey looking finger lime shrub. Given my recent and seasonally short addiction to finger limes I was quite surprised to find that the plant could do you some real damage. I certainly gained a new appreciation for the farmers. But this is what we had all come to find out, to see what things look like, to identify where and why they grow and to hopefully fill our gardens and our bellies with new and exciting foraged finds.