May 12th, 2023Foraging free: where the wild food is found
Words: Eve Lamb
Fancy a wild pine mushroom risotto? A crisp dandelion and wild brassica salad? Or an elderberry cocktail perhaps?
These are some of the sorts of wild food delicacies that may result as local teacher and experienced food forager Irina De Loche prepares to share her passion for enjoying the bounty of nature that’s out there just waiting to be gathered and relished.
Over the past three years, Irina has already become well known at the Creswick Neighbourhood Centre where she teaches yoga, dance and pilates. But later this month Irina is also facilitating the new Free Fresh Food Foraging workshop.
Humans are historically foragers and where the land and forests have not suffered the ravages of the modern world many cultures still forage on a daily basis, she says.
Much of the plant life in Australia is introduced and exotic species now outnumber indigenous ones. But if there’s one positive to take away from this it’s that many of them are edible and medicinally beneficial, and if you fancy the idea of gathering free fresh food, this workshop is probably for you.
“Before I moved to Ballarat seven years ago, I lived in Melbourne near the Merri Creek and I would often see the Greeks, Croatians and Lebanese ladies there gathering wild food along the creek – a lot of foods that many people just don’t know about but that are highly nutritious,” Irina says
A qualified teacher with plenty of French, German and Russian heritage, she has previously taught at Melbourne’s CERES School of Nature and Climate and has completed a wild weeds course, complementing her long-held passion for the natural world and living sustainably with nature.
Those who get along to this month’s foraging workshop can expect not just to learn a whole lot about the wild foods that are under our noses and that often go unappreciated as “weeds” but to also to learn a fair bit about the pleasures of “forest bathing” into the bargain.
“There are so many health benefits in just being in nature and letting your body be healed by the forest,” Irina says.
“I am going to be supplying notes on how to identify edible plants and I’m also hoping to give people some recipes.”
Actually learning how to I.D. the edible underappreciated wild plants that exist around us –“things like wild brassicas, nettles, sow thistle, dandelions, acorns, hawthorn berries and pine mushrooms” will be a main aim of the workshop.
Learning how to saviour “weeds” and wild foods that go under the radar despite their considerable nutritional values is often largely about knowing how to prepare them properly, and Irina plans to enlighten workshop participants with quite a bit of know-how on this front.
She says the workshop will involve a walk through the landscape to teach participants how to identify the edible plants as they naturally appear growing in the environment.
“The Europeans have been using acorns for years and years…Stinging nettles are another amazing one, used for detoxing in Europe, and amazing in soup. You just need to know how to prepare them to remove the sting,” she says.
“Many of these plants are delicious and nutritious and so many have valuable medicinal qualities as well. I want people to be able to identify food that’s free.
“I’m also keen to wean people away from the idea of killing everything with weed killer, and to perhaps set aside a part of their own garden for these sorts of plants.”
The three-hour-long afternoon Foraging for Free Fresh Food workshop is part of the new term two program of courses, workshops and activities currently on offer through the Creswick Neighbourhood Centre.
The workshop is set for Sunday May 21 from 12 to 3pm, but Irina says that if the weather is no good for foraging the date may change as she’s particularly keen to get people out in the environment, actively identifying the free fresh food that’s out there.
More information about the workshop and how to register to attend is available from the Creswick Neighbourhood Centre.