Sometimes it feels that all we do is fight the force. We make plans - of who we may like to marry, or what job we want or even what we’d like to grow in the garden - and despite our best intent, and exerting our own forces to control the outcomes, a greater force wins out. Some people call this ‘fate’, or ‘inevitably’, but whatever it’s called it raises a pretty sensible question: why fight something that can’t be controlled? Why not just accept that you've married a babe with blonde hair and not brown, and begin to flow with the force.
It’s a question we always find ourselves pondering when in the autumn garden. We’ve just spent the last months in a war with our tomatoes and basil and zucchinis, and all the other glory vegetables, and it’s a mess. Purveying the dead limbs and rotting fruit, and now the scavengers coming in to salvage what’s left, we wonder at what we have created. Sure there’s some battles we’ve won, and some we have lost, but meanwhile: the plant that mysteriously popped up in the compost heap has been the season’s champion.
The force of nature that control what can and cannot grow, is even stronger than the one that controls the colour of our partner’s hair. It’s what defines places and people, and explains why if you live in a tropical climate, you barely flinch at a roadside mango or avocado tree. Yet living someone temperate - Melbourne, for example - you couldn’t possible begin to imagine it.
A great way to flow with nature is to go out and forage what it has thrown up. And we’re not talking about foraging down your inner city lane way and collecting off you neighbours black fig tree, this is more an exploration of what naturally comes up, seemingly by chance. Seeing what is thriving locally, and through natural means, will give you great insight into what can work for you. It is also an opportunity to collect nature’s work.
A growing trend in the food industry is to build a menu around seasonal food that can largely be foraged. Of course, foraging for food in urban areas does come with a particular set of risks. Who knows if the nature strip where the wild fennel grows was recently sprayed by the council? There’s also every chance that the bushland that looks so pristine and serene at this moment in time, was once part of a big, ugly industry. When there is doubt, it’s always best to play the safe card and opt out.
Here’s a few things we often come across in our adventures;
Coming from an Italian background we're completely open to a trip down the highway solely for a harvest of wild fennel. Used for its fronds, bulb and flower heads, wild fennel can be found just about everywhere you bother looking; we always seem to notice it most driving along busy urban roads.
A cousin of wild fennel - bronze fennel - has also been found to grow superbly at this time of the year. With its dark bronze fronds and golden yellow flowers it an even greater culinary delight and a plant that needs little nurturing.
Something happened in our garden this year and we believe it went like this: a bird (or birds) found an anise hyssop plant, took a great liking to it and then went to the toilet all over our garden. This has been the summer, and now autumn, of anise hyssop.
This hardy perennial herb, that has lavender coloured flowers and dull green leaves, carries the distinct flavour of anise. It’s most pungent when the leaves are broken or agitated, so even a few torn in a salad makes quite an impact. If teas are more your thing, its best to dry them first.
This is a small, succulent-looking ‘weed’ that everyone would have pulled from the cracks down their driveway at one time or another. Just as often as it can be found popping up around your urban property, it is also common around parks and bushlands - these being preferable places to forage for it. Purslane is high in omega 3 oils.
Given its appearance, it is not surprising that eaten raw purslane has a slightly slimy texture. It can also be a little sour. These qualities, if you will, tone down when the plant is cooked.
A few people have chuckled at the dandelion seedlings that have been selling at the nursery over summer, but they have to remember that some are not as fortunate as others. Most of us, however, will be able to get a salad of dandelion leaves with just a simple scout around the backyard, or front yard, or nature strip, or roof guttering, or…
It’s a prolific edible weed that is on the menu at most times of the year - but particularly in summer and autumn - and can be used for not only its delicate and mildly bitter leaves, but it’s root and flowers too.
The most weedy of edible weeds, chickweed is more commonly cursed out than simmered in a pot. However when you've throw enough of it in the compost pile, try pureeing cooked chickweed to make the most delicious autumn soup that money cannot buy.