Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Art of Wildcrafting - by The Veggie Lady - Toni Salter

The Art of Wildcrafting

It seems that we have our very own food scavenger in our midst. Perhaps he might even be an imitator of the famous food forager Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from the UK TV series River Cottage. He’s in the community and he’s in our garden and he’s on a hunt for whatever wild food he can eat. It’s called ‘wild-crafting’ and it entails reaping a harvest from local, wild grown plants or weeds! It appears that we have no shortage of plant material to choose from, with a selection of noxious weeds growing in the community garden to forage.

I met recently with two prominent members (leaders even) of the community garden to discuss the possibility of running some workshops over summer, when I was distracted from the conversation by a question from one of them. 

“Hey, do you know what this is?”  He asked me this thinking that, as a horticulturist, I could identify every plant in the universe.  Of course, I had no clue what it was but it looked pretty weedy to me and I’m certainly no expert in bush regeneration and feral weeds.  But not letting the powers of deduction allude me, I was determined to work it out.

“Taste it.” He instructed me.  What was he thinking? I wasn’t going to eat some wild plant that I had no idea about.  But being a convincing type of guy, he led the way and gulped down a fistful himself.

I followed his lead and tried this soft green leafy plant that was growing in thick rows throughout the garden. I figured that if it was going to kill me, then it would kill him too! It tasted tangy and lemony, very reminiscent of the sorrel that I have growing in my garden at home.  It was much smaller than my sorrel with thinner leaves but very similar in taste.

So not to be outdone, I went home and did a bit of research to see if I could identify it.  I call it research .... but it was actually me sitting in front of the TV a couple of nights later watching Gourmet Traveller on SBS when the star of the show, Matthew Evans, went foraging for weeds around Tasmania.  He stumbled across the same weed that I’d been encouraged to taste at our community garden in Camden.  It was identified as Sheep Sorrel. I knew it!! It was sorrel.  Well a type of sorrel anyway. I was close.  My horticultural studies may have failed me but my palate had not let me down.

Now with a bit of proper research, I can safely tell you that what we have is Rumex acetosella, a member of the dock family. Sheep sorrel, or sour dock as it is also known, is a perennial herb with a creeping habit. It has remarkable medicinal qualities because of it’s high antioxidant levels and is used along with other herbs in a concoction called Essiac Tea. This tea is used in alternative therapies to effectively treat cancer.

So who is our wildcrafter?  Well .... you’ll just have to catch him in the act to discover his true identity.  He tells me that nettle tea is great too! So if you catch him, make sure to share a cuppa together soon.

For more information about this amazing plant go to

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