How to go foraging

South Africa has a wealth of wild foods worth foraging, both naturally-occurring and introduced. By learning how to safely identify and forage the wild herbs and mushrooms that grow locally in your area, you will be empowering yourself to eat for a better future. Foraging comes with a clear set of rules. Allow these five to form the basis of your wild food journey.

1. Always be positively certain of what you’re gathering. Mistakes can be dangerous. Nothing is worth risking your health or life.
2. Do not collect protected species or species that may be at risk. Doing this is illegal.
3. Take only what you need.
4. Unless you have permission, do not forage in national parks, reserves or on private land. Obtain a permit where possible.
5. Respect. Be humble and show gratitude to the wisdom you’re receiving from nature.

Foraging is accessible. It’s a waste-free and sustainable approach to our everyday diet, an act of mindfulness that connects us closer to nature. The answer to food security lies somewhere in the seasonal abundance of wild food; foraging is seasonal – doing it makes the most of what is currently available. Moreover, the preservation of foraged items, called wildcrafting, is a lot of fun!

Fresh Auricularia fungi – edible.

There are many different species of edible plant and fungi found throughout the country. A number of local books and field guides have been written on the subject. Unfortunately there is no easy way to distinguish what separates the edible from the inedible, but it does help to first recognise what is safe and edible to forage. Pay attention to the features of what you find.

If it is a mushroom, what colour is it? Does it have gills? Is it growing from the ground, or rather from the bark of a tree? All of these characteristics help to nail down species identification. If you found a plant, how did the leaves smell when crushed? What shape were the leaves? Did it have any flowers? Learning to look at obvious features is a good basis from which to start.

The gill structure of the Fairy Ring Champignon (Marasmius oreades).

Habitat and season play a big part in foraging. This is because every species has a seasonal growth cycle. By visiting the same places throughout the year, you will receive a better idea of how a plant or mushroom looks throughout this growth cycle. It takes time to observe and recognise how an organism responds to changes in temperature, light, humidity and moisture as time passes. Acquiring this knowledge by simply watching is an excellent way to become more familiar with foraging.

Wild edible plants to sustainably forage in South Africa

Wild edible mushrooms to forage in South Africa

Learn more about foraging in South Africa with this range of local books covering edible and medicinal mushrooms and plants.