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September 2017, vol 13 no 3

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Giselle Maya and Patricia Prime

Wild Foods

in a nutshell
my long life somehow
fits

He sits on the stone wall at the village entrance, perched to survey the road, eating lunch: a slice of pizza and a bowlful of 'Nombril de Venus' (Venus' Navel), a green edible plant that grows between the stones of the ancient walls here, in damp places where high winds have gathered soil and sand.

The plant is crunchy (craquante) and has a sweet lettuce flavor; he has added a dressing of vinaigrette and eats the salad by the forkful. The contrast is stunning: a young man high on a wall, smiling, leaping down to greet me and show me the delicacy he has concocted and offer me a taste. He knows well the plants one can eat.

Wild salads are popular here containing nasturtium leaves and its bright flowers, rose petals, violets, sorrel, dandelion leaves tender in spring, daylily pods and many more.

'Des salads sauvages' – gathered here especially in spring when one craves greens after winter’s bareness. Chicory, nettles blanched in hot water releases their sting, an abundance of wild leeks, sweet to the palate when steamed and flavored with olive oil, lemon and sea salt. Full of vitamins when freshly picked they can be added to meals. People with baskets can be seen on a spree of gathering their lunch; these foods are often shared.

hemlock
not to be mistaken
for wild parsley

*

spring breeze
the rustle of birds
in native bush

In New Zealand, we are never far from native bush. It’s on the doorstep of our cities and towns. 'Going bush' is a popular pastime for many people: tramping, collecting wild flowers, spotting various birds or collecting edible plants.

When out driving in the countryside, I’ve often seen Māori women with their children stooping to collect watercress from roadside water-courses. The supplejack has fresh shoots on the top end of its vine that looks like asparagus and can be eaten. It can be steamed or used in a salad. The fresh shoots of a fiddlehead fern have a snapping point like asparagus and can be fried, steamed or boiled. Mushrooms are prolific, but one needs to know which are edible. There are berries on many forest trees, but several native plants have berries which are poisonous, so it’s a clever idea to learn more about them. The sweet pollen from harakeke (flax) can be gathered from their orange flowers. The tui and bellbirds love this and I have a pair of tui that come every spring to my garden to mate and devour the sweet pollen. Dandelions, detested by some gardeners, who prefer smooth lawns, are loved by others as a source of greens for salad and dandelion wine.

clutched in the child’s hand
a bunch of dandelions
for grandma


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