Return To The Wild: Wild Foraging in the Western Cape With Veld and Sea
Return to the Wild with Veld and Sea Channelling Your Modern-Day Hunter-Gatherer Skills Foraging and Feasting with Foraging Fundi Roushanna Gray.
Wild food foraging is deeply rooted in our identity dating back to our humble beginnings. Being in nature connects us to the earth we are living in. Wild food is nutritious, delicious, and completely free. A walk in nature discovering nature's bounty to turn into nutritious culinary delights feeds our souls, while fostering a deeper connection with nature, connecting us to a sense of calm and still. Breathing in the scents of nature is natural aromatherapy.
The bountiful waters and incredible floral kingdom of South Africa’s Western Cape flourishing under the southern sun is the perfect place for authentic foraging adventures with foraging fundi Roushanna Gray founder of Veld and Sea.
The Cape is one of the world's biodiversity hotspots characterised by a type of vegetation known as Fynbos, it has over 9,000 species, of which 69% occur nowhere else on earth. Not surprisingly, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cape Point is around 70 kilometres south of Cape Town and where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet.
The South African coast is packed with wild food delicacies, and the Atlantic west coast is especially bountiful. Low moon tides and south-westerly prevailing winds during the summer months blow the surface water away from the coast. This allows cold, nutrient-rich waters to rise from below, creating a perfect environment for seaweed, [marine algae] mussels, limpets, and sea urchins in the rock pools. Over 700 species of seaweed grow along the South African coast, Amazingly only one of them is inedible, the Acid Weed (Desmarestia firma). And as they grow up to a centimetre a day, they are a highly sustainable food source. Some can be eaten raw; others require a bit of preparation. Roushanna encourages foraging for Mediterranean Mussels as they are an alien species thriving and threatening to displace the indigenous Black Mussel. Delectable Sea Urchins are best eaten fresh directly from the ocean with a mussel shell as your spoon. Roushanna showed us how to carefully dislodge the bright purple spiked sea creatures and carve out the mouthpiece revealing nature's creamy orange prize, the 'wonder of the ocean.' Removing Limpets is not an easy task! Sneaking up in them and quickly inserting the scissor blade under the shell before they clamp on like concrete takes much practice not to damage the shell.
Foraging is by no means a new thing; hunter-gathering was once man's only way of existing."The tradition of passing down this knowledge from generation to generation has become rare in our modern-day world. Without the proper knowledge, incorrect foraging can be dangerous and highly unsustainable. You have to know how to positively identify edible species, what time of year to harvest, what part of the plant/seaweed, seafood to eat, how much to pick, and how to prepare it. Foraging is a slow and delicious process. It takes years of learning to track the edible landscape through the seasons in an exploration of food, flavour, and medicine," says Roushanna. Foraging legally, responsibly, and sustainably is essential, and over-harvesting is not only detrimental to the environment. It threatens biodiversity and negatively impacts the ecosystems surrounding the plants and seaweeds.
Roushanna's foraging journey began 15 years ago; she explains, "I fell into what I do now organically through a move to Cape Point. It was a bit of an adjustment, but immersing myself in the land made it that much easier. I started a small tea garden at the indigenous plant nursery at The Cape Point, Good Hope Gardens Nursery, founded and ran by my mother-in-law Gael Gray. And the more I learned, the more my curiosity and passion grew. It was a slow and delicious journey. I started feeding and sharing what I had learned with family, then friends. When I was finally ready, I began teaching workshops in 2013." Roushanna set up the "Veld and Sea" headquarters in the Cape Point nursery [Veld means field in Afrikaans]. Together with her husband Tom, they built a Glasshouse from reclaimed and up-cycled materials, styling it with found and foraged objects and a collection of thrift store treasures. This is where Roushanna runs her signature 'Veld and Sea' foraging experiences that are educational, immersive, fun, and 'wildly' delicious experiences. For me, my coastal foraging was an unforgettable day. I was back out foraging in the rock polls two days later.
"There is flavour, food, and medicine all around us; we just have to learn how to recognise it. It's empowering having the knowledge to feed yourself, connecting with our natural surroundings, working with the tides and moon phases, and understanding the seasons and cycles. It is a joyous celebration of nature. Foraging is a slow and delicious process, and it takes years of learning to track the edible landscape through the seasons in an exploration of food, flavour, and medicine" says Roushanna. Spring is the time to immerse yourself in the blooms and blossoms of the fynbos and foliage. While Summer is the best time for rock pool foraging. Exploring the magical world of rock pools learning how to sustainably harvest and prepare your macro-algae and shellfish and how best to cook them. Veld and Sea coastal foraging days start at the beach. After an introduction to foraging for edible seaweeds and mussels, it's time to forage. Roshuana advises focusing on the seaweed that is prolific in the area and the invasive mussel species. After a morning on the rock harvesting, it's back to Veld and Sea classrooms to prepare and create a coastal-inspired lunch banquet. There is a short period in autumn for mushroom foraging in the forests in autumn. Winter is the time to explore the gardens and the bush, discovering and harvesting edible floral foods and fresh organic vegetables, according to the season and availability.
All of Roushanna's workshops start with an introduction and explanation of what you'll be harvesting, followed by cooking the collective harvest and experiencing a delicious cooked lunch by Gemma, the Veld and Sea super Chef.
Specific rules apply when foraging; plants with complementary flavours generally grow beside one another. Be 100% sure of what you are picking, and only harvest what you need. Leave the plant enough flowers or leaves to regenerate itself. Pick from multiple plants rather than just one. Try not to forage close to roads and city parks as the plants' store whatever emissions are present in the air around them. Make sure you are not trespassing. If in doubt, ask permission before you pick.
Foraging in the wild is a way of rewilding and connecting to a more primal part of ourselves. Something we all find we need much more of in recent times. Every season offers something amazing and unique to forage, albeit seaweeds, shellfish, wild mushrooms, fragrant aromatic wild herbs, edible flowers and weeds, medicinal plants, indigenous veg, seeds, roots, and shoots.
Veld and Sea are currently running online workshops and webinars so that those not able to travel can join in the wild teachings from wherever they are in the world.
If you are fortunate enough to be in South Africa, and would like the opportunity to forage beneath the waves, join Roushanna and world-renown, champion freediver and conservationist Hanli Prinsloo on their Freedive Forage weekend, 2-4 April 2021.
The Veld and Sea Surf Shack is available on Airbnb.
IMAGE CREDITS: ACID+ | Veld and Sea | Peter Marshall