You’d be forgiven if you thought the concept of foraging was invented by generation Y chefs all searching for the next cool weed to put on their menus, but in reality, caveman chefs were collecting and eating the wild foods of their habitat long before the invention of the iPad.
In the past few years however, people’s desire to reconnect with food has led them to discover that they are surrounded by edible native ingredients, and all they need to do is take the time to notice them and learn how to prepare them.
The Sunshine Coast is a cornucopia of wild indigenous foods and was for thousands of years a meeting place for aboriginal tribes who would gather in the region to feast, trade and socialise. Macadamia nuts, Bunya nuts, Finger Limes and Lemon Myrtle are all native to the area.
The Sunshine Coast is a cornucopia of wild indigenous foods…
My advice to the amateur forager would be to:
1. Make sure what you are collecting is not poisonous before you stick it in your mouth.
2. If you’re collecting from the bush, be respectful for the environment and only ever take as much as you need.
These are five of my favourite ingredients to forage for around the Noosa area.
A rainforest tree native to the east coast between Brisbane and Mackay, you’ll often see Lemon Myrtle trees in parks or planted on nature strips. Their highly lemon scented leaves can be used to make tea, added whole to soups and braises, or finely chopped and added to marinades or dressings. Planting a tree in your yard means you’ll always have access to fresh leaves, and it will also attract native birds when it’s flowering.
The pads, stems and roots of waterlilies are all edible. Try finely shredding the pads and steaming them, peeling the stems like asparagus and pickling them, or peeling, finely slicing and stir-frying the tuber like roots. Only pick these from clean, healthy waterways, and to avoid being arrested, never pick them from National Parks!
I’m always surprised by how often I see these beautiful little purple and white flowers when I’m bushwalking or running one of the Noosa trails. They make a pretty garnish for cakes and desserts, or you can toss them through a simple green salad for little bursts of colour. I recently bought half a dozen plants from my local Land Care nursery and dotted them through my garden. They are great as a ground cover and seem to be endlessly flowering.
In late summer each year you may see bowling ball sized pinecones sitting at the base of the huge bunya pines around the coast. Whenever you’re collecting bunya nuts, it’s advised that you don’t hang around for long under the tree or that you at least wear some form of head protection! The waxy flesh of the nut (similar to a chestnut) is good steamed, sautéed in butter, roasted or pureed. The best method I’ve discovered for removing them from their hard outer shell is to hit each one with a hammer to split the tops open and roast them for half an hour before squeezing them loose. Bunya nuts freeze well in their shells so you can stockpile them while they’re around.
Most kids who have been beach fishing on the coast would be familiar with wiggling their heels in the sand to feel for pippies or “Eugarie” to use as bait to catch whiting and bream. But their popularity as a food source amongst aboriginal tribes is evidenced by the huge, ancient shell “middens” all along the east coast of Australia. Very similar in texture and flavour to clams, when properly purged in fresh water for a day or two and steamed or quickly stir-fried, the bag limit of 50 pippies is enough to provide a satisfying feast for 2 people.