Foraging in park yield bountiful results

KAREN KOTZE

In a world of economic pressure and food insecurity, there is an original way to both provide food for your family, and grow your own wisdom.

This way is provided by Loubie Rusch, who is teaching people about indigenous food, fruit and berries which grow naturally – but unnoticed – in city parks and on the sidewalks.

Think, organic indigenous foraging…

Loubie, a Kenilworth resident, took her food walk and talk to Muizenberg on Saturday January 23. The event was hosted at the Bella Ev Guest House and the Tatler was there with 13 other curious and keen participants, while Loubie introduced examples of local foods and berries, and explained the nutritious and medicinal properties to them.

Bottled on the table, was an astonishing variety of jams, chutneys, marmalades, pickles, a wild herb harissa and cordials which Loubie has produced from them.

It was a little like travelling abroad – in Muizenberg – names and new flavours such as num num, kei apple, dune guarrie… Not to mention unique gin (which remained unopened) loaded with local berries.

This – combined with a walk through Muizenberg Park (referred to as Little Kirstenbosch, with a sea view) to point out abundantly growing examples of edible indigenous food or fruit – was three hours of inspired learning: ending with delicious tasters of indigenous foodstuffs.

And if ever there was food for thought, it would be alongside Loubie.

One participant, Griffin Foster, remarked during the tasting that he was particularly enamoured with this as it had been years since he had experienced new tastes and flavours.

We discovered that there are distinct differences on the palate between garlic and wild garlic, and also that spekboom is not just a great plant for cleaning the air, but can be eaten, and that the Kommetjie coastal pickle – made with kelp, sour figs, dune celery and dune crow berries – a first for most, was absolutely delicious. And rather funny, as the only ingredient we recognised was the onion.

Loubie formally studied architecture because she felt it would give her good conceptual training, and then she went on to become a landscaper whose growing interest in indigenous gardening melded into her curiosity with food. These two interests have seen Loubie specialise in indigenous gardens and food, and she says she recently committed herself to teaching about the wonders of, and the availability of, good natural home-grown food.

It upsets her deeply that people are going hungry, while walking past abundant food sources and wants people to learn, grow and plant their own.

“First rule of foraging, never take the roots, never take too much from a plant that it can’t regrow, never pick from the reserves – you need a permit for that. Everywhere else however, is fair game,” she says.

Loubie consults with chefs, hotels, farmers and gardeners. She is working towards ensuring that local foods are grown on urban and community farms and in pilot indigenous farming projects.

In time, her hope is that indigenous ingredients will be available to buy in stores, rather than having to be foraged for. Recently Loubie posted a picture on her Making Kos Facebook page, with a list of ingredients to look out for.

“I made myself an indigenous coastal omelette for lunch a couple of days ago. I used sout slaai fruit, dune spinach, dune celery and a bit of samphire, with a left-over potato from the night before.”

When asked by a participant if these plants need any special care, Loubie replied: “None whatsoever – this is their world, this is where they flourish. They like to be here.”

She envisions suburban sidewalks rife with local plants, feeding everyone, and gardens across the country growing local goodness.

“They thrive even without watering, it is just an intelligent choice for so many reasons,” she says.

On the long table were names of some plants to look out for. They include: nasturtiums, milk/sow thistle, white clover, ivy leafed toadflax, stinging nettle, dandelion and lambs quarters.

Loubie showed us a salt mixture she had made with sweet thorn (Acacia Karoo) berries, and told us that three leaves of a spekboom plant will provide our daily Vitamin C needs – not to mention making a tasty spekboom and carrot relish.

“South Africans are ‘bitter-bang’ – we don’t enjoy bitter flavours, but bitter things are good for the liver, so we really should include them in our diet,” she says.

She introduced us to the water berry flavour which she described as “sweet but earthy” and encouraged everyone to find dune spinach and dune celery, discussed veldkool, which is indigenous asparagus, introduced us to milkwood berries, dronkbessie and dune guarrie and its myriad uses.

The walk through Muizenberg Park was most revealing, and suddenly the information was translated into personal experience as 13 people wandered along munching leaves and berries from the bushes as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Which of course, it is.

For more information about Loubie’s work, look her up on her Facebook page called Making Kos.