Foraging in Cape Town: Local edibles that grow with wild abandon around us
A foraging walk with Loubie Rusch of Making KOS teaches the importance of learning about local plants and how to grow them to sustain us – Kalk Bay, Cape Town. For The Times, 19 January 2016.
At The Studio in Main Road, Kalk Bay, an unexpected art installation is spread across a beautiful weathered wooden table. Fat, succulent soutslaai, cerise num nums (Natal wild plums), as bright as Christmas baubles, little kei apples, stalks of wild garlic, spekboom leaves, feathery confetti bush, bitterbessies and an array of other indigenous plants are neatly arranged in a row beside labels. Loubie Rusch, a former landscape designer and now social-eco activist is taking us, a group of ten through a list of edible fruit and vegetables, their uses and some of the ways she prepares them. Everything is local and most of it grows with wild abandon around us, she says.
While foraging in nature reserves and parks is illegal without a permit Rusch warns, picking up the odd herb, berry and fruit along pavements in residential neighbourhoods and commercial areas, is perfectly within bounds. We start by examining the plants and sharing what experience we have, if any, of consuming these indigenous edibles. “I want people to get their “foraging eyes” on before we walk out the door,” Loubie says of the demonstration. One of the attendees says she’d like to know if she can survive in the wild if she needs to, hinting at impending Armageddon, another is an avid hiker who wants to be able to identify more plants on her treks, and there’s Scottish Heather who has a childhood memory of her South African nanny making mashed potatoes with a wild herb she hasn’t been able to identify since.
On our walk through the parking lot and to the train tracks, we spot the herb from Heather’s childhood mash – it turns out to be morogo or wild spinach. Within just a few meters we identify soutslaai, vitamin C-rich spekboom, bitterbessies, dune spinach, crowberries, cat’s ears that Loubie advises is good for cleansing the liver and various edible flowers and weeds. Poking around the pavements under the guidance of Rusch, we must look quite the spectacle because a waiter from a new beerhouse comes over to ask what we’re looking for and to invite us for a drink. As thirsty as the little walk on a blistering day has made us, we decline.
Back at the studio Rusch serves her buchu and lemon cordial over cold sparkling water and we sample her marmalades, pickles, pestos, jams and chutneys with homemade rosemary crackers.
Rusch tells us about her walks with her mother and archaeologist stepfather who taught her about edibles. But foraging isn’t the goal of her walks, nor her work with numerous community projects such as the “living library” created in Lentegeur and her advisory role with eco-forward Grootbos nature reserve in the Overberg. Instead, Rusch says, her goal is to help shift our thinking about the way we eat and view food, and develop a greater understanding of the landscape and how it can sustain us. The only way to achieve this, she says, is through educating as many people from every socio-economic background on how to reconnect with growing local food. She also says we need to convince our municipalities to replace grass and flowers in common areas with “edible carpets” that communities can help to maintain.
“Ever since reading The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, I’ve looked at the world differently,” Rusch says, of the manifesto on natural farming and eating. If she isn’t involved in Think Tanks, such as the one started by the Department of the Economic Development and Hortgro, collaborating with chefs and non-profit vegetable garden projects, Rusch continues to hold pop-up foraging walks around the city.
Visit her Facebook page: Making KOS or email Rusch to book a walk: firstname.lastname@example.org