We have a couple of trees and shrubs in our tiny courtyard which were there when we moved in. Most of them are just evergreens without any fruit or flowers. There is one tree however that flowered and now has green, yellow and red fruit on it. They look like little pumpkins, my son noticed the other day. I had no idea what it was and didn’t think much of it. The birds liked the tree so I didn’t bother finding out what it was.
Today, however, my daughter put one of the fruit in her mouth. I panicked, grabbed her, rushed her to the sink and made her rinse out her mouth. I told her off for eating something from the trees in our backyard. With my phone in hand, I googled ‘Australian tree with red berries’. I looked through the photos and found our fruit and tree.
And I was deeply embarrassed when I read the description of the berries: it’s a Brazilian cherry, not only edible but really good for you.
Great! So I had panicked over my own ignorance and unwillingness to learn about my own backyard. How sad was that!
The only line that made me feel better was that Brazilian cherry trees are planted around Australia as shrubs and most people don’t realise what it is.
I was not alone, at least.
This incident, however, got me thinking about my general ignorance to plants around me. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t survive in the wild because I don’t know enough about my local fauna. And as a result, I’d be too scared to eat something I had never seen or tasted before.
When I was younger we used to go into the woods to find mushrooms. It was (and still is) a tradition for many families in my hometown. I remember that after we had filled our basket with what we believed to be eatable mushrooms we would go to an older lady and have her assess the mushrooms. We never had any problems eating what we had found in the woods ourselves.
I don’t do that anymore and I don’t know anyone around me locally who forages for food like that. Some friends would get fruit of trees on the side of the road. But wild fruit – I don’t know anyone who collects that. There are more and more urban farms where people grow their own veggies but foraging for food in the wilderness is not part of the story.
I read an article the other day that foraging for food is not only good for our physical health (exercise, eating seasonal, eating fresh and raw) but also our mental health. It gets us moving, gives us time to think, and lets us reconnect with our surroundings. I recently blogged about the importance of Müßiggang, of slowing down and letting our minds wander. If that could be connected with finding food … great!
But still, I don’t do it. My food foraging is limited to the supermarket and the occasional trip to a farm.
Starting a challenge
I have no real answer to my own questions. The incident today made me realise how little I know about wild food and the food growing around me.
Yes, there are foods I shouldn’t eat because they are poisonous but, funny enough, I wouldn’t even recognise them. So, what can I do?
I’m going to start a challenge for myself to learn as much as I can about the plants around me. So far I know very little about Australian natives and those plants growing around me. I want to learn more about edible plants, from herbs to berries and fruit, so I understand my own backyard. It’s a challenge starting today and I’ll blog about it here as I go along.