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An introduction to foraging – Sustenance from the wild - TNK Green

An introduction to foraging – Sustenance from the wild

Our ancestors, as far back as the hunter-gathers, foraged in nature for part of their food. A recent archaeological find in Iraq by the Liverpool John Moores University revealed that Neanderthals survived on various berries, wild nuts and grasses, and dried meat. From then to now, we have domesticated a vast array of food crops but disregard so many non-domesticated plants that are edible, if not actually beneficial.

From the humble and prosecuted dandelion to the weed purslane there is food all around us.

Can you feed your family by foraging alone? Probably not, but it could be a great addition to your regular diet. Herewith, we will share some wild plants and their uses you might find growing in your neighbourhood, garden or home.


Food all around

I must add a disclaimer: Many plants are edible, but to the untrained eye, it might not be easy to differentiate between two similar-looking plants. Especially when it comes to wild berries and mushrooms, and some might be highly toxic or require special preparation to be ready for consumption. If you are unsure about a specific plant, please contact a botanist or do some research and make sure you can identify one species from another. It is generally best to look at flowers or identification, but over time it will become easier to identify these species correctly. There are endless recourses to help you ensure that you know exactly what you are forgoing.


The food you never knew existed.


Taraxacum officinale, aka the common dandelion, with its pompom-shaped yellow flowers and sparkle-like seeds, can be found all across the globe. Regarded by most gardeners and property owners as a weed, this plant is actually edible from head to toe.

Believed to have originated in the Mediterranean, it has been used as a medicine for at least a thousand years. It has been used as a tonic to remove toxins, a diuretic and to aid digestion, along with a whole array of other uses. Today we know that dandelions are rich in Vitamin C, E and A, as well as calcium, potassium, ink and iron.

The flowers are generally used to make Dandelion Wine, while the leaves can be eaten raw or added to stews as a leafy green. The root can be dried and used as tea or roasted to make an excellent coffee substitute with a rich nutty chocolate-like flavour.



Most people are familiar with these beautiful plants belonging to the family Geraniaceae. Widely distributed across South Africa and Australia, 90% of all known Pelargoniums are indigenous to Southern Africa. Cultivated globally for their beautiful clusters of pink or white flowers, these semi-succulent plants evoke feelings of summer and sun.

Before it became a beloved bedding flower in Europe, Pelargoniums were used by the native Koi and San people in Southern Africa to soothe and treat respiratory problems like the common cold, bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

With a wide variety of flavours and scents available, including Almond, Apple, lemon, cinnamon, nutmeg, peppermint and rose, these plants can be eaten raw or made into a refreshing tea. The flowers are also edible and create a beautiful addition to any salad.



Salvia is a widespread plant in the mint family found all across the globe, with almost 1 000 known varieties. Derived from the Latin word salvus, meaning to save or heal, these plants have a long history of medicinal use. The best known are probably Salvia officinalis, better known as Common Sage (a regular herp find in pantries) and Salvia apiana, aka Chia, grown for its nutritious seeds.

They have trumpet-like flowers containing sweet nectar, and as a child, my siblings and I would frequent our salvia bush and suck out all the sticky, delicious nectar. Due to this nectar, these plants are loved by hummingbirds and insects alike.

Most salvias have chemically complex volatile oils giving them their pungent scent and flavour. There are six well-known edible salvias, but further research is needed for the remaining 994 varieties, including our local Salvia Africana, that have a long history of being used by the people of Africa to treat stomach problems and flavour food.

Generally, the leaves can be added to food, stews or brewed to make tea or used as a mild antiseptic wash on the skin. It should be noted that S. Divinorum, although not toxic have a strong hallucinogenic effect, so if you try to explore wild salvias as a food, it is advisable to first test it in small quantities before consuming large amounts of these plants.


Flowers Hottentot Fig Highway Ice Plant Buds

Sour fig (Hottentot Fig)

Carpobrotus edulis

Well known in South Africa, this plant, also known as Ice Plant or Pigface, has been used as both food and medicine by people for ages, as suggested by historical findings and local verbal histories.

A fleshy succulent with linear leaves with a triangular cross-section and either pink or yellow flowers, these plants grow wild in dry and arid regions. Widely cultivated and distributed through nurseries it has become a favourite in gardens as a groundcover due to its drought tolerance. The fruits are edible and have a salty, tangy taste. It is mainly used to make preserves and jams but can also be added to stews and broths.

The leaves are not edible but have a wide range of medicinal uses, including antiseptic qualities, and can be used like aloe vera on the skin or as a gargle. Traditionally it has been used to treat diabetes, constipation and pulmonary disorders.


Num Num (Natal plum)

Carissa Macrocarpa

His thorny shrub with dark waxy leaves and star-shaped white flowers resembling jasmine is native to the Kwazulu-Natal coast but has been cultivated and can now be found in California, Florida, Israel, Portorico, the Philapense and India. It can tolerate drought and salty soil conditions but prefer a sunny spot with high humidity.

It produces red oval-shaped fruits (approximately 1.5 -5cm long) with a sweet cranberry-like taste and the texture of ripe strawberry. They are rich in vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Often eaten raw, the fruit can be used in a variety of culinary applications like baked into tarts, added to jams or even added to soups. Its tart flavour profile can be an excellent addition to many dishes, and its high pectin can help set low-pectin jams.

It must be said that it belongs to the same family as the deadly oleander. Almost all other parts of the Natal Plumbs are poisonous, although its roots were traditionally used to treat toothache.


To be Continued

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