Making KOS: Exploring indigenous plant foods with Loubie Rusch
We have become increasingly removed from the concept of foraging for food as we’ve evolved to rely on planes, trains and automobiles to deliver our food to us, often from halfway across the world.
Foraging requires an alternative mindset, focused on the indigenous resources that we can extract from ‘our back gardens’, rather than relying solely on what we find on supermarket shelves. It also requires a unique and extensive knowledge of indigenous botanicals – something that Loubie Rusch from Making KOS is totally and absolutely passionate about.
I recently joined Loubie on a Wild Food Walk and Workshop in Kalk Bay, which left me with some very interesting thoughts to ponder. Loubie’s fascination with foraging comes from her disbelief that we have on our doorstep an incredibly successful indigenous plant kingdom, but that we’ve yet to realise its value as a food. This is not to say that we should be picking plants in the wild – it is, in fact, illegal for anyone to pick any plants growing anywhere in the wild.
To protect the precious biodiversity of the Cape Floral Kingdom, Loubie recommends foraging in urban areas where indigenous vegetation has been planted, or planting indigenous food plants in one’s own gardens. On a much larger, future-focused scale, Loubie hopes to see some of the more prolific pioneer species of the Western Cape being farmed and utilized for food – these species are extremely well-adapted to the Cape climate, often requiring little water, with the potential to generate high yields at relatively low cost.
Loubie makes her own range of indigenous food products, branded with the label ‘KOS’, which we had the pleasure of tasting at the end of our walk. From ice-cold, fragrant cordials to colourful, gooey jams and piquant pickles, this is a vibrant set of flavours that will be entirely new to most.
Below are some of the wild and wonderful plants that we learnt about during our workshop – as well as a few tips for using them in the kitchen:
- Slangbessie (Lycium ferocissimum) – one of my favourites of the bunch. Part of the goji berry family, this plant produces beautiful red berries that can be used to make bright bottles of delicious jam and gin.
- Sout slaai or ice plant (Mesembryanthemum guerichianum) – a fascinating succulent-like plant with rough-textured leaves, an intriguing salty flavour and what appears to be a ‘frosting’ of tiny icicles on its stem and leaves. It can be eaten on its own or in salads and stews.
- Dune spinach (Tetragonia decumbens) – This weed-like ground cover grows abundantly in the Western Cape. It has an interesting flavour when enjoyed on its own but for those who aren’t sure about its ‘cat’s tongue’ texture, it can also be stir-fried or made into a soup. It is ‘edible carpets’ plants like these (as well as the likes of soutslaai, sandkool and veldkool) that Loubie envisages being farmed at scale and/or planted on city pavements for both aesthetics and nourishment.
- Sour fig (Carpobrotus edulis) – The fruits of the sour fig are already wild-harvested as part of a sustainable community development programme in the Gansbaai area (ref). The tangy fruit – true to its namesake – can be used to make preserves, as well as for various medicinal purposes.
- Kei-apple (Dovalis caffrum) – The wonderfully wild flavour of these ripe, yellow berries makes them the perfect ingredient for fragrant chutneys, jams, gins, and cordials. They can also be munched on their own.
- Wild garlic (Tulbaghia fragrans) – The leaves and flowers of this pretty, purple-blossomed plant are both edible and can be used in salads, and to add flavour to any dish, really! We came home with a delectable bottle of Wild Garlic Harissa, which Loubie creates with the wild herb and sesame seeds.
- Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) – These characterful succulents have small lobe-like leaves with an unmistakably tart flavour. Not only are they packed with vitamin C and delicious in summer salads, these incredible plants have enormous carbon-storing abilities, making them extremely valuable in the global drive to offset harmful carbon emissions.
- Bietou bessie (Chrysanthemoides monilifera) – This evergreen, flowering plant grows prolifically – almost like a weed – around the Cape Peninsula. A member of the daisy family, it is identifiable by its bright yellow flower and small clusters of new green berries that turn black when ripe. The caramel flavour of the berries makes them wonderful for infusing vinegars.
- Wild rosemary (Eriocephalus Africanus) – This spriggy, thin-leaved shrub has traditionally been used medicinally, but Loubie makes a mean Wild Rosemary cracker biscuit that goes deliciously with cheeses and wild fruit preserves.
- Num-Num (Carissa Macrocarpa) – This thorny, dark green plant with white jasmine-like flowers is something that most of us will have seen in our gardens. Little did we know that its small red berries are edible, and particularly delicious in chutneys and jams.
- Dune crow-berry (Searsia Crenata) – Another very prolific Cape indigenous plant, the crowberry has small, dark blue fruit that is edible when fresh (although slightly sour), otherwise good to use in jams, pickles and gins, as well as in a dried and ground form to add a slightly tart flavour to baked goods such as cookie dough.
If you’d like to find out more about Loubie Rusch and her fascinating world of wild food foraging, visit her Facebook page, Making KOS.